Body weight exercises and calisthenics are two of the best forms of training, that are often completely overlooked. I’m sure we all remember the physical fitness tests in gym class when we were tested on the amount 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 body weight 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 Body Weight Exercises are Best?
There is an enormous amount of body weight exercises which can benefit your overall physique (especially for your core) but I will only touch on a few of my favorites. My favorite body weight exercises include:
- Jump Squat
- Inverted Row
- Reverse Lunge
- Bulgarian Split-Squat
- Jumping Jacks
- Mountain Climbers
All of these exercises include the use of no additional weights at all, and will work your body in fantastic ways!
Body Weight Squat
One of the best advantages of performing body weight 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 body weight squats in one workout! I cannot say for sure whether or not this had any benefit on building mass, 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 body weight 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 allows you to advance to more difficult 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 body weight 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 cardio vascular system. It is an excellent calorie burner, and great for boosting athletic performance!
For an even greater cardio challenge, try doing high-rep body squats with an elevation training mask on! 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 a mask already, 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 only 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 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 body weight only jump squats after a set of heavier back/front squats, or deadlifts, will illicit a unique and amazing response in your muscles!
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 in to this trap!
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 in to 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 certainly be done weighted as well, but they are extremely effective as a body weight 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 an easier alternative for those with nagging shoulder issues. For me personally, with a torn labrum in my left shoulder, I have always found inverted rows to be much more comfortable.
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 from rings will increase the difficulty of the pull itself. All of these variations can work your body in differing and useful ways!
Normally when I see people write articles about body weight 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 normally 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!
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 body weight 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 kind of 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 has been increasingly useful for me, and also can give you a pretty good cardiovascular challenge as well!!
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 themself made my shoulders and chest feel extremely strong and functional; compared with years of heavy bench pressing.
Push-ups can be advance 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 in to anything advanced too quickly!
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, supersetting 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 type of physical benefit since about 4th grade, but believe me, they can be extremely useful for you! Especially for someone looking to burn a large amount of calories and lose weight, sets of 25-50 jumping jacks during your regular training can have a huge impact on the amount of calories you burn per day!
They are a body weight 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 are able to burn stubborn fat off of your body!
The last exercise I will talk about is mountain climbers, the closest exercise to a direct abdominal exercise I am listing. 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 really being that effective for abdominal muscle activation or development. The mountain climber, on the other hand, is completely 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.
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 is safe and effective for this movement!
You can easily get a full body workout from these exercises alone! Try out this sample workout and see how you feel afterwards, I guarantee you are surprised at the result!
- 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
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! I highly recommend that you head over to this site and understand the benefits of the Maxi Climber in your body weight exercise training routine!
Body weight exercises are overlooked far too often, and their benefits are extremely widespread. 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 themself can be too much at times. Body weight exercises are less taxing on your CNS, 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!!