Bodyweight Workout Exercises and Plans – A Complete Guide

Bodyweight Workout Exercises and Plans A Complete Guide

The bodyweight workout.

So you have seen the videos of the super lean and shredded guys and gals on youtube and you undoubtedly have wondered. How did they do that? Is that some act of genetics, god, hard work, all of the above? Well, many of them have some very fundamental things in common and one of them is the regular use of their body as a form of resistance while working out.

Don’t dismiss this type of workout, there is more than meets the eye here. You can get supermodel body style by just working out, there are quite a few examples, like here and here. This type of workout is the true raw fundamental workout, you could call it the workout of our ancestors or the paleo workout. It allows you to truly tune in to your body, build a solid base and then ramp up without the perils of equipment and pushing yourself beyond your means.

That said, this article is here to lay the groundwork for the pillars of bodyweight workout routines. Whether you are a beginner or in need of transition, a workout expert or somewhere in-between, this article should have something for you to dig your teeth into.

One thing we will not do here starting out is to overwhelm you with variations. We will break down the fundamentals and provide plans, routines, and circuits that will fit your skill level.

Benefits of bodyweight workouts

When you train with your bodyweight, you burn calories and build muscle

The truth of the matter is, when you mix bodyweight exercises, in a circuit with good rhythm and velocity you will not only build your muscles you will also burn significant calories. The combination of these things creates what is called the afterburn effect where your body continues to burn calories at a high-rate long hours after you finished working out.

Bodyweight Workouts can be done nearly anywhere

Whether you are doing exercise at home, outside, in an office, a hotel room or even at a gym. Bodyweight workouts can be done almost anywhere. You need minimal if any equipment and can often times leverage items in your room like tables and chairs. To the extent that you have room to move, you can do a bodyweight workout.

Bodyweight Workouts allow for incredible progression

You truly can start from anywhere for a bodyweight workout. If you can’t even do a pullup, or if you can do 100 pull-ups, you can use your body as your base and accomplish your progressions. The challenge is really presented to your level and what you can tolerate. You can take your progression to whatever level you are ready for.

Bodyweight Workouts are your tools to build a base for your body

Using your body to maximize your fitness can increase your flexibility and mobility. Often times, traditional “gym workouts” can actually reduce this. Another key point here is that by using your body appropriately you can significantly reduce your chance of overdoing it and pushing your body before it is ready.

Bodyweight Workout Foundations, no equipment necessary

There are a few bodyweight exercises that are fundamental to any functional workout plan and while there are many variations around these fundamentals, generally, we classify particular areas of the body: upper, core, lower and full. The fundamental exercises (without variations) fall into these classes of movements: [string of images] pull-up/chin-up, push-up, squat, lunge, bridge, jump-jack, plank/crunch, and row.

If you can learn these basics, with good form, you can transform your body. Thus we present here the bodyweight fundamentals workout and test. We suggest you start here, do the fundamentals workout and see how it goes if you know all the moves, have good form and can perform at a high level, move on to the intermediate or expert workout.

This fundamentals workout, depending on how it is done, it can be brutal even more so if you are just starting out. Note that there are 11 fundamental exercises below. If you are a true beginner, rather then go full bore, do this set one time and stop. If you are looking to test and gauge your abilities, do each exercise for the duration, all out, for 3 sets and if you can complete that, you can move on to the Expert workout. Consequently, if this is difficult you should probably start with the beginner or intermediate workouts. Click the toggle below to view the workout plan:

Exercise Duration Instructions
Jumping Jacks 1 Minute 1. Stand with your feet together and arms by your sides.
2. Jump up and spread your feet apart and bring your hands together over your head
3. Jump up again and return to step 1.
4. Repeat for the duration.
Push Ups 1 Minute 1. Start by placing your hands on the ground, slightly farther than shoulder-width apart and extend your legs out behind you with your arms locked out.
2. Lower chest towards the ground by bending your elbows until it is just above the ground.
3. Push yourself back to your starting position in #1
4. Repeat for the duration.
Wall Sit 1 Minute 1. Start in a squat sit position with your thighs parallel to the floor.
2. Hold this position for the duration.
Crunches 1 Minute 1. Lie down on the ground flat, raise your knees and keep your feet pressed flat to the ground. Having something to secure your toes can be helpful but is not necessary. Place your hands behind your head, fingers interlocked
2. Lift your shoulders off the ground, briefly holding the raised position with your abdominal muscles flexed.
3. Return to starting position in 1.
4. Repeat for the duration.
Tricep Dips 1 Minute 1. Place your hands on the seat of a chair so your fingers face forward and extend your legs away from the chair.
2. Lower your body by bending your elbows until your arms are at a 90-degree angle.
3. Push your body back to the top where your arms are straight at position 1.
4. Repeat for the duration
Plank 1Minute 1. Lie flat on the ground and raise yourself off the ground supported by your elbows/forearms and toes.
2. Keep your body flat like a plank for the duration of the exercise.
Side-Plank Left 30 Seconds 1. Lie on your left side with your body fully extended.
2. Lift yourself off the ground and support yourself with your forearm/elbow and side of the foot.
3. Hold your body in a side-like plank for the duration of the exercise.
Side-Plank Right 30 Seconds 1. Lie on your right side with your body fully extended.
2. Lift yourself off the ground and support yourself with your forearm/elbow and side of the foot.
3. Hold your body in a side-like plank for the duration of the exercise.
Squats 1 Minute 1. Stand with your feet forward, shoulder-width apart.
2. Bend your knees and press your hips back to a position where your hips are slightly lower than your knees.
3. Return to your original position in 1.
4. Repeat for the duration of the exercise.
Lunges 1 Minute 1. Stand with your feet walking distance apart, keep your back straight and place your hands on your hips
2. Step forward while lowering yourself by bending your knees.
3. Stop when your back knees is just above the floor.
4. Stand back to position 1.
5. Repeat for the duration of the exercise.
Run-In-Place 1 Minute 1. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart posied as if you were about to break into a run.
2. Pull up your knees repeated, raising them slightly higher than if you were truly running, landing on the balls of the feet.
3. Repeat for the duration of the exercise.

As mentioned, if you are a beginner, rather than put yourself to the grind, just do what you can and note where you are at. You can actually use the above workout as a template for progression. It is a great base workout that you can use to grow into a more full-fledged routine that will be outlined below. Above all, we’d love for you to try out the above and send us your feedback!

Training with A bodyweight Workout for a full-body workout

Concepts, Basics And Progressions

In order to meet your fitness goals, bodyweight and calisthenics workouts must advance in different facets. These include difficulty, speed, frequency, and duration. Keep in mind that many of the advanced exercises are just variations and progressions of the fundamental and core moves, understanding this helps you meet your goals and progress through the base into a more advanced state.

What we want to introduce as you choose a workout, is a level of body force that is applied along with velocity. The combination of these two items can cause rapid strength gains, fat loss and more, depending on your commitment and drive. With that said, the base concepts when doing these workouts will always involve 3 things, even when applying force and velocity:

  1. Stability and Control are key, focus on these even when increasing in difficulty and you will prevent injury and meet your goals faster.
  2. Be deliberate as you progress – So only choose workouts/exercises you can meet criteria #1 with and you can willfully finish.
  3. Finally, when doing a bodyweight workout, don’t workout to failure.

Therefore stay true to the above 3 principals and it will allow you to track your progression and know when you need to move to a new level.

The Bodyweight Workout – Plans

Bodyweight exercise variations and alternatives

In any exercise routine, one thing that you will confront after any significant period of time is plateauing and boredom. I like to address these both separately as they have different solutions. When you hit a plateau, it will usually be in one of a few areas:

Workout plateaus

  • Muscle growth Plateau
    1. In this case, choose variations (see below) that are harder but you can still accomplish with stability and excellent form.
    2. Remember not to train to failure when doing #1
  • Stamina Plateau
    1. When discussing bodyweight workouts and stamina, we are really saying that you want to have “strength-endurance”. This means the ability to apply muscular contractions (strength) over a sustained period of time (endurance).
    2. It will sound a little counter-intuitive but you will actually want to figure out a way to add weight in this case. A prime example is if you plateau doing pull-ups, say you train really hard and go from 3 pull-ups to 15. Then for two months, you can seem to do more than 15 consecutive pull-ups, even if you can do 50 pull-ups broken up into sets. Try adding ankle or chest weights and work your way up to 15, do this until the 15 feels just like the unweighted 15 and the next time you take off the weight you most likely will be able to easily pass your plateau.
  • Overtraining Plateau
    1. Realize that as you push yourself, fatigue accumulates exponentially. This may not seem to be affecting you, but if you are working to failure, at some point, perhaps over a period of weeks, it will affect your training load and volume. So, again, shoot for not training to failure with excellent form.
    2. The other big factor here is nutrition and sleep. We will have other big guides about these, but needless to say, if you are not making these part of your overall strategy, you will not win in the long-term.

dealing with boredom

Let’s face it, everyone gets bored doing the same workouts day in and day out even when you are seeing terrific progress and here at BWH we like to fight this initially just by mixing in new exercises but most importantly, you need to do other activities which reinforce your training while still having fun, below are some excellent ideas that pair and complement bodyweight workouts:

  • Rock Climbing
    • If you have never tried rock climbing, it can sound intimidating, but it really isn’t. Nearly every city of any size has a rock climbing gym and because rock climbing doesn’t actually require much gear, you can climb outside for free. A good beginner’s guide is here.
  • Swimming
    • Believe it or not, swimming and bodyweight workouts greatly complement each other because more strength provides more efficiency in the water and swimming is also “uniquely beneficial for strength” ays Bo Babenko DPT, a New York-based doctor of physical therapy, strength coach. “Strength is closely tied to having maximum mobility, and swimming is one of the best ways to increase extensibility of your tissues…” This translates to maximizing gains in bodyweight workouts.
  • Outdoor Activities
    • This may seem like a no-brainer, but believe it or not, people often miss this. One thing to mention is when you can do as many of your workouts outside as you can. Outside can mean, opening your garage door or working out at a calisthenics park. Since this section is about exorcising your workout boredom, items to try that don’t involve actual workout routines are things like, going for a difficult hike, doing yard work while moving heavy objects (think railroad ties, etc.).

Recovery and Nutrition with Bodyweight Workouts

It is good to take a holistic view of your goals even in the view of recovery and nutrition. Any type of workout routine can truly tax the body and if you are not resting and fueling properly, you won’t meet your goals. As the saying goes, if you exercise to control your weight and strength, don’t get injured! Because of this, below are a few things to take into consideration.

avoid overtraining

When you are working yourself out and seeing progression, it can be easy to feel like, “why stop?”. You have to realize though that this can lead to digging your own hole that you can’t get out of. In fact, every time you workout you dig some kind of hole and in order to get out of that hole, you have to fill that hole back in. We can think of a deep hole as overtraining and the dirt is our rest and recovery. Thus, when it comes to a fitness lifestyle, which is ultimately what we are trying to build here, you don’t want to find yourself at the bottom of the hole. Unless you want to get injured and take months off of training entirely!

don’t train to failure

Recovery and strength go hand in hand, because of this whenever you train to failure, it’s going to take your body a lot longer to recover from your workout for more reasons than just your muscles. Your mind gets taxed from a workout as well, and thus it will take recovery cycles beyond just when your muscles are no longer fatigued. So focus on velocity and stability, and don’t work your set to failure.

nutrition will vary by goals and needs

There are a million diet and nutrition guides out there, and athletes have special nutrition needs since our focus is bodyweight workouts, we will focus our high-level nutrition items around this. This is not a nutrition guide, just a few fundamentals for you to explore that we know work for most people. That said, wherever you are coming from there are a few fundamentals you can follow when working out:

  1. Focus on food quality. This means, stay away from the fructose and anything processed (whole foods) like unprocessed proteins, veggies, quality carbohydrates, and “healthy” fats.
  2. Portion size is your other main focus and you need to eat portions that are the right amounts for “you”. Your body size, workout frequency and health goals all play a factor in portion size. Be sure not to starve yourself when doing these routines, it is key that you acquire the right nutrients.
  3. Focus on eating deliberately. What does that mean, it means to be conscious of when and what you eat. Take your time, chew slowly and wait for the recognition of when your body says enough. One trick to try here is to literally sit down and say thank you (or whatever type of gratitude you can conjure) for your food before you ever take a bite.

Doing the above three items will help you speed recovery, build and preserve your muscle mass, boost your performance and sustain your energy.

7 Useful Equipment Pieces for bodyweight training

Because we stated that a bodyweight workout is “without equipment”, of course, in irony, we will have a section about useful equipment for bodyweight workouts. While you really don’t need any equipment or anything beyond a few household items, the below can help you take your training to the next level:

  1. Pull Up Bar
    • Honestly, this is probably one of the most useful pieces of equipment you can pick up. You can check out our buying guide here.
  2. Chair or table for tricep dips
    • You don’t need anything fancy here, a set of P-Bars below can be helpful as well, but a table or chair can be used just as easily.
  3. P-Barz / Parallettes
    • Parallettes are a small pair of short parallel bars. Parallettes are similar to pushup bars, or dip bars, but they are generally longer and lower to the ground.
  4. Something to anchor your toes/feet
    • Like #2 above, this can be as simple as the edge of a couch or something more complicated like a sit-up bar. This is not required and there is debate as to whether it is best to do certain core workout anchored or un-anchored.
  5. Strappable body weights like a weight vest or ankle weights
    • This is a nice to have, and very helpful when you hit a plateau, it can allow you to push past a point where you just couldn’t go previously.
  6. Heavy objects / Medicine balls
    • Medicine ball training is an ancient form of training, and a few good medicine balls of varying weights can offer you a wide variety of variations for functional fitness.
  7. Rings, Wheels, and Bands
    • All three of these come in varying models, shapes and sizes, the rings give you incredible upper body variations for your workouts, whereas wheels give you an opportunity to really hone your core workouts. Bands can always be useful, entire workout programs have been built around these.

In closing

The Internet is full of calisthenic stars with 8 packs. That said, functional bodyweight workouts are not only used by those looking to get ripped, they are also used by real athletes that are professionals in their sports. This is often because it is one of the only ways to improve peak athletic performance without injuries or interference with specific muscle groups.

For example, Sasha DiGiulian, Professional Rock Climber. When speaking to Red Bull, she specifically called out bodyweight exercises – Start with bodyweight: “In order to get stronger, body-weight exercises will really empower you. Pull-ups, dips and handstands are all good confidence-building strength exercises. If you can’t do a pull-up yet, take a little weight off by employing a pulley system or cradling your knees in a band and work your way up. Eventually, you’ll be so strong you’ll be able to add more weight and change your grip.”

Another excellent example is Drew Brees, the quarterback for the New Orleans Saints, who after experiencing injuries, replaced his Olympic lifting with a more functional bodyweight workout that includes Squats, Lunges, High Knees and a myriad of band and ball exercises claiming this has made him a better quarterback, contributes to more functional fitness, and keeps him from getting injured.

The truth is, bodyweight training, whether you are a professional, an amateur, seeking health or looking to just be your best, you can do no better than to use your own body!

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