6 Easy Bodyweight Exercises to Build Strength

Any person looking to get healthy should stay far away from the gym. Yes, you read that right. The gym is a toxic environment loaded with chemicals that interfere with your heart health and wreak havoc on your body. But, of course, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t exercise. Quite the opposite!

Movement is a key component of a healthy lifestyle, and a sedentary lifestyle is a death sentence. So if you can’t go to the gym, what can you do? 

Here are our favorite beginner bodyweight exercises to build strength — no equipment or toxic gym membership required. 

Benefits of bodyweight exercises

Bodyweight simply means you perform the exercise without any external weights or equipment. These exercises utilize your weight as resistance and target and train muscles you use daily. Here are a few other reasons we love bodyweight exercises:

You can do them anywhere: With bodyweight exercises, you can no longer use excuses like, “I didn’t have time to go to the gym” or “I don’t have the equipment to work out.” You don’t need any equipment to get moving!

They work with a busy schedule: Drop down and do a few pushups while you’re waiting for your dinner to cook or some walking lunges while you’re on the phone.

They are effective: No, you don’t need to lift heavy loads to gain some serious strength. Research shows that, when paired with a balanced diet, bodyweight exercises effectively increase body composition and muscle strength, and endurance. 

Helps you develop good form: There’s nothing wrong with incorporating dumbbells or bars into your exercise routine. In fact, strength training with weights is a great aspect of exercise (as long as it’s not in the gym). 

However, resistance workouts with weights are only as good as your form. Poor form leads to improperly developed muscles and injury. Bodyweight exercises are perfect for training your body to move safely and properly — an essential step before moving on to heavier weight.

They are modifiable: Any able-bodied person can perform bodyweight exercises! Even if you haven’t worked out consistently in years, are recovering from an injury or illness (after being cleared by your doctor), or are approaching your golden years, you can adjust these exercises to make them doable for your current fitness level. 

If you’re a fitness buff, you can still get great results from bodyweight training by incorporating more challenging modifications. 

Simply grab a yoga mat and get to work! 

Best bodyweight exercises (that anyone can do!) 

We’ve compiled a list of six of our favorite bodyweight strength-training exercises with modifications that make them all beginner friendly. Start with a brisk walk and perform as many sets as desired. We recommend two sets of 10-12 repetitions of each exercise for the perfect bodyweight workout.

Always stretch before and after exercise to improve flexibility, reduce the risk of injury, and lessen muscle fatigue.

Push-ups

The push-up is a classic bodyweight exercise that is deceptively challenging. It is an excellent workout incorporating upper body strength training, core strength, and even the glutes if done correctly. Start slow and utilize the modifications if needed!

How to do it:

  • Go on your hands and knees and place your hands firmly on the floor, about shoulder-width apart. 
  • Extend your legs and support yourself on your toes, pushing yourself into a high plank position. 
  • Keep your abs and butt tight and lower yourself down until your chest almost touches the floor (about an inch above)
  • Hold for a moment at the bottom and then push yourself back to starting position. Repeat.

Notes: 

  • Avoid resting at the bottom on the floor. If you need to take a break, try resting in a high plank position instead. 
  • Keep your head and neck in line with your shoulders, don’t let them hang down.

Modifications

Make it easier: Drop down to your knees and complete the push-up. Once you’ve mastered the knee modification, try the full version on your toes. 

Make it harder: Place your feet on an elevated surface such as a chair, step, or low table. Incline push-ups are one of the best ways to give yourself a serious challenge. 

Tricep dips

Did you know you could do tricep dips at home with just a chair? You don’t need special equipment to perform this effective bodyweight exercise and tone and strengthen your triceps. This is one of the best exercises you can do without weight to support and define these important muscles. 

How to do it

  • Sit on the edge of a chair, step, or couch and scoot to the edge, gripping the edge with your hands. 
  • Your feet should be hip-width apart, with your heels touching the ground and your fingers pointing towards your feet. 
  • Lower yourself, bending at the elbows until they are between 45 and 90 degrees. 
  • Push yourself up slowly until your bottom is in line with the chair and your arms are almost straight. 

Notes:

  • Keep your shoulders down and away from your ears. 
  • Don’t lock your elbows at the top of the motion.

Modifications

Make it easier: Instead of putting your legs straight, try doing a tricep dip with your knees bent. This takes some pressure off your triceps and makes the move easier. 

Make it harder: Use two chairs. Place your hands on one and your feet on the other. Reducing the angle of your body will require your arms to work harder and make the exercise more intense. 

Superman

It wouldn’t be a list of total-body bodyweight exercises without Superman. This effective movement uses a small range of motion to engage often neglected back muscles and balance out ab exercises.

How to do it

  • Lie face-down on your mat with your hands stretched out in front of you like Superman. Your feet should be about shoulder-width apart.
  • Lift your chest off the ground as high as possible and lift your legs simultaneously.
  • Hold for a few seconds, lower back down, and repeat. 

Notes:

  • Keep your head in a neutral position with your spine. Stop the exercise if you are straining your neck. 

Modifications

Make it easier: Lift just your arms or just your legs instead of lifting both at the same time.

Make it harder: Link your arms behind your head. This gives you less leverage and forces your back to work harder. You can also try lifting the arm and the leg on just one side of your body at a time for a unique modification. 

Squat

One of the most popular leg-day exercises, the squat is an important exercise to master early. Once you have the foundations of a good squat down, you can build on it with hundreds of modifications and challenges. Squat form is essential so take the time to hone in on your stance and use a mirror to assess your posture. 

How to do it:

  • Stand with feet a bit wider than shoulder-width apart and squat down until thighs are almost parallel with the floor. 
  • Press your butt out and push heels into the floor, keeping your knees from going over your toes. 
  • Pause at the bottom, press back up, and repeat. 

Note: 

  • Keep your chest out and your shoulders back. 
  • Look straight ahead. 

Modifications

Make it easier: Make the motion smaller and only squat down halfway. 

Make it harder: Add an explosive jump off the floor as you rise.

Like a squat, the lunge is a functional, foundational movement essential for daily activities. Lunges strengthen the legs and glutes and improve hip mobility and flexibility.

How to do it

  • Place your hands on your hips for stability.
  • Start by stepping out with either your left or your right leg. Bend your front knee at a 90-degree angle, putting your knee over your ankle, and bend your back knee until it hovers a few inches off the floor. 
  • Stand up and repeat the movement on the other leg.

Modifications

Make it harder: Try jumping out with your leg instead of stepping out. Jumping lunges are a great explosive movement to incorporate cardio into your strength training. 

Burpee

Burpees are one of the best bodyweight exercises to improve total body strength and cardiovascular endurance. Prepare for your legs to feel like jello after just a minute or two of this intense exercise! The good news is you can make it as difficult as you want by adjusting the speed or modifying individual components.

How to do it

  • Squat down and place your hands on the floor in front of you. 
  • Leap back to a plank position, jump forward, and return to the squatting start. 
  • From the squat, jump up, letting your feet come off of the floor.
    Squat down and repeat the motion.

Note: Land softly and bend your knees. Hard landings can lead to heel and knee pain. 

Modifications

Make it easier: Instead of jumping, stand up at the top and step your legs out to plank position. You can also do the movement slowly to reduce the cardio exertion.

Make it harder: Go faster and add a push-up at the bottom. 

Plank

Ah, planking, the internet craze of 2011, and the enduring core workout of today. Planks target the deep abdominal muscles known as the transverse abdominis, giving your core a serious challenge. Build up strength with this deceptively simple workout.

How to do it

  • Lower yourself into plank position. Place your forearms on the ground and your legs straight behind you (about shoulder-width apart to start) with just your toes touching the ground. 
  • Hold this isometric pose for as long as possible and slowly lower yourself back to the ground. 

Modifications

Make it easier: Hold the plank for a shorter period, or try a high plank with the weight on your hands instead of your forearms. You can also drop to your knees if needed. 

Make it harder: Bring your feet closer together and hold the plank longer.

Next steps

While fitness is essential to cardiovascular well-being, it isn’t the only thing! Many people get so fixated on exercise that they fail to cultivate healthy eating habits, get out in the sunshine, or reduce toxins in their lives. 

Work with one of our expert health coaches to develop a plan that includes every aspect of a healthy lifestyle and sets you on the path to your 100 Year Heart. 

Eat well, Live well, Think well

Medical Review: Dr. Lauren Lattanza 2022

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