Body weight exercises are a smart choice not just for beginners but just about anyone looking to get fit without too much fuss around equipment or gym memberships. If you’re just starting out with your fitness routine, these exercises can be both accessible and challenging, giving you a complete workout using your own body weight.
Bodyweight Exercises Improves Lean Muscle Mass, Bone Density, And Balance
Bodyweight exercises are great for beginners, both men and women, because they don’t involve the use of complex equipment or heavy weights. Instead, you learn to use your own body to resistance train, build strength, and burn calories. They’re also great if you’re on a budget – you don’t need any fancy technology or equipment, not even a gym membership!
What’s more, bodyweight exercises are known to help you build bone density, lean muscle mass, and overall strength. It can help improve your coordination and balance and lower risk of falls. Strength training which includes bodyweight exercises can help lower risk or reduce symptoms of arthritis, diabetes, heart disease, back pain, and obesity.1
Before you get into the actual exercises, make time for a 5-minute warm-up. A simple walk is more than adequate. This helps get your blood circulation going, limbers up your body and muscles, and lowers risk of injury. Alternatively, if you have access to indoor exercise equipment, you could spend that time on a rowing machine, an indoor bike, or stepper.2 Then move on to these exercises.
Always check with your doctor if you have any pre-existing health conditions like a knee problem or osteoarthritis or even diabetes. These exercises can be risky or even dangerous unless suitably adapted for you.
For the exercises below that do not have a recommended set of repetitions or time mentioned, work out a routine based on your own comfort and stamina. Just take care not to push yourself too hard. If anything hurts, you are either doing something wrong or trying to push your body too hard too soon.
2. Wall Push-Ups
A modification of the traditional push-up, this is ideal for beginners or seniors. It works your shoulders, chest, and arms. Do about 10–15 of these at a time and take a break before doing another set.3
- Stand about an arm’s length from a wall with your feet shoulder-distance apart. Lean your entire body forward toward the wall and place your palms flat on it at shoulder height and shoulder-distance apart.
- Inhale, bending at the elbows as you lower your torso to the wall slowly. Your feet must remain completely flat on the ground throughout this controlled movement. Pause and hold for a moment.
- Exhale as you push yourself slowly back till your arms are straightened.
3. Standing Calf Raises With A Wall
Work your calves and shins with this simple exercise that you can do against a wall.4
- Stand facing a wall about half a foot to a foot away from it, your feet about hip-distance apart. Stretch your arms out in front of you so your palms touch the wall at shoulder or chest height.
- Breathe out as you slowly raise your heels off the ground. Your knees should stay extended and your feet must continue to face forward. Hold this raised pose for a moment or two. Support yourself with your hands so you don’t lose balance.
- Breathe in as you bring your heels back down again.
4. Chair Squats
This is a variant of the standard squat. A beginner can use their body weight to work the back, abdomen, legs, and buttocks with this challenging exercise.5
- Stand in front of a stable chair, feet hip-distance apart and feet planted firmly into the ground. Stretch your arms out fully in front of you. Look straight ahead.
- Inhale as your press down into your heels, lowering your body, arms still outstretched. Bend your legs at the knees, reach back with your buttock as you lower yourself to the chair. Your shoulders must align with your ankles.
- Keep lowering yourself till your buttocks graze the chair but don’t actually sit down.
- Exhale squeezing your buttocks as you raise yourself back upright.
5. Bodyweight Squat
The bodyweight squat also uses your core or abdominal muscles, engages the back, buttocks, and legs.6
- Stand with feet a little more than hip-distance apart, your toes gently turned out, and arms by your sides, palms of the hands facing in. Pull your shoulders back. Engage your core/abdominal muscles and stabilize your spine. Your chest should be out and up. Shift your weight into your heels.
- Inhale as you lower your hips gently, shifting them back and then down, so your hips and knees have a hinge-like movement. Your knees may start to move forward, but try and keep this movement to the minimum and use your core muscles. Your back must stay flat.
- Keep lowering until your thighs are nearly or fully parallel to the ground. Avoid letting your feet move. Your knees must remain lined up over the second toe of each foot.
- Exhale as you extend your knees and hips and push into the floor through your heels to rise up. Keep extending till you are upright again.
The plank is an exercise that involves minimal movement. It engages the deep abdominal muscles as well as upper back, shoulder, and hip muscles when done correctly.7 8
- Lie face down on a comfortable mat or on the ground.
- Raise your body weight off the ground on your elbows, so they form a 90-degree angle with your forearms flat on the ground. Line them up so that your elbows are lined up below your shoulders. Your back must remain flat. Keep your chin tucked in close to your body.
- Engage your abdominal muscles, contracting them.
- Hold the position for 15 seconds at first and later build up to longer periods.
7. Seated Leg Extension
This exercise works your quadriceps muscles and is a variation of the machine-aided leg extension exercise. Do this it for about 30 seconds before repeating on the other side.9
- Sit on a comfortable chair with your torso upright and the back straight. Do not lean on the backrest. Your feet must be hip-distance apart and flat on the ground. Place your hands on your lap.
- Extend your right leg slowly, ensuring your back and hips do not move. Keep raising it until it is parallel to the floor. Hold this position for two seconds.
- Relax and bring your leg back to the initial position. If you’re finding it hard to make your leg go fully parallel to the floor, take it as high as you can comfortably.
8. Bodyweight Lunges
This exercise works your buttocks, quadriceps/thighs, and hamstrings. Attempt to do ten lunges on each leg.10
- Stand with feet together, shoulders pulled back, and abdominal muscles engaged/braced.
- Step forward with your right leg, lifting it up.
- Pause for a moment to retain posture and balance without tilting to one side before bringing it down to the ground.
- Bend both knees as far as you can and bend forward at the hips and drop your hips down to the floor as you move your leg forward. Keep lowering your body until the front thigh is parallel to the floor or as far as you can do this without pain or discomfort. Your front knee must remain behind your other toes.
- Push up from this position, keeping the heel of the front foot down into the ground and then straighten the leg. Leverage your buttock and thigh muscles to return to the start position.
9. Jumping Jacks
No bodyweight exercise list would be complete without this classic. You’ve probably done a whole bunch of jumping jacks as a child and you can now use it to build up your heart rate.11 Here’s how to do them the right way so you work your calves, quadriceps, and shoulders:
- Stand upright with your feet together. Place your hands on either side of your body.
- Raise your arms quickly over your head as you jump, moving both your feet out to either side to create an inverted V with your legs. Take care not to thud heavily down on your feet. This can be jarring to your joints, so make sure you land softly.
- As soon as your feet hit the ground to the sides and your hands reach overhead, quickly reverse what you just did so your arms come back down by your sides and your feet return to the standing position in one smooth jump.
- Repeat this 20 to 30 times.
End With A Cool-Down And Stretching
Regardless of what exercises you have been doing, it is important to cool your body down and stretch it before you end your routine. It helps bring down your heart rate gently and keeps the blood flow going. If you stop suddenly, the sudden drop in blood pressure can make you dizzy or lightheaded. Stretching helps ease any muscle stiffness or pain you might otherwise experience. Here are some ways to end your exercise session:12
- Walk for about 5 minutes so your heart rate gradually comes down to 120 beats a minute or lower.
- Do stretches on various body parts, holding each stretch for between 10 and 30 seconds. Exhale as you start to stretch and inhale during the “hold.”
|↑1, ↑2||Growing Stronger. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.|
|↑3||Wall Push Up. Go4Life, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.|
|↑4||Standing Calf Raises – Wall. American Council on Exercise.|
|↑5||BMA Bad Back Book. British Medical Association, DK Publishing.|
|↑6||Bodyweight Squat. American Council on Exercise.|
|↑7||5 Exercises to Flatten Your Stomach and Reduce Low-back Pain. American Council on Exercise.|
|↑8, ↑10||Beginner Bodyweight Workout. Midwest Public Risk.|
|↑9||Function Follows Fitness. American Council on Exercise.|
|↑11||Quickie Bodyweight Workout for the Busiest Time of the Year. American Council on Exercise.|
|↑12||Warm Up Cool Down. American Heart Association.|