Every year, The American College of Sports Medicine surveys the fitness market to predict the largest exercise trends for the coming year. Last year, the #1 predicted fitness trend for 2015 was a clear winner: bodyweight training.
Bodyweight training is just what it sounds like; using your own bodyweight for resistance in exercise. It includes all those ancient exercises from your old gym class like push-ups, squats, lunges and crunches.
These classic exercises characterized the start of the fitness era and are now making a comeback into 21st century gyms…and for good reasons—the benefits from bodyweight training are absolutely essential for health. Believe it or not, bodyweight exercises offer huge whole body benefits. If you’re not already doing them 3-4 times weekly, I’m about to give you good reason.
Arguably more important than traditional ‘weight lifting’, bodyweight training delivers all the goodness of resistance training, with the added benefit of being incredibly accessible, versatile, and simple.
Ready to be converted? Here are five lesser-known perks you get when you add a bodyweight workout to your week:
1. Bodyweight Training Is Good for Your Blood Sugar
When it comes to the most important benefits of exercise, I think we can all agree that preventing chronic disease is top priority. Though prevailing wisdom counted cardiovascular exercise as the most beneficial, some experts have promoted a focus on resistance training as the best strategy for vitality. Turns out, new research says we need both.
A review of medical trials with diabetic subjects found neither aerobic-only or resistance-only programs provided the best outcome, but rather a combined training style which included both proved far superior. The authors behind this research were mainly focused on what led to the best decreases in blood sugar, triglycerides and blood pressure (3 measurements which still are some of the best indicators of overall health).
The good news is that with bodyweight exercise, you can easily do BOTH—cashing in on the benefits of aerobic and resistance exercise at the same time. Some bodyweight exercises (like the classic push-up) provide resistance for building muscle, and other (like bear crawls or burpees ) are ideal for aerobic benefits.
[Related Article: The 15 Best Bodyweight Exercises for Burning Fat]
Add them together into a full-body set done circuit-style 3-4 times weekly and you can toss that gym membership. You’ll never have to hamster-wheel on a treadmill again with a high-intensity bodyweight workout in your weekly schedule.
2. Bodyweight Training Keeps You Strong
Weight training with machines yields great results, as does free-weight training, power lifting. All can effectively make you stronger and more in shape. However, there’s an especially good perk to choosing bodyweight training over these weights-required workouts, and it has to do with the word “functional”.
Functional training is now a pretty common phrase in health and fitness. It essentially describes exercises that have benefits which go beyond the gym. Using a chest press weight machine is a great way to get stronger, but some experts have argued that this strength is only truly applicable during the time you use that particular chest press machine. The same goes with other styles of training, which help to you get stronger or more toned, but may not have truly meaningful benefits.
Bodyweight training is different.
The exercises are some of the most multi-functional, because they actually help your body function in day-to-day life, strengthening and supporting the movements you use at work, home, and in sport. They provide the greatest resistance against physical decline. This is especially true for older adults too.
One study from the University of Missouri looked at the challenges that seniors face in retirement communities. For this group, preventing falls and maintaining activities of daily living are of the most critical importance and researchers saw a dramatic maintenance of abilities in the seniors who exercised the most.
The study’s authors stressed though, that not just any type of exercise will do the trick. Muscle-strengthening exercises are the key to maintaining independent living and should be “promoted more aggressively” in addition to aerobic exercise in retirement communities.
3. Bodyweight Training Helps Prevent Injuries
Another great perk to bodyweight training is the ability to prevent injuries. They’re an essential must-do for everyone, but especially for runners, football players, basketball players and other athletes playing high load sports.
How does a bodyweight workout minimize injuries?
Because there’s lower joint stress than you’d find when adding weights or machines. A leg press machine or a power lift exercise may place extra stress on your joints and do so in an unfamiliar way. But bodyweight exercises use normal bodily movements without added strain in these foreign positions.
Basically, you’ll enjoy massive benefits, simply because you’re training with less.
4. Bodyweight Training Is Always Available
This should go without saying, but in case you hadn’t realized this, bodyweight exercises are available at ANY time and in ANY place. We’re living in a do-it-yourself and do-it-now culture which may be exactly why bodyweight exercises are basking in glory once again—they require no equipment, no gym and no expensive contract to enjoy.
Some say the best exercise routine is the one that you can continue to repeat for the long term. With bodyweight exercises, you have no barriers to maintain your efforts. All you have to do is find a routine and pick some favorites. Then you’ll be free to fit in your daily activity in the most convenient time and place to help make it a sustainable solution.
5. Bodyweight Training Can Be Enjoyed with Endless Variety
This last part is the most important point I want you to remember when it comes to getting what you need from bodyweight exercises. With each exercise, you can adapt these in a multitude of different ways to keep the challenge and rewards high.
If push-ups are too hard, you can do them from your knees, or if they’re not hard enough, you can try doing inverted push-ups. For the simple squat exercise, you can do these quickly for aerobic benefits or try 1-legged squats for a challenging strength workout.
The options are endless and this means that with a little creativity, you’ll never get bored and always continue improving. There is no other exercise modality that has this amount of freedom to change, adapt, adjust and perfect.
If you can’t find exercises that fit well with your abilities, check my YouTube channel where I share hundreds of workout ideas that can be easily customized to your needs.
10 Best Bodyweight Exercises
You probably don’t remember all the old moves you had to do in gym class (and maybe you don’t want to…), but not to worry, I’ve collected the very best ones which are going to give you the most sought after benefits. Here are 10 of the best bodyweight exercises to get you started. Incorporate these awesome moves into your weekly workouts and you’ll be well on your way to a stronger and healthier body.
A powerhouse leg strengthener, the lunge actively engages your quadriceps, glutes, hamstrings, calves, and core. To make this exercise extra-effective, always engage your core.
A classic, and for good reason. Squats are a favorite because: they work. If your body is comfortable doing full squats, go for it. You’ll be hitting the glutes, hamstrings, and quads in a way that supports superior strengthening. Partial squats are a good place to start, too, but don’t deliver nearly the same explosive benefits as the entire movement.
3. Mountain Climbers
If you’ve printed off my FREE HITT workout, you’ll be familiar with this burner of a exercise. Insanely effective, Mountain Climbers engage your entire body and even get you a little burst of high-intensity cardio. To complete one rep: begin in a pushup position, supporting your weight on hands and toes with one leg bent toward the center of your body. Explosively reverse your leg position, then repeat 10-12 times.
4. Back Extensions
Inspired by a simple pilates movement, this back extension is a great way to strengthen your core. To properly do a back extension: lie face down on a yoga mat, then pull your elbows back toward your knees as you lift your legs. Hold for 3-5 seconds, then release. Repeat 10-12 times.
The grandaddy of bodyweight exercises, a burpee requires a squat, a jump, a push-up, another jump, a squat, and explosive jump. This is an incredible full-body movement, which works just about all of your major muscle groups. Great for HITT training, as well.
6. Hamstring Push-Offs
Hamstrings can be hard to target without weights or machines, but this exercise makes it easy to perform an effective movement using only a chair. Use a bench, chair or stool that is about 1-2 feet tall, you don’t want to hyperextend your back using anything too high.
7. Push-Ups on a Ball
If you’ve mastered push-ups and need something a bit more challenging, move them to the top of a stability ball. This is a relatively tricky way to do a push-up, so don’t try it unless you’ve successfully completed at least one set of regular plank push-ups. Make this exercise more challenging by putting your feet on top of the ball.
8. Twisting Side Planks
Get a jaw-dropping core with this great oblique exercise. To make it more difficult, you can also stack one foot on top of the other. This small change requires a lot of core stability, so be sure to engage that gut while twisting!
9. Pike Push-Ups
Another great way to get over the push-up plateau, the pike push-up targets the shoulders and can help improve weak areas. This one is ideal for people who can already do plank push-ups. It requires healthy shoulders, so if you’ve had an injury, you’ll want to avoid this one.
To try it at home, simply push your push-up position into the air, bringing your head directly above your hands. Slowly lower yourself until right before your head touches the ground, then repeat.
10. Ball Crunches
Grab a stability ball and take your core crunches to the next level with this simple (and safe) crunch exercise. Be sure to only bring your shoulders off the ball so you’re not imposing excess flexion stress on your hips and low back. If you feel unstable, move your feet farther apart. I recommend repeating this 8 to 12 times with excellent form.
Beginner Bodyweight Routine
Combine several of these exercises and you’ll get great results. If you’re new to bodyweight workouts, this is what I recommend for beginners:
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Looking for more free workouts? I’ve prepped some great workout ideas here:
What To Do Next…
Sure you could figure out how to piece all of these exercises together on your own or you could just download my Bodyweight Circuit 8 workout for FREE by clicking on the banner below. It’s a simple and effective bodyweight training workout that you can do at home or in the gym.