Bodyweight Exercises: A Simple Road to Successful Fat Loss

Bodyweight exercises, also called Calisthenics, are a choice of exercises that utilize nothing else but your own bodyweight.

Impressive results are not only achieved through weight lifting in its usual form but also through the ability of someone to lift his/her own bodyweight, with correct form - for certain sets, in a bodyweight workout.

Can you become a bodybuilder through bodyweight exercises?

I would say that I have not met anyone that has achieved something like that, yet. So my answer to that question would be that you probably cannot become a bodybuilder with bodyweight exercises.

A logical explanation to that is that in order to develop huge muscle mass, for competition levels, you need to challenge your muscles constantly with more and more resistance which leads to the fact that your own bodyweight at some will not suffice for the develop of that amount of muscle mass.

However, if strengthening and toning your muscles is what you are looking for with a simple yet effective routine, and you want to keep your expenses at the minimum level, then bodyweight exercises should be a basic component of your workout routine.

Although further down in this webpage I am giving you a set of basic bodyweight exercises to choose from. I have found that one of the best regimens that anyone interested in losing pure body fat with short yet effective workouts, should be using is Craig Ballantyne's 20-10 Workout Revolution,that deliveres everything that it promises.

Scientific Proof of Bodyweight Exercises Efficacy.

In a study that was conducted for the United States Military and published in the Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research (March 2008 - Volume 22 - Issue 2) they tested a split group of new recruits out of which half did an eight week training schedule of bodyweight exercises and the other half with free weights.

The study concluded that, as both groups had similar improvement in their performance ability, there is no additional benefit in working out with free weights than a bodyweight exercises workout.

Another study that was published in Applied Physiology, Nutrition, and Metabolism, (10.1139/h2012-093 , 20 September 2012) tested three groups of people.

The first group did cardio exercise on a treadmill with 85% of max heart rate, the second group did bodyweight exercises (8 sets of a single bodyweight exercise, such as burpees, jumping jacks, mountain climbers, or squat thrusts, for 20 seconds each and a 10 sec rest in between) and the third group did nothing at all.

The study concluded that 4 minutes of low intensity bodyweight interval style training produces the same cardiovascular effect as a 30 minute workout on a treadmill with 85% of max heart rate, and a much better result in muscle endurance.

Advantages of bodyweight exercises

Besides strengthening and toning our muscles we can pinpoint several other advantages that would convince us to use nothing else but our own body weight in order to achieve our fat loss goals. Here are just a few:

  • Since there is no equipment needed, you can virtually do them everywhere. No geographical limitations whatsoever.
  • Also as the equipment requirements are zero, it is probably the cheapest possible choice of exercising
  • If you are a newbie in the fitness world and you still have second thoughts on the extend of your investment in a home gym or a gym subscription as far as commitment is concerned, then bodyweight exercises provide an excellent introduction to strength training, until you figure out where exactly you want to go with it.
  • Their ease of execution provides the benefit of adjustment of their duration to fit your individual schedules.
  • They are equally capable in raising the heart rate levels, which is a prerequisite for fat loss, with any other more widely used method of training.

If bodyweight exercises are combined with aerobic movements they can provide an even better total body workout which will ultimately improve simultaneously strength and cardiovascular condition

The Most Common and Effective Bodyweight Exercises

Here are our favorite bodyweight exercises and a brief description of each:

1. Push Ups

Push ups are the most widely known of all bodyweight exercises. They are exceptional in working out the upper body muscles (chest, shoulders, arms and abdominal muscles) while they provide a great core strengthening touch. What makes them so widely known and used, is the fact that you can fully workout your upper body with numerous variations of the standard stance.

Before getting into details on the various push up exercises, it is best to mention one common mistake that people, who are new to exercising altogether, do when they perform this particular exercise. They allow their butts to lift up instead of keeping them firm and at a straight line with the rest of the body. Doing that mistake beats the purpose of the push up itself, which is to engage all the core muscles and multiple muscle groups, thus making it easier and less effective.

If someone wants to perform it correctly but with less intensity then he/she can do it by standing on the knees instead of the toes. Although this variation makes it easier it still engages, correctly, a number of muscle groups until he/she becomes stronger and use the standard form of the exercise.

Let’s see several variations of the push up bodyweight exercises:

Standard Chest, shoulder, triceps, abdominalsLie on your front, put your hands shoulder width apart and push your body off the ground, only keeping your feet and hands on the floor. Make sure your body has a firm straight line.….keeping your bottom in the air as it takes away the tension of the exercise.
Incline Push upsChest, shoulders, abdominalsThe form is the same with the only difference that your hands are placed higher, about 6-12 inches of the floor…Putting your arm higher than the indicated height.
Decline Push UpsChest, shoulders, arms, abdominalsThe form is the same with the standard form with the only difference that your feet are placed higher than your head…letting your bottom fall and maintain a rigid straight posture for the duration of the exercise. If you do not do that it is a surefire way to get back issues.
Triangle push upsChest, triceps, shoulders, abdominalsAs per the standard push up, but bring your hands together so your thumbs and index fingers are touching to make a triangle. …having an unstable posture as it will put your wrists to great strain.
Dive BombersChest, shoulders, triceps, hamstrings, lower backThe starting position is an inverted V, like the one you do when you do the downward facing dog. Then you lower your chest first and after your lower back and your butt as if you want to go under a fence, The middle position is the upward facing dog. Then get back up straight to downward facing dog. …moving your legs and your hands from the starting position. This way you will rip the benefits of the full range motion exercise. Make sure at the downward facing dog to put your head beside you biceps and your legs are kept straight and not bend.
Prisoner cell push upsChest , shoulders, triceps, abdominal, coreThe starting position is the same as standard push up. You do one push up and then when you return to the original position you bring your right leg to the chest and then back again. Do a push up again and bring your left leg up to the chest.When you are done with both legs, bring jumb to your to hands and stand up with your hands raised. Repeat the whole process for as many times as you can. If you want to make even more difficult as you stand up you will a jumbing jack.…letting your back lose the rigid posture that is needed for all kinds of push ups, as it will be prone to injury.
Military Push upTriceps, chest , shoulders, core.Keep your hands shoulder width apart and do a standard push up with the only difference that you elbows should be pinching your sides…letting the elbows loose open instead of pinching your sides. It beats the primary goal of working the triceps.

2. Squats

As one of the best leg and glute strengthening exercises, they are basic to every workout routine that exists. Squats fit also in the bodyweight exercises category with several variations that we will see in the next table:

Standard Squat Legs (quadriceps – hamstrings – glutes) , abdominalsWhile keeping a straight back bend at the knees, bringing your body into a position where your thighs are parallel to the floor and then raise yourself back up to a standing position and repeat. In order to keep a straight back I suggest you to find a spot in front of you, head height level, and focus on that without leaning forward....projecting your knees over and out of your toes. Your knees should always be over your toes otherwise you are facing knee and back injuries.
Bulgarian Split SquatLegs (quadriceps – hamstrings – glutes) , abdominalsTake a bench and place it behind you. Now place one foot on the bench just behind you and squat down using only the standing leg to support your weight. …losing your balance and avoid bringing your knee in front of your toes instead of strictly over them..
Jumping squatsLegs (quadriceps – hamstrings – glutes) , abdominalsSame as standard squats but with the addition of a jump at the end. If you want to make it more difficult you can add a pivot as well after every jump.…landing with your feet flat Make sure you land on your toes.
BurpeesLegs, abs From a standing position, squat down and put your hands on the floor in front of you. Move your feet back into a push up stance and then back to the squat position. Take your hands off the floor and push back up with your legs into a standing position. … bringing your knee in front of your toes instead of strictly over them while you squat.
Standard Wall squatsQuadriceps, glutes, calvesPush your back against a wall and your feet about 10-12 inches in front of you. Slide your back down in order to bring your thighs parallel to the ground and in a 90 degree angle with your calves. That is the starting position. You have two options:
1.Get in and out of the wall sit every 15 seconds.
2.You can stay in the wall sit for as long as you can.

I prefer the first choice as it provides a safer approach to your quadriceps workout.
…getting totally out of the wall squat after that 15 seconds. Initially it would be difficult to do that and it is OK. However you should aim to make small changes in and out of the wall squats as that will maximize the results and effectiveness of this exercise.
One legged wall squatsQuadriceps, glutes, calvesThe starting position is the same with the standard wall squats. The difference with the previous exercise is that you raise one leg as much as possible and alternating leg raises every 10 seconds.I would suggest a duration of one minute for this exercise.1.…Bending your raised leg as it should stay straight to maximize the effectiveness of the exercise.

2….Assisting the performance of the exercise with your hands by putting them anywhere else than at the wall behind you.

Initially it will be difficult and you might either bend your raised leg a little or assist with your hands a little. However you should aim to keep your leg straight and your hands on the wall as this is how this exercise provides maximum results.

3. Lunges

Lunges, along with the squats, are key components of a routine that includes solely bodyweight exercises. Given your level of fitness lunges have easier and more difficult variations which are given in the next table.

However, one common mistake people do when they perform lunges, other than the ones I am recommending to avoid in the table below, is that they allow their upper body to drift slightly forward when lunging. Make sure that your upper body is always held up straight. This way you engage all the core muscles and thus making the lunge one of the most effective bodyweight exercises that strengthens multiple muscle groups.

Standard lunge Quadriceps, hamstrings, glutesStand with your feet together and take a step forward with one foot, now bend at the knee with your front foot to bring your body down in a lunging forward motion, and then push back to your original position. Make sure your front foot’s quadriceps are parallel to the floor and the back foot remains straight. 1. …extending your front leg too much as you will not be able to return to the original position and there is the danger of ripping muscle tissue especially if you are not flexible enough.

2. …Bringing your knee in front of your toe. Knee should always be over your toe and not an inch further from it. If it is done otherwise knee injury is possible.
Alternating leg jumping LungesAll leg musclesStart with the standard lunge exercise but instead of returning your extended leg back to the standing position, you jump from the lunging position alternating the leg which lunges.

Make sure that back legs remain straight the whole duration of the exercise.
…going fast in the beginning as you need to get used to placing automatically the extending leg in the right distance so it does not overextend as well as making sure that the knee does not get further from the toe.

4. Dips

They are used in order to tone and strengthen the triceps muscles in the back of the arms.

Strong and toned muscles are key to the appearance of the arm as a whole. Usually people tend to spend more time to their biceps but it’s the triceps that provide the look of a toned and strong arm.

Especially for women who decide to do bodyweight exercises, dips should be a crucial component of their workouts, as they usually want to get rid of a problematic spot in the back of their arms.

Dips cannot be performed without utilizing at least one chair. They are considered bodyweight exercises, though, as you can find a chair or two everywhere.

One Chair dipsTriceps, absPosition yourself in front of the chair so that it is right behind you.
Bend down and place your hands over the front edge of the chair. Now with your hands still, place both feet forward so that your heels are resting on the ground at legs length. Start lowering your bottom towards the floor by bending your arms until they reach 90 degrees and your bottom just above the floor. Then raise your bottom up to the starting position
…having you lower back far away from the chair as you put pressure in places you do not need it. Make sure your lower back is very close to the chair..
Two chair dipsTriceps, absYou put 2 chairs back to back shoulder width apart. You place your right hand on the top of the back of the right chair and your left hand on the top of the back of the left chair in such a way that 100% of your bodyweight is on your two hands. Then you lower your body until your arms reach a 90 degree angle and then you come up. …putting the 2 chairs far away from each other as it is dangerous to fall from them if they flip due to the pressure you will be putting when you perform the exercise.
Floor Table dips with leg raiseTriceps, shoulders, quadricepsSit on the floor with your hands and legs on the floor keeping your knees bend and your arms straight. Raise your pelvis off the floor in such way in order to go to the yoga pose “Table”. Raise one leg up and without changing anything in your stance bend your elbows until your pelvis reaches the floor, without touching it, and then come back up. Change legs every five reps. If you feel it is too tough for your current fitness level, take the leg raise off the exercise and it becomes a lot easier.

5. Pull ups

As with the dips, pulls ups require a pull up bar to perform. However as it uses solely bodyweight it is custom to mention pull ups as bodyweight exercises.

They help us build a strong back, shoulders and arms.

The core of the exercise is simple as its goal is to hang from the pull up bar, with several grip variations, and pull your self up until your chin gets over the bar and then return to the starting position of hanging on the bar.

The different grips are used to exercise a different part of the back each time. The hand grips along with the specific back part they engage are as follows:

  1. Reverse grip chin up (Hands shoulder width apart facing towards the body): Muscles used are biceps and back.
  2. Wide front pull up (Hands wider than shoulder width and palms facing out): Muscles used are latisimus dorsi (Lats) , trapezius, rhomboid, biceps.
  3. Closed grip overhand pull up (Hands close to each other and palms facing out): Muscles used are Trapezius, Rhomboid, Latisimus dorsi (Lats), biceps.
  4. Switch grip pull up (Alternating every 2 reps between from shoulder width pull up to shoulder width chin up) Muscles used are back muscles and biceps.

At this point it would be wise to mention that as pull ups are, for some people, one of the most challenging of all bodyweight exercises, in order to be successful you have to keep in mind to use goals.

What I mean is if you cannot do not even one rep, then do half. Take a chair and pull yourself up and let yourself hang from the pull up bar without the assistance of the chair. Do that and as you get stronger you will increase the reps.

There is always a way to work around a problem, especially as far as bodyweight exercises are concerned. The only thing you need to bring with you is the WINNER mentality.

6. Ab Exercises

Ab exercise have been discussed in detail here. However as there are many different exercises we will provide some more bodyweight exercises for the abs just to provide a complete bodyweight package.

Fifer scissors Upper – lower absAs you lie flat on your back raise one leg leaving the other leg down but an inch off the ground. Alternate every 3 seconds. I suggest a duration of one minute for this exercise.…Having your toes pointing instead of flexing.
Oblique v-upObliques – upper and lowerLie on your side at a 30 degree angle between you legs and your torso. Put the lower arm along your torso and the upper arm behind your head. Lift both your legs and your torso simultaneously driving the elbows to your knees. Repeat as many times as you can …returning to the lying position after every rep. Initially you could do that but you should aim to have legs and torso on the air for the duration of the exercise.
BoatUpper and lower absIn a seated position bend your knees bringing your legs towards your chest. Drop your back a little in such a way that your legs which are now straight and flexed are coming up. Your upper body and your legs should form a perpendicular angle. Your arms should stay parallel to the ground. Stay in that position as long as possible.…rounding your back. Your upper and lower back should form a straight line. If your back is rounded then your lower back will be prone to injury.
Half boatUpper and lower absIt is the same with boat with the only difference that one leg remains bend on the floor while the other is raised as described in “boat”…rounding your back. Your upper and lower back should form a straight line. If your back is rounded then your lower back will be prone to injury.
Plankarms, shoulders and core/td>Get into a pushup position standing on your hands and toes, or on your elbows and toes.

Now contract your abdominal muscles and keep your back straight (parallel to the floor) and hold this position for as long as you can
…arching your back as it will prone to injury.
Side hip raiseObliques, shoulders, armsLie sideways and lock your legs to each other with one upon the other. Your upper body balances on your forearm. Lift your pelvis up as high as you can and return to the starting position, without touching the floor.…touching the floor at each rep because you make the exercise easier which beats the purpose of doing it.
Knee raise from a pull up positionUpper and Lower abs, ObliquesHang with your hands from a pull up bar. When you are balanced start lifting your legs towards your chest and then slowly return them in the staring position.

Return from bodyweight exercises to fat burning exercises

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