Ditch the dumbbells, all the weight you’ll ever need for a good workout is contained within your body. Having a good arsenal of bodyweight exercises means you can hit almost any fitness goal without having to leave the house. Although you might find it harder to build huge muscles with bodyweight workouts alone, they are an excellent way to get lean (especially if you combine a few exercises in a lung-busting HIIT circuit) and strengthen your core. They also typically involve functional exercises which are compound movements where several joints and muscles are working at the same time. You’ll feel the benefit of in your everyday life and become more limber and less likely to pick up injuries.
On this page you’ll find all the bodyweight exercises you could ever need to sculpt a body that few will believe has been achieved without the aid of weights. You can do the exercises in isolation, especially if you fancy taking on one of our 30-day challenges, such as the plank, press-up, squat or burpee challenge, but once you’ve mastered a few different exercises it’s time to put them together into full bodyweight workouts. These can target body parts (like your biceps or your core) or sports (like building strength for cycling or running), or you can simply opt for a full-body, fat-torching HIIT circuit.
If you’re still not convinced, read on for why bodyweight moves should be part of your plan whatever your training ability. If you’re convinced but just starting out, browse the most essential bodyweight moves in the gallery above. Otherwise, keep scrolling for even more bodyweight exercise guides.
Bodyweight exercises improve body awareness
The advantage full-body moves have over, say, curls is that they improve your proprioception, or your body’s sense of where its parts are positioned. Result? Improved athleticism and better balance – whether you’re on the Ultimate Frisbee pitch or leaning over a pool table.
The plan “Include unilateral movements in your training,” says Theo Caldwell, co-founder of Push N Pull Fitness. “Lunges, pistols and skater squats will all increase the demand on your balance.”
Bodyweight exercises work your core more
If it’s done right, almost any bodyweight move becomes an abs exercise. That both saves time and teaches you to use your whole body as a single unit.
The plan “Engage your entire body during every movement,” says Caldwell. “Don’t let your hips sag during press-ups or your legs dangle during chin-ups. Consciously brace your abs and make your body into a straight line for each move.”
Bodyweight exercises reduce the risk of injury
In the gym, it’s easy to add too much weight too quickly, putting pressure on your joints and increasing your injury risk. Bodyweight moves force you to progress smartly, using tougher variations where it’s difficult to overload yourself.
The plan “Make sure you’re getting at least ten good reps of, say, the pull-up before you move on to tougher variations,” says Caldwell. “That means chest to the bar, pause at the top, slow on the way down.”
Bodyweight exercises allow you to work out any time and anywhere
Being able to put in 50 reps at the end of a long day, rather than skipping the gym when life gets busy, could make all the difference between hitting a plateau and building the body you want.
The plan “Have a go-to workout,” says DIY workout specialist Andrew Tracey. “It could be as simple as ten sets of five pull-ups, ten press-ups and 15 squats, done as fast as possible. The key is to keep it short enough that there’s no excuse to skip it.”
Bodyweight exercises build more lean muscle mass
To build muscle, you need resistance and time under tension. Often bodyweight moves can do this better with less risk by allowing your shoulders to move more naturally than, for instance, the traditional pec deck.
The plan For a guaranteed chest-builder that beats endless pec flyes, do three sets of ring press-ups to near-failure, pausing at the top and bottom of each rep. Because the rings move inwards, you’ll get more activation in the muscle, meaning more growth.
Bodyweight exercises allow you to set tough targets
Deadlifts? Bench? Numbers on a board, buddy – but flash up a photo of yourself doing a human flag or front lever and nobody’s going to doubt your relative strength.
The plan “Set a couple of targets – the flag is a solid one – and work on them at least once a week,” says Tracey. “Even adding a second or two to your best time can be a monumental improvement.”