When you think about workouts that will get you stronger and more muscular, I doubt bodyweight exercises come to mind. You probably think about compound weightlifting like deadlifts or hip thrusts. While weightlifting certainly has its time and place, don’t write off bodyweight workouts just yet. After I share with you the best bodyweight exercises that I’ve been using for a long time, I promise you’ll think differently about how to get stronger.
Not all bodyweight exercises are created equal. In other words, there are some bodyweight movements that aren’t worth much time if you have specific goals in mind. But if you use the right ones, you’ll see huge results. When it comes to bodyweight exercises, you’ll quickly learn how versatile they are. You can use them to warm your body up for a weightlifting session, you can use them in a bodyweight circuit, you can use them for a quick, sweaty finisher to a longer workout, etc. The list goes on and on.
I’m going to walk you through my favorite bodyweight exercises that I use in my programming regularly. I’m sure you’ll have success with them too if you incorporate them into your workouts. These are the 6 best bodyweight exercises you should be adding to your sessions often.
The pistol squat is a big goal for many fitness enthusiasts. Not only does it require strength, mobility, and control, it also looks pretty damn cool. The full expression of the pistol squat isn’t for beginners, and it’s definitely not for people who have chronic pain or injuries that they’ve been battling. But there are plenty of modifications for working up to the pistol squat, so start slow and be patient. If you put in the work regularly, you’ll nail your pistol squat and feel a huge sense of accomplishment.
To incorporate pistol squats into your workout routines, you can include it in a lower-body circuit—alternate it with a weightlifting movement like deadlift or hip thrust, or include it in a bodyweight session with squat jumps, walking lunges, etc. You can also create a full-body routine that includes pistol squats. Get creative—there are tons of ways to use pistol squats in your routine.
This bodyweight exercise is underrated if you ask me. It looks easy and may not feel like much in the first 10-20 seconds you’re doing it, but then it feels impossible. I love using mountain climbers to strengthen the core and shoulders. Plus, this movement is a cardiovascular blaster that will get your heart rate nice and high in a short amount of time. Another thing I love about mountain climbers is that you can combine them with a lot of different exercises. For example, you can do 10 mountain climbers and 2 push-up, and continue repeating this sequence for a 40-second set. Not to mention that merely adding speed to your mountain climbers will result in a big spike in your heart rate.
Drive your knees in as close to your chest as possible while maintaining your shoulders over your wrists. Keep your core tight and aim to keep your hips the same level as your shoulders.
Cossack squats aren’t used as often as they should be. They’re a powerful lower-body exercise that requires mobility in the knees, ankles, and hips. They may look easy, but they’ll blast your legs and hips in no time. What I love most about cossack squats is that you can modify them for any and all levels. Aim to keep your heels on the floor as you go from side to side. Only go as far as you can without feeling pain or discomfort in your knees, ankles, and hips. Sit down as far as you can without pain, aiming to sit down deeper and deeper as time goes on.
The bodyweight exercise everyone needs is the classic push-up. There are a million different variations of push-ups so you have a lot to choose from. If you aren’t able to do a push-up on your feet properly, there’s no shame in that. It’s best to regress the position so you can build up the strength to perform a full push-up; in other words, do full-range push-ups on your knees rather than only doing half reps of push-ups on your feet.
Here are a few things to keep in mind when it comes to push-ups: keep your hips and chest at the same level and brace your core as you push up. Ideally your chest reaches all the way to the ground and you push back up until your arms are straight. Try out all the different variations and feel free to include the push-up into a full-body circuit.
Front Kick Through
This Animal Flow movement is a burner and it will require some patience and hard work to get it right. They can be done explosively or with more control. I like to mix it up depending on what I’m going for. Contract your abs to make room for you to kick the back leg through the window between your other arm and leg. The arm that has contact with the ground should be straight so you can press into the floor and generate a strong stabilization in your shoulder. While this movement may look strange at first, I’m sure you’ll love it when you get the hang of it.
Tuck Planche Press
This is a very advanced bodyweight exercise that takes time to work up to, but it feels great when you accomplish it. The key to the tuck planche press is the protraction of the scapula. That means your shoulder blades are separating from each other and you’re creating a rounding in the upper back. A necessary factor of this bodyweight exercise is that the arms remain straight. Think about externally rotating your elbows outward to create a screw into the ground, which helps you generate more strength to elevate the tuck.
Take your time to work up to this movement! A lot of plank work will help you build up the strength in your core and shoulders, as well as a lot of scapula preparation. Practice retracting and protracting your scapula in the plank position.