Doing bodyweight exercises as opposed to using machines or equipment is one of the most efficient ways to build muscle and burn fat because these moves challenge your sense of balance and require firing up more muscles at one time, including your core. You can do these moves anywhere, and because you're using your own bodyweight, it works with any fitness level since there are always modifications for moves.
And one of the most important reasons to include bodyweight exercises in your workouts is because although they strengthen your muscles, many of them also get your heart pumping, which burns calories and improves your cardiovascular health, which can lower your blood pressure and prevent heart problems.
When we're talking basic bodyweight moves, here are some examples: push-ups, squats, lunges, planks, triceps dips, burpees, jumping jack, and crunches. These moves are pretty challenging on their own, but your muscles (and your brain) will get pretty sick and tired of doing them over and over again (not squats again?!). Here are six ways to make bodyweight moves more challenging and more effective:
- Do variations: You know squats are a great move for your butt and thighs, but if you try variations like balancing on one leg, kicking a leg to the side, or jumping, it makes this basic movement even harder. Get creative! Here are some ideas:
Advanced push-up variations
Five ways to do a lunge
- Add equipment: So this may go against the very nature of "bodyweight" moves, but when you've become so proficient at these basic moves, your own bodyweight may not be enough. Doing these moves while using dumbbells, barbells, resistance bands, Bosu balls, or a weighted vest will strengthen your muscles in a shorter amount of time. So instead of feeling fatigued after doing 50 regular squats, if you hold a barbell on your back, you'll probably only be able to do 10 reps, but your muscles will be burning more intensely.
- Change the speed: You've done push-ups a million times. Down, up, down, up, all at the same pace. What if you slow down the movement and take a count of five to lower down, then slowly count to five as you press back to plank. Much harder, right? Find ways to slow down and speed up bodyweight exercises or to do small pulses to really fatigue muscles.
- Hold still and hold longer: If you've ever done yoga, you know firsthand that holding Fierce pose could feel way harder than squats. So use that in your strength-training workouts. Static holds for 30 seconds or longer are intense and if you feel your muscles shaking, you know they're working hard. Hold positions halfway, or with one limb lifted, or while balancing on a Bosu ball.
- Work smarter, work harder, save time: Fitness instructor John Kersbergen says, "Get as much work done in as short amount of time, each time, with mostly total-body compound movements that recruit more muscles and burn more calories." That means doing bodyweight exercises that work multiple muscle groups as well as doing cardio bodyweight exercises.
- Get uncomfortable: CrossFit coach and competitor Dani Horan of Champlain Valley CrossFit says that if you want to get stronger you have to push yourself a little harder to the point of feeling uncomfortable. That may mean doing more challenging variations, adding more weight, doing more reps, or pushing yourself longer slightly past the point where your muscles are on fire and all you want to do is stop.