10 Best Bodyweight Exercises According to Top Fitness Athletes

    
Emmie Satrazemis, RD, CSSD
Emmie Satrazemis, RD, CSSD

Missing the gym these days and wondering if it's even possible to get a sweat sesh in without equipment? You’re not alone. After all, how many air squats can you possibly do to replace the barbell? 

To get some real answers we turned to the true experts when it comes to building strength and keeping your physique in tip top shape. We asked some of the best pro bodybuilders and CrossFit athletes out there what their favorite bodyweight moves were and why. And they did not disappoint!

Here's 10 strength training exercises (without weights) to add to your at home workouts this week. 

1. Jay Cutler, 4x Mr. Olympia - Front Plank

Mastering a good plank is a gateway to many other useful bodyweight movements. Plus the versatility of this exercise makes it a staple for both beginners and advanced. 

They are also an easy way to work your entire body without needing a lot of space or any equipment. When done correctly, a front plank works multiple muscles including your legs, shoulders and core.  

How to Do a Plank

Learn how to work your core and create a solid foundation by perfecting your front plank. 

Avoid scooping your back or raising your butt, and focus on the following. 

  1. Lie down on the floor on your stomach with hands clasped in front of you and toes curled under, feet shoulder width apart. 
  2. Push up on to your elbows, keeping your body straight and shoulders pulled back.
  3. Hold for time.

Try this with your arms straight and hands on the floor or on your side and challenge yourself to beat your time each attempt. 

2. Christian Lucero, CrossFit Games Athlete - Strict Push Up 

Traditional movements, like push-ups, have stuck around this long for good reason - they’re effective. Not to mention you can do push-ups basically anywhere, whether you're at home, in a hotel, or outside.

“My favorite bodyweight movement is the push-up because when you do it right it can work many of your major muscle groups and does not require much warm up or thought to do it. You can do it any time in any space at any age.” Christian Lucero

How to Do a Strict Push-Up

Just like most exercises, focusing on proper technique can help you get more out of the movement. Here’s how to execute a proper push-up 

  1. Start on all fours with knees bent and palms facing down on the floor slightly wider than shoulders. 
  2. Push up into a plank position with legs straight and body in a straight line.
  3. Lower yourself down towards the floor until your chest almost touches the ground.
  4. Then push yourself back up to a plank and repeat. 

Make this even harder by dropping all the way to the floor and raising your hands up in between each rep. 

Christian Lucero push up

3. Angelica Teixeira, 2x Ms. Bikini Olympia - Plank Kick-Backs

Take your planks up a notch and get your glutes even more involved by adding in kick backs. Just adding a simple leg raise can fire up more muscles and keep your at home workouts challenging. 

How to Do Plank Kick-Backs

  1. Get into a plank position with arms straight.
  2. Without bending your knees, lift your left foot off the ground for reps.
  3. Switch legs and repeat.

Watch Angelica break down her favorite bodyweight workout. 

4. Steven Cao, IFBB Pro Bodybuilder - Pull-Up

While technically requiring a simple piece of equipment, pull-ups still rely on the force of your body to complete. So if you can get access to a bar or rings, pull-ups are an awesome addition to your bodyweight training. 

“Pull ups are my favorite body weight movement because you can really challenge yourself and put a ton of stress on your back muscles from just pull ups. Personally, through experience my overall back development originated from doing endless amounts of pull ups. Pull ups are also a good indicator for me to see if I’m in shape, I feel like when I put on a bit of weight it makes it more difficult for me to perform pull ups. That tells me that I need to lose a bit more weight to perform a more acceptable amount of pull ups for my body weight.” - Cao

How to Do a Pull-Up

Pull-ups are somewhat of an advanced movement but can be adapted to various fitness levels. Here’s how to execute a true pull-up: 

  1. Hang from a bar with a pronated grip and hands slightly wider than shoulder width. 
  2. Engage your upper back muscles and pull your chest towards the bar, allowing your chin to reach over the bar. 
  3. Release slowly back to hanging position and repeat. 

Can’t do a pull up? Try rows, banded pull-ups, or scapula raises to build your strength up. 

5. Shanique Grant, 2x Ms. Physique Olympia - Burpee

We all knew burpees were going to be in this list somewhere. And we know why, because they burn a ton of calories and work your entire body. 

“Although they’re super tough, I personally love burpees because they target both the lower body and upper body at a higher intensified rate opposed to your basic movements - gets your heart rate and momentum booming.” - Grant

How to Do a Burpee

To do a burpee you’ll want a somewhat soft area to land and at least enough room to do a push-up.

  1. Start standing.
  2. Drop into a squat position with knees slightly bent, back straight, and feet shoulder width apart.
  3. Place your hand on the floor while simultaneously kicking your feet back behind you. 
  4. Drop all to the ground.
  5. In a push-up starting position, push your body back up and frog jump back into a squat position.
  6. Raise your hands above your head and jump off the ground. 
  7. Repeat

Try burpees as part of your weekly HIIT routine or mix them into strength training to get your heart rate up. 

6. Sara Sigmundsdóttir, CrossFit Games Athlete - Lunges

What’s the go to movement for the 2019 & 2020 CrossFit Open Winner? “Lunges - because you can always keep moving, never an excuse to stop.” - Sigmundsdóttir

You can also lunge just about every which direction to keep things interesting and target various muscle groups. Try walking lunges, reverse lunges, and side lunges. 

How to Do a Standard Lunge 

To complete a forward lunge or walking lunge.

  1. Start in a standing position.
  2. Step one foot forward at a time and drop into a squat position, keeping both of your knees at a 90-degree angle - avoid having your front knee pass your foot. 
  3. Push your forward foot or back foot off the ground to return to the starting position.
  4. Repeat.

Set a timer and challenge yourself to see how long you can keep up your walking lunges without rest. Comment below and let us know how you did!

Sara sigmundsdottir

7. Jay Cutler, 4x Mr. Olympia - Decline Close Grip Push-up

Regular push-ups work your chest muscles, but moving your hands closer together helps to activate your triceps in this movement. Make it even more challenging when you add a decline with a box, chair, or cooler!

How to Do a Decline Close Grip Push-up

  1. Get into a plank position with feet elevated on a small box and hands moved closer together.
  2. Lower yourself towards the ground, focusing on your triceps.
  3. Pause and push yourself back up to plank position.
  4. Repeat. 

Watch Jay Cutler break down this move.

8. Dana Linn Bailey, 13’ Ms. Olympia - Dolphin Push-Up

A little bit of yoga, a little bit of push-up, dolphin push-ups with a close grip (for extra tricep burn) is a sure fire way to keep things interesting and challenge you. 

“It’s super challenging and hits the chest, shoulders, triceps, and core.”- Bailey 

How to Do a Dolphin Push-Up

  1. Start in a high plank position, but move your hands closer together.
  2. Pike your hips up to 90 degrees, moving your feet forward into a downward dog position.
  3. Perform a push-up from this position by lowering yourself down and keeping your legs straight. Keep your head in line with your hands.
  4. Push yourself back up to a downward dog and repeat. 

dana linn bailey working out with ropes

9. Latorya Watts, 2x Ms Figure Olympia - Bridge Hamstring Curl 

For some serious glute and core action, add a hamstring curl to your standard bridge.Try this with exercise bands to add even more resistance. 

How to Do a Bridge Hamstring Curl 

For this exercise you’ll need a hardwood floor and a towel or workout slider. 

  1. Get into a bridge position.
  2. Place your feet on a towel or slider.
  3. Keeping your glutes elevated, slide your feet in and out for reps. 

Watch Latorya Watts show us how it's done. 

10. Jay Cutler, 4x Mr. Olympia - Standing Single Calf Raise

Target your lower legs with a basic calf raise. This simple maneuver can be completed just about anywhere. 

How to Do a Single Leg Calf Raise

Try these freestanding or, if you are having trouble balancing, find a table or surface to stabilize yourself. 

  1. Stand on one leg.
  2. Raise up to your toes, focusing on your calf muscle. 
  3. Lower slowly and repeat. 

See Jay Cutler perform calf raises. 

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