If you are looking for body weight exercises for beginners, you have come to the right place!
Body weight exercises and calisthenics are two of the best forms of training that are often entirely overlooked. I’m sure we all remember the physical fitness tests in gym class when we were tested on the number of push-ups, pull-ups, and sit-ups we could do (I was horrible).
Those same exercises we learned at a very young age, and other bodyweight exercises, can be combined to create an excellent workout routine that is a suitable replacement for traditional weight lifting, or that can also go in correspondence with other types of training!
Which Bodyweight Exercises for Beginners are the Best?
There are an enormous amount of body weight exercises for beginners, which can benefit your overall physique (especially for your core), but I will only talk about a few of my favorites. My favorite body weight exercises include:
- Jump Squat
- Inverted Row
- Reverse Lunge
- Bulgarian Split-Squat
- Jumping Jacks
- Mountain Climbers
- Glute Bridge
- Step Ups
All of these exercises include the use of no additional weights at all, but you will not believe how much lean muscle mass you can produce and how much fat you can burn with these “simple” exercises!
Bodyweight Squat (Air Squat)
One of the best body weight exercises for beginners to train your legs is the body weight squat (otherwise known as the air squat).
One of the best advantages of performing bodyweight squats is that you can improve your normal squatting position, while also getting a great cardiovascular workout. In the past, I have hit over 500 bodyweight squats in one workout!
I cannot say for sure whether or not this helped me to put on muscle mass at all, but I can say for a fact that it improved my natural squatting position, and has tremendous carry-over to both the back squat and the front squat.
If I didn’t routinely practice bodyweight squats, there is no way I would be able to get through a set of 20 Rep Squats at 6′ 10″! Practice makes perfect, and practicing air squats allows you to advance to more challenging training methods!
Performing high-rep body weight squats is an excellent cardiovascular challenge regardless of your level as an athlete. One of my favorite workouts is to combine bodyweight exercises such as the push-up and squat, along with stationary biking to get a full body workout that puts a lot of stress on your cardiovascular system. These workouts are an excellent calorie burner and great for boosting athletic performance!
For an even more significant cardio challenge, try doing high-rep body squats while wearing an elevation training mask!
Body squats work great with the mask because they become more taxing on your lungs, but the mask doesn’t hinder your movement in any way! If you don’t have an elevation training mask, they are affordable online; and worth it! You can have yours in 2 days off of Amazon, and be ready for some of the toughest workouts of your life!
Similar to the body weight squat, the jump squat will improve your natural squatting position and help you become better at other types of squats. Along with this, the jump squat itself has a tremendous correlation with building lower body power and speed!
Body weight only jump squats are actually proven to be nearly the best amount of “load” for jump squats at all!
If you are looking to build your vertical jump, doing sets of 3-5 bodyweight-only jump squats after a set of heavier back/front squats, or deadlifts, will elicit a unique and amazing response in your muscles!
There are not many bodyweight exercises for beginners that build “power,” but this is one very effective movement that you can add to your workout routine!
Pull-ups are probably the best overall movement for adding width and thickness to your back, but are overlooked far too often because they are considered a body weight exercise!
Don’t fall into this trap!
Even beginners can quickly add this movement to their body weight training routine!
Although I have yet to be able to achieve this myself, you can be pretty sure that anyone you see who can perform 20 straight dead-hang pull-ups is both muscular, and lean! My personal record is only 15, but I am sure I will break through this barrier soon!
Pull-ups work great as an antagonist exercise to any pushing, or lower body movement.
One of my favorite ways to build a high volume of pull-ups into a workout is to perform a moderate-low number of pull-ups in between all of my sets for the day.
If you can do 3-5 pull-ups in between each set of a 12-15 set training day, you will have done 50-75 pull-ups before you even know it!
Pull-ups can undoubtedly be done weighted as well, but they are incredibly effective as a bodyweight exercise alone!
The inverted row is another excellent “pulling” exercise for upper body mass, and strength. Aside from the benefits listed above with the pull-up, the inverted row can also be a more comfortable alternative for those with nagging shoulder issues.
Since I have a torn labrum in my left shoulder, I have always found inverted rows to be much more comfortable.
In my opinion, the inverted row is one of the best body weight exercises for beginners because the movement can be learned quickly, and it has a ton of value! Many beginners start their training careers off with a lot of bench press and curls.
Although these movements do have their place, they can easily cause the front of your shoulders to be much more dominant compared to the rear. Adding inverted rows to your daily workout is an excellent way to combat this imbalance.
Inverted Row variations include adding weight onto your chest when performing, but also increasing the instability of where your feet balance; or where you are pulling from.
Placing your feet onto a yoga ball or BOSU Ball will be more challenging then resting them on a bench, and similarly pulling from a TRX or rings will increase the difficulty of the inverted row itself. If you are interested to try one of these variations, you can check out this video of me performing inverted rows with my feet on a yoga ball:
Typically when I see people write articles about bodyweight exercises, forward lunges are always included. This is dangerous though, as forward lunges have a much higher learning curve, and are more technique oriented than is usually stated.
The forward lunge can put up to 3x your body weight of stress directly onto your front knee and is not suitable for many athletes.
The reverse lunge, however, is a safer alternative.
Reverse lunges reverse the plane of stress on your patellar tendon, making them safer and more effective for those with knee issues. Along with this, they also require more stability and control; making them an invaluable teaching movement for those recovering from lower body issues.
Don’t get me wrong; I do a lot of front lunges myself. I’ve even done up to 400 yards of lunges on a football field, but this was not until I had already done extensive training and movement practice, to get ready for this.
I’m not saying front lunges are “bad” or useless, but there are better alternatives in some scenarios!
One variation which I really enjoy doing myself is the “reverse-slide lunge.” If you don’t have the glide plates for your feet, you can purchase them online for an extremely cheap price! They are great to add variety to many different movements, especially for reverse lunges!
I am sure you will not regret investing in having your own! If you want to try some advanced reverse slide lunge variations, check out this video to see a few of my favorite options:
This is probably my favorite exercise in the world, and if I had to pick one exercise to use for any athlete; it would be this. As a bodyweight exercise, it is hard to find a better combination of mass building potential, leg strength, stability, and core control in a single exercise.
The Bulgarian Split-Squat can be enhanced or made more difficult by increasing the range of motion, placing your front foot on an unstable device, or using rings or a TRX for your back foot.
All three of these variations will require more control and muscle activation, without needing weights at all.
Learning the Bulgarian Split-Squat will protect your knees, and aid you in building strong, massive, and stable legs!
If I am doing any leg day at all, staring my workout with body weight Bulgarian Split-Squats always makes my legs feel stronger and more powerful for heavy work. Doing sets of up to 20 reps have been increasingly useful for me, and also can give you a pretty good cardiovascular challenge as well!
There are many advanced Bulgarian Split Squat variations. Check out the video below to see one of my favorite Bulgarian Split Squat variations:
The push-up is probably the most basic exercise in the world, and one of the most underrated exercises, just the same. While playing my first professional basketball season in Macedonia, I added over 10lbs of muscle to my frame solely with push-ups. As in, I literally did not use weights. Our weight room was only available 1-2 times per week (at most), and push-ups were all I had.
I did a lot of them, but they worked!
Also, my shoulders felt much more healthy!
I needed to become much better with doing shoulder mobility work consistently, but the push-ups themselves made my shoulders and chest feel extremely strong and functional; compared with years of heavy bench pressing.
Push-ups can be advanced by gripping an unstable surface (such as a BOSU Ball) or adding weight. High-rep push-ups can be extremely effective, so don’t feel pressured to go into anything advanced too quickly! If you want, you can even try to add them both together like I did in this video:
I do not do as many push-ups as I used to, but they still are a valuable tool in my arsenal. As I said before with pull-ups, super-setting an entire workout with push-ups is a great way to add them into your workouts. Doing them this way will have you doing 250-300 push-ups in a day before you even know it, and your body will show the difference quickly!
Okay, you’ve probably never even thought of doing jumping jacks for any physical benefit since about 4th grade, but believe me, they can be beneficial for you!
If we are talking about body weight exercises for beginners, there is no way we can leave out the jumping jacks!
Especially for someone looking to burn a large number of calories and lose weight fast, sets of 25-50 jumping jacks during your regular training can have a significant impact on the number of calories you burn per day!
They are a bodyweight exercise which is physically easy on your joints and tendons, but effectively work almost every muscle in your body to a certain extent!
Use jumping jacks to elevate your heart rate during your workouts, and you will be surprised how much quicker you can burn stubborn fat off of your body!
Mountain Climbers are the closest exercise to a direct abdominal exercise I am listing.
There are tons of abdominal body weight exercises for beginners, but mountain climbers are easily one of the most useful.
Note, I completely left sit-ups out of this list. Sit-ups can put an immense strain on your back, spine, and neck, while not being that effective for abdominal muscle activation or development. The mountain climber, on the other hand, is entirely opposite in this regard.
Mountain climbers have you in a physically advantageous position, where you are unlikely to strain muscles in your back.
Mountain climbers require a high level of muscle activation in both your transverse abdominal muscles, as well as your posterior muscles.
You can advance the basic mountain climber by placing your hands on an unstable device (i.e., Bosu Ball) or placing your feet on slides or inside of a TRX. All of these variations will require more muscle activation to perform the movement, making them much more difficult.
Check out this video of me performing a few mountain climber variations on the TRX:
The mountain climber should be a staple in your core or “abs” routine and is very friendly to high reps. Sets of even up to 100 reps are safe and effective for this movement!
The glute bridge is one of the best posterior chain exercises, and it is one of the best bodyweight exercises for improving your core and posture.
Glute bridges are great because you can use them as a warm up for your workout of the day, but you can also do a few sets as soon as you roll out of bed in the morning. Unlike many other exercises, glute bridges will not build muscle mass. However, they will build strength in both the small and large gluteus muscles, while also developing total posterior chain strength.
Glute bridges are a great warm-up exercise before squats or deadlifts because they will help the “hip hinge” movement, and will help keep your back safe! Once you have mastered the traditional glute bridge, feel free to try other more advanced options on your own as well!
For example, you can try the Single Leg Glute Bridge like I did in this video:
The last bodyweight exercise for beginners on my list is step ups. There are many different step up variations, but the traditional step up will be enough for most people.
Step ups are my favorite exercise for knee tendonitis, and they are great for vertical jump training. For athletes, step up variations are great for improving knee health and safely performing athletic movements such as cutting, sliding, sprinting, and more.
You can check out this video to see an example of lateral step ups, which target the glutes, abductors, and adductors more!
Sample Body Weight Workout for Beginners
You can easily get a full body workout from these exercises alone! Try out this sample workout and see how you feel afterward, I guarantee you are surprised at the result!
- 20 Glute Bridges
- 10 Squats
- 10 Push-ups
- 10 Bulgarian Split-Squats (each leg)
- 5 Pull-ups
- 10 Jump Squats
- 10 Inverted Rows
- 10 Reverse Lunges (each leg)
- 30 Mountain Climbers (total)
- 20 Jumping Jacks
- 20 Step Ups
Do this workout for time, and don’t move on to the next exercise until you have finished the one which you are currently on! If you are a master at one exercise but not on another, feel free to change the reps a bit!
By alternating upper body and lower body exercises, you will be able to push through, without fatiguing one muscle group too much. Do this workout “for time,” and then try it again after a week or 2, to see if you can improve on your time! Body weight exercises often can be done with a decent amount of speed, and it is another reason they are so great for burning calories and fat.
Along with all of the traditional body weight exercises listed above, you can also take advantage of the Maxi Climber for incredible aerobic and anaerobic benefits. Check out https://easyfitnessdaily.com/maxi-climber-reviews/ for a list of reasons that you should use the Maxi Climber, and how it can benefit your training routine!
Concluding Thoughts – The Best Body Weight Exercises for Beginners
Body weight exercises are overlooked, far too often. If you want a genuinely functional and aesthetic physique, body weight exercises deserve a place in your workout routine.
Adding these exercises into an already well-rounded training program will give you another tool to accomplish your goals, and also can help you get where you want to be safer, and more healthy. For some people, weight lifting is just too taxing on the body.
Even for me, in season, weights themselves can be too much at times. Body weight exercises are less taxing on your Central Nervous System and will leave you able to accomplish more work overall.
Try out these exercises and see if they will help build the body you’ve always wanted!