Everyone knows the importance of exercise. The benefits of exercise are clear -– better fitness, more energy, weight control and improved overall health to broadly name a few. There are so many reasons why you should exercise it’s hard to understand why so many people don’t do any exercise at all or do very little. But, I believe bodyweight exercises may be the answer to help more people start and stay committed to exercising.

You Are Your Own Gym

Of course, many people set an intention to exercise only to have life intervene. We don’t have enough time. We don’t have access to decent exercise facilities. Gym memberships are too expensive. Honestly, it’s easy to see how even the smallest of barriers can hinder someone from starting to exercise.

But, I’m here to help. And, there are exercise training methods you can utilize just about anywhere, anytime and they won’t cost you anything at all. No special equipment is required. No special facility is required. And, you can even do these exercises in your underwear without having to buy any fitness attire at all. All you have to remember is that your body is your gym.

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Bodyweight Exercises Aren’t Just For Beginners

Too often we view training with our bodyweight as inferior to using standard weights. We think of it as for beginners. Or, we think of it as weight trainings’ poor relative. Yes, bodyweight exercises won’t cost you anything. But should cost even be a consideration when measured against the results you can achieve with nothing more than your own body and maybe a towel or mat for comfort? The poor view many have of training using just their bodyweight is a shame because top athletes incorporate bodyweight training into their fitness regimens all the time. They’re not beginners and they obviously have money, so if they’re using bodyweight exercises, they must be effective.

Sure, there are bodyweight exercises more suited for beginners, but not all bodyweight exercises are a walk in the park. Imagine doing a pull-up that turns into a dip — an exercise called a “muscle up” — or holding yourself out horizontally from a vertical bar — an exercise called a “human flag“. What about doing planche pushups where your feet don’t touch the floor? These are hardcore exercises that even the fittest of the fit would struggle to accomplish.

This is why elite athletes live, breathe and die by bodyweight exercises. MMA fighters, gymnasts, soldiers, and boxers all have two things in common: 1) We can all agree these athletes are at the top of the fitness tree, and 2) All of these athletes enjoy a steady diet of bodyweight exercises.

And, let’s not forget…Bodyweight exercises were the dominant form of strength training for thousands of years. Sure, modern technology has rendered bodyweight exercises as “old school”, and maybe even redundant, but the fact is bodyweight exercises are very effective and are infinitely better than sitting on your butt and doing nothing!

Getting Started With Bodyweight Exercises

Starting to train with bodyweight exercises is relatively easy because you can perform them anywhere, anytime. At the same time, sometimes the convenience is also a drawback — it’s easy to get side-tracked at home with chores and family and constantly telling yourself, “I’ll start tomorrow.”

So, first things first…Get the most out of bodyweight exercises by treating these workouts just like you would plan a trip to the gym. Three or four times a week, put aside 30 minutes for your workout and do everything you can to eliminate distractions during this time. Make an appointment to workout and stick to it.

Next, you need a bodyweight exercises program. Any good workout program must be balanced. In other words, for every pushing exercise, you need a pulling exercise. And, of course, you need to work out your legs and your core. By covering these four bases, you’ll work every major muscle in your body and ensure structural balance across your joints — something important for both your appearance and your health.

Then, you need to choose some appropriate bodyweight exercises. Because you are lifting your own bodyweight, you need to learn how to make exercises easier or harder by moving your hands and feet or changing the angle of your body. For example, push-ups while resting on your knees are relatively easy, whereas, pushups in a handstand position are much, much harder. So, start with the easiest version of each bodyweight exercise and progress gradually up the ladder of difficulty as you become more fit and stronger.

Finally, you need to be consistent. Fitness gains are not permanent – you cannot store fitness. If you skip more than a few workouts, you’ll soon find your hard-won fitness gains will start to steadily decline. When you’re just starting, it won’t take missing too many weeks of training to end up back where you started. Seriously, bodyweight exercises are virtually excuse-free — there aren’t time, cost, or equipment constraints. Obviously if you’re ill or injured, you get a pass. Otherwise, the only reason you’ll miss a workout is because of your attitude.

Bodyweight Exercises Library

There are so many bodyweight exercises to choose from. With all the possibilities and then the variations, I would need a whole book to list all the great bodyweight exercises available to choose from. So instead of listing bodyweight exercise after bodyweight exercise, I’ve assembled a list of classic bodyweight movements to help you get started. You can choose one or two exercises from each category, perform two to four sets and now you’ve got a great foundation for your bodyweight training program.

Pushing Exercises

Pushing exercises target your chest, shoulders and triceps. Many pushing exercises also indirectly workout your core and even your legs. Where horizontal pushing exercises place an emphasis on your chest muscles, vertical pushing exercises place an emphasis on your shoulders. Generally, pushing exercises are different variations on push-ups.

Performing The Perfect Push-Up

Squat down and place your hands on the floor, shoulder-width apart and your fingers pointing directly forward. Walk your feet back until your weight is supported on your hands and toes only. Your shoulders, hips and feet should form a perfectly straight line. Tense your legs, butt and core to keep your body rigid. Inhale, bend your arms and lower your chest to lightly touch the floor. Keep your neck long and your arms tucked in close to your body. Push back up to the starting position, exhaling as you do so. Perform as many reps as you can without breaking your good form. Remember, if you start to break form, it will increase the likelihood of injuring yourself.

There are lots of variations to the push-up that you can try. Here are some push-up bodyweight exercises listed in approximate order of difficulty: wall push-ups, kneeling push-ups, wide push-ups, narrow push-ups, lateral shuffle push-ups, hands-on-blocks push-ups, dive-bomber push-ups, elevated feet push-ups, clap push-ups, offset hand push-ups, one-armed push-ups, handstand push-ups and planche push-ups.

Pulling Exercises

Pulling exercises target your back and biceps. Pulling exercises ensure your back muscles are as strong as your chest. They’re slightly trickier, requiring a sturdy bar or beam to pull yourself up on. But, you could use the underside of an exposed staircase, a sturdy tree branch, a joist in your garage, a doorway pull-up bar or even rig up a pull-up station in your yard. Generally, pulling exercises are variations on pull-ups. Note, make sure you test the strength of whatever you decide to use to ensure it will hold your full body weight before getting started.

Performing The Perfect Pull-Up

Grab an overhead bar with your overhand and a slightly wider-than shoulder-width grip. Hang with your arms straight and your ankles crossed, legs slightly bent. Lean back slightly and lift your chest. Inhale, bend your arms and pull your chin up and over the bar. Try to take a peak over the bar like you are looking over the top of a wall. Slowly lower yourself back down, exhaling as you do so, and repeat. Perform as many reps as you can without breaking your good form. Remember, if you start to break form, it will increase the likelihood of injuring yourself.

Pull-ups are not the easiest exercise, but there are variations to make this bodyweight exercise more accessible. Here are some pull-up bodyweight exercises listed in approximate order of difficulty: band-assisted pull-ups, partner-assisted pull-ups, negative pull-ups, self-assisted pull-ups, body rows with your feet on the floor, body rows with your feet elevated, jumping pull-ups, chin-ups, side-to-side pull-ups, towel-grip pull-ups, mixed-grip pull-ups, weighted pull-ups and single-arm pull-ups.

Leg Exercises

Leg exercises obviously target the various muscles in your legs. The biggest problem with leg bodyweight exercises is that when two-legged versions become too easy, the single-legged version of the same exercise can be very, very hard. This makes progression difficult. But, don’t worry too much because there are still lots of alternatives to increase your leg fitness and strength. Of all the bodyweight exercises geared toward your legs, leg squats are arguably the most common.

Performing The Perfect Squat

Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and your weight on your heels. Turn your toes out slightly. Pull your shoulders down and back, and place your hands on your hips, across your chest or clasp them under your chin. Lift your chest and inhale. Push your hips back, bend your legs and shove your knees outward. Squat down until your thighs are roughly parallel to the floor. Do not allow your lower back to become rounded. Stand back up, exhaling as you do so, and perform another repetition. Perform as many reps as you can without breaking your good form. Remember, if you start to break form, it will increase the likelihood of injuring yourself.

Branching out from squats, here is a list of other leg bodyweight exercises listed in approximate order of difficulty: wall squats, box squats, low box step-ups, high box step-ups, forward lunges, backward lunges, walking lunges, lateral lunges, lunges onto/off of a box, rear foot elevated split squats, squat jumps, jumping lunges, single-legged deadlifts and single-legged squats.

Core Exercises

Core is the collective term for the muscles that surround the mid-section of your body. Your core controls the movements of your spine, provides spinal support, and holds your mid-section rigid when required (for example, when you are performing push-ups). There are many core bodyweight exercises to choose from, but one of the most effective is the plank.

Performing The Perfect Plank

Kneel down and place your forearms and elbows on the floor. Your arms should be parallel and pointing forward. Walk your feet back until your weight is supported on your arms and toes only. Your shoulders, hips, knees and feet should form a roughly straight line. Tense your thighs, butt and abs. Without holding your breath, hold this position for as long as you can. On completion, lower your hips to the floor and relax. Perform as many reps as you can without breaking your good form. Remember, if you start to break form, it will increase the likelihood of injuring yourself.

Use a variety of core bodyweight exercises to ensure you work all of your core muscles. Here is a list of core bodyweight exercises: crunches, twisting crunches, reverse crunches, bird dogs, back extensions, flutter kicks, sit-ups, twisting sit-ups, side planks, hanging leg raises, floor wipers, inch worms, Russian twists, W-sits, bicycle crunches, V-sits, and dragon flags.

To Wrap It Up

I’ve listed a lot of bodyweight exercises to help shape a comprehensive bodyweight exercise program for you to follow. I would recommend using YouTube to perform a search and to watch demonstrations of each of these bodyweight exercises to understand how to do each exercise with good form.

As I hope you gathered, bodyweight exercises are relatively easy to set out and do but they needn’t be easy, unproductive or boring. With so many bodyweight exercises to choose from and endless combinations of bodyweight exercises to be had, you need never repeat the same workout twice. So what are you waiting for? Drop down and give me 20 push-ups!

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