Bodyweight exercises are a great way to help you lose weight and burn fat fast. They combine a cardiovascular workout with a muscle building workout, so you burn fat while you are also increasing your metabolism as a result of muscle development.
Bodyweight exercises are considered to be very “old school”; however they are still promoted in martial arts classes, military fitness training and strength training for dance, sports and many other activities. Body weight circuit training is often part of a weight loss and fitness plan.
One of the best things about a bodyweight workout is that you can perform most of the exercises with no equipment at all, so whether you are at home, in a hotel room, in the park or office, you can exercise when you want.
The Bodyweight Exercise Routine
This simple routine will work your whole body. You do not have to perform them in this order. It is good to start with squats as these will get your blood flowing and muscles warmed up ready for the following exercises.
- Bodyweight squats (learn how to squat) – these work the largest muscles in the body, the glutes (backside)
- Plyometric Squat jumps – a powerful move to develop explosive strength in the legs that also burns fat fast
- Push ups (learn how to do push ups) – the classic chest exercise that also strengthens the back, shoulders and core muscles
- Lunges – excellent thigh exercise which helps to develop leg strength
- The plank (see back exercise number 4) – a static hold but intensive on the abs
- Jumping jacks – an old school fitness exercise which raises heart rate and burns fat as fast as skipping
- Mountain climbers – endurance and core workout
- Abdominal cycles (learn how to do abdominal cycles) – one of the best abs exercises you can do
- Crunches – another abs exercise to help develop your stomach muscles
When performing a bodyweight circuit you should exercise with intensity to maximise fat burning. For example, you could simple perform as many repetitions of each exercise within a given time, say 2 minutes, before moving on to the next. This would result in a 18 minute workout. Or you could perform it as a circuit, performing a set numbers of exercises then moving on, and then repeating the circuit.
The Bodyweight Circuit
- 50 squats
- 10 squat jumps
- 20 pushups
- 20 lunges (10 on each side)
- Hold the plank for 60 seconds
- 50 jumping jacks
- 30 mountain climbers
- 20 ab cycles
- 20 crunches
This would result in 220 exercises in total. Once you complete the crunches you start again with squats. You should adjust the numbers to work on your strengths and strengthen your weaknesses, so if you are very good with push ups but have weak legs, you may want to reduce squats and increase push ups.
If you know other exercises that you really enjoy then add these in, too. You may remember some exercises from martial arts, yoga, aerobics or sports conditioning that you want to do. You may also want to add some stretches to the end of the workout in order to alleviate muscle soreness and avoid injury.
To increase your fitness and strength and to burn more fat you should strive to increase your work effort each week, so increase the reps (number of exercises) or the time you exercise. You can also aim to increase the speed at which you exercise, such as performing 60 squats in 60 seconds, or 90 jumping jacks in the same time. You could even attempt the 200 bodyweight squat challenge. To make the exercises more dynamic add jumps (plyometric training), for example clapping push ups, more jumping squats, burpees, knee raises and heel kicks.
Some people also split out the exercises to train throughout the day. The idea is that you can usually exercise for about 3 minutes before you start sweating, so every hour do 3 minutes of exercise, choosing a different exercise each hour. Perform the exercises slowly with good form (so do not do the plyometric ones) to help build strength. Whether you want to burn off your fat or get fitter for sports performing bodyweight training exercises should be a part of your fitness routine.
Another good way to get your workouts that is similar to the 3 minute per hour strategy is to use the Grease the Groove technique (or GtG for short). This method of working out is simple: you pick an exercise that you like or one that you want to get better at. Then every time you perform a certain activity you do this exercise with perfect form for a low number of repetitions.
For example, let’s say you want to get better at pull ups. If you have a pull up bar in a door way, then every time you walk through it you do three pull ups. Or let’s say you want to improve your squats. Easy: every time you turn on a light you do three squats.
Here is a great video that explains this in more depth:
As you can see, this is a great technique if you have the mindset that every rep counts. They all add up and pretty soon you’ve done 15 pull ups or an extra 30 squats without even breaking a sweat. There are so many exercises you can try, just pick one and apply the Grease the Groove technique to it.
Mountain Climbers are a fantastic bodyweight cardio and core strengthening exercise. They work the legs, abdominals, shoulders and chest together.
You start in a peaked push up position with one leg forward. Then you simply switch legs so that one is always straight out behind you and the other tucked under your torso. You can work as fast or slow as is comfortable.
Parallel bar dips
Parallel bar dips are an excellent exercise to build strength in the chest, triceps and shoulders. Narrow grip dips target the triceps and wide grip dips target the chest.
You need a good solid base to perform them on, so ideally use parallel bars or a dedicated dip station in a gym. If you own a power rack you can run a couple of tree stakes (or bamboo poles) across it to make a dip station.
To perform the parallel bar dips simply grip each bar and start with your arms straight. Then lower yourself until your upper and form arm are square (right angle at the elbow). Immediately push back upwards and stop just before the point where your arms lock out.
As you progress with dips you may need to start adding weight. This is usually done with a weight belt or sometimes a weight vest / backpack.
Jumping Jacks / Star Jumps
Jumping Jacks (known as star jumps in the UK) are one of the simplest cardio exercises you can do at home. You need no equipment and only enough space to stand in. Made famous by the military they are still used in circuit training classes and martial arts clubs.
To perform a jumping jack start by standing up straight with your hands down by your side and facing forward. Then jump and and simultaneously fling out your arms and legs so that when you land your feet are spread about shoulder width apart and your hand are reaching up to the sky. Then jump again to return to the start position.
Jumping jacks burn as much energy as skipping and also work the arms more. The faster you go the fitter you get and the more fat you burn.
Bodyweight and Weighted Lunges
Lunges are second only to squats for developing and toning the thighs and glutes.
This video shows how to do dumbbell lunges. Dumbbell lunges are a great way to start weighted lunges as you do not need to use a squat rack. Once you start lifting much heavier weights a barbell and squat rack may be required to help support the weight.
Lunges are really quite simple to perform, but exceptionally hard work once you add some weight. To start jut stand up straight facing forward with your hands on your hips, or if using a weight hold your dumbbells by your side / support a barbell across your shoulders.
Then take a large step forwards keeping your back straight and bending your leading knee, sinking your body until your thigh is almost parallel to the floor. Then push off from the front foot to return to the standing position. Repeat with the other foot.
One fun alternative is to do walking lunges which just involves walking along, but maintaining the low position – do not bob up and down. A killer on the thighs.
Body weight Squats
Body weight Squats – squats are great to build muscle in your quadriceps and glutes. While they are a basic exercise many people end up getting hurt due to incorrect form and technique. When performing a squat you must keep you chest and head upright while bending your knees and pushing your hips backwards like you are sitting in a chair. Be sure not to let your knees go over your toes as this is where the most injuries occur. When standing back up, focus on squeezing your glutes together and keeping your weight on your heels.
Plyometric squat jumps
Plyometric squat jumps – Adding power to any exercise can make it more efficient, harder or target muscle groups differently. For squat jumps start in a squat position with your head and chest up and your hips back like you are sitting in a chair. Push upwards keeping your weight on your heels and jump as high as you can before returning to your original position.
Pushups – Arguably the best exercise for your shoulders, chest and triceps, pushups also target your core as it works to keep your body still as your arms do the work. Start in an upright pushup position with straight arms, hands should be about shoulder width apart and your chin should be slightly raised. Keeping the rest of your body still, bend your elbows to lower yourself just above the ground before pushing back up to your starting position.
The Plank – Planks are great for your core and shoulders although they are a full body isometric workout. To do these, place your elbows on the ground so your entire forearm is resting on the floor. Go up on your toes and balance yourself there. Think about keeping your lower abs pulled up in order to not put unnecessary strain on your back. However do not raise them too high as you want your body in as straight of a line as it can be.
Crunches – There are many variations of crunches. The most simple is to lie on your back and bend your knees bringing your feet closer to your hips. Now contract your abs enough to pull your shoulder blades off of the ground, hold it here for a moment before lowering down and repeating. Hands can be placed by your sides or behind your head, but be sure not to pull on your neck; you want your abs working, not your arms.
Addition to the “Bodyweight and Weighted Lunges” section –There are many different versions of lunges: forward, backwards, walking and sideways. The key to a good lunge is trying to make every angle in your hips and knees a 90 degree angle and not letting your front knee go over your toes.
More Workouts on MotleyHealth.com
Over the years we have covered many types of training but the bodyweight workouts are always the most popular simply because they can be done anywhere, anytime by anybody!
- 20 Minute Home Workout
- Circuit Training Workouts
- Zuzana’s Killer 550 Rep Challenge + High Intensity Bodyweight Workout
- Spartan 300 Workout – Warrior Training
- Old School Fitness and Strength Training
- Boxing Workout – Plyometric Circuits
Resources from the Web
- “Fitness Fundamentals: Guidelines for Personal Exercise Programs” CDC.gov
- “Bodyweight Exercises for Home Fitness on a Budget” About.com
- “Bodyweight Exercises For Size & Strength” Bodybuilding.com