When the desire to exercise hits but you don't have access to a gym, free weights or even resistance bands, you have a built-in system that allows you to still get a great workout: your body. What's more, you can make a body-weight routine super simple.
Combine two of the most accessible and versatile moves around — squats and push-ups — to strengthen both your upper and lower body. Both exercises are infinitely changeable, so both the beginner and the buff can make them challenging.
Plus, you'll be in good company. The American College of Sports Medicine listed body-weight exercise as the top fitness trend for 2020. Don't settle for the mundane, either. Mix up your push-up and squat routine with circuits, timed sets and exercise variations to have a little fun. Dive in to change your physique!
Read more: Is This the World's Greatest Exercise?
1. Beginner Squat and Push-Up Workout
Squats and push-ups are fantastic gateway moves for new exercisers. They're functional movements, meaning they have help you build strength and injury-resistance for your everyday tasks. Plus, their most basic version don't require and equipment so you can do them just about anywhere. Here's how to do them:
Move 1: Body-Weight Squats
- Stand with your feet hip-width apart, toes pointed slightly out.
- Bend your knees and hinge your hips back to lower your butt toward the ground as if you were sitting in a chair.
- Keep your chest up and your knees behind your toes. Your thighs should end up parallel to the floor (or below as your strength and flexibility allow).
- Drive through your heels to return to standing.
Move 2: Push-Ups
- Begin on all fours with your hands directly underneath your shoulders.
- Press up into a plank so that your body is in a straight, diagonal line from head to feet.
- Keeping your abs tight and your hips level, bend your elbows to lower your chest toward the floor. Your elbows should point out at a 45-degree angle from your body.
- Press back up to the starting position.
To make push-ups easier, try the incline modification with your hands braced against a wall or on a chair. You can also modify by dropping to your knees.
Approach the squat and push-up modestly if you're embarking on them from couch potato status. Start with just 1 or 2 sets of 8 to 12 of each exercise. Rest a minute or so between the sets.
As you become more proficient, increase the number of reps and sets. After several weeks, you'll be ready to progress to the more challenging workouts detailed below.
2. Body-Weight Circuit Challenge
A circuit workout has you complete a series of exercises in quick succession to challenge your endurance and improve muscle tone. The American Council on Exercise describes it as a high-volume — meaning, lots of reps — and low-weight session. Squats and push-ups fit right in!
When you add variety to the squats and push-ups, you emphasize different muscles, providing you with a comprehensive workout. In this routine, the triangle push-ups target your triceps, the Spiderman push-ups work your obliques and jump squats raise your heart rate.
Warm up: 3 to 5 minutes of walking or marching in place
Do: each exercise for 1 minute each, back to back with no rest. Rest for 60 seconds, then repeat the circuit one or two more times.
Move 1: Standard Squats
- Stand with your feet hip-distance apart, arms alongside your thighs.
- Bend your hips and knees to squat down. Reach your arms in front of you.
- Press through your heels to return to standing.
Move 2: Standard Push-Ups
- Get into a plank position on your hands and toes.
- Bend your elbows to lower your chest to the floor.
- Press back up to straight elbows.
Move 3: Jump Squats
- Sit down into a squat.
- Jump up into the air so that your feet leave the floor.
- Land back into the squat.
Move 4: Spiderman Push-Ups
- Start in a high plank.
- Bend your elbows into a push-up and simultaneously pull your right knee in to your right tricep.
- Return the leg back to the floor as your rise up.
- Repeat on the other side.
Move 5: Plie Squats
- Stand with your feet wider than your hips and toes turned out slightly.
- Bend your hips and knees to squat down.
- Press back to standing.
Move 6: Rotational Push-Ups
- Perform a standard push-up.
- At the top, lift your right arm up and stack your hips and feet into a side plank.
- Return to a push-up.
- This time, lift your left arm and stack into a side plank on the other arm.
Move 7: Split Squats
- Stand with your feet staggered, one a few feet in front of the other.
- Squat down by bending the knee and hip of the front leg. Your back heel will lift slightly as you lower down.
- Do 30 seconds with one leg forward, then switch.
Move 8: Decline Push-Ups
- Place your feet on an elevated surface (coffee table, couch, stair step) and your hands on the floor.
- Push up and down with your upper body.
If decline push-ups are too difficult, stick with incline or knee push-ups.
Move 9: Single-Leg Squats
- Stand with your feet hip-distance apart.
- Lift your right leg off the ground and out in front of you.
- Bend your left knee to go as low as you can and rise back up, maintaining your balance.
- Do 30 seconds before switching to the right.
If single-leg squats are too advanced, rest your right foot on the ground for more stability and lessen how low you go in your squat. Or stick with regular squats.
Move 10: Triangle Push-Ups
- Get into a push-up position, but place your hands so that the fingers form a triangle under your chest.
- Bend your elbows to lower your chest. (You might not be able to go as low as you did with standard push-ups.)
- Press back up.
3. Timed Pyramid Challenge
If you're short on time, try this variation on a pyramid workout. Each time you do the session, time yourself, attempting to beat your previous score.
- Start with one push-up and 10 squats.
- Without a break, immediately do two push-ups, then nine squats.
- Continue to increase the push-up number and decrease the squat number until you're at 10 push-ups and one squat.
For an extra challenge, rest for 30 to 60 seconds and repeat the sequence a time or two more.