There comes a time when every fitness enthusiast needs effective bodyweight training techniques.
Sometimes finding a gym while you’re traveling is difficult, or maybe you’re short on time or money.
And lately, gyms are closing, and plenty of people are locked down in quarantine.
Or, if not for those reasons, perhaps you’re attracted to bodyweight workouts because you appreciate the portability, convenience, and simplicity this style of training offers.
Whether your fitness levels are beginner, intermediate, or advanced, we’ve got you covered. Keep reading to learn 6 tips that will help you get incredibly fit at home, plus 3 unique workouts to build strength and lean muscle without any equipment.
#1: Be Patient and Consistent
Can you build lean muscle mass with bodyweight exercises and minimal or no equipment?
Yes, you can. However, in all honesty, bodyweight exercises alone aren’t as efficient as free weights, machines, and other types of resistance exercise.
Therefore, you need to commit fully to building your fitness using bodyweight to achieve considerable gains.
Meaningful results take time, so don’t give up if you don’t see an overnight transformation.
#2: Be Progressive
One of the key concepts in strength training is called progressive overload.
Essentially, you have to overload your muscles to build fitness, get stronger, or increase your lean muscle mass over time.
In the gym, one of the best ways to achieve progressive overload is by adding weight to barbell or machine exercises. However, by definition, you can’t add weight to bodyweight exercises.
Therefore, you must implement other forms of progression for bodyweight workouts. The two main methods you can use both involve increasing volume.
In other words, perform more sets or more reps whenever possible, or you won’t get good results.
#3: Dial in Your Nutrition
Any time you want to change your body composition or get more fit, your nutrition is equally or more important than your exercise regimen. And bodyweight workouts are no exception.
Also, don’t miss Building Muscle on Keto: The Ultimate Guide if your goals include adding lean muscle mass.
#4: Drink a Post-Workout Shake
Check out What to Eat After a Workout: Keto Foods to Help You Recover to learn more.
#5: Be Careful
All exercise carries with it a risk of injury, and resistance training is no exception.
And just because you aren’t using external weights doesn’t mean you can afford to be careless with bodyweight workouts. Always use perfect form and if a movement hurts, stop the exercise immediately to figure out what’s wrong before you proceed.
Additionally, consulting your doctor before you begin a new exercise program is always wise.
#6: Choose Exercises Wisely
With conventional strength training, performing nothing but bench presses and curls is a recipe for bad posture and muscular imbalances
And by the same token, if you want to keep your body in balance and injury-free, you must ensure your bodyweight exercise selection is well-rounded.
Basically, if all you’re doing is squats and push-ups, you’re going to run into problems eventually.
Fortunately, the 3 workouts below contain an appropriate balance of squats, hinges, upper body pushing, and upper body pulling to help keep your body strong and pain-free.
If you’re new to bodyweight fitness, this is the perfect workout for you. Even if you’ve got some experience with weight training in the gym, you should start here before moving on to the intermediate workout in the next section.
Perform this workout 2-3 times per week, with two sets of each of the below exercises. Go to exhaustion on each set, or until your form breaks down–don’t continue the set if you can’t maintain the correct form.
On the first training day each week, perform two sets of each movement, completing both sets before moving to the next exercise. Rest 2 minutes between each set.
The second training day, perform all the movements as a circuit–one after the other with no rest–then repeat each exercise for another round, and you’re finished.
And if you train the third day, you can use either approach on that day.
Once you can do 20 or more reps on all exercises for two sets (or, in the case of planks, holding the position for 2 minutes), switch to the “Intermediate Bodyweight Workout” in the next section.
Stand 2-3 feet from a wall, facing away from it, with your feet shoulder-width and your hands clasped in front of your chest.
“Hinge” your hips back (like doing a deadlift) while keeping your spine straight, until your glutes touch the wall. Repeat the movement in reverse, squeezing your glutes to return to a normal standing position. That’s a repetition.
Hold a plank in the “push-up position” as long as you can. Squeeze your abs and glutes.
If you can’t maintain the push-up position, you can do a conventional plank on your elbows.
Instead of striving for 20 repetitions, your goal here is to hold the plank for two sets of 2 minutes each.
Face-the-Wall Squats or Doorknob Squats
Face the wall using a stance slightly wider than shoulder width, with your toes approximately 6-10 inches away from the wall. Place your hands in front of your chest in a “prayer” position.
Squat down between your knees while keeping your back straight and upright, then squat back up, all without allowing any part of your body to touch the wall.
Or, if you’re unable to stay upright during Face-the-Wall Squats, try lightly grasping a doorknob for stability and support. Do your best not to “cheat” by pulling yourself up using the doorknob.
Glute Bridges With 5-Second Top Hold
Lie on your back on the floor with your knees bent, feet as close to your glutes as possible.
“Bridge” up to lift your hips in the air, back straight, and squeeze your glutes and hold for 5 seconds, then lower under control. That’s one repetition.
Optional: Push-ups on Knees
Do push-ups on your knees with a slightly-wider-than-shoulder-width grip. Make sure your neck and back stay straight, and that you go all the way down and back up each time.
This intermediate bodyweight workout works to maximize strength and lean muscle. If you’ve already been training using bodyweight for a while, begin here. Otherwise, start with the beginner workout above.
Exercise 3 times per week, performing 2-3 sets of 8-15 repetitions each time. Go all-out on the final set of each exercise, but never at the expense of proper form.
Lastly, try to add at least one rep every session. When you can do 3 sets of 15 reps, 3 times each week, you’re ready for the advanced workout in the next section.
Bulgarian Split Squats
With your back straight and upright, place one foot (your back foot) on a supporting surface that’s 20-24 inches or more off the ground, such as a chair or sofa, knee bent, and the sole of your back foot facing upward. Keep your front foot 2-3 feet in front of you, flat on the ground, toes pointing forward. That’s the starting position.
Now, while keeping your upper body completely vertical, lower your entire body until your back knee touches the ground. You should feel both quadriceps muscles working. Reverse the movement until you reach the starting position. That’s one rep.
Perform a push-up with your hands shoulder-width.
While ensuring you keep your spine straight, lower under control until your nose touches the ground, then reverse until you reach the starting position with your elbows fully extended.
Flex your abs and glutes to stay solid and stable throughout the movement.
Single-leg Bodyweight Deadlifts
Stand upright with your feet below your hips, using a shoulder-width stance. Shift your weight to your left leg, keeping that leg straight with a soft bend at the knee. Balance on your left foot as you begin to drive your right foot back–imagine you’re reaching your right foot towards the wall behind you, keeping your right leg straight.
At the same time, begin hinging (bending) at the waist, leaning your torso forward until both your torso and your right leg are parallel to the ground.
Throughout the process, keep your neck and back straight, and your arms horizontal and parallel to the floor. When you reach the bottom, your entire body should be in a straight line and perpendicular to your left leg–from your head and neck, all the way to your right foot, forming a “T” shape.
As you reverse, return to the starting position smoothly and under control. That’s one rep. Repeat all reps on one side, then switch legs and repeat the process on the other side.
Inverted Bodyweight Rows
Although this exercise is a bodyweight exercise, it does require equipment. You need a vertical bar (such as a horizontal rail with open space beneath it) or ropes, straps, or rings to perform a bodyweight row.
If you don’t have the equipment, don’t sweat it–just skip the inverted bodyweight row.
Set the bar, ropes, straps, or rings to waist height (or higher). A higher position makes the movement easier, and a lower one makes it more difficult.
Position yourself beneath the bar, face up. Lie on the ground beneath the bar.
Next, reach up and grasp the bar with an overhand (pronated) grip–palms facing away from you and just slightly wider than shoulder width. Now you’re in the starting position.
Contract your entire body, especially your abs and glutes, to keep your body in a straight line, almost like you’re doing a plank.
Then, pull your body up until your chest or collar bone touches the bar. Finally, lower yourself back to the starting position under control. That’s one rep.
First, to perform chair dips, you’ll need a sturdy chair, bench, or other stable, elevated surface for support.
Begin by sitting on the chair or bench, arms at your side, palms down on the chair or bench next to your hips, fingers gripping the edge of the surface. Place your feet flat on the floor, hip-width apart.
Then, shift your entire body forward while keeping your hands and feet in place. Your torso should be in front of the chair or bench, glutes in the air, and your knees slightly bent. You’re now in the starting position for chair dips.
Lower your body under control, allowing your elbows to flex until they reach 90 degrees, or until you can’t go any lower because your glutes touch the ground, whichever happens first.
Reverse and return to the starting position by extending your elbows. That’s one repetition.
Optional: Pull-ups or Pull-up Hangs
Perform a pull-up with a shoulder-width grip. If you can’t perform a pull-up, hang from the bar as long as you can with a pronated (palms-forward, facing away from you) grip.
This advanced workout is a fantastic way to get incredibly fit with minimal or no equipment.
Most people should begin with the beginner or intermediate workouts from the previous sections. Feel free to start here if you think you’re already really fit, but don’t say we never warned you.
Perform this workout 3-4 times per week, with 2-4 sets per exercise per session. Try to add some volume (more sets or more reps) each time you train.
For your long-term goal, aim for 15-20 reps on all exercises.
Pull-ups or Chin-ups
Perform a pull-up (pronated grip, palms facing away from you) or chin-up (supinated grip, palms facing you) with a grip width of your choice.
Pistol Squats or Single-Leg Squats Standing On Bench
Pistol squats are similar to regular bodyweight squats, except you only use one leg. If you have knee problems, skip this one.
To perform the pistol squat, hold your arms and one leg out horizontally in front of you. Then, while keeping your torso upright and spine straight, sit back slightly to initiate the movement.
As you lower, the hip and knee of the working leg will bend. Keep your arms and the inactive leg perpendicular to the ground.
Lower under control until your hamstring touches your calf, then reverse and squat upwards. That’s a rep.
Perform all reps on one side, then repeat on the other side. If you can’t do more than one rep in a row, you can alternate sides–a rep on the left, a rep on the right, and repeat.
Alternatively, if you aren’t flexible enough to do a pistol squat, you can perform single-leg squats standing on a bench or other surface that’s 24” or more off the ground.
Face parallel to the direction of the bench, shift your weight to one leg, then lower under control until your non-working foot barely contacts the ground beside the bench. Pause momentarily, then reverse to the starting position, and repeat.
Push-ups or One-Armed Push-ups
Perform a push-up with your hands shoulder-width. Ensure you keep your spine straight and elbows tucked (not flared) as you lower under control until your nose touches the ground, then reverse until you reach the starting position with your elbows fully extended. Flex your abs and glutes to stay solid and stable throughout.
If you can easily perform 20 or more normal push-ups, consider adding one-armed push-ups to your repertoire.
To do so, you’ll need to practice keeping your body extremely tight. Holding a plank in the one-armed push-up position is an excellent way to start.
You can also practice lowering under control in the one-armed push-up position. Eventually, after you focus on negative or eccentric (lowering) reps for a while, you’ll be able to raise yourself back up. Once you can perform a full repetition on each side, work on adding more reps.
One-legged Hip Thrusts
Hip thrusts are similar to glute bridges, except your upper back is supported on a bench or another stable surface 16-20” or more off the ground (like a couch or sofa if you’re at home)
Place your upper back on a stable surface with your feet on the ground. Position one foot on the ground with your knee bent at 90 degrees or less and lift the other foot and leg off the ground. That’s your starting position.
Next, squeeze your glutes to raise your hips until they’re fully extended and you can’t lift them any higher. Hold for 2-3 seconds, then reverse and lower under control. That’s a repetition. Perform all reps on one side, then repeat on the other side.
One-armed Inverted Bodyweight Rows or Pull-up Rows
Similar to regular inverted bodyweight rows, you also need a bar, rail, rope, straps, or rings for the one-armed variant.
Position the bar, ropes, straps, or rings to waist height or higher. As with the standard version of inverted bodyweight rows, a higher position makes the movement easier, and lower one makes it harder.
Next, position yourself beneath the bar, face up, and lie on the ground beneath the bar.
Then, reach up and grasp the bar with one hand using an overhand (pronated) grip. Your palm will be facing away from you. You can clasp the non-working hand to your chest, or extend it in front of your body.
Contract your entire body, especially your glutes and abs, to keep your body in a straight line, similar to performing a plank.
Next, pull your body up using one hand until your chest or collar bone touches the bar. Then lower yourself back to the starting position under control. That’s one repetition.
Alternatively, you can perform pull-up rows for a change of pace. To do so, begin by hanging from a pull-up bar in the usual starting position, then lift your legs partway as if you’re going to perform a hanging leg raise.
Then, lean back until your torso is at approximately 45 degrees. As you lean back, raise yourself up using a pull-up motion and begin lifting your chest towards the pull-up bar.
The goal of pull-up rows is to touch your sternum to the pull-up bar, then lower under control to the starting position. That’s one rep.
Optional: Dragon Flags or Hanging Pikes
To perform a dragon flag, lie flat on your back on the floor while grasping a stable stationary object. The object you grip can be vertical or horizontal, as long as it won’t move during the exercise.
Then, tense your abs and begin raising your hips and legs off the ground, as if you’re doing a reverse crunch. Continue lifting your legs using your abs until your weight is on your shoulders and your entire body is in a vertical position, then lower under control. That’s one repetition.
If full Dragon Flags are too difficult, you can experiment with bending more at your knees and hips early in the repetition to shorten your body and make the exercise less challenging.
Another option is the hanging pike. To perform hanging pikes, hang from a pull-up bar using a pronated grip (palms facing away from you), then tense your abs and begin lifting your legs as if you’re performing a hanging leg raise.
But unlike a hanging leg raise, you’ll lean back and keep raising your legs higher until your shins are in contact with the pull-up bar. Hold momentarily, then reverse. That’s a single rep.
Whether you’re brand-new to exercise or consider yourself advanced, you’ve got plenty of options to stay in shape during lockdowns, travel, or other situations where you can’t access the gym.
The truth is that with a little bit of know-how, you can improve or maintain your fitness without any equipment whatsoever–any time, anywhere.
Also, feel free to use the suggestions from this article as a starting point. If you want, you can mix and match or make changes as you see fit.
For example, fitness fanatics can do high-volume bodyweight workouts every day, or if you’re looking for the minimum effective dose, try 1-2 sets of your favorite bodyweight exercises a few times per week.
In the end, as long as you use proper, safe technique and pay attention to nutrition, your time and effort will pay dividends for your health and fitness.