You don’t need tons of props and equipment to get fit. Simple exercises using only your body weight can help you achieve strength gains, boost your cardiovascular fitness and strengthen you bones. Plus, you can do them anywhere – at home, on the beach, maybe even in the office!
Here are my 3 fave bodyweight training exercises and tips on how to do them properly.
Everyone I know who does squats has a love-hate relationship with them. We grit our teeth and curse silently while we’re doing them (not to mention the next-day soreness!) but oh how we love how they lift & firm our backsides!
Squats mimic a whole lot of movement patterns we use in our lives: think of lifting yourself out of a seated position without using your hands. Young children squat often during play. Many people in the world squat instead of sitting on a toilet. Westerners tend to lose our ability to squat as we become adults, mainly because we stop doing it.
Nicknamed the King of Exercises for good reasons, almost every major muscle group is used during a squat. Doing them will strengthen your muscles but also your bones (even your knees!). Many fitness professionals agree that the squat gives the most bang for buck.
The superior squat
- Stand with your feet hip width apart and parallel.
- Lift your arms to shoulder height, and engage your core.
- Keeping your spine neutral and chest lifted, bend at your hips and send your butt behind you. Your hips should go back as your knees bend. Keep your weight in your heels and your knees over the middle of your foot, and bring your hips no lower than your knees.
- Return to standing by engaging your glutes and pushing through your heels. Lower your arms by your sides as you rise.
Make it easier by lowering only halfway. Make it harder by holding dumbbells, or standing on a BoSu.
If the squat is the King of Exercises, the plank must be the Queen. Planks work multiple muscle groups, but the deep muscles of the core really do most of the work. Planks improve your posture, build upper body strength, even make you a better walker or runner. There’s endless variations for any fitness level.
The perfect plank
- Begin your plank on all fours, hands under shoulders and knees under hips. Find a neutral spine and engage your core.
- Lift your knees and extend your legs back until they are straight, with toes tucked under.
- Keep your head in line with your spine by looking about a foot past your hands. Keep your core tight and spine neutral, and hold until you can no longer keep form.
Make it easier by lowering to forearms, or bringing your knees to the floor. Make it harder by lifting one leg at a time or adding a push up.
Bridge corrects your posture, strengthens your core and challenges your balance. It’s a staple pose in both Yoga and Pilates, although there are variations in the two versions. A Yoga bridge requires you to lift your rib cage into a backbend (nice for undoing the deleterious effects of sitting), while the Pilates version works your glutes, core, low back and hamstrings by pressing your hips to the ceiling. I’ll be describing more of a Pilates bridge here.
The best bridge
- Lie down on your back, on a padded surface like a yoga mat. Bend your knees and keep your feet hip distance apart.
- Walk your heels close to your hips and press your arms into the floor by your sides.
- Keep a neutral spine as you engage your abs and lift your hips toward the ceiling. Press into your feet and reach your tailbone toward your knees. Firm, but don’t harden, your buttocks.
- Hold the pose for an inhale, and exhale to lower to the starting position.
Make it easier by curling your spine up and down one bone at a time. Make it harder by lifting one leg at a time in the top position.