Top 10 Most Effective Bodyweight Exercises

Some of the most difficult exercises are bodyweight exercises. When compared to weight lifting exercises, it requires a lot more flexibility and balance to perform repetitions. Bodyweight exercises are great because:

  • They usually don’t require any equipment (free weights and certain apparatuses are necessary for some bodyweight exercises).
  • They can be progressed or regressed to meet your needs, making them suitable for all levels of fitness.
  • The weight being lifted is never greater than your own weight, which minimizes injuries.

If you can become familiar with a variety of these exercises, and learn about proper scheduling, nutrition, and recovery, there is virtually no limit to the strength you can achieve.

Here are the top 10 most effective bodyweight exercises that you can do.

1) L-Sit

bodyweight exercises

This is a great exercise for your abdomen as well as your upper body, and (to a lesser extent) your legs. The L-sit is simple enough, but it requires strength in your arms, lats, and lower abdominals. It may feel pretty difficult at first but just stick with it, and you’ll get it.

  1. Start by sitting on the ground with your legs straight out in front of you, and your hands flat on the ground on either side of you.
  2. From this position, press your hands down into the ground. You may notice yourself leaning back in reaction to the force of your hands pressing down.
  3. To lift yourself off the ground from this position, you need to curl your shoulders forward and down as you press down with your hands, and squeeze your abs. It may help to use push up bars or two equal height platforms.
  4. Once you’ve gotten strong enough, simply hold this position as long as you can.


2) Hanging Leg Raise

Bodyweight Exercises

This is a simple exercise that can offer you a tremendous abdominal workout, while working out your upper body as well. You’re going to hang from a bar and raise your legs (keeping them as straight as you can) until your toes (or shins) touch the bar.

  • It’s harder than it looks. At first, you may not be able to do it as described, and you might need to make it easier by just bringing your knees up into your chest. This is a good exercise too, but not nearly as good as when you keep your legs straight.
  • Work with raising your knees at first, then when you’ve gotten stronger, raise your extended legs into an “L” position, and then work on lifting them more and more until your toes touch the bar.
  • Bear in mind that once your legs are raised past horizontal, you will need to press your hands forward into the bar a little bit to get the leverage you need to lift your legs the rest of the way.
  • Alternatively, you can lift your legs to a 90 degree position and maintain it as long as possible.


3) Jumping Knee Ups

This is a great conditioning exercise that will work your whole lower body and your abs as well. There are two basic components.

  • The first is that you squat down and jump as high as you can, straight up.
  • The second is that as you are jumping, you bring your knees all the way up into your chest. Then, you extend your legs back down again and land as in a normal jump. Then repeat.

This is a simple exercise, but it’s very effective for improving your stability and anaerobic endurance in your lower body.


4) Muscle Ups

This is a fun and unusual exercise that will build complete upper body strength, as well as coordination.

In a nutshell, you’re going to do a pull up so forcefully that you actually end up with your head and shoulders above the bar; from there you will press up until your arms are straight and the bar is about even with your waist (kind of a single bar dip).

This works out both pulling and pushing muscles in your upper body.

  1. Warm up your arms by rotating and stretching them.
  2. Grab the bar by using a forward grip with your hands. Ensure that you’re only swinging back and forth very slowly.
  3. As you swing back, quickly catch the momentum and pull yourself upwards in one explosive motion. Keep your bodyweight centered, bend your knees and bring your chest forward as you’re doing this.
  4. When you’re past the half-way point, use your triceps to push yourself up. Your arms your be straightened.


5) Handstand Pushups

Handstand pushups, especially when you do them through a more complete range of motion, can build serious arm and shoulder strength. Once you can hold a handstand against a wall, you can start to work on handstand push ups.

Your goal is to come down as far as possible, until your head touches the floor (I would advise you to put a soft cushion beneath your head), and then push back up. This may be difficult if you’ve never done this before. There are two primary ways for you to work up to it:

First Technique: Partial Reps
You should always strive for the fullest range of motion possible, but in the beginning you can just go down an inch or so, and then press back up. Then try for a couple of inches, and press back up. Then three or four inches, and so on, until you can go all the way down and all the way back up.

This progression might take an hour, or it might take a few weeks; either way, be patient and strive to do as much work as you can without experiencing pain or using bad form.

Second Technique: Controlled Negatives
You’re going to lower yourself, slowly and in control, all the way down. Then, from the down position, just kick off the wall and come down from the handstand. Then kick back up again, and lower yourself again, and so on.

You should employ both of these techniques to get this skill down. Once you can do a full handstand push up like this, you should do reps, as you would for any other exercise.


6) One Leg Squats

how to improve balance

Also known as the unilateral squat, these will help you to develop considerable balance and strength by working out one leg at a time.

  1. Plant your right leg on the ground, and lift your left foot just high enough so that it is not supporting any weight.
  2. All at the same time, inhale while you do a full squat on your right leg, while bringing both arms and your left leg straight out in front of you.
  3. Bring yourself back up to the original position, standing on your right foot with your arms by your side and your left foot just off the ground.
  4. Continue your full set on your right leg, then switch and do a full set of the same number of reps on your left leg.

To get a more strenuous workout, perform the one leg squat with your free leg straightened out in front of you at an angle of around 90 degrees.


7) One Leg Jump Squats

These are almost the same as the one leg squats, with one important difference: at the end of the exercise, you will finish by jumping up into the air to add an element of anaerobic endurance to your lower body.

  1. The first step in this exercise is to be able to do the one leg squat without any issues. I’d say once you can do five or so, you can start on these.
  2. The first 3/4 of this exercise is the same as the one leg squat. You lower yourself all the way down in the same way. Then, the first half of standing back up is the same. However, once you’re about halfway back up, you explode up forcefully so that you leave the ground.
  3. Land back onto your primary foot, and finish the set, then do an equivalent number of reps on your other leg.

Please note: Don’t attempt to explode up from the very bottom of this exercise, because you’ll put too much strain on your knee. Be sure not to start the jump until you’re halfway back up.


8) Three-Way Leg Lifts

This will work out as well as stretch your hip flexors, hip abductors and glutes. It also improves your flexibility and balance. There are three movements here, and for all three, you will stand erect with your hands on your hips (you can also hold onto a chair for support).

  1. Ensure that you stretch your lower body as this exercise requires a bit of flexibility.
  2. First, with your leg straight, you will lift your leg forward and up.
  3. Then, again with your leg straight, you will raise your leg out to the side.
  4. Then, you will raise your leg straight back behind you.
  5. After a complete set on one side you will switch to do the same number of reps on the other side.

If you want to increase your lower body strength even more, I recommend that you use Bodylastics Resistance Bands due to their high quality construction.


9) Donkey Kicks

bodyweight exercises

This will work out your hamstrings and arms, and it will also give you a bit of a cardiovascular workout.

  1. Find soft ground, and get in the push up position.
  2. Bend your arms slightly and then in one explosive motion, use your arms to help push your body up while kicking your legs up behind you. Tuck your legs up under your body so your heels almost hit your butt.

If this is too difficult at first, then just try the same maneuver but with one leg only.

bodyweight exercises

  1. Find soft ground and get on your hands and knees.
  2. Bring one knee up to your chest, then kick out backwards. You can either kick out with your leg straight, or keep it bent with the sole of your foot facing upwards.

This is a really great conditioning exercise, and it targets your hamstrings really well, which a lot of people have trouble doing. Just be sure you stretch them out well before and after this exercise.


10) Burpees

The burpee is a great full body exercise that works on your strength and aerobic endurance.

  1. Assume a normal standing position, with your arms by your side and your feet together.
  2. Drop down to a squat position with your hands on the floor.
  3. Kick both your legs backwards so that you end up in a push up position, then bring your legs back to a squat position.
  4. Resume back to a normal standing position and repeat.

This exercise is supposed to be done quickly. There are also many variations including jumps after each repetition and push ups after the squat. To really test your fitness, add both of these military variations to your burpees.

Written by: Margaret Simpson


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