Bodyweight exercises can be a simple and effective option for a great workout routine. They don’t require any equipment and you can do them anytime, anywhere. There are many ways to progress bodyweight exercises so you don’t need to worry about them getting “too easy”. High impact or low, there are numerous options to choose from so you can be sure to find a set of exercises that are perfect for your personal fitness and strength levels.
Can you do bodyweight exercises every day?
The short answer is that yes, you can generally do bodyweight exercises every day, if you choose to. Here are some factors to consider if you are thinking of making bodyweight exercises part of an everyday exercise plan:
- You don’t necessarily need to do a full workout plan to incorporate bodyweight exercises into your everyday lifestyle. You might simply choose to do some push-ups and squats each morning for example. Something like this may only take up a few minutes of your day.
- Make sure your bodyweight exercise plan is set up to be in line with your goals. If weight loss is your goal, then select mostly compound bodyweight exercises. These use large portions of muscle mass and will help you burn more calories overall. Compound exercises also align well with sports performance goals and general functional exercise goals. Isolated exercises can help you to strengthen specific areas and work on muscle imbalances
- If you choose to do bodyweight exercises every day, monitor how well you are recovering. If you’re new to the exercises or you have worked extra hard at them, you might need to do them less frequently to allow your muscles to recover properly. Sore muscles are a sign to rest or do lighter forms of exercise. You could also choose to work different muscle groups on different days to aid in the recovery process.
General Guidelines for performing bodyweight exercises
There are many variables that should be considered when you are carrying out your bodyweight workout plan. Here are a few basic guidelines if you’re just getting started:
- For safety reasons, use a slow controlled tempo for your bodyweight exercises. Aim to count two seconds into the exercise and two seconds out of the exercise. Therefore the exercise takes four seconds in total. When you are more advanced, you can experiment with super slow, or more explosive tempos
- Always warm up for 5-10 minutes before completing a bodyweight workout, and cool down for 5-10 minutes afterwards. Your warm up should gradually increase in intensity (but still remain low compared to the body of the workout) and your cool down should gradually decrease in intensity.
- Aim for somewhere between 10 and 20 repetitions of an exercise. If you can get to 20 and still feel like you could keep going, choose a harder version of the exercise. Start with one set. You can repeat for another set or two if it fits in with your workout time frame, energy levels and goals.
- Always focus on quality over quantity. It’s better to choose a slightly easier version of an exercise and do it well and safely than increase your injury risk by doing it poorly. Conversely, you should choose a progression level that is challenging enough to work you hard enough so you’re actually going to get results!
- Always breathe continuously and keep your core muscles strong (tensed) throughout the exercise
Ways to progress bodyweight exercises
Soon we will share our ideas on the top 10 bodyweight exercises to incorporate into your exercise plan. With each one, it’s important to choose the perfect progression level for you. This is the one that you can do with good technique but that challenges you sufficiently to feel like you can’t do any more at the end of the set.
Here are some general guidelines for increasing the difficulty of your bodyweight exercises:
- Add more repetitions (reps), but only up to a certain point. There’s not usually a lot of value (and it may even be harmful) to go up into really high rep ranges. If you’re doing a timed exercise such as a plank, you could do it for longer, but again only up to a certain point. Once you are strong enough it may be more effective and efficient to go up to the next progression level
- Decrease stability. This could mean moving from a two legged to a one legged version (e.g. with a squat). Or it could mean using a stability ball to challenge your muscles further
- Increase your lever length. For pushups, you can achieve this by going from a half to a full push up. With a chin up, it could mean progressing from a flexed arm start position to a full hang start position
- Make the exercise more complex. This usually involves adding a different movement variation to the original exercise. For example, a squat could become a squat with a twist. A push up could become a push up combined with a side plank
A few more ways to make your bodyweight exercises harder
- Increase your range of motion. A lot of the time, exercises aren’t done in their full range of motion. Don’t move up to a higher progression level until you can do the exercise well in its full range of motion.
- Increase the time under tension. This basically means increasing the length of time your muscles are working for. You could slow the tempo down, or hold the exercise for a few seconds at the hardest part of the movement (e.g. at the bottom of a squat or lunge). You could also add a few small pulses at the hardest part of the movement.
- Make it explosive. When you are getting pretty advanced, you may want to make some of your bodyweight exercises explosive in nature. Turn a lunge or squat into a jumping one, or take your pushup to the next level by making it a clap push up.
Top 10 Bodyweight Exercises
There are some great cardio focused bodyweight exercises and also many that help improve flexibility. The top 10 bodyweight exercises we have put together have been chosen with the purpose of helping you to create strong, balanced muscles.
The squat is an amazing exercise with far reaching benefits. It is a functional, compound exercise, and is one of the seven primal movement patterns your body was designed to do. It works the whole lower body, and specifically your quads, hamstrings and glutes. Get awesome at squatting and you’ll have no problem getting out of the bath by yourself when you’re 90!
Start with your feet slightly turned out, and just wider than shoulder distance apart. Slowly sit back, imagining that you are sitting back into a chair. Lead back with the buttocks, allowing your knee, hip and ankle joints to bend. You can keep your arms by your sides or crossed in front of you. Keep your weight evenly distributed and then push back to the top with control.
- Adding holds and/or pulses at the bottom
- Adding a twist on the way up
- Doing a one legged squat
- Progressing to a jump squat
- Adding on a knee lift or a kick after each squat
The lunge is right up there with the squat in terms of benefits. It works the same muscle groups but is a little more complex. It requires more balance and stability as it is performed in a split stance, with one foot in front of the other. The ability to lunge well is important for numerous sports. Diving to the side to hit a ball in a game of squash is one example.
Start with your feet hip distance apart. This will help you to balance properly during the exercise. Take a big step and check that both feet are facing forward. Keep your upper body upright and slowly let your body lower down. Let both knees bend until the back knee is just off the ground. Then push back to the top whilst maintaining control.
- Adding holds and/or pulses at the bottom
- Adding a twist to the side at the bottom of the movement
- Progressing to a jumping lunge
- Raising your back foot up onto a step to perform your lunge
- Doing a “walking” lunge where you alternate each side and move in a forward direction
- Trying a “power” lunge where you step forward, back or to the side into your lunge. Then step back to the start position (feet hip distance apart). This differs from the classic lunge because the feet don’t remain in a fixed position throughout
Push-ups are another compound, functional exercise. They work your chest, triceps and the front of your shoulders. Overall they’re a fantastic exercise for strengthening and toning the upper body, and there are endless variations to choose from.
Choose an appropriate level to start from (either knees or feet). Place your hands just outside shoulder distance with your wrists below your shoulders. Keep your spine long and abdominals strong. Let your elbows bend down to 90 degrees and then push your weight back to the start position
- The “wall” pushup. This is the easiest progression level of all, so if you think you have zero upper body strength and are a long way off being able to do a good pushup on your knees, try this one. Stand a couple of feet back from a wall with your hands just outside shoulder distance. Keep your body straight as you lower yourself in towards the wall and push back again.
- The “box” pushup. This one is a step up from the wall pushup, but is still easier than a standard knee pushup. The main difference with this one and a standard knee (or “half”) pushup is that your buttocks stay up in the air throughout. To start, place your hands in the usual start position, but place your hips directly above your knees. As you lower yourself down into your pushup and push back up again, the buttocks stay up in the air, which lessens the load you have to push
- For any variation of pushup on the ground, placing your hands on a raised surface will make it easier. Therefore it’s a good way to progress from a box to a half pushup or from a half to a full pushup
- To progress further from a full pushup, placed the feet on a raised surface, or try lifting one leg off the floor
- Very advanced options include clapping pushups and diamond pushups
Chin ups work the opposing muscles to the pushup. They’ll work your back, biceps, and the backs of your shoulders. Therefore they’re a wonderful exercise to balance out the upper body after you’ve done your pushups. The upper back muscles are the trickiest muscles to work without any equipment. Usually some weight or resistance bands are required. In the case of the chin up, you’ll simply need a bar, and will use your bodyweight as resistance.
Back muscles are often neglected in bodyweight workouts and there are so many benefits of doing them. One of the major ones is to help counter the forward rounding posture that many people find themselves in when hunched over a computer screen.
For a basic chin up, start from an overhand hang with your hands on the bar, slightly wider than shoulder distance. Pull your bodyweight up until your chin is above the bar, and then lower back down with control.
- A pretty good level of upper body strength is required for chin ups so you may need to start with a modified chin up. Find a bar in a gym or playground that is somewhere between your hip and chest height. A higher bar will make this exercise easier. Hold onto the bar and let your bodyweight hang under the bar. Place your feet on the ground and take a couple of steps forward with them. Pull your bodyweight up, aiming to get your chest up towards the bar, and then lower back down slowly.
- Try an underhand grip for your chin ups. Most people find this easier than an overhand grip
- When you’re a chin up pro, move onto a super wide overhand grip for an extra challenge
All you need is a chair for this one! Dips work similar muscles to the push up, with a little more emphasis on the triceps. Sit on the very edge of a chair and place your hands close in beside your buttocks. With hands facing forward, feet on the floor and knees bent, shift your buttocks forward so that your weight is now only through your hands and feet. Slowly lower your body down by letting your elbows bend, then push back to the top. The key to doing this exercise effectively is to keep your elbows squeezed close together to really focus on the triceps.
- Extending your legs out straight in front of you for a harder version. Ensure the buttocks remain close to the seat in this variation in order to maintain the integrity of the exercise
- For an easy version of the basic dip, sit down on the floor. Place your hands behind you (facing forward), and bend your knees. Keep your buttocks on the ground and allow your elbows to bend. Again, keep them squeezed close to work the triceps properly, and then push back to the top
- For an advanced version of the dip, use some parallel bars. Start from a hang and lower your body down by letting your elbows bend back. Then push back to the top
This exercise is a bit different to the others listed so far because it’s a “held” position rather than a moving exercise. The plank activates many muscles in the body, especially your “core muscles”. It’s a great one to strengthen your abdominals and lower back, which provide a strong foundation for other exercises.
Start by lying on your stomach on the ground. Place your forearms on the ground and your elbows directly under your shoulders. Extend your legs out behind you. Draw your belly button in towards your spine to activate your stomach muscles. Tuck your toes underneath and then lift your body up off the ground. Keep your spine long, head in line with spine, and your abdominals activated. Remember to breathe during this one! And then simply hold the position. Aim for 30 seconds to one minute. Once you can get to one minute perhaps consider doing a harder version of the exercise!
- Place your knees on the floor for a modified version. Your spine should still remain straight, with your buttocks down
- Extend your arms and place your hands on the ground instead of elbows and forearms, for a different variation
- Once the full plank becomes too easy, lift one leg up and hold. Alternatively, try stepping the feet out and then back in for the duration of the hold
Upper body raise
The upper body raise will help you to strengthen your lower back. It can be a nice gentle exercise to help with discomfort in the lower back and can be a good counter exercise to forward bending postures.
Lie on your stomach with your elbows bent and your forehead resting on the back of your hands. Keep your spine long and your head in line with your spine. Slowly raise your upper body up off the ground as high as you can without straining, and then allow it to lower back down. You should feel your lower back working but it shouldn’t be painful.
- As you raise your upper body, draw your elbows down towards your sides and squeeze into your upper back to create some added strengthening in that area
- Try a super(wo)man! As you raise your upper body, extend one arm out in front. At the same time extend the opposite leg out behind you. Lower down and repeat on the other side, alternating sides until the end of the set
- As a progression from the super(wo)man, extend both arms and both legs. Lift the upper and lower body at the same time and then lower back to the start position
This is a great exercise to target directly into the buttocks and hamstrings. Many people have weak glutes (buttocks) and can be ineffective at activating them during squat or lunge movements. The glute raise (also known as a glute “bridge”) is a good one to help strengthen these muscles and teach them to work more effectively.
Lie down on your back with your knees bent, feet on the floor, and feet and knees hip distance apart. Push through your feet and slowly raise your hips up off the ground as high as you can. Squeeze your buttocks all the way up and then lower slowly back to the start position. Ensure your neck stays long with your shoulders drawn down throughout.
- Progress to a one legged glute raise. Ensure you keep your hips in line as you raise up and down
- Add holds and/or pulses at the top of the movement
- To progress the one legged glute raise, hold your hips at the top of the movement. Then perform gentle leg swings forward and back with the leg that is raised (flexing and extending at the hips)
Another great exercise to work the buttocks, the clam focuses on the sides of the buttocks. Many people who experience lower back pain find that glute exercises such as the clam are effective at relieving pain. One of the causes of lower back pain can be weak glutes, so it’s a case of treating the cause instead of the symptom (the back pain).
Lie in a comfortable position on your side. Either prop yourself up on your elbow and forearm or extend your body down to the floor with your hand resting behind your head. Place your hips in a neutral position and draw your belly button in towards your spine. Bend at the hips and knees slightly to assume your start position. Then raise your top knee up off the bottom knee whilst keeping your ankles together. Squeeze into your top side buttock and then lower back to the start position.
- Let the ankle rise up away from the bottom leg as you lift the knee (so the knee and ankle lift together, and in line with each other).
- Place your hand on the outside of your upper thigh and apply some resistance as you raise your leg up
Last but not least in our top 10 bodyweight exercises is the calf raise. This is a great one to focus on if you’re into running or any other high impact activities. Although most of the power for high impact exercises will come from the large muscle groups of the lower body, the calf muscles are required to work hard for the final part of the propulsion. They’re also a great one to do if you simply want to add some muscle tone to your lower legs.
Calf raises are best done off a step, although they can be done on the floor for an easier version. If you’re doing them on a step, place the front half of your feet on the step and let the back part of your feet hang off. Let your heels drop down as far as you can, until you feel a good stretch through the backs of your calves. This is the start position. From here, raise your heels up as high as you can until you’re right up on your toes. Then lower back to the start position. You will probably need to hold onto a wall for balance, unless you are doing them on the floor. Note that your range of motion will be reduced if you’re doing them on the floor.
As a progression, try a one-legged calf raise. Simply tuck your foot behind the other leg as you raise yourself up and down.
Time to get into your bodyweight exercises!
These top 10 bodyweight exercises should help you to get started. Remember to review the guidelines we went over at the beginning, and then you can get into it! You don’t need any equipment (with the one exception of chin ups) and you can choose a progression level to best suit your ability. If you’re not sure whether any of these bodyweight exercises are right for you, please check with a qualified fitness trainer before trying them out.