Forget weights, this 4-move ladder bodyweight workout builds muscle and strength without them

Woman performing a push-up bodyweight workout outdoors on a deck by the ocean
(Image credit: Getty images/ Unknown)

This four-move bodyweight workout builds muscle, strength, and endurance in less than 15 minutes. You only need your exercise mat and some motivation to get it done, and it can slot into your day without spending hours in the gym. 

Suitable for beginners and advanced exercisers, the ladder workout adopts an AMRAP style, meaning you’ll perform ‘As Many Rounds As Possible.’ It’s a slow burner designed to target major muscle groups, test muscle endurance, and build strength. You’ll also burn calories and increase your heart rate with the addition of endurance exercises, but the focus should be performing full range of motion and good form. 

I originally designed this bodyweight workout as a full-body finisher for leg-day or upper-body programs — like this upper-body dumbbell workout — because it could fatigue muscles using a “burn-out set” at the end of your routine. Still, it can act as a quick and effective workout for hotel rooms or home workouts and be increased to a 10, 15, or even 20-minute workout if you’re up for it.  

a photo of a man doing a bodyweight squat

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I categorize it as another functional bodyweight workout, joining the ranks of popular fitness regimes like this 10-minute bodyweight workout and a top dumbbell full-body workout. It helps to improve stability and mobility through four compound moves (a move that hits multiple muscles and joints) which can be scaled depending on your experience. 

You’ll also recruit stabilizing muscles responsible for keeping you injury-free, like your rotator cuff muscles (located at your shoulder blades). Over time, these sorts of exercises and workouts could help you pack on lean muscle and size while keeping you nimble. Read on for how to do it and tips for maximizing your results using only your body weight. 

This 4-move ladder workout builds muscle and strength all over — without weights 

The aim is to perform exercises back-to-back, taking a quick rest here and there if you need it. For beginners, aim for 10 minutes of work, and for those who exercise regularly, 15 minutes will feel challenging, and 20 minutes is doable (but you might get bored). 

Start with four reps of the first exercise, then take 10 seconds of rest. Repeat this, then add the second exercise immediately after for six reps. Return to the start, repeat the first two exercises, then add your third exercise for eight reps. Return to the start and perform the first three exercises, then add 10 reps of your fourth exercise. Repeat until you hit your time cap or reverse back down. It’s called a ladder workout because you increase the reps and exercises by “moving up the ladder.”

According to research (opens in new tab), benefits of bodyweight training include improved muscle tone and joint stability, increased strength and endurance, and better flexibility. So, grab one of the best yoga mats and hit save!

1. Push-up tucks (4 reps)

Image of person performing a push-up from starting position to chest to floor

(Image credit: Getty images/ Unknown)

Tip: The exercise builds upper-body strength and works your core and leg muscles. If you have tight hip flexors, practice jumping forward as far as possible. Learn how to do push-ups here. 

How: 

  • Start in a push-up position with shoulders stacked over wrists, maintaining a straight line from head to toe
  • Brace your core
  • Bend your elbows, keeping them close to your sides, and lower your chest about an inch from the floor
  • Pause, then on your exhale, explosively push away from the ground back to the starting position
  • Jump both feet forward to just below your chest while keeping both hands on the ground, then jump backward again.

2. Gorilla burpees (6 reps)

Image of person performing a gorilla burpee by jumping feet forward and jumping into the air

(Image credit: Getty images/ Unknown)

Tip: Add a push-up for a more advanced chest-to-floor burpee, and check out this burpee challenge. The exercise is a full-body burner.  

How:

  • Start in a push-up position (see above)
  • Brace your core, then jump both feet wide to land outside both hands
  • Drop your bum down, lift your chest to face forward, then lift your hands off the ground to chest height, palms facing outward
  • Place hands back down, then jump back to starting position.

3. Broad jump squats (8 reps)

Woman performing a broad jump front squat position into a forward jump position on white background

(Image credit: Getty images/ Unknown)

Tip: Avoid landing with your heels or straight legs, as this will hurt your hips, knees, and ankles. The exercise develops power and endurance in your leg muscles.  

How: 

  • Start by standing with feet shoulder-width apart
  • Bend your knees, send your hips backward, then lower into a squat as you swing your arms behind you
  • Drive your arms and legs forward and take a big jump as far as possible, landing deep into a squat with knees bent and weight evenly distributed in your feet.

4. Wall walks (10 reps)

Woman facing a wall on white background performing a handstand with legs straight against wall

(Image credit: Getty images/ Unknown)

Tip: Kick one leg up at a time and walk as far up as possible, increasing distance until you feel comfortable maintaining a full handstand. It’s a full-body exercise but your shoulders and core work hardest. 

How: 

  • Stand facing away from a wall
  • Place your hands on the floor in front of you
  • Begin to walk your feet up the wall into a handstand facing toward the wall, keeping your core braced. Your hands should now be close to the wall and your body straight from head to toe
  • Begin to move your hands out and slowly walk your feet back down the wall with control, keeping your legs as straight as possible.

Next: Does jumping rope burn more calories than running? And use this at-home Pilates workout with weights to strengthen your entire body

Sam Hopes
Staff Fitness Writer

Sam Hopes is a level III fitness trainer, level II reiki practitioner, and resident fitness writer at Future PLC, the publisher of Tom's Guide. Having trained to work with mind and body, Sam is a big advocate of using mindfulness techniques in sport and fitness, and their impact on performance. She’s also passionate about the fundamentals of training and building sustainable training methods.  When she's writing up her experiences with the latest fitness tech, you’ll find her writing about nutrition, sleep, recovery, and workouts.

  • SuttonX
    Can you please make a brief little video of each exercise being performed, one or two reps of each of them? Some of the descriptions are confusing me a bit
    Reply