Getting in shape is far from easy, in fact, it’s a living nightmare for some people. It seems as if no matter how hard we try, eventually we naturally hit a plateau and find ourselves struggling to make any noticeable gains. We all work out for different reasons, with different goals and targets in mind.
Some of us train in order to burn fat, while others work out so that we can build muscle. In truth, whatever your goals may be, it never hurts to switch up your training now and then and try something new.
That’s why for today’s article, we’re going to be looking at calisthenics body weight workouts and exercises that use nothing but your own body weight for resistance.
If you thought you needed heavy weights and fancy machines to get in shape, the truth is that by following these exercises all you need is a little open space, and perhaps a few accessories here and there.
Below we’ll be looking at the best body weight chest exercises, exercises that work your core, bodyweight exercises for back workouts, and much more besides. So, without any further hesitation, here’s a look at some of the best body exercises to help you get in shape.
Push ups, or press ups, as they are sometimes known, are without a doubt, one of the best body weight chest exercises that you could ever wish to perform. Even the biggest, strongest, and most hardcore of bodybuilders will include push ups as part of their chest routine.
Push ups are a fantastic example of a compound exercise, as they target multiple muscle groups throughout the duration of this exercise. Push ups work the pectoral (chest) muscles, they work the core, they hit the deltoids (shoulders) and they even work the triceps.
To execute the perfect push up:
- Begin by getting down into a standard push up position with your body straight, your weight being supported by your toes, and your hands flat on the floor, arms extended, slightly wider than shoulder width.
- Next, engage your core, keep your body straight, and slowly lower your chest to the ground by bending your elbows.
- Stop when your chest grazes the ground, hold for a second until you feel a slight stretch in your chest, and return to the starting position.
Repeat for as many repetitions as required.
Step Up Knee Raises
To perform this exercise you will need a sturdy aerobics step, or something similar. This exercise is a great form of cardio, plus it also works the glutes (butt) hamstring, and core. Furthermore, as it is a unilateral leg movement, meaning one leg at a time, your core stabilizer muscles also get a fantastic workout.
It is also very simple to perform:
- Begin placing a sturdy box or aerobics step in front of you, and stepping onto it with your right foot.
- Now, drive your left foot upwards, bringing your left knee up into the air as high as you can get it.
- Carefully lower your left leg back down and place it onto the floor.
- Switch legs and repeat the exact same motion as before.
Repeat for as many reps as needed.
This calisthenics exercise is much harder than it looks, but boy is it fantastic for the core, glutes, and hamstrings. It gets its name from the fact that to perform the exercise, you simply have to imagine yourself sitting down onto an invisible chair.
To execute this exercise:
- Stand up squarely with both feet shoulder width apart from one another.
- Place both hands down at your sides, lean against a wall for support, squat down and bend your knees until they form a 90-degree angle.
- Imagine you are sitting down on an invisible chair (hence the name of the exercise) and hold for as long as possible.
- When you can’t go on any more, slowly rise back to a standing position.
Repeat for as many rounds as you require.
If you really want to make this exercise harder, don’t lean against a wall when doing.
Okay, now we’re getting serious. If you’re into your CrossFit, you’ll already know what a muscle up is. If not, allow us to bring you up to speed. A muscle up will give you one of the best CrossFit bodyweight workouts you could ever wish for.
It’s a variant of the push up, but much harder and as well as serving as one of the best bodyweight exercises for back, it will also hit the traps and deltoids, along with your core, and even a little triceps. Needless to say, muscle ups are a fantastic compound exercise. They aren’t easy to perform, but once you master them you can show off in front of your buddies down at the gym.
To do a muscle up:
- Stand underneath a sturdy pull up bar and grip it with an overhand grip just wider than shoulder-width.
- Next, kick out with your legs slightly so that your body rocks back and forth slightly.
- Now, on the highest point swinging forwards, bring your knees up to your chest.
- When your knees reach your chest, in an explosive manner, pull yourself up into the air until the bar is level with your thighs.
- Return to the starting position and continue to use the swinging momentum to squeeze out as many reps as you can.
Yes, we know that squats can be done with a barbell, or a dumbbell, or kettlebells for that matter, but in this case, the squats you are doing with be done with nothing but your own body weight for resistance. Many CrossFit bodyweight workouts utilize bodyweight squats, as do calisthenics body weight workouts too.
Squats work the core, the hamstrings, the quads, and the glutes and they’re also great for burning calories and adding size to the legs. They’re also a much safer variant of the squat, especially if you have knee issues.
To perform a body weight squat:
- Begin by standing with your feet wider than shoulder-width by a couple of inches, with toes pointing at a 10 and 2 position on an imaginary clock face.
- Cross your arms over your chest, keep your back straight and your head up, take a deep breath, and slowly squat down.
- Bend your knees and squat until you are at least parallel with the floor, although going a little deeper certainly won’t hurt.
- Exhale on your way down, hold for a second at the bottom of the movement and slowly stand back up.
Repeat for your chosen amount of reps.
Close grip push ups
Another example of how body weight chest exercises don’t need heavy barbells or dumbbells to add width and thickness to the chest. We’ve already looked at push ups, but this time we’re looking at close grip push ups. These push ups work the middle chest and primarily targets the triceps.
To perform close grip push ups, you should:
- Begin by getting into a standard push up position but bringing your hands closer to your chest so that your elbows are virtually touching the side of your body.
- Slowly bend your elbows and lower yourself down towards the ground until your chest grazes the floor.
- You should feel a slight stretch in your chest, and a much deeper stretch in the triceps.
- Hold for a second and return to the starting position.
Repeat for as many reps as needed.
Okay, the name of this exercise could be a little questionable, but the exercise itself works an absolute treat as a warm up exercise to help loosen up the hips and work on balance, stability, mobility, and core development. Not only that, but it also helps to increase your core body temperature and get the blood circulating around your body. Many athletes perform this exercise before a training session as a warm up, and for good reason.
To perform this exercise:
- Begin by starting in a standard push up position.
- Now, jump forwards with your legs, keeping your hands planted firmly on the floor, as if you were playing leap frog.
- When your feet land, they should land next to your hands, or as close as you can get them to your hands anyways.
- Kick the legs backwards to get back into the starting position, and repeat for as many reps as necessary.
Pull ups are considered by many athletes, bodybuilders, and CrossFit enthusiasts alike, to be one of the ultimate bodyweight exercises for back development. Many IFBB pro bodybuilders with backs the size of small houses, credit their back thickness and width to pull ups.
Pull ups are fantastic for adding mass to the back, working the upper, middle, and lower lats, as well as the traps, and even hitting the biceps. What’s more, by simply adjusting your grip, your can target different muscle groups located in the back.
To perform a pull up:
- Begin by standing underneath a pull up bar, and grasping it with an overhanded grip just wider than shoulder-width.
- Cross your feet together, bend your knees, and slowly pull yourself up into the air until your chin is level with the bar.
- Hold for a second, slowly lower yourself back to the initial starting position and repeat for as many reps as needed.
Standing long jump
If you take part in athletics and perform long jumps, the benefits of this exercise will be obvious. If not however, it is still a fun and exciting exercise to perform, and it’s great for burning calories and building explosive power. The movement required when performing this exercise will target the fast twitch muscle fibres in your legs, which in turn will help you to generate more power.
This exercise therefore, is ideal for anybody that takes part in sprinting or running, or who simply want to be able to generate more power from their legs. Many strength and conditioning coaches utilize this exercise as part of their calisthenics body weight workouts and the results speak for themselves.
To perform standing long jumps:
- Begin by standing with your feet shoulder width apart, and slowly lowering yourself down into a squat position.
- Next, swing your arms backwards and utilize them so that you can gain momentum to propel yourself forwards.
- At the same time, bring your legs forwards and jump forwards as far as you can, landing gently onto the soles of your feet.
Repeat for as many reps as required.
Lunges are another example of how a simple leg exercise can also be one of the most effective. Lunges are great because they work the hamstrings, the glutes, and the quadriceps, while helping to open up your hip flexors and promote flexibility and mobility at the same time.
To perform lunges:
- Begin by standing up straight, with your arms down by your sides.
- Now, with your right foot, take a step forwards and lower your body down until the right knee forms a 90-degree angle.
- Your back knee should stop around a cm or so above the floor, without ever touching it.
- To finish, push off with your right foot, straighten your left leg, and return to the starting position.
Repeat the exercise but with opposite legs for as many reps as required.
Incline push ups
Thought we were done with body weight chest exercises in the form of push ups? Not yet, as here we have incline push ups. Incline push ups are great for working the lower pecs and triceps. This may sound unusual as incline bench presses are renowned for their ability to target the upper pecs, but this exercise is performed very differently. To execute an incline push up, you will need a chair, or something similar in size and sturdy.
Here’s how to perform the exercise:
- Begin by positioning yourself directly in front of a sturdy chair, or a box, which is roughly 18 inches off the ground.
- Place both hands on the outside of the chair and extend your legs backwards as if you were doing a standard push up, but obviously with your hands resting on the chair instead.
- Your body should now form roughly a 45-degree angle.
- Now, slowly lower your chest down towards the box by bending your elbows, getting it as close to the box as possible.
- Hold for a second until you feel a deep squeeze in the chest and then slowly straighten out your arms and bring your body back up into the air.
Repeat for as many reps as needed.
Planks may look very simple to perform, but if your core is weak, they are brutal. Planks work on your core stabilizer muscles, they strengthen the triceps, they work the obliques, they work the abs, and they’re a great finisher exercise after a taxing abdominal workout.
To perform planks you should:
- Start off by getting into a standard push up position
- Next, bring your elbows to your sides without actually touching your body and gently clench your fists so that your hands are roughly level with your face.
- Align the shoulders and the elbows, extend your legs, bring your core up, and basically hold yourself in this position for as long as possible.
- In the early stages, this exercise will feel easy, and perhaps even too easy, but the longer you go the harder it becomes.
- Hold for as long as possible, resisting the urge to rest your elbows at your sides to ease the burden.
Repeat for as many rounds as deemed necessary.
No article looking at the best calisthenics exercise routines and body weight exercises would be complete without crunches. Crunches are many people’s go-to exercise when it comes to working the core, and if you want a six pack set of abdominal muscles, you will likely want to include them in your routine.
To perform stomach crunches:
- Begin by laying flat on your back on the ground, with your feet planted firmly on the floor and your knees bent.
- Now, place your hands behind your head and slowly try to sit upwards, using your abdominal muscles to sit up.
- Sit up as high as you can, hold for a second, and then slowly lower your body back down to the floor.
Repeat for as many reps as needed.
Laying leg raises
Finally, we have laying leg raises, which are yet another exercise proven to significantly improve abdominal development and core strength.
To perform laying leg raises.
- Lay down flat on the floor with your legs extended and your hands behind your head.
- Slowly take both legs and raise them into the air at the same time, until your torso forms an L-shape.
- You should begin to feel your abs contracting as you raise your legs.
- Hold for a second and then slowly lower them back down to the original starting position.
Repeat for as many reps as needed.