Top 5 Bodyweight Exercises To Build Muscle Without Weights


Bodyweight exercises are an effective way to build muscle and tone your body without expensive exercise equipment or pricey gym memberships. You use your own bodyweight resistance against the force of gravity to strengthen your muscles. Bodyweight exercises save you time in addition to money because you can do these exercises just about anywhere, such as at home or in your office during a break. Many bodyweight exercises target specific muscles or muscle groups, while others are effective whole body workouts. It’s easy to incorporate some bodyweight exercises into your regular strength training routine or as part of your circuit training. The top 5 bodyweight exercises I recommend are push-ups, pull-ups, squats, dips and leg raises. You don’t need extensive training to start doing these exercises, but you must learn the proper form to reduce your risk of injury. Once you learn the correct technique for each exercise, you can do them on your own anytime during the day.

Push-ups are probably the easiest, yet most effective bodyweight exercise you can do. Push-ups build muscle in your chest, shoulders, triceps on the back of the arms, biceps and core muscles. Your lower back, thighs and buttocks will get a good exercise, too. When you perform push-ups correctly your shoulder muscles, including the rotator cuff, get a good workout. The standard push-up is performed on your hands and toes. Get on the floor on your hands and knees, and then stretch your legs out behind your body with your ankles close together. Support your upper body with your hands. The weight of your lower body should be supported by your toes. Keep your hands underneath your shoulders and squeeze your abdominal muscles tight. Make sure your body is straight and rigid and then push your upper body up by straightening your elbows. Slowly lower your body back down toward the floor, but don’t let your body touch the floor. Variations of the standard push-up include performing the exercise on your hands and knees and performing push-ups with one leg lifted off the floor. The wide stance push-up is performed with your hands on the floor wider than shoulder width. The one arm push-up is difficult and should not be attempted until you have developed good shoulder and core strength.

top-5-bodyweight-exercisesPull-ups strengthen your wrists, arms, shoulders and they are incredible for building up your back muscles. Grab a chin-up bar and lift your body off the floor a few inches and you will experience the power of a true bodyweight exercise. Your back and biceps get a great workout and you will feel the burn in your shoulders. Your grip will also be strengthened, because you support the entire weight of your body with your grip. You should also feel it in your abdominal muscles because you will use your core to stabilize your body when performing this exercise. You should perform pull-ups slowly so that your upper body and core get the full benefit of this upper body strength building exercise. Stand in front of a pull-up bar and grasp the bar in an underhand fashion with your palms on the underside of the bar. Brace your body by squeezing your abs and slowly pull your body off the floor about 2 inches. Hold it for a few seconds and then lower your body back to the floor. Don’t let your body sway or swing back and forth. Hold it steady. When your strong enough, keep your feet off the floor as you lift and then lower your body back down toward the floor.

The squat is something you do every day without even realizing it. If you can sit down and then stand up again, you can do the squat exercise. Squats improves the strength and flexibility of your legs and hips. They strengthen your thighs, tone up your buttocks, work your abs, and they increase your lower back strength. The first time you do a few squats you will feel the burn in your buttocks, hamstrings and quadriceps. Start slowly and do 4 or 5 squats in the beginning. Stand in front of a chair with your feet hip width apart. Straighten your back and place your hands on your hips for balance. Bend at the hips and lower your upper body as if you are going to sit in the chair. Lower your body as far as you can without actually sitting down. Aim to lower your upper body straight down until your thighs are parallel to the floor. Push your body back to a standing position with your legs. Don’t be disappointed if you can only lower your body a few inches the first few times you do squats. The slower you can lower your body, the greater the workout. You can also do squats with your back against the wall. Simply slide down the wall into the squat position and then push your body back up using your legs.

Dips are great for your core, chest and triceps. The back of the arms are notoriously difficult to firm up for most women. The dip bodyweight exercise can really work the triceps. Sit on the floor in front of a low bench or use a sturdy chair to support your weight. Reach behind your back and place your palms on the bench or chair with your fingers gripping the edge of the bench. Bend your knees so that your thighs are parallel to the floor and your feet are flat on the ground. Slowly lower your body toward the floor by bending your elbows. Push your body back up until your arms are fully extended, but don’t lock your elbows. Keep your grip on the bench close to your body to focus on your triceps. Widen your grip to place a greater load on your chest muscles.

Leg Raises
Leg raises really work your lower back, abs and your leg muscles. You can do leg raises on an exercise bench or just use the floor if you want to work out at home and don’t have a bench. Flatten your back against the floor and place your hands on each side of your hips with your palms down. Straighten your legs and keep your ankles together. Squeeze your abs tightly and then lift both legs off the floor. Bring your legs straight back toward your head until your legs are straight up above your hips. Slowly lower your legs back toward the floor, but don’t touch the floor with your legs or heels. This exercise not only strengthens the legs and abs, but also strengthens your lower back muscles. Leg raises also improve the flexibility and strength of your hip flexor muscles.

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About Author

Robin Reichert

I'm an AFPA certified personal trainer, AFPA certified nutrition consultant, NASM certified youth exercise specialist, online fitness coach and freelance writer specializing in health and fitness. I hold a Bachelor of Arts in psychology from the University of San Francisco and a Master of Science in natural health. I'm also an active member of the world's largest association for fitness and wellness professionals. See my profile page for more information!


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    Can I do these using a high volume workout like 500 push-ups, 100 dips, 150 body weight squats and 100 chins in sets of 20-50?

    • shapefit

      John – That is a heck of a lot of sets and reps in a single workout and might be a little too much. Your workout should be under 1 hour for the best results, so you might want to focus on getting as many sets completed in that amount of time. However, make sure to get enough rest between sets in order to allow your muscles to recover enough to be ready for the next set. Shoot for 4-5 minutes of rest after each set.

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