5 Best Bodyweight Exercises for Strength & Functional Fitness
Body weight exercises are movements you can do almost anywhere. They’re especially convenient if you work out at home and when you’re staying in a hotel that doesn’t have a gym. Wherever you might be, you can still get an effective workout using only your body weight. Here are five of the best exercises to include in your home or away-from-home workout.
Leave push-ups off the list? No way! Even the military uses push-ups to measure a recruit’s fitness prowess and you can do them almost anywhere. Push-ups work multiple muscle groups. Plus, you can shift the muscles you emphasize by changing the position of your hands. Move your hands closer than shoulder-width and you’ll work your triceps harder. Further apart and you’ll blast your shoulders.
Regardless of where you place your hands, push-ups work multiple muscle groups, including the muscles in your shoulders, chest, upper back, biceps, triceps, and even your core. Once you’ve mastered a standard push-up, explore the many push-up variations. For an inclined variation, place your feet on a bench so your feet are higher than your hands. This creates an added strength and endurance challenge. Add an explosive power component by doing a clap push-up. The goal is to push your upper body off the floor enough to do a clap between each push-up. It’s a challenging move and one you may need to work up to. There are dozens of push-up variations that will help you shift the emphasis of the exercise or make it harder. Push-ups are a multifaceted exercise with lots of benefits!
Too often, people focus too much energy on their biceps and too little on the triceps. It’s important to work both to avoid muscle imbalances. With triceps dips, you don’t need weights to get a challenging workout. If you have a sturdy chair, you can easily do triceps dips at home. Here’s how to do them:
• Stand in front of a sturdy chair with your back to it.
• Reach back and place your hands about shoulder-width apart on the seat of the chair. Your palms should be facing behind you and your knees bent to 90 degrees.
• Slowly bend your elbows as you lower your body toward the floor.
• When you’re just above the floor, straighten your elbows as you lift your body back up to the starting position.
• The goal is to use your triceps to do most of the work as opposed to pushing yourself back up with your feet.
Once you’ve mastered triceps dips with your knees bent, do the same movement with your legs extended straight out in front of you. This variation is a bit harder. After you can complete at least 10 reps in this position, elevate your feet by placing them on another sturdy chair or bench. Be careful what surfaces you choose! The chair should be sturdy enough not to shift.
To be physically fit, you also need exercises that blast your heart rate up and keep it elevated long enough to get cardiovascular benefits. Why not do a set of 10 burpees between each bodyweight exercise? Burpees are the “crème de la crème” of cardiovascular, bodyweight exercises. That’s because they elevate the heart rate, build explosive power, and improve muscular endurance, all in a single move.
How to Do a Burpee:
• Stand up straight with your feet about shoulder-width apart & hands resting comfortably at your sides.
• Lower your body as if descending into a squat.
• Put your hands on the floor in front of you and shift your weight toward them.
• Quickly jump your feet back behind you. Keep your body as straight as possible as if you’re in a plank position.
• Jump your feet forward back to the starting position.
• (Optional) Jump explosively into the air once you reach the starting position.
You can also do a push-up when you’re in the plank position to work your upper body. To make the exercise harder, increase the tempo, so you’re belting out burpees as fast as possible.
You don’t necessarily need a barbell or dumbbells to do an effective set of squats. When you deepen your squat and descend below parallel, you fire up the muscles in your lower body even without added weight. With a standard squat, you only lower your body until your knees are at a 90-degree angle. When you deepen the squat, you descend until your thighs rest against the muscles in your calves. So, deep squats can be challenging even without a barbell.
If you need more challenge, later on, you can always hold a pair of dumbbells to make the exercise even harder. But deep squats are an excellent functional move that fires up all the muscles in your lower body. Standard squats are primarily a quad-focused exercise, but when you go deep, you target your posterior chain more, and that builds greater glute and hamstring strength.
Hip thrusts target the all-important glute muscles. In fact, your gluteus maximus is the largest muscle in your body and the main hip extensor. Strong glutes help you generate power for sprinting and jumping. Plus, strong glutes help maintain proper body alignment. When your glutes are weak, it places added pressure on your knees and lower back. Hip thrusts are one of the best exercises for activating the glutes. According to EMG studies, hip thrusts outperform squats and deadlifts in terms of glute activation.
How do you do a hip thrust at home? Lie on a mat and place your feet on a couch or large chair for support. Your legs should be bent. While planting your feet on the floor, thrust your hips up and down. The higher the couch, the harder the exercise will be. Once you can easily do 10 hip thrusts in this manner, make the exercise harder by holding a dumbbell across your lower abdomen when you thrust. Your glutes should feel the burn after a set or two!
BretContreras.com. “Hip Thrust & Glute Science”