Bodyweight exercises mean you never have to visit a gym to keep yourself fit. All you need is your own body weight as resistance — no equipment necessary. In fact, you’ve probably done some before, in the form of push-ups, squats, sit-ups, and other exercises that we ended up doing in school. These exercises are quick, and have scaling levels of difficulty, so once you’ve mastered the beginning, you can move on to more advanced moves. They’re also quick. You could probably get a great exercise routine going that takes you 30 minutes a day, or less.
This is one of the great basics. The push-up comes in different varieties, allowing for people with a wide-range of abilities to put this exercise to use. Just changing the position of your hands or doing them from an elevated position changes which groups of muscles will be engaged and how much strength and flexibility will be needed.
Push-ups will build up your chest, triceps, and shoulders, as well as strengthen your lower back and torso.
The standard push-up begins in the plank position. That’s where you put your hands on the ground, right under your shoulders, with your arms fully extended, toes pressed into the ground. Pull up your torso from your navel and be sure your back is straight. Lower your body and exhale, bending your elbows out toward your sides to lower your body. Hold there, then extend your arms again. That’s one push up.
Not ready for push-ups? Work your way up by using knee push-ups. In this variation, you can start on your hands and knees. They’re exactly the same as the usual kind, except you rest on your knees, rather than your toes. Since you don’t have to press against the weight of your lower legs, this variation takes less strength. If you push your hips back, all you have to press against are your chest and shoulders. Eventually, you can move from these easier versions to a full push-up, as you build strength in your upper body.
Squats are staples in the CrossFit world because they give you great flexibility in your hips and ankles, really testing your endurance. Even more than push-ups, squats have a great many variations, with some of them incorporating jumps and leaps for the truly advanced bodyweight enthusiast.
The basic form begins with your feet about shoulder-width apart. Extends your hands out in front of you for balance and bend your knees, lowering your torso until your thighs are parallel with the floor. The weight of your body should be in your heels. Lift up again, until your knees are completely straight again. Squeeze your buttocks when you reach the top, to exercise that part of the body as well.
Reverse Tabletop with Arm Reaches
This move is less well-known than the first two, but it’s perfect for anyone who spends their days in front of a computer or behind the steering wheel, which is many of use today. Most exercises are performed facing forward, but this one balances out all of these, helping you restore your posture and strengthen your back.
Start from a seated position on the floor, with your rear flat against the ground. Place your hands behind your hips, with the fingers pointed toward your feet. Straighten your elbows and lift your hips off the floor. From that position, pull your shoulder blades in toward your spin and lift your chest, until your torso, hips, and knees are all in one straight line. Hold and raise your left arm, stretching that hand upward. Repeat with the right arm. Keep switching arms until you’ve finished the number of reps with which you’re comfortable.
Like most other bodyweight exercises, this can be done anywhere you have a little clear floor space. It works all the muscles of your thighs, your glutes, your pelvic muscles, and your hips, while strengthening your knees. If you’re into sports, running, or dancing, this can help prevent those dreaded knee injuries.
Start by lying on your right side. Bend your knees at about a 45-degree angle. Your knees and ankles should be touching. Rest your head on an outstretched arm. Move your knees apart until the top knee is in a straight line with your hip, while keeping your feet together. The muscles in your glutes and outer thighs should be the ones directing this movement.
Looking for something harder? Try the bridge. This is great for the hamstrings, buttocks, and the core of your body. It also strengthens your spine, getting your body ready for even more exacting exercises. This will even straighten out your back and may relieve back pain.
This form of the bridge, the short bridge, is suitable for beginners, who want to work their way up to the full bridge.
Lie on your back and put your hands at your sides. Bend your knees up and put your feet flat on the floor. They should be right under your knees. Push down with your feet and tighten up the muscles in your rear and your abs, lifting your hips until you’ve got a straight line all the way from shoulders to knees. Hold it while keeping your core tense, pulling your navel toward your back, and try to stay there for about 30 seconds. Lower yourself back to the floor. If your hips can’t stay straight for that long, you can lower yourself to the floor before the time is up.
There are literally dozens of bodyweight exercises you can try, ranging from easy to advanced. There’s no reason why you can’t get all the exercise you need without ever paying a dime in gym fees or ever touching any exercise equipment. Be sure to give your muscles a little assist in repair and growth with a high quality protein bar after you’re done. It won’t be long until you see (and feel) the difference.
Emily Hunter is a SEM Strategist and Outreach Supervisor at the Marketing Zen Group working with the folks over at Promax Nutrition. She loves designing strategies with her team and is excited about spreading the Zen gospel. In her spare time, she cheers for Spirit of Atlanta, Carolina Crown and Phantom Regiment, crafts her own sodas, and crushes tower defense games. Follow her on Twitter at @Emily2Zen?