Let’s face it—sometimes you don’t want to go to the gym. Maybe it’s gorgeous outside and you want to be in the sunshine. Or maybe you’re traveling and the hotel gym has one 5-pound dumbbell and a creaky treadmill. Or maybe you can’t afford any of your local gyms. Sometimes it’s good to have a stable of bodyweight exercises that you can do anywhere. Here are several body weight exercises that you can do with no equipment.
Ideally, when planning a total-body strength routine, you want to complete upper body, lower body, and core exercises. Try to include a variety of pushing, pulling, double- and single-sided exercises. And try to move in different directions, rather than just forward and backward.
It’s easier to do unweighted lower body pushing exercises (squats, lunges) than pulling exercises (deadlifts). Below you can find a bilateral push (squat), a unilateral, sideways push (walking side lunge), and a unilateral pull (walking hip hinge).
Stand tall and tight with your ribs stacked directly over your hips. Plant your feet firmly on the ground, somewhere between hip and shoulder width, with your toes pointing slightly out. Reach your arms out in front of you as you reach your hips back, spreading the floor between your feet like you're stretching plastic wrap. Go as low as you can without losing the tension between your feet or your neutral spine. Drive your heels and mid-foot into the ground to return to your standing position. When checking your form, make sure your knees are lining up behind your second and third toes, rather than letting them drop inside your big toes or fall forward in front of your toes. Keep your entire foot on the ground, including your heels. Keep your spine neutral throughout the movement, not allowing your upper back to round forward or your lower back to arch or tuck at the bottom of the squat.
Walking Side Lunge
Stand tall and tight with both feet planted firmly on the floor. Take a big step to the side with the leading leg, bending the knee and sending the hip straight out behind you. At the bottom of the position, your feet should both be on the floor and your trailing leg (the one that didn't step out) should be straight. Drive into the heel and mid-foot on the leading side, dragging your trailing leg (without bending the knee) back to the starting position. As you travel, move your arms in a cross-body pattern, similarly to the way you would move if you were marching. Keep your elbows bent, and raise forward the arm opposite the leading leg during the step out and reach forward the arm opposite the trailing leg during the drag in.
Walking Hip Hinge
Step forward, planting your foot firmly on the ground. Reach the opposite foot into the air behind you, keeping your rear leg relatively straight. Pressing through your rear heel toward the back wall, pulling your hips behind you. It's okay for the knee on your standing leg to be soft, but it shouldn't be actively bending. Reach toward your standing toe. It's okay if you don't touch. (It's more important to keep your spine neutral than it is to touch your toe.) Stand tall, driving through the glute on your standing side, and move forward your back foot with control. Step forward with your back foot and reach the opposite foot back behind you. Continue moving forward slowly.
As with the lower body, it’s easier to push your bodyweight than it is to pull (if you don’t have something like a pull up bar or a TRX). Below, find a bilateral push (push ups) and a bilateral pull that also doubles as a balance exercise (single-leg rear flye)
Get into a plank position, with your back neutral and your hands below or slightly wider than your shoulders. Breathe in through your nose and pull yourself toward the floor. Make sure your elbows track no more than 45 degrees from the body and your spine stays neutral. Breathe out through the mouth as you press yourself back up to your starting position. If you are unable to perform this movement with a neutral spine, try elevating your hands. The higher your hands are, the easier the movement will be.
Single-Leg Rear Flye
Normally, flyes are performed with dumbbells, but creating internal tension as you lift your arms and holding at the top can create your bodyweight pull. Planting one foot fully on the floor, raise the opposite leg straight out behind you, tilting your torso toward the floor. The knee on the standing leg should be soft, but not actively bending. Keep the floating leg as straight as possible. Keep your hips and ribs parallel to the ground and to each other. Start with your arms hanging below your shoulders. Your elbows should be slightly bent, but stiff. When you're ready, squeeze the muscles between your shoulder blades to raise your arms up and out from the sides of your body. Pause at the top. Keep your shoulders down and away from your ears. With control, lower your arms back to the starting position. Switch legs when you're halfway through your reps.
The core is easy to work without equipment, but I’m not a fan of spine flexion exercises (like crunches) for most people. Instead, I prefer to focus on anti-extension exercises (like planks) that work the deeper core muscles and make you more stable in everyday life. Below, you can find an anti-extension/anti-rotation (dead bug), an anti-extension (sawing plank), and an anti-lateral-flexion exercise (side plank).
High-Tension Dead Bugs
Lie on your back with your arms reaching to the ceiling above your shoulders and your legs off the floor, knees bent at a 90 degree angle above your hips. Breathe out hard as you reach one arm to the wall beyond your head and press the opposite heel toward the wall beyond your feet. Breathe in as you return to the starting position. Switch sides. Use your breathing to create tension in your core. Keep tension throughout your body by keeping your fingers splayed and your feet flexed. You want to feel your abs, rather than your hip flexors.
Start in a tall and tight forearm plank, with your elbows slightly in front of your shoulders and your hands at elbow width, palms facing each other in fists. Keep tension throughout your entire body, from your abs to your mid-back to your glutes to your thighs. Keep your chin tucked and your neck in line with the rest of your spine. Using the muscles under your shoulder blades, pull your body forward, bringing your shoulders toward your hands and pointing your toes a bit, then press your body back into the start position. As you "saw" your body back and forth, don't let your hips move up or down. As with the push up, this can be made easier by elevating your arms.
Lie down on your side with your elbow directly under your shoulder, your knees slightly bent, and your feet stacked. Without moving, pull your elbow toward your feet and your abs in, then drive your bottom hip off the ground. Reach your top arm toward the ceiling. For a slightly easier version, you can place one foot in front of the other. No matter the foot position, make sure your shoulders and hips stay stacked. As with the push up and sawing plank, this can be made easier by elevating your arm.