7 Most Effective Bodyweight Exercises, Whole Body Approach!
Some of us are facing another lockdown, some of us are facing tougher restrictions and some of us just don’t have time to hit the gym today and want to work their body from home.
Whatever is your reason, don’t let me stop you and let’s get to it.
I know I’m starting with something really boring and obvious, but a push up has to be the king of bodyweight exercises.
It basically engages the whole upper body, from obvious arms, all the way with the chest and core muscles, to less obvious back muscles.
What do you say if I ask you: “How many push-ups can you do?”
Is it none, 10, 20?
Is it more than that? Then, I suggest retesting your abilities.
Get down on the floor and make sure your feet are hip wide and your arms are just under your shoulders. Lower yourself down while keeping your elbows as close to your body as possible, without them escaping outwards. Lower your body so that the chest almost gently touches the floor. Most people find out that they cannot get this low.
This picture shows a lady, who puts a lot of pressure on her wrists and shoulders by adopting this wide “stance” with elbows going out.
She can probably do 10 push-ups like this. Can she do 10 the way I explained above? Probably not.
The form of widening your elbows, maintaining wide-stance and calling this a push-up is not respectful towards the exercise or to those people, who actually perform it correctly. So, next time you brag about how many push-ups you can do, say the number of the actual push-ups, not these 🙂
There is a Wide push-up too, but it still doesn’t mean that the elbows are all over the place. It’s a type of push up people use to engage chest muscles a little more and the elbows still face back, even though they cannot be close to the body anymore.
I love push-ups because of the variations you can adopt if you truly become good at them.
- Decline Push-Up
Works upper Pectorial Muscle and front Deltoids (upper chest and front of the shoulders).
- Pike Push-Up
It basically means doing push-up in a downward dog position. This type works predominantly shoulders, and Triceps when coming back up. Along with the upper back.
It’s a more demanding variation.
- Diamond Push-Up
Diamond push-up is excellent for working out Pectoralis Major (chest), Triceps and Deltoids (shoulders).
The only difference from a regular push up is placing of the hands to form a “diamond” shape.
It’s a little more demanding, but I’d definitely recommend trying it, you might be surprised at how many you can do.
- One Arm Push-Up
Incredibly demanding form of a push-up, which works the same muscles as a regular push up, but the load is concentrated on one side of the body.
#2 PULL UP
Yes, still no surprise.
Pull up has to be the number one in building strong back muscles. Unfortunately, most of us can’t do it.
There is, however, many progressions towards a pull up and I will definitely cover it in a separate post. It is, however, a little difficult to cover it in a blog post, therefore I have a few videos on my Instagram @silviemfit.
For those, who can do a pull up, you probably already know that it’s incredibly beneficial and that they can make up for hours of “lat pull-downs and rows”.
Pull ups works just about anything from the waist up.
You need your Biceps, Brachias and Brachioradialis to initiate the movement.
Bicep is, as we all know, in the upper side of our arm, but Brachias and Brachioradialis are less known, and are located in the forearm.
Apart from these, all the other muscles taking part in a pull up are at the back.
We need Posterior Deltoid (back side of the shoulder muscle), Trapezius and Latissimus Dorsi, which should be the most worked muscle in this movement.
We need additional back muscles, such as Teres major, Teres minor and Infraspinatus (the last two make up the rotator cuff, which keeps the shoulder joint in place). Teres major is not part of the rotator cuff muscles, but is still regarded as a shoulder muscle, because it assists with shoulder movements.
It’s necessary to warm up these muscles before performing pull ups, because shoulder muscles are not exactly large and can tear if not warmed up properly.
Mastering pull ups is probably every gym-goer’s goals, because this movement can give you amazingly sculpted look. And apart from muscles already mentioned, pull-ups force your core to tighten, therefore acting as a good ab workout, too.
#3 PLANK VARIATIONS
I say plank variations instead of just plank for one reason.
Plank itself doesn’t do that much. It’s an exercise, which experts call “Isometric”, which means that the muscle under tension does not change shape – it doesn’t shorten, nor lengthen. As opposed to, for example, a Bicep curl, where the Bicep has to contract in order to bring the forearm up.
Isometric exercises are not bad, just in case of plank, it doesn’t do as much as you would perhaps expected.
On top of that, you have to hold plank for quite a while to see the benefit in your core and way before that happens, your shoulders start screaming.
Instead of a regular plank, I recommend switching to:
- Plank Tucks
Awesome variation to do and your abs will scream later, I promise.
It, however, requires a better coordination to actually stay up on the ball 🙂
If you can do that, this is a really good plank variation, which I perform in reps and sets, rather than time. Simply start in a plank position with your feet on the ball, with then moving your feet towards the arms, rolling the ball with you. It takes a few tries, but I promise your abs will thank you later.
Try 10 reps in 3 – 4 sets.
- Knee to Elbow Plank
If you cannot do Plank Tucks due to insufficient coordination, you can simply adopt this exercise to the floor.
Start in a regular plank position and move your knee to corresponding elbow, as the name of the exercise suggests. You can twist it up and use the movement diagonally (left knee to right elbow and vice versa) to engage obliques more.
I suggest using reps and sets instead of time again. 10 reps each side in 3 – 4 sets, for example.
- Plank Twist
Great exercise for obliques – side abdominal muscles that give you the ripped look 🙂
Simply start in a regular plank position with your pelvis twisting from side to side.
I recommend performing this timed. For example, a minute in 3 sets.
Essential for any lower body bodyweight training. Bodyweight squat alone will probably not hep you grow a big bum, but resistance can be added.
For example, we can squat slowly, add a pause at the bottom of the movement, or incorporate a pulse.
Pulsing squat is an amazing booty builder and I cannot recommend it enough, especially if you perform it with a booty band, which adds a good burn. You can perform this activity timed or in reps, totally up to you. Feel free to pick whatever suits you.
I strongly recommend getting booty bands if you are serious about glutes. The most common ones are just simple rubber or latex ones, and fabric ones. Those with fabric coating tend to give a lot more resistance compared to the thin, rubber ones.
The fabric coated ones also don’t slide up your thighs as much, so I’d definitely recommend them. However, if you are total beginner, it would probably be best to start with the basic ones and work from there. Apart from less resistance, the also offer a lower price.
Probably the easiest place to get them is Amazon. For your convenience, I have included links to some products I have experience with:
You can do all sorts of different cool exercises with them and I will be writing a post about them too, since we entered another lockdown. You can also check my Instagram, I am a little bit “Booty obsessed”, so I do have some Booty Bands workouts there.
The only downside of bodyweight squat is that when you are quite strong and experience, it takes a lot of squats to feel the burn, which could be potentially harmful to your knees. Plus, who wants to do 200 squats a day 😀 There are, however squat variations that we can try, and the most challenging one, probably is a pistol squat. I have been trying to progress towards a pistol squat for years and, unfortunately, with not much luck. It’s probably because I always start the journey, but never finish it. I always end up moving onto the weights instead.
Give it a try though, there are progressions to this, same as with every other exercise. You need a support from the start, which, ideally, is a chair and a door frame. Test your abilities with the chair first, so that you can see how deep you can go without falling over.
If a chair is easy, try something lower, a stool or box perhaps. I reckon most people will find the stool/box challenging enough, so I recommend spending a few days or weeks there, totally depending on individual abilities.You might even find out that one leg is more capable than the other. This is absolutely normal, in fact, it happens in every movement we do.
If you are able to get down to the stool comfortably, try using a door or a door frame as a support. While trying to lower yourself down, you will probably reach the point where your body will collapse and try to roll backwards. That’s when you hold onto the door and try cheat yourself down. Practicing this should slowly get you to the point, when you won’t use the door at all.
Another great variation of a Squat is a split squat and you can even elevate the front or the back foot to achieve different muscle engagement. It’s basically a stationary lunge.
Split Squat engages glutes and quads very well and is fairly easy on the knees, as opposed to a regular squat or lunges, which I will be talking about next.
I’m not saying that lunges and squats are bad for knees, but they can mean a greater challenge for people with knee injury or joint issues.
Lunges are incredible, regarding the amount of variations they offer.
I have covered some lunge variations in a post “6 Best Exercises For Round Glutes”.
Lunges are probably the most effective bodyweight exercise for lower body and because they require some sense of coordination and stability, performing them is highly effective even without weights.
In order to turn them into a cardio workout, you can quickly change legs, while jumping. It’s a killer and I think it’s even worse than burpees 😀
I have adopted this exercise over burpees, because jumping lunges increase the heart rate as well as them, but without upsetting my inner year balance. Strangely, I have no problems with coordination or balance in day-to-day tasks, on the contrary, even. I am not at all bad in yoga standing balances, but something happens when my head quickly moves places, like in case of burpees. The only reason why I’m mentioning this is that I have met a few people with this issue and there is absolutely no reason why you should do burpees just because they are part of just about every HIIT session. Feel free to swap for jumping lunges or jumping squats.
This should be in everyone’s work-out routine, especially those of us, who work at the desk.
It not only strengthens upper and lower back, but it also works glutes and hamstrings.
We need our back extensors to be strong enough to hold our body upright, these are the muscles running along the spine and their weakening can reduce spinal and pelvic support, resulting in postural deviations and pain.
Ideally, you want to hold the top position for 5 seconds in 10 reps, but if your back is very weak, you might not be able to hold that long. Don’t worry, just do 15 – 20 reps of 1 second and progressively try to hold longer, obviously decreasing the reps accordingly.
Superman is not an incredibly interesting exercise, but strengthening the back extensors is becoming more and more important, due to excessive sitting and, because of the lockdown, lounging 🙂 I know that it’s very difficult to find things to do, but consider walking more whenever there is a sunny spell, or make sure you do some mobility stretches every day, otherwise your muscles may shorten so much that it will become very difficult to fix, resulting in expensive osteopath or physiotherapy bills. Not to mention the pain.
#7 HOLLOW HOLD
I think that hollow hold is THE BEST exercise for the whole core. It burns, it hurts, it brings results!
It’s an isometric exercise, just like the above mentioned plank.
Hollow Hold doesn’t activate just the core, it works the whole anterior chain (front side) of the body by firing up quads and hip flexors on top of the core. Hip flexor is a very important and overlooked muscle and it’s one of those that suffer the most from excessive sitting.
Interestingly, diaphragm is also activated in this movement. Diaphragm is a muscle important to an effective breathing. I have covered breathing mechanism in a post “How To Breathe When Lifting”, so feel free to check it out.
Hollow Hold is considerably difficult, however, but it develops tremendous core strength, which means that the results are fairly quick. Few years ago, I’ve started a 30 days AB Program and Hollow Holds were a frequents culprit there. Initially, I could only hold it for 5s, towards the end of the program, I managed 30s! Yes, I was shaking like a leaf, but I did it and I was very proud 🙂
I recommend sticking to them, even though they might seem impossible at the beginning. Approach them the same way as superman, they are, after all, the same exercise. They just engage the opposite muscles. Even if you can do 15 – 20 reps of 1s hold, that’s amazing and keep doing this until you get better. I promise it will be quicker than you expect.
Make sure you don’t create an arch in your lower back, though. This would be the first thing your body will attempt to do, because it is forced to hold the weight of your legs and arms. The reason why the body does this, is the fact that your abs are weak and lower back muscles are automatically trying to take over and compensate. Don’ let them!
If you feel like your lower back is arching, lower yourself down and take a rest. Arching your back will not make abs stronger, it will just cause lower back muscles to become overworked, resulting in lower back pain.
Body weight exercises are the easiest way to challenge your body and most of them can be done even in the smallest of spaces. I live in a one bedroom flat, so I know what lack of space means. It’s, however, not an excuse. These times are great to work on us, challenge the limits our body throws at us and become a better version of ourselves.
Bodyweight exercises also mean less injury potential. It’s a lot easier to hurt yourself with weights, whether it is a weight falling on your foot, or you using incorrect weight and, therefore, pulling and overworking a muscle.
Human body has many ways of preventing us from injuring ourselves. I have covered some of the ways how the body does this in a post “How To Cool Down & Stretch Properly”.
I will, of course, appreciate any comments or suggestions down below, so don’t be shy.