This article is going to talk about the top bodyweight exercises beginner and intermediate athletes can use to build muscle. Our list is created based on the basic muscle principles of large compound movements. Compound movements have been scientifically proven to build the most muscle when it comes to working out. Although generally these movements need weight added, for example the squat, deadlift and bench press, there are ways you can work around this to get an effective workout even without going to the gym or having the weight you need.
Top 7 Body weight Exercises
Exercise 1 – The Press Up | Push Up
The original bodyweight exercise and the most commonly performed “lift” in the world. The press up is primarily a chest, shoulder and tricep exercise, although the core is also engaged meaning when performing this movement you are hitting a wide range of upper body muscles. As most people already probably know how to do a push up, I’ll explain the harder and easiest variations associated.
The Box press up – This is the easier variation when the individual places their knees on the floor instead of their toes, this puts less weight on the chest/triceps and hence the movement is a lot easier to perform. [image source]
There are many ways to make a press up more difficult. Generally adding a plate to your back, such as a 5-10 or 20kg plate will make the exercise proportionally harder but the form and exercise will be the same. Below is a video that outlines a few more variations to make the exercise either harder or easier.
Exercise 2: Vertical Box Jumps
After performing 3-5 sets of press ups at your required difficulty its time to move onto a leg dominant movement. Assuming you cannot squat (or bodyweight squats are too easy) the next best explosive leg movement is the vertical box jump. As the name suggests, this movement requires the athlete to explode from the floor onto a box (or bench) and then step down. Making this exercise either easier or more difficult is very simple, all you need to do is edit the height of the box and the number of reps (jumps) you perform per set. I recommend warming up with a high number of reps at a lower height and then go into a more challenging height, one at which you can only perform 5-10 reps of. This will give you the greatest benefit. [Image source]
Exercise 3: Pull Ups
By this point we have had a chest and leg dominant movement, so it is time to implement a back/bicep dominant one. Pull ups are the king of bodyweight movements, simply because of the amount of variation that you can implement. For example there are wide and short grip pull ups, chin ups (which is where you hold the bar with your fingers facing you, muscle ups, as well as hundreds of other varieties. There are also methods in which you can create easier pull up types. Instead of explaining them all I’ve embedded a video below which will give you a good idea.
Exercise 4: The sit up | Crunch
By this point we have hit all the major muscle groups using compound movements, now its time to hit the core by doing some sit-ups or crunches. I’m sure 99% of people reading this already have attempted this movement at some point, but there are tons of varieties which you can implement that will not only help build your abs and core, but also allow you to stay in the recommended 10-25 rep range for abdominal movements. This will not only help you grow your abs more efficiently, but it will also stop exercises from becoming to repetitive or boring.
If you find any of the below variations too easy, then try creating a routine to do multiple exercises in one go. Such as removing the rest time between sets, or increasing the number of reps per set. Below is a video I’ve personally used to get some more crunch variations.
Exercise 5: The Burpee
This is a more cardio / full body exercise, but one that is great for the average beginner or intermediate athlete looking to improve both overall strength and fitness. The burpee was also voted the number #1 all round exercise by a number of fitness magazines in 2016, so you know these are going to help you become both fitter and stronger.
There is no need to over complicate this movement. If you feel that this is too easy then speed up the pace of the movement, jump higher on the jump portion and move quicker through the movement. You can also implement sprints in-between each rep if you feel the need. Below is the basic technique to perform this movement, but again don’t over complicate this!
Exercise 6: Dips | Tricep Dip
Dips or tricep dips are shoulder, chest and tricep dominant movements (the primary muscle depends on the type of dip you are doing, as well as the width of your grip. In this case I would recommend starting with the tricep-dip variety on a bench and then moving into the parallel bar variety. The type of dip to include in your workout totally depends on the equipment you have available to you when you are performing this exercise. If you are performing a street workout you may see bars in which you can perform the movement on, or a park bench if you are just a beginner. If you are working out from home then the side of a bed, table or chair will usually do. Below are a couple of videos talking about the different varieties of dips, test the ones you like the look of, but remember to start in the 5-25 rep range, if you can do more than 25 reps, its time to make the easiest harder by adding weight or changing the levels up slightly.
Exercise 7: The Plank
At the end of the bodyweight workouts I like to finish with a static ab movement such as the plank. The plank (if you don’t already know) is designed to create core stability. The athlete will lie similar to a press up position, except the elbows and forearms will be on the floor instead of the hands. The individual will then brace their core and glute muscles to hold themselves in the plank position. I recommend doing 3 sets at the end of your workout, the time you should hold each plank is up to you, but remember to increase it week on week. Below is a basic guide to the plank.