Restrictions brought on by the pandemic have pushed lots of people to exercise at home. While most people tend to choose to focus on cardio and general fitness, bodyweight exercises are the perfect combination of strength and interval workouts to do at home.
Whether you want to work on your chest, arms, back or legs, the ACF can help with our guide to some of the best bodyweight workouts to get you going.
What Are Bodyweight Workouts?
Bodyweight workouts are exercises that use your own body’s weight as resistance. Instead of resistance from a dumbbell or other piece of equipment, your body provides all the weight you’re moving. Bodyweight exercises use simple abilities such as pushing, pulling, squatting, or twisting to achieve your goal, which means they can be modified for both beginners and pros.
One of the benefits of bodyweight workouts is you don’t need to be an avid gym-goer - you can work out from the comfort of your own home or in the park if the weather permits. Nor do you need to be a seasoned athlete. You can start anywhere, any time!
Best Bodyweight Workouts
There are many benefits of physical activity; however, not all bodyweight exercises were created equal. Particular exercises focus on different areas of the body, with some targeting multiple muscle groups at a time.
Some can be more strenuous on the body than others; therefore, no matter what level of workout you’re at, it’s essential to make sure you rest and recover appropriately. Below are some of the best bodyweight exercises you can do.
Target area: Arms, chest, core and shoulders
Push-ups are a compound exercise that can build both upper-body muscles and core strength. Done correctly, they exercise muscles in the chest, shoulders, back, abs, triceps and even legs. This makes them not solely a bodyweight arm exercise, but also an excellent bodyweight chest exercise.
The strength we gain in our arms and upper bodies from doing this type of physical workout helps us in daily life when needing to lift, push or carry heavier objects. Push-ups are just one of many physically demanding bodyweight exercises, and adjustment can be made to help beginners ease themselves into it; however, below are the steps to do traditional push-ups.
How to do push-ups
- Start by getting on all fours and position your hands so they’re slightly wider than the width of your shoulders.
- Extend legs back - you should be balanced on your hands and toes, but feet can be positioned close together or a bit wider depending on what feels most comfortable. Engage your abs (by pulling your navel towards your spine and keeping it tight), but remember to breathe.
- Check your form - there should be no sagging as this can result in back pain. Your neck should be in its neutral position, meaning your head should be in line with your spine, face down with eyes to the floor.
- Inhale as you slowly bend your elbows to lower yourself.
- Exhale as you begin pushing back up to your starting position, but make sure never to lock your elbows as this place a lot of stress on joints and can cause strain; always keep them slightly bent.
- Repeat for as many repetitions as you require but make sure to have a break if you’re feeling fatigued.
Target area: Abdominals
Despite appearing quite simple to do, sit-ups are a little more technical than people realise. Done correctly, you can improve your core and improve your spine's flexibility. Done incorrectly, you can possibly injure yourself.
If you already have a workout routine, sit-ups can slot well into your current program; all you need to do is make sure you get enough rest in between workouts.
How to do sit-ups
- Start by lying on your back on the floor, bend your knees so your feet are flat and firmly planted - this is your starting position.
- Cross arms over your chest and rest your hands on your shoulders - try to avoid putting your hands behind your head, as you may be tempted to pull on your neck, which could result in injury. Alternatively, you can choose to lightly touch your temples with your fingertips.
- Check your form and engage your core before starting your first rep.
- Use your abdominal muscles to lift your back off the floor, curling up to an upright position, keeping your arms in the same place as in step 2.
- Slowly lower yourself back to your starting position - this marks the end of your first rep.
- Repeat steps 4 and 5 to complete as many reps and sets as you like, but be sure to take a break if you start feeling tired.
Target area: Abdominals and core
Strengthening your core is a key aspect of any workout program and the basis for a lot of athletic movement. A strong core can also reduce the amount of stress on joints, allow better posture and improve the muscles along the spine and up to the shoulders.
How to do ‘classic’ planks
You would be forgiven thinking doing a plank would be easy as it is getting into one position and holding it. However, incorrect technique can result in strain or injury, so it’s best to follow our steps below.
- Begin face down with your forearms and toes on the floor. Elbows should be directly under your shoulders with arms facing forward. This is also known as the high plank position.
- As with most exercises, engage your abs by pulling your navel in towards your spine.
- Check your form - your body should be in a straight line, with no bending, sagging or arching. Head should be facing the floor and neck in line with your body to avoid neck strain.
- Hold for up to a minute - you can start at 10 seconds if you’re a beginner and eventually work your way up - while remembering to breathe and release to the floor. Repeat for as many reps as you like.
Target area: Entire body
Burpees are one of the best bodyweight workouts you can do, and adding them into your routine is almost guaranteed to help improve your fitness. This high-intensity workout is fast-paced, not only strengthening your body but your heart and lungs as well.
How to do burpees
Unlike some other bodyweight workouts, burpees consist of multiple movements put together. Before you fully get into doing reps of burpees, it could be helpful to go through the steps below slowly so you get the hang of how to do the movements and transition between them effectively.
Here is a visual tutorial for how to do a burpee, with a couple of variations should you want to start of easy or challenge yourself more:
Mountain Climbers (Running Planks)
Target area: Entire body, with particular focus on your arms, core, shoulders and quads
Mountain climbers, or running planks, are great for increasing your endurance, core strength and overall agility. As you’re exercising multiple muscle groups at the same time, this one exercise essentially provides a full body workout. You’ll also improve your heart health as mountain climbers are a cardio exercise.
How to do mountain climbers
- Get into the classic plank position - as described above - and make sure your weight is evenly distributed between your hands and feet.
- Check your form - hands should be at shoulder-width apart, back flat, hips down, abs engaged and head in. This helps maximise the workout effects and ensures you don’t injure yourself.
- Bring your right knee into your chest as much as you can, then return to your original plank position.
- Switch legs and bring your left knee into your chest as far as you can, as you did with your right, before returning to your original position.
- Repeat steps 3 and 4 as fast as you can, but make sure you keep your form (step 2) and avoid bouncing your toes as this means your core is less engaged.
Target area: Glutes and legs
Squats are a great bodyweight leg exercise that can be done at various points during the day, whether you choose to dedicate time solely to them, or quickly fit some in while you’re brushing your teeth. There are various types of squats, but bodyweight squats don’t require any additional resistance equipment.
How to do squats
For basic squats:
- Start with your feet shoulder-width apart, toes slightly out and sit back as if you were going to sit down. As you do this, keep your back straight and raise your arms straight out in front of you.
- When your thighs are parallel to the ground, stop and push back up to a standing position, lowering your arms as you do.
If you have knee or hip problems, you may want to perform wall squats, which provide extra support:
- Stand with your back against and position your feet, so they are shoulder-width apart about 12 inches, or roughly a 30cm ruler, away from the wall.
- Keeping you back against the wall, bend your knees, dropping down into a squat position.
- When your thighs are parallel to the ground, stop and push back up to a standing position.
And those are 6 of the best bodyweight exercises you can start doing to help with your fitness from your own home. After spending the better part of a year indoors, health, mental health and fitness have never been more important, although finding ways to motivate yourself can be challenging.
Joining The Army Cadets can be a great way to get that motivation. Whether you join as a cadet or a volunteer, the challenges you face help with your physical strength, mental resilience and overall health - all while providing you with a fun and engaged community in which to test your capabilities. Find out more about joining The Army Cadets today.