Some of the most important bodyweight exercises are Squats, Push ups and Pull ups. Proficiency of each of these exercises transfers to improved movement in everyday life and the wide variations are ideal for general fitness and sport specific training.
I’ll attempt to break down each movement and some of the variations you can use to progress to increased strength no matter what level you are starting at.
Perfecting the squat assists in everyday life activities such as moving from a seated to standing position, walking stairs and moving with increased efficiency. More challenging levels are ideal for sport specific training such as running, cycling and team sports. Start with your feet approximately shoulder width apart, with toes pointed slightly out, making sure your knees track in line with your toes. You can vary your foot width position for the 2 footed squats.
- Box squat at slightly elevated height
- Box squat at parallel height
- Bodyweight full squat – thighs below parallel
- Split squat
- Plyometric lunges
- Bulgarian split squat
- Single leg squat standing on bench
- Pistol squat
- Plyometric pistol squat
When done correctly, the push up is a full body exercise that develops a strong core and glutes, not just the pecs and triceps which are the moving body parts. You can vary the width of your hands and your feet, but generally speaking, try to keep your elbows closer to your body rather than flaring outwards.
- Push up with hands against wall
- Push up with hands on bench – gradually lower bench height
- Full push up on ground
- Decline push up
- One arm push up with hands against wall
- One arm push up with hands on bench – gradually lower bench height
- Plyometric push ups
- Plyometric one arm push ups
The pull up is the only bodyweight exercise that develops the back. Since most people spend a lot of the day hunched over the computer, often resulting in a sore back, these muscles need to be strengthened to put the body into correct alignment. This exercise also works the core and combined with push ups are two of the best core exercises. You can use varying grips and hand widths, but if possible, use a neutral grip most of the time.
- Inverted row – knees bent
- Inverted row – straight legs
- Inverted row – feet elevated
- Jumping pull up
- Eccentric pull up
- Dead hang pull up
- Muscle up
- One arm pull up
This is not even a complete list of the variations of these exercises, and as you can see, bodyweight exercises are suitable for all levels and can be quite challenging. All of the exercise names listed above are standard so if you are unsure of any they are easily looked up online.
As a very rough guide, I suggest you should be able to complete 10-20 repetitions with good form at one level before progressing to 1-5 repetitions at the next level. There are several ways you can work at this. You can incorporate these moves into your regular workouts or simply practise the movements several times a day.
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