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Bodyweight Resistance Workouts

author image Melissa French
Melissa French is an experienced certified physical fitness trainer who studied training in the United States and Europe. With her undergraduate studies in exercise, French also holds a MPH from the University of Liverpool, and carried out research on ecological health. French has experience as a NPC-bikini competitor and in fitness modeling.
Bodyweight Resistance Workouts
Instead of spending money on exercise equipment, save money by using the best machine you have: your body! Photo Credit Photos.com/PhotoObjects.net/Getty Images

Expensive gym equipment isn't always necessary in order to achieve a great workout. All you need is yourself, as there are a plethora of bodyweight exercises to choose from to achieve a great resistance workout. The exercises in a bodyweight workout can be modified or advanced depending on your skill level, so everyone truly can benefit.

Warm Up

Bodyweight Resistance Workouts
Jog in place and stretch dynamically to warm and prepare your body for exercise. Photo Credit Sean Murphy/Digital Vision/Getty Images

Remember to efficiently warm up for five to 10 minutes before jumping right into your workout. Warm up with dynamic stretching, targeting the muscle groups you plan on working. Jogging in place with arm circles is one option to warm up both your upper and lower body simultaneously.

Reps and Sets

Bodyweight Resistance Workouts
Adjust the number of reps and sets when working out to constantly challenge your body appropriately. Photo Credit Stockbyte/Stockbyte/Getty Images

The exercises in your bodyweight routine can be done in order for a total-body workout that you can do at home or anywhere. If you are a beginner, aim to do one to two sets of 10 repetitions. At the intermediate skill level, increase that to two to three sets of 12 to 15 repetitions. For advanced skill levels, aim to do three to four sets of 15 to 20 repetitions and 30 to 60 seconds of cardio in between each exercise. This can be jump squats or mountain climbers, for example. Also achieve a HIIT workout.

Lower Body: The Bodyweight Squat

Bodyweight Resistance Workouts
The bodyweight squat is a great exercise to target the muscles in your thigh. Photo Credit Mike Powell/Digital Vision/Getty Images

The bodyweight squat is a great compound exercise that primarily trains the muscles that make up the thigh. This exercise also trains the glutes, hip flexors and calves.

The quadriceps and hamstrings form the muscles in the thighs. The quadriceps are located on the anterior part of the thigh and comprise of four muscles: the rectus femoris, vastus lateralis, vastus medialis and vastus intermedius. The hamstrings oppose the quadriceps, by their posterior location on the thigh, and are comprised of three muscles: the semitendinosus, semimembranosus and biceps femurs. The muscles that make up your buttocks are your three gluteal muscles: the gluteus maximus, gluteus minimus and gluteus medius.

Start your squat from a standing position with your feet hip-width apart. Inhale and bend your knees and hips. Lower your body, keeping your spine in alignment, until your thighs are parallel to the floor and your knees are behind your toes. Exhale and push through your heels. Straighten your knees and hips and return to the start position.

Beginners can modify this exercise by holding onto a counter or sturdy chair for extra stability and support. For advanced skill levels, you can increase the challenge by keeping one leg in the air, which transforms this exercise into a single-leg squat.

The split squat, lunge (forward, reverse, and lateral) and bridge are also bodyweight exercises to train your lower body.

Upper Body: The Push-Up

Bodyweight Resistance Workouts
The push-up is a great bodyweight exercise that can be done with different variations to keep your workouts fresh. Photo Credit Stockbyte/Stockbyte/Getty Images

The push-up is another compound exercise which focuses on the upper body. Although the chest muscles -- pectoralis major and pectoralis minor -- are the primary muscle group, the shoulder's anterior deltoid and triceps brachii are efficiently worked as well.

Start in a plank position with your arms straight and arms shoulder-width apart. As you inhale, lower your body to the floor by bending your elbows and keeping your body in alignment. Imagine you are trying to create a straight line from your ankles to your head. While exhaling, push your body up towards the start position until your arms are straight.

Beginners can modify by either lowering your knees to the floor or placing your hands on a wall to perform a bodyweight wall-push-up. For an advanced version, as you lower your body, bend one knee and pull your leg up towards your side. When you push your body up, return your leg to the starting position and repeat, alternating legs. Yes, you can imagine you're Spider Man while doing this exercise. We won't tell. Different hand placement and body angles also add variation to this versatile bodyweight exercise.

The triceps dip, pull-up (if you have access to a pull-up bar) and inverted row (if you have access to a squat rack/barbell or Smith Machine) are also great upper-body bodyweight exercises.

Core: The Bicycle Crunch

Bodyweight Resistance Workouts
The bicycle crunch has been proven to be one of the most effective bodyweight exercises for the core. Photo Credit IT Stock/Polka Dot/Getty Images

The great thing about bodyweight exercises is that your core is engaged throughout the workout. This is a benefit that you won't get from using one of the many weight machines that require you to sit while performing the exercise. Weight machines at the gym have their benefits, such as adding extra support, but sometimes this extra support can minimize the number of muscles you are using. If you would like to focus on and isolate the core, then the bicycle crunch should be on the top of your list. A recent study at San Diego State University discovered that the bicycle crunch is one of the most effective abdominal exercises. Keep that in mind if you need some extra motivation to crank out a few extra reps.

Start this exercise lying on your back, hands behind your head, knees bent and shins parallel to the floor. As you straighten your right leg, simultaneously lift and pull your left leg towards your shoulder. Rotate your torso so you are bringing your right elbow towards your left knee. Return to the starting position and repeat with the opposite side. Remember to keep your abdominals contracted throughout the duration of the exercise and to not rush this exercise, which is a common mistake many people make. It's not about the quantity but the quality. Hold each rotation for one to two seconds to really work the abdominal muscles. Beginners can keep one knee bent with the foot on the floor at all times if a modification is needed.

Check out the plank, bird-dog, superman and leg raises for additional bodyweight exercises that target the core.

Total Body: The Hamstring Push-Up

Bodyweight Resistance Workouts
The hamstring push-up is one bodyweight exercise that will blast your muscles like no other. Photo Credit Stockbyte/Stockbyte/Getty Images

The glute hamstring push-up hits your lower and upper body and is geared more for intermediate and advanced skill levels. If you are working out with a partner, have him or her hold your feet down and in place. If you are alone, find somewhere you can secure your feet to so your lower legs stay fixed. With your feet secure, start with both knees on the floor, in a kneeling position, and your body straight. Keeping your core tight and back straight, lower your upper body towards the floor as slow and controlled as possible. Keep your arms slightly in front of you with your elbows bent. Right before you reach the ground, place your hands on the ground and push your body back to the starting position. Try to keep your body in a straight line during the descent towards the ground and during the push back to the starting position.

Check out the burpee and mountain climber for other great bodyweight exercises that work your total body.


Bodyweight Resistance Workouts
Stretching not only improves flexibility and range of motion, but increases mental relaxation. Photo Credit Jupiterimages/Photos.com/Getty Images

Always remember to cool down and include static stretches after exercising. You should choose stretches that target the muscles you've just trained and any muscles prone to tightness. The general rule of thumb is to hold each stretch for 15 to 30 seconds. No matter what your goal is, any workout is what you make of it, as well as the effort put forth. With that being said, execute these bodyweight exercises with intensity and feel the 'pump' that you can get anywhere! In the end, your body is all the gym equipment you will ever need.

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