Body weight exercises build functional strength – the kind of strength that serves you in your daily activities. Exercises that rely on your body’s weight to provide resistance develops your natural range of motions. As a result, your movements become efficient and graceful.
The best part of all, you can do this within the comforts of your home. It’s time to say no to gyms and yes to a body to die for without breaking the bank or your back.
Body Weight Exercises for Pushing Movements
A push-up is one of the greatest body weight exercises to strengthen push movements. Pushing movements involve distancing yourself from an object. The main muscles you’ll use in this movement are the chest, shoulder and triceps muscles.
While doing push-ups, you actively engage these muscles. Other muscles, such as the muscles in your rib cage, spine, abdomen, waist, hips and legs, indirectly benefit from push-ups. In fact, even the muscles in your toes and fingers get a work out from push-ups. And it’s one of the body weight exercises for biceps, too. For this reason, learning to do a proper push-up is vital to any body weight routine.
The problem, however, is that people who are not in shape may have difficulty performing a perfect push-up, so this article describes four variants of increasing difficulty to get you to the level where you can do a full push-up easily.
1. Simple Yet Effective Wall Push-Ups
This is the simplest body weight workout in this series. That’s why it’s one of the best body weight exercises for beginners. This exercise is so simple that any able-bodied person should be able to do this. Thus, it’s a great starting point for those who are out of shape.
To do a wall push-up:
- Stand an arm’s length from a wall with your legs together.
- Place your hands on a wall such that your arms are parallel to the ground. This is the starting position.
- Bend your arms at the elbow until your forehead touches the wall.
- Take two seconds to perform the down movement and hold the down position for two seconds. Straighten your elbows until you’re back in the starting position.
- Take two seconds to complete the upward movement.
Breathe out during the upward movement and breathe in during the downward movement. Begin by doing one set of 10 push-ups and work your way forward until you can do three sets of 50 push-ups. After this, you can move to the next exercise in the progression.
2. Incline Push-Ups for Strength and Flexibility
Incline push-ups are a little more difficult than wall push-ups. But, if you can do three sets of 50 wall push-ups, you’ll have enough strength and flexibility to perform incline push-ups to beginner standards, which is one set of 10 incline push-ups.
To perform an incline push-up:
- Space yourself at an arm’s length from a sturdy object that is half your height.
- Keep your legs together and lean on the object, ensuring your arms are straight. This is the starting position.
- Lower your body by bending your elbows until your torso touches the object.
- Push yourself away from object until you reach the starting position.
- Take two seconds for the downward movement, two seconds to hold the down position, and two seconds for the upward movement.
Remember to breathe out when you’re moving up and breathe in when you’re moving down. Continue working on your incline push-ups until you can perform three sets of 40 incline push-ups with proper form. Once you hit this standard, you can move on to the next exercise in the progression.
3. Kneeling Push-Ups for Tendons, Ligaments and Joints
This is the simplest variant of a push-up you can do lying down. If you’ve followed the first two exercises in the progression, your muscles, tendons, ligaments, and joints would have gained sufficient strength and flexibility to reach beginner standard on one set of 10 kneeling push-ups without difficulty.
To do a kneeling push-up:
- Kneel on the ground.
- Place your palms on the ground in front of you. Your arms must be shoulder-width apart and straight.
- Check your spine to make sure it’s neither slumping downwards nor arching upwards. This is the starting position.
- Lower yourself by bending your elbows until your chest is three to four inches away from the ground.
- After holding the position for two seconds, bring yourself to the starting position. Take two seconds each for the upward and downward movement.
- As usual, breathe in while moving down and breathe out while moving up.
The progression standard for kneeling push-ups is three sets of 30 repetitions. After you attain progression standard, move to the next exercise.
4. Grab a Ball and Do Some Half Push-Ups
You’re almost there. Hitting the progression standard for kneeling push-ups prepares your body for half push-ups. To do a half push-up, you will need an object the size of a basketball. Make sure that the object does not have rough edges.
To do a half push up:
- Adopt the kneeling push-up starting position and then stretch your legs backwards.
- Make sure that your arms and legs are straight, your feet are together, and your spine, waist, and legs are aligned.
- Place the object beneath your hips.
- Start lowering yourself until you slightly touch the object.
- Push yourself up. The rhythm and breathing pattern for this exercise is the same as before.
In the beginning, try to do one set of eight half push-ups. From there, work your way towards doing three sets of 25 half push-ups in perfect form. On reaching this standard, you can finally move on to full push-ups.
5. Moving to Full Push-ups
This is what you’ve been waiting for. Depending on how fit or unfit you were when you started, it might take you eight to twelve weeks to reach this point. It’s important that you don’t skip any of the previous steps in the progression. If you did, you won’t have the strength to perform the beginner standard for full push-ups with flawless form.
To do a full push-up:
- Adopt the starting position for a half push-up, except this time, there is no object between you and the floor.
- From the starting position, lower yourself until your chest is three to four inches away from the floor.
- Raise yourself to the starting position.
- Make sure your head, neck, spine, hips, and legs are perfectly aligned throughout the movement. The rhythm and breathing pattern is the same as before.
After you can do two sets of 20 push-ups, you can increase the number of sets and repetitions, or progress to advanced push-up progressions, such as close push-ups, uneven push-ups, and one-hand push-ups.
Bodyweight Exercises for Solid Legs
The next routine in our system of bodyweight exercises is the squat. The squat is one of the best body weight exercises for legs. The reason is that squats work all the muscles in your legs. Imagine, a single exercise that caters to your calves, hamstrings, quads, glutes, and abs.
Most people make the mistake of focusing all their attention on the upper body. But, you can never be as powerful as you can be by working only the upper body. The lower body plays a huge role in many functional movements, such as running, jumping, sitting, bracing, pushing, and pulling. So, the squat is an excellent exercise to complement push-ups.
The squat is a tough body weight workout to master. People new to calisthenics exercises may not have the strength and flexibility to do a full squat. So, following a simple progression that builds to the full squat is the best solution.
6. Shoulder Stand Squats for Full Range of Motion
Before you begin squatting, your body needs to adapt to the range of motion required to do a squat. To activate the muscles, tendons, ligaments, and joints involved in squatting, you can begin with shoulder stand squats.
To perform a shoulder stand squat:
- Lie on the floor and pull your knees inward.
- Kick your knees away while pushing your hands until your feet are up in the air.
- When you reach the position, place your hand on the lower-back for support. This is the starting position.
- From the starting position, bend your hips and knees until your knees touch your forehead. This is the finishing position.
- Extend your legs until you’re back in the starting position.
- Take two seconds for lowering your legs, two seconds to hold the finishing position, and two seconds to move to the starting position.
- Breathe in while lowering your legs and breathe out while extending your legs.
Continue this exercise until you can do three sets of 50 shoulder stand squats with perfect form. Thereafter, move to the next exercise.
7. Jackknife Squats for Strong, Lean Legs
In the shoulder stand squat, you conditioned your body to go through the range of motions in squatting. But, there was no actual load on your legs. To begin adding load to your squats, practice jackknife squats.
To do a jackknife squat:
- Stand at an arm’s length from a sturdy object that’s at your knee level.
- Bend at your hips until your palms are flat on the object. This is the starting position.
- From this position, bend your hips, knees, and arms until your hamstrings touch your calves. Remember, you must keep your spine neutral. This position is the finishing position.
- Straighten your knees, hips, and arms until you reach the starting position.
The rhythm for this exercise is same as before. The breathing pattern is exhale when moving up and inhale while moving down. When you start, try to do one set of 10 repetitions. Then, gradually work towards doing three sets of 40 repetitions in perfect form. On reaching this level, you’re ready to progress to the next exercise.
8. Supported Squats to Tone Those Legs
In the previous exercise, most of the weight of your upper body was routed through your arms. In this exercise, you will transfer most of the weight to your legs.
To do a supported squat:
- Stand in front of a sturdy object that is taller than your thighs.
- Place your palms flatly on top of the object.
- Make sure your feet are shoulder width apart. This is the starting position.
- From this position, bend your knees until your hamstrings touch your calves and keep your back as straight as possible. This is the finishing position.
- Hold this position for two seconds.
- Push your palms against the object to kick start your upward movement.
- Keep moving up until you’re at the starting position.
The rhythm and breathing pattern for this exercise is the same as for jackknife squats. The progression standard for this exercise is three sets of 50 in perfect form.
9. Half Squats
Alright, it’s time to kick away the props – no more supports. This time, you will transfer your full body weight through your legs. If you’ve attained progression standard for the previous exercises, this should not be difficult.
To do a half squat:
- Stand erect with your legs shoulder-width apart.
- Extend your arms forward to help you balance. This is the starting position.
- Keep your back as straight as possible and lower your upper body until your thighs are parallel to the ground. This is the finishing position.
- Pause in this position for two seconds.
- Use your leg power to push yourself to the starting position.
The rhythm and breathing pattern for half squats is the same as before. To progress to the next level, you should be able to do two sets of 50.
10. How to Graduate to Full Squats
After mastering the previous bodyweight workouts in this series, you can finally graduate to a full squat. To do a full squat:
- Assume the starting position for half squats.
- Keep your back as straight as possible and lower your body until your hamstrings touch your calves. This is the finishing position.
- Pause here for two seconds and then raise yourself to the starting position.
- The rhythm and breathing pattern is the same for full squats and half squats.
Aim to reach two sets of 30 squats in perfect form. Squats are the best body weight exercise for your legs. If you reach a point where you can squat effortlessly, you can add resistance with a dumbbell or move to difficult progressions, such as the pistol squat.
Body Weight Workouts for Core Strength
So far, we have exercises for upper body and lower body. To complete your routine, you need something for the midsection too. So, say hello to leg raises. Leg raise progression is the only thing you need to strengthen your core.
These body weight workouts give you enviable abs and shapely thighs, along with marvelous strength and flexibility. Overall, leg raises are great body weight exercises for men and women.
11. Flat Knee Raises for All Levels
Begin this body weight training series with flat knee raise. Even if you’re out of shape, you can hit the beginner standard for this exercise without much trouble.
To do this exercise:
- Lay on the floor with your arms by your side.
- Bend your knees to create a 90-degree angle between your calves and thighs.
- Raise your feet two inches from the ground.
- Press your palms on the floor and keep your abs tight. This is the starting position.
- Lift your leg until your thighs are perpendicular to the floor. Note that your knees must still be locked at a right angle. This is the finishing position.
- Pause for a second and then lower your legs to the starting position. At no point should your legs touch the floor.
Breathe out while you’re raising your leg and breathe in while you’re lowering your legs. Progress to the next exercise when you can do three sets of 35 in perfect form.
12. How to Do Flat Bent Leg Raises
This exercise is similar to the flat knee raise. To do this exercise:
- Lay on the floor with your arms by your side.
- Lift your legs two inches from the ground and bend your knees to create a 45-degree angle between your calf and thigh.
- Press your palms to the floor and keep your abs tight. This is the starting position.
- Keep the angle locked and raise your legs until your thighs become perpendicular to the ground. At this finishing position, pause for one second.
- Lower your legs to the starting position. During this exercise, your feet should never touch the ground.
The breathing pattern for this exercise is the same as flat knee raise. The rhythm is also the same. After you can do three sets of 30 in perfect form, move to the next exercise.
13. Try Flat Straight Leg Raises
By following the previous body weight exercise routines in this series, you can develop enough strength to do a flat straight leg raise. This is the last exercise in this progression. To do a flat leg raise:
- Assume the starting position for the previous exercise, except this time, keep your legs straight. Lift your legs until they are perpendicular to the ground.
- Hold this position for two seconds, then lower your legs to the starting position.
- Take two seconds each for the upward and downward movement. The breathing pattern is the same as before.
After you can do two sets of 20 flat straight leg raises, you can move to more difficult variants of this exercise.
Launch Your Body Weight Exercise Regimen Today
You will need time to move through the progressions of body weight exercises listed here. Don’t rush the process. Remember, you’re working on building strength that lasts for many years, so give yourself approximately one year to master these routines. After a year, you can look back and marvel at your tremendous strength gains, and your body will look and feel better than ever.