By: Erin McGill
It’s easy to see the benefits of bodyweight workouts. They’re convenient, especially in times where you want to work out at home for social distancing reasons. However, bodyweight exercises are often overlooked as part of a traditional strength training or overall fitness program. Most people don’t make best use of bodyweight exercises because they:
- Only know a handful of bodyweight exercises
- Don’t know how to target all muscle groups
- Aren’t sure how to achieve other goals like building muscle mass
We’re here to tell you the truth on bodyweight workouts and why they matter in your exercise routine. The fact is creativity is key in making bodyweight exercises part of your everyday fitness routine. There is so much more than just pushups, squats, and lunges for you to choose from. Further, you can find ways to target most muscles of both the upper body and lower body. Finally, bodyweight workouts aren’t just for beginners. You can achieve outcomes like improved strength, decreased body fat, and increased lean body mass.
Fitness Benefits of Bodyweight Exercises
Most people coming to the gym want to lose bodyfat, put on muscle mass, or achieve general fitness goals. The good news is, a well put together bodyweight workout and larger program can get you what you need, saving you space and cost.
To achieve body fat loss, you need to create a calorie deficit. You can do this by reducing your caloric intake and increasing your caloric expenditure. Both cardio and resistance training will help increase caloric burn.
Cardio helps you burn the most calories in the least amount of time. In terms of bodyweight workouts, the most obvious is walking, running, and hiking. However, you can get cardio gains with other bodyweight exercises such as speed skaters, burpees, and hand touches. We’ll provide a full body weight cardio workout to try in this blog.
Another important part of bodyfat loss is strength training. Strength training burns calories during the workout. However, it also helps you burn more calories for the next 24 – 48 hours as muscle tissue repairs itself. Further, the more lean body mass you have, the higher your metabolism is. This means you can be burning more calories 24 hours a day. Outside of the obvious pushups and squats, bodyweight exercises for strength training can include single leg Romanian deadlifts, reverse rows, and plank pushups. A full bodyweight resistance training workout is included here.
Increased Muscle Mass
To achieve hypertrophy, or increased muscle size, strength training is critical. Increasing the intensity or the weight of an exercise will help grow muscle tissue. This can seem difficult with bodyweight training if you’re limited to no-equipment strength exercises. Do not overlook the option of weighted vests with body weight training. Although it is additional equipment, weighted vests don’t take up much space. Additionally, you can do the same bodyweight exercises you were doing before, with the simple addition of a weighted vest that often comes with removable weighted pouches. This allows you to modify the weight based on the exercise.
More importantly, remember that adding weight to an exercise is really just increasing the intensity of each repetition. Therefore, if you can find a different way to increase intensity, you will also get the size gains you’re looking for. This includes performing bodyweight exercises explosively or rapidly. Explosive movements, or power exercises, result in similar muscle cell size adaptations as increasing weight. Power exercises are also commonly termed plyometric exercises. These aren’t just exercises involving jumping, like those seen in squat jumps. In fact, any exercise performed with extreme speed or explosion is considered a power exercise. The intensity of your power exercises, to increase muscle mass, must be great enough that you could not do more than 8 to 12 repetitions- or sustain the activity for more than 30 seconds.
With bodyweight exercises, there are a few additional considerations to keep in mind for developing hypertrophy. The first is giving yourself enough time to rest. If you’re hitting the 80 – 90% intensity level mark, then you need to give yourself a full one to three minutes of rest in between sets of the same exercise. If you’re doing circuit training style workouts, you can allow for less time in between each bodyweight exercise if working different muscle groups. Just be sure to give yourself three to five minutes of rest in between each full circuit. In addition to a workout designed for building lean body mass, it’s important for nutrition to also be tailored to this goal. Check out this article to learn more about how to gain weight the healthy way.
General Fitness Goals
There’s more to fitness than just decreasing body fat or increasing muscle size. In fact, optimal posture, core strength, good balance, and quick reaction times are all important. These components of fitness allow you to function better overall which is why they are often part of a functional fitness program. The best part about posture, core, balance, and reactive work is that most of these exercises are bodyweight by nature.
Goal Specific Bodyweight Exercises and Workouts
Now that you know bodyweight training can help you accomplish just about any goal, below is a breakdown of bodyweight exercises and how to incorporate them into your training program.
Bodyfat Loss Workouts
Your bodyweight workout for weight loss should include sets of 12 – 25 repetitions. The intensity level will be lower, 65 – 80%, and with shorter rest intervals. Keep in mind, strength training exercises intended to increase muscle mass will also help with bodyfat reduction.
- Burpees (power or step out)
- Prisoner squats
- Ali shuffle
- High knees
- Hand touches
- Jack push climb
Sample Cardio Program
Perform each of the below exercises at a moderate intensity (about 65 – 75%) and for 60 seconds each. Complete the exercises in succession, resting for one minute in between the circuit. Complete the circuit four times.
- Step out burpee
- Hand touches
- Jack push climb
- Body weight squat
- High knees
- Cross punches
- Plank hold
Resistance Training Exercises
- Lower body
- Single leg squat
- Assisted (or non-assisted) pistol squat
- Single leg Romanian deadlift
- Lunges (front, side, turning, stationary, walking)
- Upper body
- Pushup (wall, knees, floor, with rotation)
- Plank pushup
- Triceps pushup (wall or floor)
Sample BW Resistance Training Program For Bodyfat Loss
Perform the following exercises in succession, circuit style with a one to three minute rest in between the entire circuit (if needed). Each set should include 12 – 25 repetitions performed at a moderately slow pace (think two seconds down and two seconds up).
- Burpee with pushup
- Right leg single leg squat
- Left leg single leg squat
- Pushup with rotation
- Floor scaption
- Plank push up
- Right single leg Romanian deadlift
- Left single leg Romanian dead lift
Notes on Bodyweight Exercises for Fat Loss
Some of the exercises listed in this section may seem foreign. Therefore we have provided a breakdown of how to perform some of the less common exercises.
- Hand Touches
- Begin by setting yourself up in a pushup position, or hand plank.
- Hands should be about shoulder width apart and you can increase the intensity by spreading the hands farther apart.
- Shift the weight to the right side of the body, allowing your left hand to come up off the floor and touch the right shoulder.
- Switch sides, transitioning the weight to the left side and touching the right hand across to the left shoulder.
- Repeat the exercise
- Jack Push Climb
- These exercises consist of three common exercises: jumping jacks, pushups, and mountain climbers.
- Perform two jumping jacks, then drop into a pushup position for two repetitions, and finish with four mountain climbers.
- Stand back up and repeat as many times as needed.
- Single Leg Romanian Deadlift
- Slow transfer the weight to the right foot so the left foot is floating just next to the right.
- Keep a slight bend in the right knee the entire time, this ensures maximum glute contraction.
- Hinge forward at the right hip (keeping the knee in the same flexed position) as far as possible and keep the left floating foot right next to the right foot.
- Return to the standing position, continuing to keep the knee slightly bent. The only motion should come from the hip.
- Perform the set number of repetitions before switching to the other leg.
- On either one or both legs, tip forward at the hips so the trunk is parallel to the ground,
- Turn the palms in so the thumbs face the sky.
- Lift both arms up and into a Y position, aiming to get the upper arms in line with the ears.
- Make sure the arms stay straight the entire time.
- Return the arms back to resting level and repeat.
Increased Muscle Mass
Remember, to increase muscle mass you need to increase intensity. You can do this by changing the angle of an exercise (think decline pushup) or by increasing the speed to create power.