Bodyweight movements are a simple yet highly effective way to develop your functional fitness as they improve your flexibility, agility, balance & strength without the use of machinery or equipment. On the road, at home or even at your gym, a simple bodyweight workout can easily reduce you into a pool of sweat if the right intensity is achieved. Just take a look at gymnasts. They are consistently considered to be the strongest athletes pound for pound and that’s not because they spend hours in the gym lifting weights. Bodyweight movements form the foundation of their strength & conditioning training. The ability to be able to lift one’s own body quickly, easily and in any situation is immeasurably valuable to all of us.
High-intensity interval training (HIIT) is one of the best ways to train with bodyweight movements along with high volume circuits. We have some great inspiration for your next bodyweight workout, but first let’s take a look at some key movements and how they should be done.
1. Air Squats
Squats are the ultimate lower body exercise - squats target the quads, glutes, hamstrings & core.
Begin with your feet shoulder-width distance apart and reach your arms out in front to help counterbalance you. Standing tall, brace your abs and wiggle your toes to shift your weight towards your heels.
Flexing at the hips & knees, sit back and down driving your knees out and bringing your hip crease below parallel with your knees. Reverse back to standing and squeeze your butt at the top.
Burpees are designed to work your entire body with each and every repetition. Burpees develop and test your strength and aerobic based fitness as well as your flexibility. They are a quick and effective workout performed on their own!
Start from standing with your feet about hip-width distance apart. Bring your hands down towards the ground and place them as close to where your feet are. As your hands hit the ground simultaneously kick your feet back back behind you and lower your chest to the ground to assume the bottom of a push-up. Press the ground away coming to the top of your push-up, jump your feet forward to your hands as you lift your torso, coming into a squat position. As you stand all the way up, jump and clap your hands overhead.
Beginners can jump or step their feet back to a plank position and skip the push-up.
3. Mountain Climbers
Mountain climbers are a plyometric exercise that will get your heart rate up! They are a full body workout engaging the legs and abdominals as well as the muscles in your upper arms.
Start in a push-up position supporting your bodyweight on your hands and toes. Flex your knee and hip to bring one leg forward and upwards until the knee is underneath your hip. Start here and then reverse by extending the bent leg straight back as you bring your back foot forward to your hand. Continue to alternate for a specified time or number of repetitions.
Walking lunges are great as a lower body compound exercise, they target the quads, glutes & hamstrings primarily, and the calves and core as secondary stabilizing muscles.
Start with feet at shoulder-width distance apart and your hands either at your sides or by your hips. Step one foot forward and bend at the knee. Keep your back toes tucked under as you lower your hips until your rear knee touches the ground. Keep your back straight and torso upright as you drive through the heel of your front foot and extend both knees to return to standing. Repeat the above as you bring your rear foot forward into a lunge.
Push ups are one of the most common and popular bodyweight exercises for the upper body as they work the chest, triceps and shoulders.
Start in a plank position with your hands slightly wider than shoulder width apart with your body supported on your toes. Keep your body as straight as possible by squeezing your glutes and bracing your abs. Lower your chest to the ground by bending at the elbows and keeping them locked in tight to your sides. Extend your elbows and push the floor away from you as you return to your starting position. Beginners can start on their knees and use a pillow or cushioned object beneath their chest until comfortable with supporting their whole bodyweight.
6. Forearm Plank Push-Ups
Utilizing the forearm plank dynamically with the top of a push-up position, is a great progression for a push-up as it helps develop the necessary core and upper body strength.
Come into a prone position supporting your weight on your forearms with your shoulders slightly in front of your elbows. Maintaining a straight body, push down through your supporting forearm as you lift your other forearm and come up onto your hand on the opposite side. Pushing your hand down into the ground lift the other forearm and come into the top of your push-up with your shoulders over your wrists. Reverse down to your forearms keeping the body tight and your hips square to the ground.
7. Box Jumps
Box jumps are an awesome plyometric exercise that help to build explosive strength and power in your legs, targeting the hamstrings, quads, glutes, abductors and calves as assisting secondary muscles.
Aside from a box, you can use a bench (at a park or at home pushed up against the wall so it doesn't move) or a low wall or deep step for box jumps. Start with your feet in your jumping position. Bring your arms back behind you as you drop your hips and flex your knees coming into a partial squat. Explosively extend at the hips, knees and ankles jumping upwards and forwards as you swing your arms out in front to help with momentum. Soften the impact as you land by bending your knees softly. Swiftly jump back down to the ground.
The sit-up is by far the most common abdominal exercise in existence and are performed to increase core strength. They tend to focus more on strengthening the superficial muscles of the core such as the Rectus Abdominus, the Obliques and Hip Flexors. Performing a sit-up as demonstrated in the above video will help reduce the assistance of your hip flexors and target your abdominals.
Lay on the floor with your lower back either supported by an ab-mat or a cushion. Bring the soles of your feet together making a diamond shape with your legs. Bring your arms up overhead with your hands touching the ground. Take a deep breath in and as you exhale drive your arms up overhead, flexing at the hip and coming into a seated position.
Here's a quick workout you can easily do at home:
Tabata (8 rounds at each station of 20 seconds of work and 10 seconds rest) rounds of the following movements.
4. Forearm plank push-ups
Spend 3-5 minutes warming up before you start. Complete all 8 rounds of each movement before moving on to the next. This workout takes just 16 minutes.
Tabata is not for the faint-hearted! If you aren't already following a regular workout routine, consider trying 4 minutes at each station with 30 seconds of work and 30 seconds of rest.
R. Harrell, "Everyman's Gymnastics," The CrossFit Journal, http://library.crossfit.com/free/pdf/34_05_Everyman_Gymnastics.pdf