Bodyweight exercises are strength training exercises that do not require free weights; the practitioner's own weight provides the resistance for the movement. Movements such as the push-up, the pull-up, and the sit-up are some of the most common bodyweight exercises.
In general, increasing the amount of repetitions will focus on improving endurance, while strength gains are made through increasing the intensity of the exercise through decreasing leverage and working at the ends of range of motion.
Because they do not require weights, bodyweight exercises are the ideal choice for individuals who are interested in fitness but do not have access to equipment. However, strength still may be gained through this method. Weights may still be incorporated to increase the difficulty of most bodyweight exercises. While some exercises do require some sort of equipment, the majority of bodyweight exercises require none. For those exercises that do require equipment of some kind, a substitute can usually be improvised (for example, using two branches of a tree to perform triceps dips). Some bodyweight exercises have been shown to benefit not just the young, but the elderly also.
Bodyweight exercises, compared to weight lifting, often require much more flexibility and balance in order to perform repetitions. Such exercises include handstand pushups, planche pushups, and bridges. Many bodyweight exercises can be progressed or regressed to meet the individual's need. This progression/regression strategy allows nearly all levels of fitness to participate. Bodyweight training can be used effectively to strengthen the core muscles with the addition of speed or unstable surfaces (such as a stability ball) as well as exercise variations that limit the motion (such as extra wide push-ups or wide pull-ups).
Bodyweight exercises use the practitioner's own weight to provide the resistance for the movement. This means that the weight being lifted is never greater than the weight of one's own body. This can make it difficult to achieve a level of intensity that is near their one rep maximum, which is desirable for strength training. Bodyweight exercises can be increased in intensity by including additional weights (such as wearing a weighted vest or holding a barbell, kettlebell, sandbell or plate during a sit up) or by altering the exercise to put one's self at a leverage disadvantage (such as elevating the feet, hanging from straps to change leverage, using one limb, and incorporating isometrics).
Gymnasts make extensive use of this last technique by doing much of their training with straight arms (such as iron crosses, levers, and planches), giving them a mechanically disadvantaged position. Furthermore, a unilateral progression scheme can be used. Instead of a bilateral movement, such as a two-handed pull-up, the practitioner may decide, for strength increases, to choose a set of exercises that will allow him/herself to complete the one-arm pull up. In the bodyweight-training community, unilateral movements are highly regarded and sought after.
Bodyweight exercises can also be modified to decrease the intensity. For instance, a practitioner unable to perform a single push-up may perform them with the knees on the ground, or replace pull-ups with bodyweight rows (i.e. a pull-up but with a lower bar such that the body is at an angle with the heels on the ground).
List of exercises
This is a list of common bodyweight exercises. Most of these exercises have several variants that can be performed to make the exercise more or less challenging, or to train different muscles. These variants are described in the articles covering the individual exercises.
|Chest, triceps, shoulders||In a prone position, the body is raised and lowered using the arms while the back remains straight and the toes remain on the ground. The exercise can be made more difficult by placing the legs at an incline. Thus, the upper body must support more weight. The exercise can be made even more difficult by performing it with a single arm. Notable variations include the Hindu pushup (dand), the divebomber pushup, and the diamond pushup.|
|Handstand push-up||Shoulders, triceps, trapezius||The body is positioned in a handstand, is lowered and pushed up.|
|Planche||Full Body||Holding one's body in the air, in a line parallel to and facing the floor through balancing one's entire bodyweight on both hands with straight arms.|
|Dip||Arms (triceps), chest, back||Hanging from a dip bar or other implement with the arms straight and the shoulders positioned above the hands, the body is lowered until the arms are bent at a 90 degrees angle.|
|Plank||Core (abdominals, back and shoulders)||Lying on the stomach and lifting the body by keeping the toes and forearms on the ground.|
|Sit-up||Abdomen, hip flexors||It begins with lying with the back on the floor, typically with the knees bent in an attempt to reduce stress on the back muscles and spine, and then elevating both the upper and lower vertebrae from the floor until everything superior to the buttocks is not touching the ground.|
|Crunch||Abdomen||Lying face up on the floor, the shoulders are curled towards the pelvis while the lower back remains flat against the floor. Focus is put on contracting the abdominal muscles.|
|Russian twist||Abdomen (especially the Obliques)||Sitting on the floor with knees bent as in a sit-up, with the back kept straight and at a 45 degree angle to the floor, the straightened arms are held outstretched with the hands locked together. The arms are moved from one side of the body to another in a twisting motion.|
|Leg raises||Abdomen, hip flexors||Lie on the floor on your back. Keep the lower back in contact with the floor and place hands to sides or under lower back for support. Lift legs upward as far as possible. Lower down to starting position slowly and with control. Make sure the back stays flat on floor and that the abdominal muscles are tight. The exercise can be made significantly harder by performing the exercises from a hanging apparatus, such as a pull up bar, and lifting the legs upwards until parallel with the ground. The exercise can further be increased in difficulty by lifting the legs to the utmost vertical position (to the head), and keeping the legs fully straight.|
|L-sit||Obliques, arms (triceps)||The person will sit in an L position with the legs straight and parallel to the ground and the upper body perpendicular to the ground. The hands are placed beside the glutes. The hands then push the entire body upwards off the ground. The legs must remain off the ground and parallel to the ground. The exercise taxes the muscles through isometric tension. A more difficult version is the V-sit, where the legs are held higher than parallel.|
|Pull up||Upper back - rear deltoid, trapezius, erector spinae and especially the latissimus dorsi, also the biceps, brachialis, and abdomen.||Hanging from a bar with arms extended and palms facing away from the exerciser, the body is pulled up until the elbows are bent and the head is higher than the hands. The closer the hands, the more the emphasis on the biceps and elbow flexors.
A variation is the chin-up, where the palms face towards the face, emphasizing the biceps.
|Muscle up||(Refer to Pull Up and Dip)||Beginning with an aggressive pull up to chest level, often referred to as a high pull up, the wrists are then rotated to a position vertically above the bar which in turn helps to swing the elbows above the bar. A dip-like motion is then used to push the body up until the bar is at waist height. The transition between the high pull up and the low dip is the most difficult part and emphasizes the trapezius.|
|Human flag||Abdomen, shoulders||The person will grab a vertical object such as a pole or tree trunk, with both hands palms pronated. The practitioner will lift the entire body using the abdominal muscles into a position parallel to the ground.|
|Bridge||Back (deep spinal muscles), flexibility, arms (triceps), upper legs||The person will begin in a sit up position with the hands positioned by the ears, palms down, fingers facing the legs. The person pushes up with the arms and the back muscles until the body resembles a lowercase 'n'. The spine must be convex and the limbs straight. The exercise can be made harder by entering the bridge from a standing position (bending the back backwards in a controlled manner into the bridge.)|
|Hyperextension||Lower back, erector spinae||Lying face down on the floor, the torso and arms are lifted at the same time.|
|Squat||Legs||Standing up, the legs are bent at the knees and hips, lowering the torso between the legs. The torso leans forward to maintain balance. (Usually called a bodyweight squat to distinguish it from the use of weights.) The single leg squat, or "pistol squat", can be used to make the exercise significantly harder as it requires one to have a great deal of balance, flexibility, and strength.|
|Calf raises||Calf muscle||Standing calf raises are executed with one or both feet on a raised surface with the heel lower than the toes. The exercise is performed by raising the heel as far as possible. The exercise can be made harder by performing the exercise on one leg.|
|Burpee||Legs, Abdomen, Shoulders||From a standing position, the person drops to a squat with hands on floor (count 1), thrusts legs back to assume pushup position (count 2), returns to squat (count 3), and returns to standing position (count 4). The military 8-count version adds a pushup after count 2, and a jumping jack after count 4.|
|Back extension||Human back||Either lying face down on a floor or lying on a support such as a bench with the upper body extended unsupported from the bench. The person drops down the upper body and then raises it up again to the point where the back is slightly arched back and then lowers again to repeat.|
|Lunge||Thigh, Buttocks, Hamstring||The person stands on flat surface and steps forward with one leg and bends down until the front knee is at ninety degrees angle and the back knee almost touches the surface while keeping the upper body straight. The persons then pushes back with the front leg to a standing position and repeats the exercise with the alternate leg.|
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- Low, Steven (Mar 2010). "The Fundamentals of Bodyweight Strength Training". Eat. Move. Improve.
- Yamauchi J, Nakayama S, Ishii N., (Sep, 2009) “Effects of bodyweight-based exercise training on muscle functions of leg multi-joint movement in elderly individuals.” Geriatrics & gerontology International, 9(3):262-9. Note: Access to full text requires subscription; abstract freely available