1. Health

Best Body Weight Exercises

Your body is your best resource

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Updated August 21, 2012

While there's no shortage of exercise equipment to help you burn calories, the best one costs nothing at all: Your own body. Whether you're in a sterile hotel room or your grandma's cramped basement, in your living room or the bathroom at work, your body has everything you need to get a great total body workout. The key is to know the best body weight exercises and how to put them together for an effective, efficient workout.

You can find many of these exercises included in this 10-Minute Body Weight Circuit Workout.

1. Squats

Paige Waehner

What: Bend the knees and squat as though sitting in a chair. Oops, no chair. Stand back up. Repeat
Why: Squats work every muscle in the lower body and mimic a movement we do all day long, making it a functional exercise
Requirements: Happy knees, good form
Precautions: Squats can cause knee pain, but you can avoid that by keeping the weight in your heels and the knees behind the toes. You can also try alternatives to squats.
Variations: With weight, feet wide, on one leg, squat thrusts, squat jumps, on the tiptoes, with a medicine ball, goblet squats
How To:

  • In a circuit: Incorporate squats into a circuit workout with the other exercises shown here, doing each exercise for 30-60 seconds
  • For power: Alternate a squat with a squat jump for 30-60 seconds
  • For endurance: Do as many squats as you can in 30-60 seconds, pumping the legs and arms together
  • For strength: Add weight or, for body weight squats, slow it down: 4 counts down, hold at the bottom for 4 counts, 4 counts up, repeating for 12-20 reps

2. Lunges

Paige Waehner

What: In a staggered stance, bend the knees and lunge straight down until the knees are at about 90-degree angles. Stand up, repeat and feel the burn
Why: Lunges work all the major muscles in the lower body and also target balance and stability
Requirements: Happy knees, good form
Precautions: Can cause knee pain. More on lunge variations to avoid knee pain.
Variations: Assisted lunges, barbell lunge, sliding lunges, side lunge, sliding side lunges, elevated lunges, low lunges, lunge deadlifts, one-leg lunge with reach, jumping lunges
How To:

  • In a circuit: Incorporate lunges into a circuit workout with the other exercises shown here, doing each exercise for 30-60 seconds
  • For power: Alternate a lunge with a plyo lunge for 30-60 seconds
  • For endurance: Do as many lunges as you can in 30-60 seconds, switch sides
  • For strength: Add weight or, for bodyweight lunges, slow it down: 4 counts down, hold at the bottom for 4 counts, 4 counts up, repeating for 12-20 reps on each side

3. One-Legged Deadlifts

Paige Waehner

What: Balance on one leg and tip from the hips, lowering the torso and bringing the back leg straight up until both are (somewhat) parallel to the floor
Why: They can be done anywhere and don't require any special equipment. They work wonders on the glutes and hamstrings while challenging balance and stability
Requirements: A strong core, decent balance
Precautions: Can cause back problems if you're rounded forward. Keep the shoulders back and the back flat throughout the exercise.
Variations: With weight and leg on the floor, in a combination, with both feet on the floor, Warrior III, with a leg lift, with a jump, with a bent knee
How To:

  • In a circuit: Incorporate one-legged deadlifts into a circuit workout with the other exercises shown here, doing the exercise on both sides for 30-60 seconds
  • For power: Do a bent knee version, bending down to touch the floor and push back up, keeping the back leg lifted. Repeat for 30-60 seconds on each side. Add a jump for more intensity
  • For endurance: Focus on controlled speed, doing as many one-legged deadlifts as you can in 30-60 seconds, switch sides
  • For strength: Add weight or, for bodyweight deadlifts, hold each deadlift with the arms forward, just along the ears for 5 seconds, repeating for 12-20 reps on each side

4. Wall Sits

Paige Waehner

What: Sitting against a wall for as long as you can stand it
Why: Wall sits are great for warming up the lower body and for building endurance in the hips, glutes, quads and hamstrings
Requirements: A wall
Precautions: It's easy to cheat by staying high on the wall, which can waste time and cause joint pain. Keep the weight in the heels and try to keep the knees at 90-degree angles. Also, this really burns the quads
Variations: With a ball, with a chest squeeze, with a leg lift, holding weights, with biceps curls, overhead presses, front raises or lateral raises
How To:

  • In a circuit: Incorporate wall sits into a circuit workout with the other exercises shown here, holding it for 30 seconds to 2 minutes
  • For endurance: Hold a wall sit for as long as you can. Stand up, rest and repeat
  • For a warm up: Start with wall sits as a warm up for your lower body workout, holding for as long as you can

5. Pushups

Pushup
Paige Waehner

What: On the hands and toes or, if you just can't bear that, on the knees, bend the elbows to lower yourself towards the floor. Inexplicably, change your mind and push back up. May also involve grunts, groans and, occasionally, quiet sobbing
Why: Pushups require no special equipment or skill, although they do require practice. They focus on the chest, but work every muscle in the body and can be done anywhere
Requirements: A floor, preferably with a mat or carpet
Precautions: Pushups require solid upper body strength and many people loathe them. May tweak the wrists, in which case you can hold onto weights or pushup bars
Variations: Feet on the ball, hands on the Ball, on an incline, staggered pushups, with a medicine ball, divebomber pushups, with a side plank, with bands, on a BOSU, moving pushups, on a medicine ball, triceps pushups on the ball, one-arm triceps pushup, on a wall
How To:

  • In a circuit: Incorporate pushups into a circuit workout with the other exercises shown here, doing each exercise for 30-60 seconds
  • For endurance: Go for controlled speed, doing as many as you can in 30-60 seconds
  • In an upper body workout: Do 2-3 sets of 10-20 pushups along with your upper body workout
  • As a challenge: Take the pushup test every four weeks to track your progress

6. Dips

Paige Waehner

What: Sit on a bench or chair, brace your weight with your hands and bend the elbows into a triceps pushup. Push back up and do it again
Why: Dips can be done anywhere without any special skills or equipment (though a chair adds more range of motion). They are excellent for the strengthening the triceps
Requirements: A chair, though you can also do them on the floor or on just about anything
Precautions: Dips can stress the shoulders and wrists for some people. Hold onto dumbbells or pushup bars to keep the wrists straight. Keep the shoulders down and the hips close to the chair. Or just don't do them...no one will ever know
Variations: With leg extensions, on the floor, at work,
How To:

  • In a circuit: Incorporate dips into a circuit workout with the other exercises shown here, doing each exercise for 30-60 seconds
  • For endurance: Go for controlled speed, doing as many as you can in 30-60 seconds
  • In an upper body workout: Do 2-3 sets of 10-20 dips along with your upper body workout. Try different variations for each set

7. Pull Ups

Paige Waehner

What: One of the most excruciatingly difficult bodyweight exercises ever conceived
Why: I'm still trying to find the answer
Requirements: A pullup bar, an iron will, patience, experience and tons of practice
Precautions: Pullups can potentially stress every muscle in your upper body, if you're not careful. Start with modifications - Resting your feet on a chair to add support, for example - and gradually work your way up to full pullups
Variations: Stand on a stool or chair, negatives - use a chair to get into position at the top of the bar and slowly lower yourself down, a lat pulldown (a great starter exercise for building strength for pullups),
How To:

  • In a circuit: Incorporate pullups into a circuit workout with the other exercises shown here. You might position this exercise after your muscles are warm, but before they get too fatigued with other exercises. Do as many as you can with good form, or try modifications for longer sets
  • In an upper body workout: Do 2-3 sets of 2-20 dips along with your back workout or complete upper body workout. Try different variations or modifications for each set

8. Burpees

Paige Waehner

What: Squat to the floor, jump the feet to plank, jump them back in, stand up, cry a little if you can find the energy
Why: Burpees are a whole body exercise, working multiple muscles and just about every aspect of fitness - Strength, endurance, cardio, core and psychological health. No special equipment or skills are needed, but you do need practice
Requirements: A floor, experience with high impact exercise, a love of torture
Precautions: This exercise is advanced and very challenging. Beginners should start with one of the modifications listed below
Variations: Stepping the feet back instead of jumping, jump as you stand up, add a pushup or use equipment: Medicine ball, BOSU, kettlebell or Gliding Discs
How To:

  • In a circuit: Incorporate burpees into a cardio circuit, a strength circuit or a mixture of the two. Go for 30-60 seconds during each circuit, trying different variations each time
  • In High Intensity Interval Training: Do as many burpees as you can in 30-60 seconds, alternating it with other high intensity cardio moves. You can also use burpees in a Tabata workout.

9. The Plank

Paige Waehner

What: Holding a pushup position, on the elbows or hands, for as long as you can
Why: A great core exercise, working the deep muscles of the abs and lower back. The shoulders, glutes, hips and arms work as stabilizers, making this a whole body exercise
Requirements: A floor, the ability to mimic a plank
Precautions: This move can be very challenging for beginners and can strain the back if you don't keep your body straight. Avoid sagging in the middle and try it on the knees as a modification
Variations: On the ball, with a kettlebell, with a kick, pushup with a side plank, on the hands, with knee bends, with BOSU rocks, 360 planks, pushup-plank-and-row, with a leg lift on the ball, on the ball with toe taps, side plank, side plank with a twist, side planks with hip drops
How To:

  • In a circuit: Incorporate planks into a circuit workout with the other exercises shown here, holding each rep for 30 seconds to 2 minutes
  • In a core workout: Do three or more plank variations in your core workout, doing 1-3 sets and holding static poses for 10 seconds to 2 minutes or doing 10-12 reps of dynamic planks
  • On Facebook: Find an unusual place to lie horizontally. Name your plank pose, take a picture of it and post it Facebook

10. Bridge With Leg Drops

Paige Waehner

What: Hold a bridge position with one leg straight up. Lower the leg out to the side and then bring it back to center
Why: This harder-than-it-looks move works the glutes, hamstrings, lower back and abs
Requirements: A floor, the ability to mimic a bridge
Precautions: This move requires strong glutes and hamstrings as well as a strong core. Prepare for a burning sensation in the standing leg
Variations: Regular bridge, bridge with feet on the ball, with biceps curls on the ball
How To:

  • In a circuit: Incorporate bridges with leg drops into a circuit workout with the other exercises shown here, doing 10-20 reps on each leg
  • In a core workout: Do bridges with leg drops in your core workout, doing 1-3 sets of 10-20 reps
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