by: Yuri Elkaim

The 15 Best Bodyweight Exercises for Burning Fat

Looking for the best bodyweight exercises for burning fat? You’ve come to the right place.

Whether you’re a beginner or a seasoned fitness buff, the right bodyweight exercises, if done correctly, can strengthen your body and turn you into a fat burning machine.

In this post, I’m going to show you my 15 best bodyweight exercises for burning fat.

But before I show you the goods, it’s important to understand two ways to make a bodyweight exercise great for all-day fat burning and building more strength.

First…

Put [Work = Force x Distance] to Work

This is a basic equation from physics that helps us understand why some exercises are better than others at burning fat.

In a nutshell, “work” represents the number of calories burned. “Force” is the amount of force generated, and “distance” is…well…the distance over which that force is generated.

Put simply, you will burn more calories by doing a burpee than a push-up.

Why?

Because even though the push-up is one of the best bodyweight exercises you can do, it only moves your bodyweight from the floor to the point where your arms are fully extended (about 1-2 feet off the ground).

By contrast, the burpee goes from a push-up on the floor to a full out jump (7-8 feet off the ground). Can you see how there will be more muscles involved, more force generated, and more distance covered?

As a result, you do more work and burn more calories.

Still not convinced?

Do 10 push-ups, then rest. Then, do 10 burpees. Which is more difficult?

The burpees – aha!

Essentially, the more difficult a bodyweight exercise, the more work is being done and the more calories (fat) you’re burning.

Even though this simple physics equation is the “holy grail” of fat loss, there are still many great bodyweight exercises that don’t lend themselves to being moved over a large distance, yet they can still burn fat and make you strong…

And that’s where this second fat burning secret comes into play…

The Bodyweight Exercise “Trick” That Burns More Fat and Builds Greater Strength

If, like me, you find it rather easy to crank out push-ups, bodyweight squats, or lunges – and even if you can’t do a single push-up from your feet or a single pull-up – this bodyweight “trick” is the solution to doing two things:

  1. Making your bodyweight workouts more challenging
  2. Making challenging bodyweight exercises easier

Kind of weird, I know. But you’ll see what I mean in just a moment. I’ll explain the 2nd point later down the page. 

Bur first, let’s say you want to build more strength and get more of a challenge from your basic bodyweight exercises – like push-ups or squats. Other than adding weight, which would no longer make it a bodyweight workout, here’s what you do:

SLOW down the eccentric (aka. “negative”) portion of the movement. And I’m talking about 5-6 seconds here.

The eccentric contraction is defined as active contraction of a muscle while the muscle is lengthening. 15 Best Bodyweight Exercises - Eccentric Training

For example, in a push-up, the action of lowering your body towards the floor is the eccentric phase of that exercise. You’re essentially working against gravity and slowing your body from collapsing against gravity’s pull.

The amazingly beneficial eccentric phase is also what causes delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) about 48 hours after a workout.

But don’t worry, that soreness won’t happen each time you train—just the first few times, until your body has adapted. For instance, completing bouts of eccentric training and then repeating the workout 1 week (or more) later will result in less DOMS after the second workout.

Eccentric training provides a multitude of benefits to your body, including the following:

  • Greater protection from injury or re-injury
  • Less weariness (feeling of extreme fatigue) from training
  • Potential to raise resting metabolic rate by about 9 percent, with the greatest magnitude in the first 2 hours.
  • Greater strength and performance improvements.

Eccentric training, where lowering slowly is the focus, improves strength and fat loss since slowly lowering your bodyweight generates more muscular tension than just “dropping” to the floor.

The eccentric also generates more tension than it’s concentric contraction counterpart (more on that below).

But think about it: You have to work harder to slow your body from falling against gravity’s pull. And that’s exactly what you want because the more force you generate, the more muscle is recruited to generate that force, and the more calories you burn as a result!

Do you see how this works and how you start getting way more bang your buck from basic bodyweight moves?

Here’s How This Works

  • Our body has different types of muscle fibers that do different thing. For instance, slow-twitch fibers (type 1) for long, slow activity and fast-twitch fibers (type 2) for short-duration, explosive activity.
  • The more force a fiber generates, the less endurance it has (ie. type 2).
  • We cannot work more forceful fibers (type 2) without also working less forceful fibers (type 1).
  • The more forceful a fiber (type 2), the more metabolic benefit (fat-burning benefit) we get from recruiting it.

All of this means that when you challenge your body to do more WORK – for instance, by going very slowly on the eccentric portion of the movement – you get more of your important type 2 (fast twitch) muscle fibers involved… which means you become more metabolically active to burn fat…AND build greater strength.

It’s a win-win!

The Cherry on Top

When you focus on moving EXPLOSIVELY on the concentric phase of the contraction (ie. the “push” in the push-up) you also recruit more fast twitch muscles because you’re generating more force than if you just lifted your bodyweight without much intention.

This means you get more strength and fat burning benefits. Boom!

Slow eccentric and explosive concentric training is completely overlooked by most people and doing so severely compromises the quality and benefits you get from your bodyweight workouts.

Plus, there’s even a host of health benefits for training this way:

A study out of Boston revealed that doing exercise that recruited more type 2 fibers also improved insulin sensitivity and caused reductions in blood glucose, insulin, and leptin levels – all beneficial for fat loss – and that these effects occurred despite a reduction in physical activity.

Big benefit: When you train smarter, you don’t need to train as much, which is also great for preventing overuse injuries and spending needless time in the gym.

Are you convinced yet that exercising in a way that recruits faster-twitch muscle fibers (such as lowering yourself slowly) is the ultimate way to burn fat and strengthen your body?

I certainly hope so.

What If You’re A Complete Exercise Newbie?

Earlier I mentioned that the 2nd benefit to focusing on slow eccentric movement is that it can make challenging bodyweight movements easier.

Let me show you what I mean:

Let’s say you can’t do a full push-up from your feet. There are many push-up substitutes you can try. In this case, start at the top of the push-up (basically a straight arm plank) and LOWER yourself slowly to the floor. Then, rest on the floor for a second, come back to your knees, and back to your starting position.

Yes, this is NOT a full push-up but focusing on the “negative” component of the movement is the best way to strengthen the muscle fibers required to eventually do a full push-up.

And this makes sense since, physiologically; we’re about 120% stronger eccentrically than concentrically. Which basically means we can lower more weight than we can lift/push.

Same thing applies to doing a pull-up.

If you have trouble pulling yourself above the bar, then don’t beat yourself up. Instead, step on a chair, jump above the bar, and lower SLOWLY down until your arms are fully extended. Then repeat.

This is how you build strength – the smart way! And it’s how you make a challenging bodyweight exercise easier.

Ok, now that we’ve covered this important groundwork, you’ve now earned the right to dig into…

The 15 Best Bodyweight Exercises For Burning Fat

As you go through the following exercises remember what you’ve just read about “Work = Force x Distance” and the importance of SLOW eccentric contraction to get the most fat burning (and strength) benefit from these bodyweight exercises.

In general, 4-8 reps and 1-2 sets of each exercise is plenty and I would recommend the following tempo:

1-1-6

This means 1 second “explosive” concentric contraction (usually the push or pull), 1 second pause at top (or bottom), and 6-second eccentric contraction (lowering).

Enjoy!

1. Lunge Pumps

Muscles worked: legs, glutes

15 Best Bodyweight Exercises - Lunge Pumps

How to do it:

Stand tall with your hands at your side. Take a large and controlled step backward with your right foot. Lower your hips so that your left thigh (front leg) becomes parallel to the floor with your left knee positioned directly over your ankle. Your right knee should be bent at a 90-degree angle and pointing toward the floor with your right heel lifted.

Return to standing by pressing your left heel into the floor and bringing your right leg forward to complete one rep. Alternate legs, and step back with left leg. Continue alternating for required reps.

2. Eccentric Push-Ups

Muscles worked: chest, shoulders, triceps

15 Best Bodyweight Exercises - Eccentric Push-Ups

How to do it:

Place your hands on the floor so they’re slightly outside shoulder-width. Spread your fingers slightly out and poin them forward. Raise up onto your toes so that all of your body weight is on your hands and your feet, or your hands and your knees if that’s too challenging.

Contract your abdominals to keep your torso in a straight line and prevent arching your back or pointing your bottom in the air. Bend your elbows and lower your chest down SLOWLY toward the floor. Once your torso is just above the floor, push up so that you return to starting position.

3. Burpee to Pull Up

Muscles worked: all of them 🙂

15 Best Bodyweight Exercises - Burpee to Pull Up

How to do it:

Perform a push-up, as described above, underneath a pull up bar. At the top of the push-up, jump your feet in towards your hands, then jump up and grab the pull-up and pull yourself up. (yes, this more advanced). Lower slowly and repeat.

4. Air Chair

Muscles worked: all of them 🙂

15 Best Bodyweight Exercises - Air Chair

How to do it:

The key to getting the biggest bang for your buck from the exercise is to engage ALL of your muscles from your fingers to your toes. Getting full muscular activation makes isometric exercises like these very challenging and more effective at burning fat.

With your feet hip width apart and arms stretched out in front of you and fully contracted, lower down slowly as if sitting down into a chair until your thighs are parallel to the floor. Make sure all of your weight is in the heels of your feet. Keep your torso tall and brace your abs. Hold this position for 30 seconds of more.

5. Step Up Knee Drives

Muscles worked: legs, glutes

15 Best Bodyweight Exercises - Step Up Knee Drives

Find a step, chair, or bench that when you place your foot on it, your knee bends to a 90-degree angle. Place your entire left foot onto the bench or chair. Press through your left heel as you step onto the bench, bringing your right foot up and through and driving your knee. Hold for a split second, then return and lower slowly and repeat.

6. Bulgarian Lunges

Muscles worked: legs, glutes

15 Best Bodyweight Exercises - Bulgarian Lunges

How to do it:

Stand tall with your hands at your side. Take a large and controlled step backward with your right foot and place on a bench behind you. Lower your hips so that your left thigh (front leg) becomes parallel to the floor with your left knee positioned directly over your ankle. Return to standing by pressing your left heel into the floor so that your right leg is straightened. Lower slowly and repeat for required reps, then switch sides..

7. Seated Chin-Ups

Muscles worked: biceps, back, core

How to do it:

This exercise exemplifies how your core integrates your upper and lower body. Simply by elevating your legs and keeping them steady during this movement, not only will your pulling muscles work that much harder, so too will your core muscles.

Grab the pull-up bar with your palms facing your torso and your hands closer than shoulder-width apart. Raise your legs off the floor so that your thighs are parallel to the floor and bent at the knee (as if sitting in a chair) – this will engage your core big time.

Pull your torso up until your head is around the level of the pull-up bar. Concentrate on using your biceps muscles in order to perform the movement. Keep your elbows close to your body. After a second of squeezing your biceps in the contracted position (at the top), slowly lower your torso back to the starting position so your arms are fully extended and legs are still bent at 90 degrees and off the floor. Repeat this motion for the prescribed amount of repetitions.

8. Side Plank Knee Drives

Muscles worked: core, groins, hip musulature

15 Best Bodyweight Exercises - Side Plank Knee Drives

How to do it:

This is one of my favorite athletic bodyweight exercises as it strengthens the hips and groins (as well as your core) – one of the most common areas of injury among many athletes.

Lie on your left side with your legs straight and slightly staggered, left foot behind your right. With your left forearm directly under your left shoulder and abdominals contracted, prop yourself up so that all of your bodyweight is supported by your left forearm and your body forms a diagonal line. Rest your right hand on your hip. Now, draw your leg knee into your chest, hold, and return to starting position. You’ll feel a huge amount of work in the groin of your supporting leg. Repeat for required reps, then switch sides.

9. Spiderman Planks

Muscles worked: core

15 Best Bodyweight Exercises - Spiderman Planks

Get into a plank position on the floor. Your elbows should be directly beneath your shoulders and your body should form a straight line from your head to your feet. Tighten and draw your abdominal muscles in (as if putting on a tight pair of pants), squeeze your glutes and legs, then draw your right knee in towards your right elbow, return to slowly start and then bring left knee into left elbow.

10. Hamstring Push Offs

Muscles worked: hamstrings, glutes

15 Best Bodyweight Exercises - Hamstring Push Offs

How to do it:

Lie on the floor with the heel of your right foot on a chair or bench (make sure it’s stable or up against a wall). Come into a bridge position, lifting your pelvis off the floor and driving your left leg in a straight line toward the sky. Lower back to floor and repeat for required reps, then switch legs.

11. Stability Ball Grasshopper

Muscles worked: all of them

15 Best Bodyweight Exercises - Stability Ball Grasshopper

How to do it:

This exercise challenges your stability, your upper body strength, and every single one of your core muscles. This is a challenging exercise but seriously rewarding once you get it.

Start in a push-up position with your hands on the floor and feet on a stability. Raise your left leg off the ball, drive it towards your chest, then twist and extend it to the right, perpendicular to your body. Return foot to ball and repeat on other side.

12. Chair Hold

Muscles worked: core, triceps

15 Best Bodyweight Exercises - Chair Hold

This is an advanced core exercise that involves no movement. Yes, the sheer activation of all your muscles to support your bodyweight makes it an incredible bodyweight exercises that can help you burn more fat.

Start by sitting in a sturdy chair. Place your hands on either side of the chair and prop your body up off the chair holding your legs at a 90 degree angle and off the floor. Hold this position for as long as you can while keeping your torso as tall as possible.

13. Lunge Step-Ups

Muscles worked: legs, glutes

How to do it:

This exercise combines the synergistic benefits of lunges and step-ups and really zeroes in on those upper hamstrings and glute muscles. An amazing exercise for shaping the back side of your body.

Set up a box or bench (and anchor against a wall so it doesn’t wabble) just in front of you. Bring your right leg on the box, then drop down into a lunge so that your left knee hovers above the floor. Then push forcefully with your right leg up into full step up so that you’re standing on the top of the box. Return and repeat with other leg.

14. Plank to Straight Arm Push-Ups

Muscles worked: core, triceps, chest, shoulders

15 Best Bodyweight Exercises - Plank to Straight Arm Push-Ups

How to do it:

Start in your basic plank position then place the palm of your left hand on the floor, followed by the palm of your right hand so that you’re essentially in a straight arm plank. Perform a push-up, then return to your forearms into your plank. Hold a few seconds at each portion of the movement. Be sure to keep your torso and hips square the entire time so you don’t waddle from side to side.

15. Hovering Tabletop

Muscles worked: core, triceps, chest, shoulders

15 Best Bodyweight Exercises - Hovering Tabletop

How to do it:

I first discovered this exercise during a hot yoga class and immediately knew it was a winner! Seriously amazing core exercise with zero movement. Focus on keeping your core tight and braced for maximum benefits.

Start on your hands (beneath your shoulders) and knees (beneath your hips) with a neutral spine. Make sure your fingers are pointing forward and elbows are pointing straight back – not flared out to the side. Draw your abdominals in and brace your core. Now raise your knees about 2 inches off the floor so that your body is now supported by your hands on toes – hence the name of “hovering tabletop”. Hold this for at least 30 seconds and feel your body work.

Want The Ultimate “Follow-Along” Bodyweight Workout?

You now have 15 of my best bodyweight exercises in the palm of your hand…

And if you’re still reading this you’re likely really gung-ho about putting these bodyweight moves into your routine…

Because of that I thought you might also like to take things to the next level and have me coach you through an entire bodyweight workout…

For that reason, I want to give you the opportunity to download my entire “Bodyweight Circuit 8” workout – for FREE.

There’s no catch…

I just want to help you train smarter so you can see and feel noticeable results much more quickly…and without training like a maniac. That’s why I’m happy to give it to you for FREE 🙂

I’ll see you the workout!

References:
A.Bubbico and L. Kravitz, “Eccentric Training,” IDEA Fitness Journal 7, no. 10 (Octo- ber 2010).
E. Colliander and P. Tesch, “Effects of Eccentric and Concentric Muscle Actions in Resistance Training,” Acta Physiologica Scandinavica 140, no. 1 (September 1990): 31–39.
Y. Izumiya et al., “Fast/Glycolytic Muscle Fiber Growth Reduces Fat Mass and Improves Metabolic Parameters in Obese Mice,” Cell Metabolism 7, no. 2 (2008): 159–72.