Use this full-body bodyweight to build strength and muscle without weights

Woman performing a push up in her sitting room at home
(Image credit: Shutterstock)

Bodyweight workouts are one of the most effective ways to improve strength and build muscle across your major muscle groups including your back, legs, chest, core, and shoulder muscles, and this workout is no exception.

The benefits of bodyweight exercises include easy scaling (you can make them harder or easier very quickly) so that beginners and more advanced exercisers can do them. Successfully advancing an exercise after a few workouts is not only very motivating, but also an excellent way to track your strength improvements. We swear by this calisthenics workout if you want more proof. 

Moreover, according to the Strength and Conditioning Journal, bodyweight workouts are brilliant at building explosive power and relative strength in trained and untrained adults, as well as working multiple muscle groups and joints in one go. 

If your interest is piqued, try this bodyweight anywhere that you have some space. You could choose to add weights to increase the intensity, but we promise you won't need it. Grab one of the best yoga mats or a chair for certain modifications and progressions, and bookmark this quick and effective bodyweight workout. 

Full-body bodyweight workout: warm up

Warming up is essential. Just a few minutes can help prevent injury, increase blood flow, and allow you to work in a proper range of motion. 

Arm Circles

Stand with your feet hip-width apart, arms relaxed at your sides. Slowly lift your arms up and around, making a semi-circle from your hips to your shoulders. Gently rotate from the shoulder joint and continue the circle of your arms until they are back at your side. Repeat five times, increasing your speed but maintaining control. Reverse directions for five rotations.

Leg Swings

Find a neutral stance with your feet hip-width apart. Engage your core and shift your body weight to your left side. Lift your right foot off the ground and find your balance. Gently swing your right leg back and forth 10 times, slowly increasing your speed and range. Repeat on the left. If needed, hold on to a wall or stable surface for balance.

Full-body bodyweight workout: the workout

This workout is a timed circuit — you’ll complete each exercise for a certain amount of time and then move on to the next. Once you’ve completed all of the exercises, rest briefly and start over. Aim to complete 3-5 sets in one workout. 

If you’re just beginning a fitness routine, perform each exercise for 15-30 seconds. If you’re no stranger to a good workout, try 45-60 seconds. Each exercise has both a modification and a progression option listed.

1. Jumping jacks

Start in a neutral stance, with your feet below your hips and your arms at your side. Jump both of your feet out to your sides, about shoulder width apart, and lift both of your arms above your head. Then quickly jump both feet back to their original position and bring your hands to your sides. Repeat with a quick pace. 

Modification alternative: No Jump Jacks

If the thought of jumping makes your joints hurt, opt for this non-impact version. Beginning in the same neutral stance, tap your right foot out to your side as you lift both arms above your head. Quickly bring your right foot back to center as you lower the arms. Repeat on your left side, raising and lowering your arms in the same fashion. Continue this alternating motion with a quick pace. 

Progression alternative: Star Jumps

For a challenge beyond the jumping jack, try a star jump. Start with your feet close together. Bend your knees and bring your arms in front of your shins. Jump up explosively, taking both feet out to your sides and your arms above your shoulders, making a “star” shape with your body. Land in the starting position. Repeat quickly with control.

2. Push-ups

This gym class favorite targets your chest, shoulders, and even your core. Begin on all fours, with your hands below your shoulders and knees below your hips. Engage your core and straighten your legs, planting your toes behind you. Keep your shoulders and hips aligned.

Slowly lower your body to the floor, then push your body back up to the starting position. Your chest, torso, and hips should all rise at the same time. Avoid arching your spine or bringing your hips out of line with your shoulders.

Modification alternative: knee or wall push-ups

If you’re having difficulty keeping your body aligned, try a push up on your knees instead. You can also perform the exercise standing, using the wall instead of the floor. Find a neutral stance at arm’s length from a wall. Place both of your hands on the wall, in line with your shoulders. Engage your core and step your feet back until your body is slanted diagonally. Bend your elbows, keeping them close to your body, and slowly bring your chest towards the wall. Then push yourself back to the starting position. 

Progression alternative: decline push-ups

Up for a challenge? Place your feet on a chair and perform the push up in a declined position. 

3. Tricep dips

The aptly named tricep dip strengthens the triceps brachii, a large muscle in the back of your arms. Begin by sitting upright on a chair, shoulders rolled back, with your feet flat on the floor and your knees bent at a right angle. Place your hands at your sides, palms facing down, and grip the front of your seat.

Brace your core and gently lift your hips, bringing them off the seat with your tailbone over the floor. Keep your elbows facing behind you and slowly bend them to a right angle, lowering your hips towards the floor. Squeezing your triceps, push back up to the starting position.  

Modification alternative: floor dips

When there’s no chair or bench available, move your dips to the floor. Sit tall on your tailbone with your knees bent and your feet planted. Place your palms on the floor behind your hips, with your elbows facing behind you. Lift your hips off the floor and engage your core. Bend your elbows and lower your hips, hovering them above the ground. Push back up to the starting position. 

Progression alternative: straight leg tricep dips

For an advanced take on the tricep dip, fully extend your legs instead of keeping your knees bent. 

4. Squats

You’d be hard pressed to find a more functional exercise than the squat: it’s the gold standard for building strength, endurance, and power in your lower body.

Begin by standing with your feet hip-width apart. Drive your hips back as if you were about to sit in a chair. Keep your chest lifted, your spine straight, and your core engaged. (It helps to hold your arms parallel to the floor to maintain balance.)

Bend your knees and lower your hips towards the floor, feeling your center of gravity between the middle and back of your foot. Don’t allow your heels or your toes to lift off of the floor. Squeeze your glutes and stand back up. 

Modification alternative: chair squats

First time squatters will often find it hard to set their hips back and keep their heels grounded. If you’re having that difficulty, try practicing the squat with a chair. Aim your hips back and find the seat with your tailbone. You can sit all the way down, or just tap the seat with your buttocks. Stand back up, squeezing the glutes and keeping the core engaged. 

Progression alternative: pause squats

To amp up your basic squat, throw in a pause! Start the squat as described above. Once you’ve reached the end of your range, pause and hold that position for 5-10 seconds. Squeeze your glutes and slowly return to standing. 

5. Reverse lunge

Lunges are another fantastic exercise for lower body strength. Begin in a neutral stance and step one foot behind you, keeping your hips square. Slowly bend your front knee and lower your back knee towards the ground. Press your front heel into the ground and engage your glutes. Slowly stand back up, bringing your rear foot back under the hips. Repeat for your chosen amount of time, then switch to the other side.  

Modification alternative: static lunge

Lunges can be a challenging exercise for your balance. To build the stability you need for the reverse lunge, start with a static lunge. Step one foot behind the other, keeping the hips square. Bend your front knee and slowly lower your back knee towards the floor. Press your front heel into the ground and squeeze your front buttcheek to stand back up, keeping your rear foot behind you. Repeat for your chosen time interval, then switch to the other side. Hold on to a wall or another stable surface for balance if needed.

Progression alternative: reverse lunge with balance

To really test your stability, try the reverse lunge without placing your rear foot back on the ground after you stand. Instead, bring your back leg forward, bend your knee at a right angle, and balance on the foot of your front leg. Continue for your desired interval, then repeat on the other side.  

6. Plank 

The plank is one the best exercises you can do for core strength, stability and tone. Begin on all fours. Place your forearms on the floor, with your elbows below your shoulders. Draw your bellybutton to your spine, extend your legs behind you, and plant your toes hip-width apart.

Keep your breastbone centered between your two forearms, your hips on the same plane as your shoulders, and your spine straight. Don’t allow your lower back to arch, or your hips to sink or rise. Hold in this position for your chosen time interval. 

Modification alternative: knee plank

If you have trouble keeping good form, start with the knee plank. All of the same plank rules apply, except you’ll be on your knees instead of your toes. 

Progression alternative: 3-point / 2-point plank

The experienced planker can advance this exercise by removing a point of contact from the floor. Once you’re in plank position, lift one toe or one arm from the ground. You could even try lifting both on opposite sides! 

7. Crunches

As we noted in our guide to the best 10-minute ab workouts, old-fashioned sit-ups aren’t as effective as crunches. Lie on the floor or mat with your knees bent and your feet flat. Cross your arms in front of your chest.

Squeezing your abdominals, tuck your chin and slowly lift your head, shoulders, and shoulder blades off of the floor. Hold at the top for a brief pause, then lower yourself back down to the floor.

Modification alternative: heel taps

If you feel the crunch working your neck working more than your abs, opt for a heel tap instead. Keeping your spine neutral and your head and shoulders on the mat, lift your legs into a “table top” position. Your shins should be parallel to the floor, your knees aligned directly over the hips, and your feet flexed. Without bending your knee, slowly lower one heel to the floor keeping your belly button drawn in. Using your core to support the motion, lift your heel back to the starting position. Alternate between sides, keeping the lower back neutral and core engaged. 

Progression Alternative: jack knife

After you’ve mastered the crunch, test your strength with a jack knife. Begin with your legs straight and spine neutral. Bring both arms over your head, keeping your ribs and belly button drawn in. Don’t let your lower back excessively arch. Contracting your abdominals, simultaneously lift your arms, head, upper torso and legs off the ground. Bring your legs to around a 45 degree angle and reach your arms towards your feet. With control, simultaneously lower everything back down. 

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Jennifer Rizzuto

Jennifer Rizzuto is a freelance writer and certified personal trainer based in Long Island, NY. She covers various fitness-related topics and reviews for Tom's Guide. She also writes sketch comedy and short films, and performs frequently as an actor, singer, and improviser. When she's not writing, working out, or performing, you'll find her trying to convince her husband to get a dog.

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