Beginner Friendly Bodyweight Exercises You Can Do Anywhere
Updated: Sep 13
Does self-quarantining from Covid-19 got you down? Trying to stay home to survive the apocalypse? Or maybe you just want to try saving money on a gym membership; in either case, working out from home doesn't have to be a bore or that hard to do. In fact, you don't really need any equipment (although I do recommend some cheap investments to make training from home a more worthwhile experience). In this post, I'll be going over body weight training for the upper and lower body. In future posts I will go over core, and how all of this looks in a routine.
First Things First
Working out with weights seems pretty straightforward: when a weight gets too light, you do more weight, more sets/repetitions, etc. That's the basis of progressive overload. Well, body weight training is no different! You see, most people think body weight exercises are too easy; once you get used to planks, squats, and push-ups, that's it. All you can do is more reps. And while more reps is one way to progressively overload - which is how most people progress with body weight movements - another way is though progressing movements themselves. I'll give examples of each in certain exercises below. Also, a big benefit to body weight training is that you can perform it anywhere! The world is your gym.
We go over the lower body first. Note: you are not limited to these movements only. There are literally thousands of variations we could go over, but I'll be going over exercises that are basic and easy to perform regardless of ability, and provide big benefits. All of the movements listed below are listed from easier to harder.
1. Rear foot elevated split squat (aka Bulgarian split squat)
Place one foot on the bench, and the other foot straight out in front. From a standing position, lunge straight slowly downward until your knee almost or lightly grazes the floor; come back to standing.
To make it harder: do pulsing reps
To make the rear foot elevated split squat harder, add a pulsing motion to the movement. So the movement would be the same, but instead of coming all the way back to standing, you bounce back to the bottom, and then return to standing. You can see what that looks like here.
2. Hip thrust
Placing your upper back onto a stable cushioned surface (like a sofa), put your feet flat on the floor with a vertical shin angle. From there, push through your heels until your hips are level with your shoulders, and squeeze the glutes hard while tensing your abs. Adding a pause on each rep or a long pause on the last rep can make it more challenging.
To make it harder: do single leg
Same motion as the regular hip thrust, but this time with only one leg. Keep the leg centered, and push through the heel upward. You can also add a pause at the top for 5-10 seconds on the last or each rep.
3. Bodyweight hamstring curl on sliders
This one anyone can do, but you can make it harder by pushing harder with your heels. The harder you dig into the floor, the harder it is.
Upper Body Pulling
These movements involve moving your body closer to your hands or to a point of contact; think of Scorpion's signature move from Mortal Kombat, "GET OVER HERE!" These movements work the back, biceps and rear shoulders.
1. Bodyweight row
Here is a pulling exercise you can do with any old table! Just make sure the surface is sturdy, last thing we need is a table falling apart on top of you. You can also add weight by placing a dumbbell on your stomach, or us a small animal (or child).
2. YTW's on floor
Start by laying on the floor, face down. Raise the arms straight above like the letter Y, then a T, and then a W, all while keeping the arms off the floor. Hold each position for 3-5 seconds. That is 1 rep!
3. Scapular pull-ups
Pull-ups are great, but they're tough and not everyone will be able to perform them right away. For beginners, start with scapular pull-ups. This is a great exercise to learn how to engage the lats (the big muscles running down the side of your back) and "pack the shoulders", the latter being a great cue when doing upper body movements. Packing the shoulder down keeps them in a healthy and strong position, which keep them injury free.
Upper Body Pushing
These movements will be the opposite of pulling, where you push your body away from the point of contact. They will work the chest, shoulders, and triceps.
Ah, the classic push-up. This movement may be undervalued by some, but it still ranks as a staple movement for pressing. It's great for strengthening the chest, shoulders, and triceps, and can be modified for any level to make it harder or easier.
You can make the push-up easier or harder in two ways: to make it easier, do knee push-ups or push-ups on the wall or a chair. To make them harder, raise the feet on a surface like a sofa.
2. Shoulder push-up
This movement is similar to a push-up, but gets the shoulders more involved like in a traditional shoulder press. To perform it, start in the position in the bottom half of the picture below. Lower your head to the floor, and once it touches, press the arms through the floor back to the starting position.
3. Isometric deltoid raise
Standing in-between a doorway, stand tall with shoulders down and back. raise the arms until the back of the hands touch the door frame, and continue to press the arms upward against the frame like you're trying to break out of it.
1. Side plank
The side plank is another plank variation, this time focusing on the obliques. This a great exercise because it targets the obliques without actually bending/twisting the spine. Too many people try to work the oblique muscles and end up doing exercises that aren't so friendly.
Remember this: stability is king when it comes to core movements. Bending and twisting the spine is not necessarily bad, if you're ready for it. Most people aren't. Make sure you're as stable as a brick wall before doing any bendy or rotational movements.
To make this movement easier, you can also begin with your knees bent, which means less weight is being held. Try whichever variation is challenging for you
2. Leg lift with hip extension / toe touches
This is a great exercise to target the rectus abdominis AKA "abs" muscle. In the video below, I show three variations: medium, easy, and hard difficulty, in that order.
All you need is a floor, and maybe a mat if you want to avoid any dirt. Start slow, as even though this one is great, it can be tough for those with low back issues. If that's you, start with the easiest variation first, and slowly progress to the next level.
To Wrap It All Up
There we have it! Some basic, easy to perform body weight movements you can do at home and practically anywhere else. There are plenty of more exercises that you could do, but it's best to keep things simple. Start out with these, and I can write more in depth about body weight training in future posts. And remember, don't let the absence of the gym keep you away from your fitness goals!