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Use Your Own Bodyweight to Strength Train

10 exercises you can do anytime, anywhere—no equipment required
Written by 
Elizabeth Goodman
Canyon Ranch Reviewer: 
Updated on: 
May 14, 2014

Strength-training machines look pretty impressive—and they can help you achieve results that are just as remarkable. However, though there are entire sections of the gym dedicated to them, you don’t really need machines to get an efficient workout. Your amazing body can serve as its own strength-training tool.

Bodyweight exercises capitalize on the ability of your own weight to provide resistance. Unlike most fitness gear designed for strength training, these moves allow you to target multiple muscle groups at once for a more efficient workout. For example, a push-up not only involves your shoulders, but your arms, chest and core. When you build a routine around exercises that, together, put your whole body to work, you more quickly improve your lean muscle mass—an essential driver of metabolism and fat burn.

Compared to lifting weights, you may find bodyweight exercises—like planks or lunges—a bit challenging, since they require more balance to execute. But these moves can be modified to match your fitness level by adjusting your reps or the speed at which you complete them. It’s important to do these exercises using your full range of motion to allow your joints to move freely, which can improve your flexibility over time.

If you don’t belong to a gym, prefer to work out at home, travel frequently or just want to challenge your body in new ways, give these 10 bodyweight moves a try. In general, workouts like these are safe regardless of age or experience, as long as you go at your own pace.


Basic Crunch

What It Does: Strengthens your abdominals

How to Do It: Lie on your back with your knees bent and your feet flat on the floor, at least a foot away from your butt. Place your hands behind your head with your elbows out to the side and your neck straight. Curl your chest and shoulders up, keeping your chin away from your chest and your tailbone on the floor. Hold for a moment at the top and then return to your starting position. Repeat 10 times.

Be careful not to…pull on your neck. Holding your neck in line with your spine while your hands gently support your head allows your abdominals to do the work.


Bicycle Crunches

What It Does: Engages and tones all sides of your abdominals

How to Do It: Lie on your back with your knees bent and your feet flat on the floor, at least a foot away from your butt. Place your hands behind your head with your elbows out to the side and your neck straight. Raise both knees to a 90-degree angle until your thighs are parallel to the floor. With your head lifted off the floor, bring your right knee and your left armpit toward each other, extending your left leg straight at the same time. Hold for a moment and switch so that you’re now bringing your left knee and your right armpit toward each other, extending your right leg straight. Continue switching back and forth until you’ve completed 10 to 15 reps on each side.

Be careful not to…bring your elbow to your knee. Aim to reach your armpit toward your knee instead, which engages the obliques, or side abdominals.


Bird Dog

What It Does: Works your abdominals, back, glutes and hip muscles

How to Do It: Get on your hands and knees; keep your hands directly under your shoulders and your palms flat. Position your knees under your hips, keeping your back straight. Simultaneously lift and lengthen your left leg behind you until it’s parallel to the floor, and extend your right arm straight in front of you until it’s also parallel to the floor. Hold for moment and return to your starting position. Repeat two more times and switch sides. When you’re ready, try alternating sides after each rep.

Be careful not to…flop from side to side. Maintaining control and balance as you switch sides keeps your muscles constantly engaged.


Reverse Lunge

What It Does: Targets and strengthens your glutes, quadriceps, hamstrings and inner thighs

How to Do It: Stand with your feet together, toes pointed forward, your arms at your sides and your shoulders down. Lift your left leg and step back about two feet, planting the ball of your foot on the floor. Slowly lower yourself until your left knee lightly taps the floor while your right thigh is parallel to the floor. Push back up to your starting position and repeat 10 to 12 times. Switch legs.

Be careful not to…put your weight in the ball of your front foot. Drive through your front heel instead while the heel of your back foot should remain lifted off the ground.


Prone Plank

What It Does: Targets and strengthens your abdominals and back muscles

How to Do It: Lie face-down on an exercise mat or rug with your forearms and palms pressed to the floor and your toes tucked under. Place your elbows under your shoulders, keeping your head in line with your spine. Engage your core and thigh muscles as you press your body up off the floor, keeping your buttocks down, not protruding upward. Hold for 20 seconds (or a time that feels comfortable to you) and return to your starting position. Repeat 2 to 3 times.

Be careful not to…sag your lower back when pressing up off the floor. For optimal results, and to avoid any pain, use your core to keep your body in line throughout the exercise.


Push-Up

What It Does: Strengthens the chest, shoulders, triceps and core

How to Do It: Place your hands and knees on a mat or rug with your hands slightly wider than your shoulders and in line with your chest. Extend one leg behind you, then the other, keeping your back straight and your abdominals engaged. Slowly lower down so your elbows are at a 90-degree angle. Push back up and repeat 10 times.

Be careful not to…lift or sag your hips. Keep your spine in line throughout the movement in order to prevent lower back pain.


Side Plank

What It Does: Strengthens your external obliques (the muscles on the side of your waistline)

How to Do It: Lie on your right side with both legs straight and feet stacked one on top of the other. Bend your right elbow and prop yourself up, keeping that elbow directly under your shoulder and your forearm on the floor. With your head and spine aligned, engage your abdominals as you lift your hips and knees off the floor. Your left arm can remain by your side or held straight up toward the ceiling. Hold for 20 seconds (or a comfortable amount of time for you) and return to your starting position. Rest for 30 seconds and repeat two more times before switching sides.

Be careful not to…soften your abdominals. Keeping them contracted and engaged will help you lift your hips and remain sturdy and balanced.


Squat

What It Does: Strengthens your glutes, quads, and lower back

How to Do It: Stand with your feet slightly wider than hip-width, your hands at your sides and shoulders down. Keeping your chest lifted and chin facing forward, slowly bend your knees and squat down, your weight shifting to the back of your heels. As you lower, keep your spine straight and your abdominals contracted. Return to your starting position and repeat 5 to 10 times.

Be careful not to…let your knees extend past your toes. Keeping your weight in your heels will work the targeted muscles and prevent knee pain.


Squat Jumps

What It Does: Engages the muscles in your hips, legs and thighs

How to Do It: Stand with your feet hip-width apart, your arms by your sides and your shoulders down. Contract your abdominals to protect your spine. Bend your knees and lower your body down into a squat, keeping your hips back, until your heels lift off the floor. Hold for a moment and then, pushing through your lower body, explosively jump straight up, fully extending your knees and lifting your arms up by your ears. Land softly on the middles of your feet. Return to your starting position and repeat 5 to 10 times.

Be careful not to…land too hard. Being mindful of how you come down prevents any pain in your feet, ankles and knees.


Standing Gate Openers

What It Does: Works the hip flexor of your lifted leg while your standing leg is challenged to maintain stability and balance

How to Do It: Stand with your feet hip-width apart, your toes pointing forward and your shoulders down. Engage your abdominals as you lift your right knee up to hip height, then across your body so it moves past your left knee. Cross your right leg back over and return to your starting position. Repeat 5 to 10 times before switching sides.

Be careful not to…soften your abdominals. Keeping your core engaged helps you stabilize your pelvis and remain balanced.

Reference(s) 
American Council on Exercise
About the author 
Elizabeth Goodman Artis is a writer and editor with experience at publications such as Cosmopolitan, Fitness and Prevention. She lives in Brooklyn, NY.