Effective bodyweight exercises - no equipment

The Food Forum's Evil Twin. Trying to lose weight or get in shape? Tips, encouragement, status reports, and so forth go here.
Disclaimer: Unless otherwise stated, we are not health professionals. Take advice with salt.

Moderators: Mighty Jalapeno, Moderators General, Prelates

User avatar
Posts: 511
Joined: Mon May 02, 2011 11:14 am UTC

Effective bodyweight exercises - no equipment

Postby Samik » Sat Nov 19, 2011 7:19 pm UTC

So you're in one of those down cycles where you just haven't been getting to the gym, and you know you don't really have excuses and... whatever. For whatever reason, you're just not up to it right now. No judgment going on in this thread.

But you don't want your body to entirely atrophy down to nothing, so you at least want to do some basic stuff now and then to keep your muscles awake and remind them what they're for, so that when you start back up again you're not in for such a shock. Also, you either don't have the money or the space for any real workout equipment.

So my idea is to try to compile a list of a good variety of simple, little-to-no-equipment-required body weight exercises. The kind of things you can literally go stand in the middle of your living room and do for a minute or two, and feel like you've done something. The objective is that, while these aren't going to set you up for powerlifting competitions, the exercise should still be as useful as possible - you should still be able to tire yourself out pretty well.

The case example would be something like pushups. No, doing a bunch of pushups aren't going to help you set a new personal record on bench press, but still, dropping down and doing a set up pushups every evening is a heck of a lot better than doing nothing at all, and will make that transition back to gym time a lot less painful. Other areas are a bit trickier, however. For example, how does one isolate and really work out the hamstrings, with just bodyweight?

So I'm going to start out by including the ones I've accumulated over the years. If anyone has an exercise that targets a muscle/muscle group I haven't accounted for, or an exercise that does the same thing as one I've suggested, but better (or if anything I've suggested is known to be unsafe, or ineffective or whatnot), let us know!

The obvious ones:

Chest: Pushups
Obviously there're a hundred different styles of pushups. Not much to be said here (or too much?).
Personally (and I have no reason to believe my method is any better than just doing a bunch of regular pushups - I just like the variety), I like to have each set include wide grip, diamond, and then pike. So, for example, a set of 75 might consist of:

50 wide grip
15 diamond
10 pike(more on these later)

As I understand it: traditional grip targets pecs and triceps pretty evenly, wide grip focuses more on pecs, and diamonds focus more on triceps.

Abs: Situps/crunches/bicycles/leg raises/you name it.
Another no brainer. Shouldn't be too hard to get a good burn in your abs with, at most, a couch to stick your feet under.

Quads: Squats, pistol squats
Body weight squats are fine, obviously, but I find, quads being as strong as they are, the numbers tend to get out of hand pretty quickly if you're doing them regularly. Once you start getting into triple digits before you really feel like you've put any effort into it... Consider trying to work your way up to:

- Pistol Squats.

If you're anything like me (bad balance/flexibility), these look pretty intimidating. Ultimately, I found that it was less an issue of strength, and more an issue of... proprioception, I think would be the correct concept? Once my brain got comfortable with the motion, I have been able to do them ever since, even when I haven't worked out in ages and am flabby and weak. Previously, I spent so much strength trying to stay stable throughout the motion that I just couldn't do it, even if I could easily squat more than my body weight normally.

To train to do these, you can use a wall for balance (a pole is even better, so you don't have to worry about where to put that stupid other leg). Also, starting in the completely down position, and just worrying about the upward part, might make it easier to start with.

For me, at least, 20 of these on each leg does a heck of a lot more than 100 double leg squats.
(And despite my no-equipment prohibition, it's trivial easy to just hold any old heavy thing while doing these, to make them even harder.)

Maybe no so obvious:

I thought this one was genius when I encountered it. For a long time, I thought there was just no way to isolate the hamstring using body weight only and no equipment. Well, this one, like situps, falls on the 'light' equipment requirement - you either need a couch or something (I use a radiator) to put your feet under, or a friend to hold them.


Obviously, the goal is to use as little of your arms to push yourself back up as possible.

It may not look like an exercise that could wear you out, but give it a try - I think you'll be in for a shock just how hard it is to not make heavy use of those arms.

Pike pushup/handstand pushups
Ok, it's pretty plain that you can get a darned good workout out of handstand pushups. But not everyone can do those, and not everyone who can has figured out the whole balance part yet (*raises hand*).

- So if you can do handstand pushups, great - this section is done for you.
- If you're like me, you have to use a wall to put your feet against. Okay!
- If you're not there yet, take a look at pike pushups.

I love these stupid things. I do them anyway as part of my pushup regimen even though I do handstands separately. (Hm - I keep my feet together though. I suppose you could get your hands and feet a lot closer together with legs spread. Also, I lift my head 'up' and touch my nose to the ground.)

Calf raises
Calf raises are pretty easy to simulate at home. Maybe just plain old standing up on your toes over and over to start. Later, single legged.
- Doing them in a doorway, where you can press your hands up under the door jamb will allow you to essentially provide as much resistance as you want, although your arms may tire out before your calves do.
- Doing them with your heel hanging off of a step is great also.

If you're lucky enough to have a stairwell that ends under a door jamb, like me, then you can do single legged raises, off the bottom step, while pressing up against the frame.

This can wear out your arms pretty good as well, which might be an unwelcome drawback, but I promise you can destroy your calves about as well as you'd ever care to using this method.

Biceps Manual resistance curls
I've found that you can get a darned good workout doing manual resistance bicep curls. Yes, the pushing arm has to be strong enough to keep up, but you can really kill yourself doing these if you want, especially because, since you have full control over the level of resistance, reps are almost irrelevant - you can just regulate the resistance so that you're always at 99% of your capabilitiy through the entire exercise - as your bicep wears out, you just lower the resistance.

I don't have a good video for this, but, essentially, you just press the base of your palms together, with the arm you want to work having its palm facing upward, and start squeezing!

I'm sure it probably loses out to using a bench or a barbell or both, since you're probably not isolating the muscle as effectively, and you can't really just hammer away on really heavy weights, but you can absolutely burn yourself out this way.

Triceps: L-seat

If you're out of shape like me, and want to be humbled, try doing this for any real length of time.


This one is borderline for me as to whether I should count it. The only way I really know how to do these at home, without buying one of those door frame bars (or relying on something not everyone will have, like good sturdy pipes in the basement), is to use a door itself.

- Make sure the door is sturdy enough to support your weight,
- Double or triple up a towel, and place it along the top of the door frame (makes it a lot easier on your fingers),
- Bend your knees to lift your feet out of the way,
- Have at it.

This obviously requires a sturdier door than average, which not everyone will have, and the motion isn't quite exactly the same, but it's the best I got.

(Also, let me warn you: don't wear a belt while doing this, unless you want to scratch up your door!)



I just don't find any of the extensions you can do while lying face down on the floor to really do much past a certain point.

Deadlift requires something to lift, which is sort of against the spirit of the thread, as not everyone may have some smallish, heavy object lying around that is suitable.

Certainly not everyone has a peice of furniture that can function as something like a Roman Chair...

There doesn't seem to be an obvious solution here for me, but I once thought the same thing about hamstrings, so... any ideas?

Rowing type exercise?


Final note: Ok, this became a lot wordier than I wanted it to. If it turns out to generate any significant discussion at all, I'll come back and tighten up the presentation a little bit / add in any recommendations from other posters.
Last edited by Samik on Sun Nov 20, 2011 3:09 am UTC, edited 1 time in total.

User avatar
Posts: 3148
Joined: Sat Sep 08, 2007 8:14 pm UTC

Re: Effective bodyweight exercises - no equipment

Postby Nath » Sun Nov 20, 2011 2:33 am UTC

Cool post. I'd add that one-arm pushups are to pushups what pistols are to squats, and are similarly not too hard once you figure out the mechanics.

Also, holding a light object at arms length in front of you can actually make pistols a bit easier, because you end up more balanced.

If squats are too easy and pistols are too hard, there are also Bulgarian split squats: put your back foot on a bench or chair (sole facing up), sink into a deep squat (hips below knee height, torso straight), and stand back up. Bonus points for holding a child, pet or household appliance while doing this.

Between squat variants, pushup variants (one-arm, overhead), pullups and maybe some jumps, you're probably all set. I doubt it's worth adding a bunch of isolation exercises on top of that.

This is all strength stuff. There's also a whole bunch of bodyweight conditioning options.

(Also, since you've put a lot of effort into this, I'll point out the typo in the second word.)

User avatar
Posts: 511
Joined: Mon May 02, 2011 11:14 am UTC

Re: Effective bodyweight exercises - no equipment

Postby Samik » Sun Nov 20, 2011 3:08 am UTC

Nath wrote:(Also, since you've put a lot of effort into this, I'll point out the typo in the second word.)

Sigh. It had to be that error, right in that spot, didn't it?

There were/are so many typos you have no idea - I'm a terribly impatient proofreader. I've already fixed a dozen - the forum was just kind enough, for whatever reason, to not give me an edit count.

If/when I go back to do a re-write to shorten it up, I'll do a better job of proofreading. (Although I just can't let that one stand. Now that you've pointed it out, I won't be able to stop thinking about it unless I fix it.)

User avatar
Posts: 41
Joined: Sun Nov 20, 2011 5:01 am UTC

Re: Effective bodyweight exercises - no equipment

Postby Euler » Sun Nov 20, 2011 7:09 am UTC

Excellent thread, I'm sure it will be appreciated by the many people who are not at the level of dedication required for expensive purchases, but nonetheless interested in fitness.
I appreciate it thoroughly, and I anticipate using it while out-of-town or otherwise unable to use my personal fitness equipment.

For back, I find that you can very easily use a bed as a Roman chair, provided you have someone or something to hold your legs down.
You may want to add this in to the back section, as I'm sure someone will utilize it, even if it may not be useful to everyone.

User avatar
Posts: 181
Joined: Sat Jan 29, 2011 10:40 am UTC
Location: Berlin, GE

Re: Effective bodyweight exercises - no equipment

Postby nightbird » Sun Nov 20, 2011 8:29 pm UTC

I nicked this one off Jason Ferruggia's blog:

Upper Body

1) Chin/ Pull Up
This exercise will build the lats better than anything else. An impressive number of full range, perfect reps is twenty. Unless you can do that you have some work to do. For all those beyond the beginner level I recommend 50-100 reps per week of some sort of chin up variation. The parallel grip chin/ pull up is easiest on the shoulders and elbows but I recommend a variety of grips for best results. Doing them on rings is safest as it allows for the most natural movement but is also significantly more difficult. Another great way to make chin ups more difficult and simultaneously more elbow friendly is to use Fat Gripz on the bar.

2) Rope Climb
This is another awesome lat exercise that will also build up your biceps and forearms as well as anything else out there. Your goal is to climb a twenty foot rope using just your hands.

3) Inverted Row
Some type of inverted row variation, either on a bar, rings, ropes or suspension straps should be included for mid back thickness and strength. To increase the difficulty try holding each rep for a few seconds at the top, using Fat Gripz or towels, placing only one leg up on the bench instead of two, or with both feet suspended up in the air. The latter variation is obviously the hardest and will take some time to work up to.

4) Inverted Face Pull Variations
To target the upper back musculature (teres minor, rhomboids, rear delts) you want to have your elbows directly out to your side when rowing. That means when you row the bar or straps toward you they will be at neck or face level. Again, you can do these on a bar, rings, suspension straps or ropes.

front lever Top 20 Bodyweight Exercises for Building Muscle & Strength5) Front Lever
This is an awesome bodyweight exercise for developing the lats, grip, forearms and core. To progress into doing the dynamic movement I recommend starting with isometric holds.

6) Muscle Up
This is one of the most impressive exercises there is. Very few people will ever master the muscle up but if you take the time and have the dedication just about anyone can do it. Doing five perfect reps is a good goal to shoot for.

7) Handstand Pushup
These will build up your shoulders like nothing else and will usually cause less pain than a barbell military press. An impressive number to shoot for is ten full range reps. To get started on these you need to first master the handstand. It’s been said by high level gymnastic coaches that the ability to handstands is one of the most important things you can develop to improve your overall athleticism. Once you have mastered them with your feet against the wall and can hold them for sixty seconds without a problem you can work on free handstands. Just be sure to have spotters around or a mat to roll on to when you’re first starting out.

8] Pushup
In my opinion the pushup is the premiere upper body pressing exercise and I would choose some type of pushup over a barbell or dumbbell press any day of the week. They are that effective and beneficial and pose a lot less risk of injury than the other options. Listing all of my favorite pushup variations would be an article in itself but needless to say there are dozens of them. Some of the ones I use most often in training myself of clients are the steep incline suspended pushup (with your feet in the straps), regular suspended pushups on rings, divebomber pushups and one arm pushups. Planche pushups are probably the hardest variation but you’ll need to be prepared for 1-2 years worth of work to get there. A good goal for most people is ten one arm pushups. That’s strong and impressive.

9) Dip
These can be done on parallel bars but I prefer rings. If you do them straight up and down they will blast your triceps better than just about any other exercise. Fifty reps on parallel bars or twenty five on rings done in this manner is a good goal to shoot for. For more chest emphasis you can lean forward by flexing at the hip and holding your legs out in front of you. Instead of simply pressing on the way up, try to squeeze/pull your way up when doing them for chest emphasis.

10) Hand Walking/ Crawling
Walking on your hands is an outstanding way to develop shoulder strength and stability. This can be done upside down in the handstand position or it can be done in pushup position with your feet in the Power Wheel. Done in this manner it will train your abs harder than anything you’ve ever done. Shoot for 100 yards with perfect form, meaning no sagging or A-framing hips. Aside from walking on your hands, any type of crawl is awesome for full body strength and athleticism. There are numerous types of crawls such as bear crawls, tiger crawls, crab walks, etc. I suggest incorporating them into your workouts at least once per week as a finisher.

Lower Body

pistol squat Top 20 Bodyweight Exercises for Building Muscle & Strength11) Pistol Squat
I love barbell squats as much as anyone. If you need to build muscle and gain weight fast few exercises will give you more bang for your buck. But a great assistance exercise or substitute to the barbell squat is the pistol squat. Pistol squats develop every muscle in the lower body along with great balance, stabilization, coordination and athleticism. Like many of the bodyweight exercises listed here the pistol will take several weeks of preparation to do properly and pain free. Even if you have the strength to do them the first time out your connective tissue won’t be prepared for the stress, so please take the necessary steps to work up to them. An impressive number of pistol squats to shoot for is twenty reps.

No matter how hard they try some people (due to certain injuries or limitations) may never be able to master the pistol squat. The solution is to get a high box and stand up on it with one foot. The other leg should be straight down at your side pointing toward the floor. Now you simply squat all the way down, ass to heel, like you would in a pistol squat. The only difference is you don’t have to hold the non working leg out in front of you and you won’t have as much rounding of the lower back.

12) Hill Sprint
Sprints aren’t typically thought of as a strength or muscle building exercise but rather a conditioning or speed development tool. That’s a shame because they can definitely build size and strength in ample amounts. If all you did for lower body was hill sprint 3-4 times per week with enough volume and ate enough food your legs would get significantly bigger and stronger.

13) Single Leg Deadlift
Technically this isn’t really a deadlift but rather a version of a single leg squat. Although if you are strong enough you can hold dumbbells in each hand while you squat down, which would make it more of a deadlift than a squat. To do this exercise simply bend one knee behind you and squat straight down to the floor. It’s like a pistol squat only the leg is bent behind you instead of straight out in front of you. Touch the back knee to the ground and then stand back up. The range of motion is far less so this is often a good first progression into pistol squats.

14) Single Leg Hip Thrust
While pistol squats take care of most of your lower body needs you may want to include some hip extension work to make sure you have all your bases covered. This is especially important for girls who want an ass you can rest a drink on. A great bodyweight exercise that does that for you is the single leg hip thrust. Set up two benches, put your upper back on one and one foot on another with the non working leg bent and up near your chest. After you can knock out 15-20 reps with perfect form while keeping your hips stabilized and not hyperextending your lower back I’d throw some chains or band resistance over your waist.

Single Leg Hip Thrust Top 20 Bodyweight Exercises for Building Muscle & Strength

15) Single Leg Back Raise
I love glute ham raises but they aren’t necessary. Whenever you squat deep enough, like you do in a pistol squat the hamstrings get worked. The glutes also get a pretty good workout from pistol squats. But this does leave the lower back lagging behind a bit in the stimulation department. So to cover that part of the body a single leg back raise would be a great option. Of course you could do these with two legs until sets of twenty become easy. After that I’d switch over to the one leg variation on either a parallel or 45 degree angled bench.

Core Exercises

16) Power Wheel Rollout
If I could only pick one abdominal exercise this would probably be the one. To be considered strong on the Power Wheel rollout try working up to the point where you can do them on your feet for ten reps. Be sure not to let the hips sag on this one and keep the glutes squeezed and abs braced tightly throughout.

17) L-Sit
This exercise is awesome for developing core strength and mastering it will do you a world of good and have great carryover to numerous exercises and physical activities. Start with the bent knee version and progress slowly from there.

18) Hanging Leg Raise
This is an advanced abdominal exercise so work your way up to it slowly over the course of several months. I’d have the L-Sits down pretty good first. If you’re a beginner it may two years until you’re ready for this one. The ability to do 15-20 really picture perfect reps without jacking up your lower back is pretty impressive.

19) Straight Leg Curl Up
I know that sit ups and any form of spinal flexion are frowned upon in this day and age but if you want to add some mass, and thus the look of separation to your abs this exercise does the job quite well. I’ve seen people add an inch of muscle to their midsection by doing a few sets of these per week for a month. To do them properly you need to squeeze your glutes and drive your heels into the ground. Before you start the first rep take a deep breath and hold it while contracting your abs as hard as you can. Now slowly curl up, one vertebrae at a time, taking about 3-5 seconds on the way up and on the way down. Be warned that this is also an advanced ab exercise and that you need to be fairly strong to do it properly, otherwise it will just bother your lower back. The Janda Sit up performed in the same manner is another good one that I like as well.

bridge Top 20 Bodyweight Exercises for Building Muscle & Strength20) Back Bridge
This will do more to improve the health of your spine than just about anything else you can do. Start very slowly and be careful on these. If you have preexisting injuries you may never be able to do this. Those with healthy spines should aim to work towards the point where they can bridge backward from a standing position to the floor and back up again.
“Human beings make life so interesting. Do you know, that in a universe so full of wonders, they have managed to invent boredom.”

User avatar
Posts: 511
Joined: Mon May 02, 2011 11:14 am UTC

Re: Effective bodyweight exercises - no equipment

Postby Samik » Sun Nov 20, 2011 9:50 pm UTC

nightbird wrote:6) Muscle Up
This is one of the most impressive exercises there is. Very few people will ever master the muscle up but if you take the time and hav a standing position to the floor and back up again.

A lot of content here, Night, thanks. I will get around to reading it all, but I just had to rant about muscle ups for a second.

Pullups are, without a doubt, my single all-time favorite exercise, and the one I have, by far, pushed myself further on than any other. At my peak, I was doing 25 perfect, dead hang pullups (30+ when I cheated and kipped a bit). No world records here, but I was darned proud of it.

And yet, I still have not ever been able to do a single muscle up. And I have never really felt close.

There's something fundamental about the motion that I just have never been able to figure out.

(The move, for anyone who doesn't know what it is. (Same maneuver on a bar.))

User avatar
Posts: 41
Joined: Sun Nov 20, 2011 5:01 am UTC

Re: Effective bodyweight exercises - no equipment

Postby Euler » Sun Nov 20, 2011 11:12 pm UTC

I'm very proud of myself for doing handstand pushups.
My shoulders are one thing I'm proud of, and now I know I'm doing something right. Thanks, mate :)
"Six by nine. Forty two."
"That's it. That's all there is."
"I always thought something was fundamentally wrong with the universe"

Ben's Brook
Posts: 23
Joined: Tue Nov 01, 2011 6:15 am UTC

Re: Effective bodyweight exercises - no equipment

Postby Ben's Brook » Sat Nov 26, 2011 2:58 am UTC

Back's is a toughy, but there are a few.

The first is half-supermans, which target the lumbar. Essentially ,lift your right arm and your left leg at the same time while lying flat on your gut. If you're doing a million reps of these, try doing supermans: Hold up all appendages off the floor as if you are in fact, superman, crashing through a foam brick wall. The novelty will quickly wear off. Remember to breath.

Secondly, wide angle push ups, while focusing mostly on pecs and bicep, do use a part of your lateral muscles. I really can't think of any exercises that isolate solely on your upper back other than a pull up, which the vast majority of us fat asses can't do unassisted.

Also, for your tricep, trying doing dips: Find two points where you can use your arms to support yourself, and have enough room to dip your body down and up. These are tough, but once the triceps become strong enough, it becomes easier.

User avatar
Mighty Jalapeno
Inne Juste 7 Dayes I Wille Make You A Hero!
Posts: 11265
Joined: Mon May 07, 2007 9:16 pm UTC
Location: Prince George In A Can

Re: Effective bodyweight exercises - no equipment

Postby Mighty Jalapeno » Sat Nov 26, 2011 6:15 am UTC

A fan of BWC, I see. :) That is a lot of very cool stuff, and that's mostly what I do when I work out at home is just whatever bodyweight exercises I can think of to work whichever parts of my body don't hurt (and good old jumping jacks to get my heart going). I'm still pretty gloriously overweight, though, which makes it all the more difficult: I have a LOT of bodyweight and insufficient muscle to perform many of these properly, or repeatedly.


Posts: 179
Joined: Tue Dec 04, 2007 4:16 pm UTC
Location: Michigan, USA

Re: Effective bodyweight exercises - no equipment

Postby Webzter » Thu Jan 19, 2012 7:40 pm UTC

I like (but don't have the background to know if it's good) the book You Are Your Own Gym: The Bible of Bodyweight Exercises by Mark Lauren and Joshua Clark

User avatar
Posts: 471
Joined: Tue Feb 20, 2007 6:21 am UTC
Location: :noitacoL

Re: Effective bodyweight exercises - no equipment

Postby Likpok » Fri Jan 27, 2012 8:30 am UTC

There are a few books that I see usually recommended for people trying to gain strength via bodyweight. They are "Convict Conditioning" (ignore the hypermasculine writing, and the prison thing is probably schtick, but the sequences are good) and "Building the Gymnastic Body" (guy posts on reddit occasionally, seems reasonably smart). I've seen less of "You are your own gym" and "Never Gymless" for whatever reason

In any case, you need to specifically look for a program that offers progression in difficulty by changing the leverage and/or exercise, not through increasing repetitions. Unfortunately, doing more reps doesn't make you much stronger.
There's an art to cooking toast
Never try to guess
Cook it till it's smoking
Then twenty seconds less.

Return to “Fit Club”

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: No registered users and 5 guests