Gym-goers are usually split into three distinct camps when it comes to the issue of bodyweight training. There are those who believe that bodyweight exercises are the only exercises anyone will ever need in their lives, there are those who think that bodyweight exercises have no business being in a gym and no real value for bodybuilding or strength training.
Then there are the fence-sitters who feel that there are benefits to bodyweight exercises but only when combined with strength training. As usual, it is the moderates and not the extremists that are correct. This article will look at how to build the perfect bodyweight workout, but one that would fit in perfectly with any strength building or bodybuilding routine.
This workout will help increase muscle and fitness, provide a couple of awesome ab workouts, and when combined with a calorie-controlled diet, this program will help lead to weight loss. Just a quick note while bodyweight training works a large variety of muscles, it is not particularly big on shoulders or arms so you might want to add in some weights for shoulder or arm specific exercises.
Bodyweight Training Exercises
Here are six bodyweight exercises that you can use to build muscle, burn fat, and improve fitness.
Exercise One: Push Up
The first exercise that anyone thinks of when they hear the word "bodyweight", the push up mainly targets the Pectoralis Major, but also works the Deltoid muscles (Posterior, Middle, and Anterior) and the Triceps Brachii.
Essentially the push up is simple to master, place your palms flat on the floor and make sure your hands are slightly wider than shoulder width apart. They should also be in line with your chest. Keep your legs straight and off the ground (only the toes of your feet should be in contact with the ground), take a deep breath and then push your whole body up and away from the ground. Once your arms are fully extended, slowly lower yourself back down again.
There are many variations you can try; you can bring your hands closer together (to target your triceps more) or wider apart (to put more emphasis on the pecs). You can place your hands on a raised surface to make it easier, or place your feet on a raised surface to increase the difficulty (and target the shoulders more).
Exercise Two: Pull Up
An exercise that works all of the muscles of the back (particularly the Latissimus Dorsi, and Trapezius muscles), whilst also hitting the Biceps Brachii and forearm muscles (Brachialis and Brachioradialis).
Using a pull-up bar, place your hands at around shoulder width (plus a couple inches) apart. Hang from the bar using an overhand grip. Breathe in and the pull yourself up, keep your chest pushed out and breathe out whilst performing it. When your collar bone reaches the bar, pause, and then lower yourself back down until you reach the original position.
Variations for this exercise include using an underhand grip (to emphasize the Biceps Brachii) or to widen your grip to place more emphasis on the Latissimus Dorsi.
Exercise Three: Inverted Row
If the pull up is more difficult (or if you want to hit a few more reps) then the inverted row is a great alternative. This works all of the same muscles but instead of lifting your entire bodyweight, you only lift a part of it. This makes the exercise a lot easier to accomplish, and is why people use the inverted row as a stepping stone to performing full pull ups.
For this you will need a secured bar that is placed about hip height, most people use a Smith Machine as the bar can be fixed in place relatively easily. Lie under the bar with your hands holding it in an overhand grip. Your arms should be fully extended, and you should have your upper body hanging off the ground with your feet placed on the ground.
Pull your upper body up until your chest is touching the bar, and then lower it back down again. Keep performing the reps until you can't reach the bar anymore.
Exercise Four: Bodyweight Squats
An exercise that can easily be upgraded to a weighted exercise once you find it too easy, but that works great on its own when performed with correct tempo. The bodyweight squat works the Gluteus Medius and Maximus, whilst also hitting the Quadricep muscles.
Stand with your feet slightly wider than shoulder-width apart, toes partly facing out. Push your chest out and make sure your back is straight. Squat down as if you were about to sit on a chair that was slightly too far away, pause when your thighs reach parallel to the floor (you can go lower if you feel comfortable doing so). Pause at the bottom of the movement then raise yourself back up to the starting position.
You can change this exercise by squatting
with a wider stance, by squatting onto a box, by performing squat jumps, or by adding a pair of dumbbells or barbell (which will obviously stop it being a bodyweight exercise).
Exercise Five: Lunges
Lunges are a great exercise for Quadriceps and the Gluteus Maximus, whilst also being a really tough workout on their own. For most people, bodyweight lunges performed correctly will be tiring enough without needing to add weight at all.
Stand up straight, take a large step forward and drop the back knee so that the front thigh lowers until parallel with the floor, pause and then return the leg to the original position. Repeat with the remaining leg.
Lunges can be made more difficult by turning them into walking lunges, instead of returning the leg to the starting position, take the back leg forward and then drop the original front knee. Keep going until the set is complete. You can also add weights such as dumbbells and barbells but this will stop this exercise from being bodyweight.
Exercise Six: Push Up Plank
The plank is one of the best ab workouts there is, it works the rectus abdominis (abs) for the most part but will also work the internal and external Obliques. Everyone has probably heard of the regular plank but the push-up plank is slightly easier to perform whilst offering the same benefits.
Start off in the 'finish' position of a push-up. Arms fully extended. Brace your abs (imagine trying to fit into a pair of trousers that are too tight) and make sure your back is straight. Then all you have to do is hold that position for as long as possible.
You can add some variations to the plank to make for a superior ab workout. For example, you can hold a plank for 30 seconds and then immediately start pushing one knee forward at a time (whilst holding the position). This is called a mountain climber and is a great way to work the abs.
Exercise Seven: Bodyweight Dips
A great exercise for the Pectorals, the Deltoids, and the Triceps Brachii. Bodyweight dips can be performed on parallel bars. Climb up to the parallel bars and then hang between them using your arms to support you, lean forward to a 30-degree angle and tuck your feet behind you.
Now, slowly lower yourself down until you feel a stretch in your chest, once you have felt it use your triceps and chest to drive your upper body back to the starting position. The more upright you are when you perform this exercise the more emphasis there is on the triceps, whilst the further forward you lean the more emphasis there is on the chest. You can use a weighted belt to increase the difficulty of the exercise but this will no longer be a bodyweight exercise if you do.
The Bodyweight Workout
Here is a nice and simple bodyweight workout program for you to follow, warm up first with a 500m row or a 5-minute run. Then you will be ready to perform the exercises without injuring yourself.
Session Two - TABATA
- Push Ups 3-4 x 10
- Pull Ups 3 x AMRAP (As Many Reps As Possible)
- Inverted Row 2-3 x 8-10
- Bodyweight Dips 3 x AMRAP
- Bodyweight Squats 3-4 x 12-15
- Lunges 3 x 10 (each leg)
- Push Up Plank x 1
(TABATA means 20 seconds of work followed by 10 seconds rest, repeated 8 times for 4 minutes)
- Push Ups x 1
- Bodyweight Squats x 1
- Inverted Row x 1
- Lunges x 1
TABATA and bodyweight exercises go hand in hand, it is a form of High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) and can really burn fat, and improve cardio fitness. Each exercise only takes 4 minutes to do so it is also super-fast, but because of the intensity sessions should be kept quite short.
As you can see, some bodyweight exercises are not suitable for TABATA (which is why they were left out). For example, pull ups would be almost impossible for anyone to perform for 20 seconds continuously 8 times. But if you feel that you're up to the challenge, please give it a go!