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The best bodyweight exercises

Soldier doing pushups in military fitness training
Bodyweight exercises are a great way to help you lose weight. They also help to burn belly fat fast. They combine a cardiovascular workout with a muscle building workout, so burn fat while you are exercising out and also increase your metabolism as a result of muscle development.

Bodyweight exercises are considered to be very “old school”, they are still promoted in martial arts classes, military fitness training and strength training for dance, sports and many other activities. Circuit training exercises are 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.

After reading the below, check out our circuit training workouts and strength training routines.

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

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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.

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 belly fat or get fitter for sports performing bodyweight training exercises should be a part of your fitness routine.

Exercise Instuctions

Mountain Climbers

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


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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.


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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.

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!

  1. 20 Minute Home Workout
  2. Circuit Training Workouts
  3. Zuzana’s Killer 550 Rep Challenge + High Intensity Bodyweight Workout
  4. Spartan 300 Workout – Warrior Training
  5. Old School Fitness and Strength Training
  6. Boxing Workout – Plyometric Circuits

Resources from the Web

More like this in the Fitness section

  45 comments for “The best bodyweight exercises

  1. Bryan
    August 16, 2010 at 8:15 am

    For upper body, I personally like pull ups ( chin ups are okay too) because I like the challenge. I recommend hitting your back with these or rows 2:1 over your chest. The reason why is that most daily activities require flexion at the shoulder and elbow working the anterior chest wall muscles. If you overtrain your pecs with a lot of push ups or bench pressing you’re more prone to rotator cuff injuries. Lat work will prevent this and balance the muscular tension on the shoulder joint.
    For lower body, body squats are a mainstay. For more of a challenge, try doing concentric /eccentric phases 10 seconds each. Maintain perpetual motion x 2-3 minutes. And, if you’re not already doing it, add sprint/walking to your routine. Not only will this work your endurance, but, it’ll help develop lower extremity power. Sprint as fast as you can for 30 seconds and then walk for a minute. Repeat this cycle at least 5 times. Slowly build to more if you are winded after the first five.

  2. MotleyHealth
    August 16, 2010 at 9:54 am

    I agree on the pull ups. This little routine is aimed at anyone who does not have a pull up bar handy. I should add chair dips in there too actually.

  3. Danni
    August 17, 2010 at 3:01 am

    Yikes, I’ll have a go at this tomorrow, but I will stick with 2 minutes of each as I don’t want to have another stroke while I’m exercising! I love doing squats and lunges as they help strengthen my legs and they help my balance too, (I was the wobbley lady after my stroke) but I’m not sure about the squat jump??? Do you squat, and then jump into the air as you rise up??? I don’t know what the plank is, or the ab cycle, but I’ll look around the Internet and see if I find them. I lke doing jumping jacks as it takes me back to gym class when I was a girl! Thanks, Danni (PS: we have a pull up bar which my two teenage sons use, but neither my teenage daughter nor I can pull up!)

  4. MotleyHealth
    August 17, 2010 at 9:31 am

    Yeah, squat jumps are very dynamic, designed to build up power in the legs. Pull ups are extremely hard, not many people can do them. If you have some dumbbells make use of them with one arms bent over dumbbell rows.

    The trick is to create a workout that is good for you. So combine bits of this bodyweight workout with the 20 minute workout and some weight training exercises too.

    I will find some videos to help explain some of the exercises now.

  5. MotleyHealth
    August 17, 2010 at 12:33 pm

    New links added to provide instructions for each of the bodyweight exercises.

  6. Lucia
    August 17, 2010 at 10:00 pm

    Alike Brian, I too love doing pull-ups. But I struggled at first, until I saw a tip in Mark Lauren’s book, You Are Your Own Gym. Check this out:

    Use a surface, such as a chair, to put your feet on behind you, with knees bent, so you can use your legs to assist yourself throughout the movement. After you’ve done this for a while, or if this is too easy, try jumping to the top of the Pull Up position and concentrate on the negative movement by lowering yourself slowly in a very controlled manner. Keep it at until you build enough strength to pull yourself up without assistance.

    This tip really helped me out in getting good at Pull-Ups. I’m making really good progress, and I think you can too. Good luck!

  7. MotleyHealth
    August 17, 2010 at 10:12 pm

    Yep, I said something similar somewhere here too once. Hold on…..

  8. MotleyHealth
    August 17, 2010 at 10:21 pm

    Of course, it is mentioned in the MCD Weight Loss Plan. It really deserves an article in its own right though. I’ll get on to it.

  9. August 18, 2010 at 4:04 am

    @Lucia – Yep, there are several ways to reduce the resistance doing pull up. For some who aren’t able to use strict form to lift their total body weight, a couple of other options would be:

    Modified pull up – If you have an exercise ball you can also rest your heels (calves, or back of knees) on the ball while sitting in the “L” position and work the pull up form there. This effectively reduces the amount of resistance that you’re lifting.
    -or-
    Modified row – Basically the same position. However, with this movement, you keep your body rigid and pull up at an incline turning it into a row hitting your mid traps and rhomboids. This movement will also work the low back and glutes to a degree because you have to stabilize the ball on your heels.

  10. MotleyHealth
    September 16, 2010 at 11:26 am

    There is now a page dedicated to pull ups with instructions on how to develop your pulling power.

  11. Charmaine the goat milk gal
    September 29, 2010 at 2:11 pm

    I shall bookmark this page for my alternate exercise routine.

  12. MotleyHealth
    September 29, 2010 at 10:59 pm

    Excellent Charmaine. What routine are you currently doing?

  13. Charmaine
    September 30, 2010 at 5:56 am

    My daily exercise routines are 100 sit-ups and running – 7km

  14. MotleyHealth
    September 30, 2010 at 7:32 am

    These bodyweight routines should really help improve your fitness and tone muscles then. I think that runners really need to do lots of core training too as this strengthens the muscles that support the spine, which in turn helps to cushion the impact when running.

  15. Charmaine
    October 1, 2010 at 6:40 am

    Yes, you are right. Thanks for the info.

  16. Darren
    November 6, 2010 at 1:50 pm

    I never use to do bodyweight exercises until this year. They are such a great fat burning workout. I like your idea of working out 3 minutes every hour. I should try this approach. It won’t feel like working out and it’s easier to slip in short workouts.

  17. sally
    December 13, 2010 at 12:16 am

    this is very practical and motivating! I added push ups a month ago and will move into the others asap. I usually only do aerobic stuff, arc trainers and stair masters. thanks

  18. Matt
    December 22, 2010 at 5:51 am

    Oh man i’m 14 and i have been looking around for awhile now for a good routine. This routine will defenitly help me out and get my butt off the couch

  19. MotleyHealth
    December 22, 2010 at 5:56 am

    Good on you Matt. Feel free to keep us posted of your progress.

  20. Mike Simone
    December 27, 2010 at 5:04 am

    I’m digging this workout? Going to put down my weight for a while and give it a shot. How long have you been doing this for?
    Thanks
    Mike

  21. MotleyHealth
    December 27, 2010 at 8:31 am

    These exercises have been part of my fitness routines for many years, probably since I started learning kung-fu in 1992.

  22. Laura
    February 25, 2011 at 2:14 am

    i really hope this plan works! im super excited to try it! has anyone used it? and if so, does it work?

  23. MotleyHealth
    February 25, 2011 at 2:26 am

    Hi Laura. What are you trying to achieve? Whether or not it works depends largely on you and what your goals are. For fitness, yes it works, if you put the effort in. For weight loss it will work when combined with a healthy and calorie controlled diet.

  24. Sterling
    March 30, 2011 at 6:58 pm

    What exercise do you suggest to help build strength if a person is having trouble doing pull ups??

  25. MotleyHealth
    March 30, 2011 at 7:25 pm

    Progressing through assisted pull ups is a good way. See How To Do Pull Ups and Chin Ups

  26. Michelle
    July 13, 2011 at 5:19 am

    What is best about body weight exercises is they are primarily compound exercises. Good article

  27. Eddie
    October 11, 2011 at 10:27 am

    What do you count as one mountain climber when you alternate one leg or when alternate back to your original stance

  28. MotleyHealth
    October 11, 2011 at 10:59 am

    I count 1 as when you return to the start position, so two steps.

  29. zaher
    October 13, 2011 at 3:14 am

    hi! my name is zaher, i am 15 years old.i am overweight. 4 months ago i used to be 175 pounds, now i am 225 pounds! i am struggling to lose my body fat. my school physical education class is helping in my speed,stamina,and weight lifting. but for some reason im not losing my body fat at all! i am eating too much at home, and i am afraid that i will become fatter and fatter and fatter. i dont know if my physical education class is helping me, but they do teach us these following methods:squats,crunches,pull ups (i cant even do one),sit ups,planking,push ups,running a mile every week,skull crushers,cheerleaders,and a variety of sports. but still, i am eating too much at home. is my physical education class enough excercise daily for me? or should i excercise after school? and i dont know how to control my diet at all! please help me. thank you

  30. MotleyHealth
    October 13, 2011 at 7:06 pm

    Hi Zahar, losing weight requires exercise and healthy diet. You say “i am eating too much at home” – that sounds like the problem. You need to eat a healthy and calorie reduced diet to lose weight. Also, “running a mile every week” is not going to help much – make it 2 miles every day and you may see quicker progress.

  31. Eddie
    October 16, 2011 at 5:19 am

    Got any workout drills for a highschool rugby team to use on the practice field

  32. MotleyHealth
    October 16, 2011 at 9:44 pm

    Hi Eddie, have you looked at the RFU site? These guides look promising: MOVEMENT SKILLS FOR YOUTH AND JUNIOR ATHLETES and AGILITY DRILLS . There is a wealth of information on the site: http://www.rfu.com/takingpart/fitness.aspx

  33. sandy
    October 31, 2011 at 7:34 pm

    hey, i have lost 65 pounds now i have another 40 to go and im stalling. I try to walk a few times a week 2 miles, im a busy mom of 2 teenagers and i work full time. Any tips !

  34. MotleyHealth
    October 31, 2011 at 10:50 pm

    Hi Sandy, well done on losing 65 pounds! Only tips I can give are to do more exercise and review your diet again.

  35. Sam
    November 17, 2011 at 3:34 am

    I want to run and also do these exercises to speed up my weight loss. I read the article about exercising for 45 minutes and was thinking of 20 minutes running and 25 minutes of bodyweight – but what is the best order to do the exercises in? Run then bodyweights or bodyweights first?

  36. MotleyHealth
    November 17, 2011 at 11:57 am

    It really does not matter too much. I would suggest running first and then doing the workout as this ensures that your muscles are thoroughly warmed up before exercising. If you are running outside in cold weather try to go straight into the workout to ensure that you do not cool down too quick.

  37. Meri
    January 18, 2012 at 5:06 pm

    Can you recommend some lower body exercises for people with osteoarthritis in the knees? I am able to go UP flights of stairs but going down is very difficult and often painful. Squatting is out of the question…unless that’s something that could possibly be worked up to like I did with flexibility and strength in physical therapy for 6 months last year. I have continued with the exercises I learned in physical therapy at my gym but cannot always get there. It would be great to have some bodyweight exercises I could do at home or even at work (lately I’ve been using every trip to the ladies’ room as an opportunity to walk up a flight of stairs and then do sets of 30 wall pushups (and take the elevator back down)). I can add isometric leg lifts to the front, side, and rear but I know they won’t give the punch that squats would…

    Thank you!

  38. MotleyHealth
    January 19, 2012 at 11:59 am

    Hi Meri, I wonder if more walking would be a good place to start? If walking down stairs is too hard, then maybe walking around a park on slightly hilly areas (if available) would help.

  39. Nick
    March 11, 2012 at 10:25 pm

    How many times should you repeat the circuit when working out?

  40. MotleyHealth
    March 11, 2012 at 11:06 pm

    As many times as you can! If you can exercise for 30 minutes then you will be getting fitter and stronger with this circuit.

  41. psc
    March 30, 2012 at 9:13 am

    This bodayweight circuit is good for beginners and losing belly fat too ,right?

  42. MotleyHealth
    March 30, 2012 at 2:01 pm

    Yes, these exercises are good. The more intensive you do them, the more often, the fitter you get and the more fat you burn. But a healthy diet is also needed.

  43. sam
    July 3, 2012 at 3:45 pm

    body weight exercise are best. i like the videos thanks…

  44. Wayne
    January 16, 2013 at 2:44 pm

    Great article. I like the bodyweight circuit but I would throw in some chin ups to work back/biceps and handstand push ups to work shoulders. Then it would be more well rounded for the upper body.

  45. MotleyHealth
    January 16, 2013 at 3:53 pm

    Those are good exercises Wayne, but this is really aimed at the beginner. Chin ups and handstand push ups require a lot of time and guidance to perfect. Better to start simple, get fitter, reduce weight and then progress to the harder exercises later on.

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