10 Essential Bodyweight Exercises

by Anthony J. Yeung
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10 Essential Bodyweight Exercises

Bodyweight exercises are crucial to a well-rounded training routine because they’re versatile and can be done anywhere. They also teach you to control your body and help develop solid movement mechanics.

These 10 fundamental bodyweight exercises help you strengthen your joints, activate your core, target the correct muscles and sync all the muscles in your body appropriately.

1. SINGLE-LEG BOX SQUAT

The single-leg box squat strengthens your quads, improves your balance and builds powerful legs. By isolating each leg, single-leg squats also help correct leg-strength imbalances to lessen injury risk — for example, if you can do 8 reps on your right side and only 5 on your left, you’ll know to work on making the left leg stronger.

How to do it: Sit near the edge of a bench, then stand up facing away from that bench. Lift one leg and keep that leg up the entire time. Sit onto the bench and drive yourself up with the opposite leg. Once that gets easy, lower the height of the bench or elevate your feet. Then, add resistance by holding a pair of dumbbells in front of you or wearing a weighted vest.

2. SKATER SQUAT

This is a unique variation on the single-leg squat because it activates your hips and trains you to sit back on your heel to emphasize the glutes and hips.

How to do it: Start standing and lift one leg then bend it down behind you in a one-legged squat while trying to touch your bent knee onto the ground behind the standing leg. Lean your torso and reach your arms forward as you descend. If you can’t reach the ground with your knee, that’s fine — just go as low as you can.

3. HIP/THIGH EXTENSION

The hip/thigh extension helps to build strength in your all-important glutes.

How to do it: Lie on your back in a bridge position and bend one knee so that it makes a 90-degree angle to the floor and stick the opposite leg straight out — knees aligned. With your bent leg, squeeze your glute, push through your heel, push your hips up and keep your hips level as you rise. Keep your straight leg extended throughout the exercise and keep it inline with your torso. 

4. PUSHUP

The pushup is one of the best upper-body exercises. It’s a must-do to strengthen your shoulders, target your chest and core and improve the health of your shoulder joint and girdle.

How to do it: Keep your elbows in as you descend, then at the top, when you think you’ve pushed all the way up, push just a little more and feel your shoulder blades roll around your ribcage.

5. PIKE PUSHUP

Use this pushup variation to target your shoulders and train your overhead-pressing muscles.

How to do it: Start in a pushup position and raise your hips until you have a straight line going from your hands to your hips. Keep your elbows in as you descend, drive yourself back up and keep your hips up the entire time.

6. INVERTED ROW

Most athletes benefit from doing more pulling exercises like the inverted row than pushing exercises like pushups. It helps develop a strong, wide back, healthy shoulders and good posture.

How to do it: Do these on a Smith machine, a power rack, a TRX suspension trainer or rings. As you row, focus on squeezing your shoulder blades together. At the bottom, sink your chest just a little to let those shoulder blades slide along your ribcage.

7. PLANK

Planks build your core and trains you to keep your torso stable against a variety of forces (essential for avoiding injuries). To do the exercise correctly, make sure to activate your core and spine and push through the floor to engage your shoulders.

How to do it: Instead of “bracing your core,” keep your ribcage down like you’re doing a mini-crunch and tuck your pelvis like you’re trying to round your lower-back — your core will turn on automatically. Then hold that position.

8. PULLUP

If you want to add “armor” on your frame and increase the size of your torso, go straight to the source with an essential bodyweight move that targets your lats, the largest muscle in your upper body.

Pullups also strengthen your grip, which carries over to many different exercises. At the top of a pullup, squeeze your shoulder blades and try to drive your chest to the bar, keeping your neck inline with your spine.

9. BEAR CRAWL

The crawl is a fundamental exercise that builds great movement patterns and targets the muscles deep inside your core. As a warmup, it’ll open your joints; as a finisher, it’ll improve your conditioning in a safe environment.

How to do it: Get on all fours with your hands under your shoulders and your knees under your hips; keep your knees an inch above the ground. Crawl forward by taking a small step with your right arm and left leg at the same time and alternate. Keep your hips low and your head up.

10. HARD ROLL

The hard roll is an obscure exercise, but if you’re looking to improve movement and avoid pain, the hard roll is essential.

How to do it: Lie on your back with both arms overhead and both legs straight. Reach your right elbow to left knee as if you were pinching a ball in front of your chest. Now, turn your head toward your left armpit and use your head to “pull” the rest of your body until it falls onto the left side. Then, turn your head toward the right and pull your body back to the starting position. Do a few reps and then switch sides. Keep your arms and legs relaxed; it’s your core that should do all the work.


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  • Stephanie Salas

    Love It! Great explanation!

  • TzuZen

    Use the assisted pull up / chin up machine if you can’t pull your whole weight up yet. I’m doing that and getting the benefit of the pull up.

  • Savannah Johnston

    Bodyweight exercises that require gym equipment kind of undermine the idea that they’re “versatile and can be done anywhere”.

    • La Bandita

      No gym equipment was used. Rubber flex bands can be used at home. Stop your excuses and go work out.

      • revdto

        She didn’t use flex bands at all. Look at the exercises. Those are straps which are attached to something overhead, like you find in a gym. You can use flex bands, sure, but you can’t do full body pull ups with them or the inverted row that she is doing.

        • La Bandita

          I relooked. And you’re correct a pull up bar would be needed for 2 of the exercises. You can buy for house or apt for $9.99.and put on door way frame.

          • kevinunleashed

            or you can crawl under your table and do them that way. And you can do pullups about anywhere – a tree branch, overhang, etc.

        • Wilburn Brooks

          You could get one of those door gyms that you assemble and it hangs right on your door

  • Edna & Preston Roque- Robertso

    Love that she actually showed how to do each one properly. I’ve never been able to complete a push up but the other one I can do. So I may actually build up upper body strength with many she exercises she showed.

  • Osmond Wilson

    How many reps and sets should you do?

  • Nathan Lloyd

    I loved watching her. She’s in great shape!

    • Alberto Liberato

      We all get our jollies in different ways. lol

  • ChamomileTea

    The link said “10 Essential Bodyweight Exercises ‘That Everyone Can Do'”. Um, that just isn’t true, for a number of reasons. Disappointed in the tease, MFP.

    • APond

      I completely agree.

    • Anonymous Is A Woman

      Very true. These may be excellent bodyweight exercises for a fit person wanting to up their game. But exercises everybody can do? I think not.

      • PeaPod An Lily

        Start with one. Then tomorrow do two, then the third day try three…

        if you say you can’t do it, or that you can do it, you are probably right.

        • Anonymous Is A Woman

          With all due respect, Peapod, some people are not going to be able to do even one. Bear in mind the title was Body Weight Exercises Everybody Can Do.

          Well, no, if you are a senior citizen, somebody not fit, overweight, you are not going to be able to do these. For some people, these are not even appropriate exercises. They are advanced exercises. And there is nothing wrong with that. But any trainer who gave those exercises to the average 70 year old with knee or back issues would be committing malpractice. And I am saying average senior citizen, not somebody who spent their whole life working out. There are very fit seniors for sure. But except for those exceptions, these are not exercise everybody can do or should do.

          • Lunnunis

            Exactly. 60 and got osteoarthritis although far from a couch potato and try to do my 10k steps a day. I do exercises prescribed by my NHS physio to try to help things along but thought these might be of interest.

            Does anyone else find the fitness industry quite ageist? How many of us on MFP are older? Tens if not hundreds of thousands trying to maintain our health and not be a burden on the state. We may not buy ‘Under Armour’ that much as some of us would not look cool in it (me) but we do buy Fitbits and healthy foods etc so don’t cut us out.

          • English Rose

            Not necessarily ageist but I bit ignorant maybe. I am 39 but I have rheumatoid arthritis and I am always looking for exercise that I “can” do as if I get the level just right it helps with my pain and inflammation. Unfortunately there are a few of these that if I did them I would be in quite a bit of pain the next day. The good new is I could do some of them and when I’m having a good day I will do what I can!

    • Spiryt Wynd

      The person doing the exercises wasn’t always in that great a shape. I humbly suggest you do what you can do. You will likely improve over time and be able to do more of the exercises. As I tell myself, “I can make excuses or I can make progress. Which do I want to live with?”

      • Lynn Nichols

        Amen Spiryt… I am a cancer survivor, before that I weighed 368 and lost 172 pounds, I had a gastric bypass and worked out hard. Unfortunately when I got cancer I gained 25 pounds back. Anyway I am 54 pounds, working with a trainer and at this age cannot believe the things she has me doing. You have to start somewhere and build up, if you stay you can’t then you can’t.

  • Diane Rob

    Some of these excercises are not recommended if you have diastasis recti, example planks. Many women do not know they have it. I would like to see some diastasis recti safe exercises.

    • epickett

      So if they don’t know they have it, how would they know not to do those exercises?

  • Jim Bullard

    A printable version of the list would be helpful and at 72 with arthritis, there are some of those I can’t do.

    • Alberto Liberato

      And, shouldn’t do.

  • Mizerello

    Everyone can do these? Please! If you have knee problems, which many of us who are obese do, you can’t do these. If you’re very heavy, getting up and down off the floor is

    • June Rogers

      Trainers at gyms are just as clueless. Told trainer about knee and back issues. He tried to get me to do burpees and jumping jacks. I need exercises that can help improve my limited knee function, not destroy what I have left.

      • Mizerello

        Totally agree! The only exception I’ve found is properly certified Pilates trainers…not gym trainers who spent a weekend getting a certification. My Pilates trainer is amazing and is able to adapt so many of the exercises to work for heavier people. Sadly I find most of the articles here, as far as exercise goes, useless for people who are very, very heavy. I know many are just trying to lose 30 pounds or less but for those who are 100 pounds or more overweight, burpees and jumping jacks are physically just bad.

      • Lunnunis

        Absolutely. All classes at gym include squats and I can’t do them because of arthritic knees. There is no real understanding of these issues even if you go to an ‘oldies’ class. I have cancelled my membership and will work on stretches etc at home.

    • PeaPod An Lily

      There are more excuses here than I’ve seen anywhere! I thought this was a fitness related site. Fit people had to overcome their excuses to get fit. No its not easy to get off the couch and cut out the lattes but its harder to live fat.

      • Parm

        PeaPod, these are not excuses, but legitimate problems with how the article is presented. A year ago I started walking 4k every day. 6 months ago I upped that to 50k a week and started watching my diet. I lost 30 pounds and then upped my game again. I did a ton of research, installed a gym in my basement, and now I lift 3 times a week. Over the course of a month of steady progress I can now squat 90 pounds! Maybe that doesn’t sound like much to you, but it’s where I’m at, and I’m doing much better than the average person just who’s just looking to lose some weight. And *still* I cannot manage a single push up or pull up. I, too, came here to see bodyweight exercises I could actually do, and like the others I am disappointed. I am not someone who is just too lazy to get off the couch, this is not an excuse to stay overweight: these are NOT things that “anyone can do”.

    • Kyle Jackson

      If you’re obese, you shouldn’t be looking at a complicated exercise routine anyhow; rather, you should be looking at a reasonable movement plan, and, most importantly, a proper nutrition plan. Worry about squats and pull-ups when you’re closer to 20% body fat

  • Tom Torquemada

    Everyone can do? BS. And, the descriptions are not helpful either: “Instead of ‘bracing your core,’ keep
    your ribcage down like you’re doing a mini-crunch and tuck your pelvis
    like you’re trying to round your lower-back — your core will turn on
    automatically.” WTF does that mean?

    • Kyle Jackson

      Yeah. Total BS. One shouldn’t have to understand words to do things.

  • Ms. Goins

    Im 56 and I love a new challenge! Common sense and self motivation says I will work up to doing it like the model! She shows us perfect form and how the exercised are done properly! Thanks to you I’m hot, strong and sexy!!
    I LOVE IT! BRAVO! Keep up the excellent Work:-)

  • Michelle Robinson

    I am also upset at the ‘everybody can do’. That is why I looked. I know a plenty of exercises, but I’m looking for ones at my level that are suitable for my issues. By the way, not everyone can do a squat properly, how do you figure they can do a 1-legged squat!!! Plus, many of those exercises needed special equipment most people don’t have in their home.

    • PeaPod An Lily

      I BET most of them have other more expensive equipment like a TV, DVR, iPads, video games, etc. Get some exercise weights and get off the couch of doom. The way you do one legged squats is to first try two legged ones, master those, and you can guess the rest.

      • paul anthony

        PeaPod, I’ve read a bunch of these replies, and I stand with YOU! I just turned 58, I am pending 3rd shoulder surgery, have a blown disc in my back, osgoodslaughters in my knees, and arthritis all over. I am just now getting over pneumonia for the second time this year. I get up at 4:30 most mornings to work out….if I don’t work out, I get to where I CAN’T work out. I am just getting back into my 4-5x wk routine. I am no diff than anyone else on this list. I was in condition that had me on heavy meds and in therapy. I CHOSE to do otherwise. Our bodies are made to move, not moving is the worst thing.
        For those looking for why these exercises are not for everyone, find SOMETHING that works for YOU, and then DO IT!. Share that, maybe that’s exactly what someone else needs to hear…. I know of folks on chemo that don’t complain as much. They still work out and do what they can/need to, and not complain. Get off yur backside and do something, anything is better than nuttin. I’m just sayin’

  • Norm

    Is there a way to print a list of the exercises so I don’t have to refer back to my laptop?

    • Doc

      Hi Norm,
      I cut the article and paste into Word. I usually highlight the whole thing, make the font a good size, so it takes up less paper but is still readable, and only keep pictures that I need to make sure I know what the words are describing. I also take out the exercises that i may not be interested in because of my knee concerns. It works great, prints easily and I keep them in a binder so I can change up my routine.

  • Michael

    Yes….everybody can, and should, be able to do this kind of work almost daily that supplements you’re harder weekly routine’s. This is stability and basic core strength stuff that can be done in the AM for 15-20 min.
    You can’t do some of this now, thin find a substitution until you can. This is just as much mental as it is physical. A positive can-do attitude mixed in with a moderate amount of discipline goes along way!

  • Lucifer_UK

    Some good exercises here, but you are giving no indication of the dangers of performing these incorrectly, the length of time and sets etc…

  • Margot Margot

    I agree with general coments, they are not easy exercises, I can’t do it well at the moment but they are exactly my actual challenge.
    Thank you.

  • Alex Boughen

    Not keen on single leg squats. Once you go past a certain point the pressure on the back of your kneecap is phenomenally high and, according to my physiotherapist unsafe for anyone.

  • Joe DaSilva

    A good set of fundamental exercises, any pulling movements (pull-up, row) are going to need a bar, suspension straps, or gymnastic rings. There are lots of regressions and progression of all of these to challenge anyone. Can’t do push-ups, do hand elevated push-ups on a staircase, as you get stronger work your way down the steps until you get to the floor. Can’t do the pull-up, start with dead hands and flex hangs, then work on chin-up negatives.

  • wow

  • Margaret Winters

    Your 10 essential bodyweight exercises are really intended for the already extremely fit persons. Try something for normal to low fit, and overweight persons struggling with both issues!

  • Margaret Winters

    Please check out response from anonymous woman….this lady is sssssooooo correct and in tune with what I was feeling when viewing these.

  • msat

    This is an excellent set of exercises, but for MFP to bait us with “10 Essential Bodyweight Exercises that Anyone Can Do” is just plain wrong. For somebody who is obese and unconditioned (they’re “someone,” aren’t they?), these would not only be demoralizing but even dangerous. I’m always looking for beginner exercises (i.e., exercises “that anyone can do” to set them on the road to fitness) and am so disappointed that MFP can’t do better than this.

  • Christa Burton McKergow

    One day….I will be able to do these…..

  • No Days Off

    I’ll have to modify some of them as my body just isn’t there yet (big gut, chicken arms) but that bear crawl looks like fun.

  • DaBoss

    This site is called “Mt Fitness Pal” not, “My excuse to whinge and moan pal”. If you are not fit then look elsewhere for guidance. Take responsibility for your current state and go and do something about it!

  • Bruce

    why can’t you make these pages have a print-friendly option???? You send us these click-bait email lists and they are clearly something that bring traffic to your site and also that people would want to print out to take with them to the gym. Please make an option for a print-friendly view.