When considering a workout plan, many people stop before they ever begin—because they don’t have any equipment, and assume that it’s a necessity. Whether because of worry that there’s no way to be successful at reaching exercise oriented goals without weights, or because they don’t know enough different activities to do, there is a common misconception that getting fit requires equipment—a misconception that unnecessarily prevents people from getting started on a fitness path.
In reality, there are many activities you can do with only the weight of your own body, and they can be highly effective at getting you in better shape. To help us best understand how to begin building a bodyweight workout plan, we consulted with WeStrive App trainers Torra Wolf and Tommy Hockenjos. They shared their favorite workouts that are based only on bodyweight, with assorted fitness goals in mind.
Meet the Expert
What Goals Can Be Achieved With a Bodyweight Plan?
You can accomplish an array of fitness goals without having to use workout equipment. Let’s look at how a bodyweight plan can help you reach your fitness goals, and where it may fall short.
- Strength Building: A bodyweight workout plan can help lead to increased strength, though you may need to get there through progressively higher reps. Let’s take push-ups as an example, a common bodyweight exercise that can have profound effects by working multiple parts of your body. The act of doing push-ups will increase the strength of your pecs (chest), deltoids (shoulders), triceps (back of your arms), and abs (stomach). You might begin by working up to doing a single properly formed push-up, then after time gradually doing many more. You can also do variations that are more complex: “If you have mastered 30 push-ups in a straight set, now challenge yourself to decline push-ups,” says Wolf. By increasing repetitions and making individual exercises more difficult, you can gain strength through simple bodyweight movements. There is only so far you can go with bodyweight workouts when it comes to building muscle mass, though. Hockenjos cautions that for those whose goals is a more extreme version of strength gaining, like for powerlifters, a bodyweight plan alone won’t be sufficient. "Our bodyweight, for most, is not enough of a stimulus to generate the massive strength adaptations that are possible from using external weight,” he says.
- Weight Loss: A bodyweight plan can be effective for weight loss for two reasons. First, cardio activity may help you lose weight through burning calories. “If you are looking to lose weight, add some extra movements to your workout plan that will make you break a sweat," says Wolf. For example: “Instead of an ordinary lunge, do a lunge jump with a front kick in between each rep,” she says. "The more you increase your heart rate, the more calories you will burn.” The second reason that a bodyweight plan can work for weight loss is because as you increase your muscle mass, your body will burn more calories on its own, because muscle increases your metabolism. Hockenjos recommends that if your goal is weight loss, you should “choose an easier variation of an exercise (push-ups with hands on a bench vs. regular push-ups, for example) where you are able to burn more calories and increase the number of reps you are able to perform.”
- Muscle Toning: Knowing that you can build strength with bodyweight only, it shouldn’t be surprising that you can also enhance your muscle tone. “Although lifting heavier weights does help to increase muscle faster, toning muscles can be done through your own body weight,” too, says Wolf. And because having more muscle increases your metabolism, you’ll burn more calories, helping you to shed the fat that may be hiding your musculature underneath.
- Endurance: Bodyweight workout plans can increase your endurance for a straightforward reason: The more you practice a specific exercise, the more endurance you’ll have for that exercise. Because there is such a wide variety of bodyweight workout options, you can increase your endurance in a large array of ways.
Who Should Begin a Bodyweight Workout Plan, and Who Shouldn’t?
Wolf says that anyone can benefit from a bodyweight plan because, even though injuries are the top reason to avoid certain exercises, there are plenty of others meant to help you recover from them. “Most bodyweight exercises are dynamic and multi-joint," says Hockenjos. "When recovering from an injury we need the ability to isolate certain muscles and movement, which is sometimes difficult to do properly with bodyweight exercises.” This means that until you’re fully healed, you may be a little limited in the scope of exercises you can safely perform. If you have an injury, you should discuss it with your doctor before beginning any regime.
Bodyweight Workouts to Try
There is no limit to what types of activities can be done with bodyweight only. From cardio exercises to strength building that improves your balance and posture, there are as many movements using just your body as there are body parts—if not more.
Below are some of the trainers's favorite bodyweight workouts. Wolf’s choices for bodyweight workouts all engage multiple muscles, and Hockenjos’s choices are focused on increasing endurance and strength.
Tricep Dips With Kick
This will work muscles throughout your body, ranging from your triceps to your legs and abs.
- Start sitting on your backside. Place your hands underneath you, with your fingertips facing your heels.
- Come up into a bridge.
- Lower down into your triceps dip. As you extend back up, kick your leg up to the ceiling.
- Lower the leg and body into a dip, and repeat on the other side.
Around the World Lunges
You’ll strengthen more muscles with this variation on a lunge than you would through a standard front or back one.
- With your feet shoulder width apart, take a large step forward with your right leg and lower your body toward the floor, forming a 90-degree angle with both legs at the bottom of the lunge.
- Push off your right leg rising back to the starting position.
- Step your right leg out to the side, lowering your body over your knee.
- Bring yourself back to the starting position and take a large step backward with your right leg and lower your body toward the floor, forming a 90-degree angle with both legs at the bottom of the lunge.
- Bring yourself back to the starting position. Take a large step to the left side with your right leg. Then, bring yourself back to the starting position.
Tip: Keep your weight in the front heel.
Hip Dip to Lateral Leg Lift
Feel the burn in your obliques, glutes, and shoulders simultaneously while practicing this movement.
- Start on the ground in a side modified plank position, with your right leg extended parallel, and your left knee bent under your body.
- Lower your hips up and down a few inches while lifting your leg up.
Single Leg Glute Bridge to Bent Leg Raise
You’ll work your abs as well as your legs with this move while using your upper body to stabilize yourself.
- Lie on your back, feet flat on the floor.
- Keep your left leg planted firmly on the ground, and raise your right leg to a 90-degree angle. Lift your hips off the floor.
- Returning your hips to the floor and bring the left leg up. Both of your legs should be at a 90-degree angle.
- Lift your hips off the floor.
- Return your hips to the floor.
Follow the guidance of increasing your reps—as well as utilizing variations—to never get tired of this move, which notoriously improves the shape of your glutes.
- Standing straight, extend your arms in front of you.
- Lower your body over your knees, keeping your core engaged and arms extended. (Tip: Keep your knees in line with your toes).
- Stand back up to starting position.
Single Leg RDLS
You don’t actually need any weight at all to do a deadlift. This action will enhance your balance, as well as your strength.
- Stand straight with your arms very slightly extended in front of you, and with your hands balled into fists.
- Lower your body forward as though you are picking up a barbell, while extending your right leg behind you.
- Slowly raise yourself, as though you are deadlifting a barbell, while returning your leg to the ground.
- Return to the starting position.
You can strengthen the entirety of your upper body through this classic exercise. As you improve at it, try variations and progressively more reps.
- Place your hands shoulder-width or slightly wider apart. If you draw a straight line from your chest/nipple down, it should be directly over your thumbnails.
- Place your feet shoulder-width or slighter wider apart.
- With the body in a straight line from the top of your head to your heels, brace the core and glutes, then look a few inches in front of your fingers to lengthen the neck.
- Begin to bend the elbows to a 90-degree angle or less. Elbows should be a few inches from the body so your form looks like an arrow if looking top-down. You may also position your elbows flared in a “T” shape.
- Pause, then push into the floor, continuing to engage the core and glutes to press up to plank position again.
This plyometric move is as effective as it is fun. Plus, jumping helps your lymph system function at its best. Standing up straight, propel your body upwards, bringing your knees to your chest.
Another plyo move, lateral hops are a great way to speed up your heart rate while building your cardio endurance. Starting in a straight, standing position, simply jump side to side with both of your legs.
Combined with squats, this move helps sculpt and lift your hindquarters, giving them a rounder shape.
- Start on all fours on your hands and knees. Your hands should be directly below your shoulders, your knees below your hips, and your back flat.
- Extend one leg straight out behind you.
- Slowly curl your heel towards your glute, then slowly extend back out. Try to keep the same speed both in both directions. This can be done with or without resistance.
- Repeat on the other leg.