The 5 Best Bodyweight Exercises

Our top five bodyweight moves to scorch calories and burn fat — no matter where you are.

Rachel Crocker | January 23, 2014

Spiderman Push-up

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One of the best total-body exercises out there, the push-up engages your upper body, core and lower body, all at the same time. Adding a balance element that further challenges your body will make every rep that much tougher.

What to do: Get into a push-up position on the floor with your hands just wider than your shoulders. Bend your arms to lower your chest towards the floor; at the same time, bend your left leg out to the side, trying to touch your knee to your left elbow. Reverse to return to the start; on your next rep, perform the motion with your right leg. Continue for three sets of 10 to 12 reps.

Bodyweight Squat With Pulses

Don’t pooh-pooh the squat as just a basic lower-body motion. Your core is heavily relied upon during each rep to keep your torso strong and tall, and because some of the largest muscle groups in your body – your glutes, for example – are targeted, this exercise rewards you with a higher calorie burn than, say, a leg extension. Adding smaller partial reps at the bottom will bring up the burn even faster!

What to do: Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, and bend your knees and hips to squat. Stop when your thighs are parallel to the ground, then pulse up and down (moving only a few inches) 10 times before standing. Do three sets of 15 to 20 reps.

Burpee

If you’ve ever done a burpee, you know the true meaning of the term “love to hate”. You’ll love it because you can feel it from head to toe and it jacks your heart rate in a minimal amount of time – and you’ll hate it for the exact same reasons. Burpees are probably the toughest exercise you can do with no equipment – try it, and we think you’ll agree.

What to do: Stand tall with your feet together. Come into a low squat, place your hands on the ground, then jump your feet back to bring your body into a push-up position. Hop your feet back towards your hands, then explode into the air, jumping as high as you can and reaching your arms above your head to gain height. Land softly and repeat immediately. Aim for three to four 30 to 60 second sets.

Forward Lunge With Kickback

Lunges are king when it comes to eliciting delayed onset muscle soreness – that achy feeling you get in your muscles in the days following your workout ¬– thanks to its large range of motion and the emphasis it places on your quads, a smaller muscle group than your glutes. Tacking a kickback onto it gives your butt a bit more incentive to change and grow – and more muscle equals more calories burned, even at rest.

What to do: Take a large step forward with your left foot and bend both legs until they form 90-degree angles. (Your rear knee should be an inch or two off of the ground.) Push through left front foot to return to the start, but instead of planting your foot, raise your leg as high as you can behind you, being careful not to overarch your lower back. Swing your leg forward once again to step into another lunge, and repeat. When your set is through, complete the motion on your right leg. Do three sets of 15 to 20 reps on each leg.

Pull-up/Chin-up

While considered an advanced exercise – which they certainly are – full pull-ups or chin-ups are worth working up to. If unassisted, you are essentially pulling up close to 94 percent of your entire body weight – not a small feat, that’s for sure! Using a wide overhand grip (pull-up) will activate the largest muscle in your upper body, your lats, more than using a narrow reverse grip (chin-up), which will solicit your biceps more.

What to do: Grab hold of a pull-up bar using one of the two grips mentioned above. Bend your knees and cross your ankles, or leave your legs dangling straight towards the floor. (Note: to alleviate some of the body weight that you will be moving, you can use a super band looped over the bar and under your knees, or get a friend to support your knees or ankles.) Without swinging your body, bend your arms to pull yourself upward until your chin clears the bar. Extend your arms to return to the start, and repeat for two to three sets of as many reps as you can.

About the Author

Rachel Crocker