What To Expect From Bodyweight Exercise
Bodyweight exercise training is about using resistance to cause your muscles to contract. This contraction builds the strength, anaerobic endurance, and the size of skeletal muscles.
However, it’s important to point out that “getting bulky” from strength training is not likely to happen.
Most women, as well as a large number of men, just don’t have the genetics to bulk up. So if you’re worried about getting bulky, take comfort from the fact that it’s not likely. And if you want to get bulky then you’ll want to eventually start working with a trainer to help you create a program designed specifically for that goal.
What you will see from a bodyweight exercise program is a leaner looking body. Fat will burn away faster, and you’ll be able to see nicely sculpted muscles.
You’ll also have better posture, more energy, and improved health. So let’s get to it!
Bodyweight Squat Variations
The squat is a fundamental and functional movement. Every time you sit down you’re using the same muscle groups that you do in a squat. Unfortunately, if these muscles are weak then the body ends up compensating. Compensation and weakness often lead to injury. Proper squatting form is really important.
What is a squat? Stand with your feet slightly wider than shoulder width apart. Ideally your toes will be pointing forward, but in the beginning you may find that you tend to point your toes slightly out. That’s fine. Now bend your knees and send your rear back as if you’re sitting in a chair.
You’ll keep your weight over the middle of your feet. Keep your knees pointing outward. If they roll in, you’ll have to fight to push it back out. You also want to keep your back as straight as possible. Holding your arms up in front of you can help you keep your back straight.
This simple movement works your quads, hamstrings, and your glutes. It also works your core muscles as you strive to keep your back as straight as possible. Squats can be performed in many different ways.
You can do a squat Tabata. Remember that’s 20 seconds of squats, with ten seconds rest, and repeat for four minutes. If you think that sounds super easy grab a stopwatch and try it right now. You’ll be sore before your four minutes are up.
If you want to make it harder, consider doing one of the following options:
- One Leg Squats, aka Pistols. To perform this movement you have to have great core stability and mobility. A one legged squat is exactly what it sounds like. You’ll keep your unweighted leg out in front of you as you lower and raise yourself on the other. Your back will be much more curved forward and that’s okay. It is necessary to stay balanced. If you can’t do this movement, but regular squats are too easy, try doing it with a little bit of assistance. You might use a chair or lightly touch your unweighted foot to the ground.
- Weighted Squats. Another option to add some resistance and difficulty to the standard squat is to add weight. You can hold a medicine ball or kettlebell. You can hold hand weights or wear a weighted vest. You can even fill a milk jug with water and squat while holding it.
- Jumping Squats. A jumping squat is an active cardio/strength movement. You start in a squat and spring out of it. When you land, you drop right back into a squat. Repeat this ten to twenty times and see how fast your heart is beating!
Bodyweight Push Ups
The pushup is a movement that works a large number of muscles at the same time and, let’s face it, regardless of whether you’re male or female this simple movement is also quite difficult. Sure, maybe you can do one or two, but try doing 100 pushups and you might be there all day.
The great news is that this is also a movement that responds to consistency. Meaning that if you do pushups every week, you will be able to get to the point where 100 pushups doesn’t seem impossible. We’re going to talk about three different types of pushups, starting with assisted pushups.
Assisted Pushups. Assisted pushups are not “girl” pushups. They are pushups that help you work your way toward the full movement. An aided or assisted pushup is from your knees rather than your toes. However, it’s critically important that your core muscles stay tight – no drooping butts – and that your hands stay strong and positioned just outside your shoulders.
With the pushup, you start in the top position. Your body is off of the ground and your arms are straight. Take a deep breath and lower your body to the ground, where your stomach/chest should touch. Now push back up. Don’t relax in the bottom. Keep it tight.
You can do a prescribed number of pushups each day (perhaps 25 pushups, for example), or you can do a tabata. You can also do sets of pushups with other strength movements like squats and sit-ups.
Traditional Pushups. Traditional pushups are from the toes. Once you get strong enough to do one regular pushup, you might begin your workouts with as many traditional ones as you can, and then finish your workout with pushups from your knees. As you get stronger you’ll eventually be able do to all your pushups from your toes. Your arms, chest, and back muscles will look amazing!
Weighted Pushups. Weighted pushups are what you do when 100 pushups is relatively easy. You can add weight to your body. A weighted vest or a weight balanced on your back is usually the easiest approach.
Dips are a movement that works your triceps, back, and biceps. The best place to do dips is at the playground on the parallel bars. Ideally, you need to bars that are about a foot apart. The width between the bars depends on your shoulder width. The closer your hands are to your body, the easier the dip will be. When your arms get wide it can hurt your shoulder to dip. With a dip, the goal is to lower your body until your shoulder is below your elbow.
Aided Dips. Dips are traditionally quite difficult for most people to do, but the exercise can be aided with a resistance band. Wrap the band around the bars and place one or two of your knees in the band. Now dip with that support beneath you. You can also put your feet on the ground and use them to help you perform the movement. You’ll use your arms as much as possible and then rely on your legs to get you up.
Negatives. Another option is to jump into a straight arm position. You’re above the bars and your elbows are locked out. Now slowly lower yourself until your shoulders are below your elbows. Drop your feet to the ground and repeat. Negatives help you strengthen those dip muscles so you can eventually do them without help.
Once you have dips, you can make them more difficult with weights. You can hold a small dumbbell or weight between your legs, or tie it around your waist.
If you don’t have a playground or parallel bars nearby you can use some things around the house including:
- Table or coffee table positioned behind you with your arms behind you for support
- Bed positioned behind you with arms behind you for support
- Any surface that is the right height and is stable enough to bear your weight will work.
The goal is to be able to lower yourself using your arms. Safety is critically important here. You don’t want a table to collapse on you, and you want the surface to be the right distance from your body so that you don’t put any unnecessary stress on your shoulders.
Bodyweight Sit Ups
The traditional sit-up is often ignored for the fancier “crunch” variety. The truth is that with a little back support and good form, a sit-up can really work your core muscles. So what’s the right form?
Knees bent and feet flat on the ground.
Arms can be placed wherever you want and it is okay to use your arms for momentum. Place them over your head when you’re on your back and swing them down for extra oomph as you sit up.
Touch your toes or the ground at the top of the movement.
A small pillow or rolled up towel under your low back can help protect your spine against the floor and give you support at the bottom of the movement.
You can add some difficulty to this movement by adding weight to your sit-ups. For example, you can hold a weight on your chest as you sit up. The movement also changes depending on your foot position. For example, if you let your knees drop to the outside and sit in a more butterfly position, you may feel like your lower abdominal muscles are getting more of a workout.
Bodyweight Pull Ups
Pull-ups can be difficult to do if you don’t have the right equipment. A simple pull-up bar installed in a doorway can work quite well. Just be careful. YouTube is packed with videos of pull-up bar accidents. They fall down. People smack their head on the doorway, and more. You can also use the monkey bars at a local playground or a super sturdy tree branch.
A regular pull-up is difficult, so if you don’t get one on your first try, that’s okay. It’ll come. Reach up to the bar and grab the bar. Your hands are facing away from you and they’re positioned about shoulder width apart. Shrug your shoulders and get tight. Take a deep breath and tighten your core. Now pull up. Lower. Repeat.
Aided Pull-ups – Because most people aren’t able to do pull-ups, at least not on their first try, there are a few different ways to make them a little easier so you can build strength and work your way up to a traditional pull-up.
- Bands – You can wrap a heavy duty resistance band around the bar. Place your foot in the band and use the resistance to help pull you up.
- Jumping – You can also jump up to the bar and use the momentum to get your pull started. If the bar is too far away for this to work, grab a small stool and jump from the stool. Be careful! Sprained ankles aren’t fun.
- Negatives – Start with your chin over the bar and slowly lower yourself to hanging position.
- Reverse Grip – a chin-up is a pull-up where your hands are facing you. Reverse your grip so you’re looking at your fingers instead of your knuckles. Now pull-up. You can reverse grip and do negatives or bands as well.
Weighted – if you want to make this movement harder, add weight. You can hold a weight between your legs or strap it around your waist. And obviously, doing more pull-ups makes the workout harder too. There’s a big difference between 10 pull-ups and 100.
We’ve talked a bit about arm movements and core movements; let’s get back to your lower body with lunges. The standard lunge requires you to take a step forward with one leg. You’ll bend your knees and touch the knee of your back leg to the ground. Touch it to the ground, don’t slam it into the ground. That would hurt! Now, using the strength of your front leg, stand up. Switch legs.
It’s a simple movement, but like the squat if you do 50 or 100 of them you’re really going to feel it. It’s a fantastic movement for your quads, hamstrings, and glutes, and you’ll feel it in your adductors and abductors too. To add resistance and make it more difficult you can hold a weight in each hand. And jumping lunges will have you sore and out of breath before you can say “feel the burn.”
The plank movement is one that works your core muscles, both in your back and your abdominal areas. With the plank you can do it in one of two ways. Lie flat on the ground with your hands about shoulder width apart, like you’re going to do a pushup. Now push up until your arms are straight. Your toes will be on the ground.
The goal is to keep your body straight. As you get tired your belly and bottom will start to droop toward the floor. Keep it tight. Breathe and hold the plank as long as possible. Try to hold it for at least a minute.
The variation on this is to hold yourself up on your forearms. Resting on your forearms is actually more difficult for most people. Not only will you feel the burn in your core, you’ll also feel it in your arms and shoulders.