Bodyweight Resistance Training: A Complete Guide to Training on the Go

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Last Updated:
April 1, 2024

When gym memberships and fitness equipment can be costly and inaccessible, bodyweight resistance training offers a simple yet effective solution to build strength, endurance, and stability.

Whether you're a seasoned weight lifter looking to switch up your routine or a beginner seeking a convenient way to stay active, bodyweight training may be your ticket to a stronger, healthier you. 

Here, you’ll learn the benefits of bodyweight resistance training, the best exercises to include in your program, and strategies to seamlessly create a tailored workout plan. 

Here are the key takeaways for the "Bodyweight Resistance Training: A Complete Guide to Training on the Go" article:

Key Takeaways:

  • Bodyweight resistance training, or calisthenics, uses your own body weight as resistance against gravity to strengthen muscles and improve balance and stability.
  • Benefits of bodyweight training include:
    • Building muscle mass and overall body strength
    • Enhancing balance, stability, and proprioception
    • Improving heart health and aerobic fitness
    • Saving time and money on gym memberships and equipment
  • A full-body bodyweight workout can include exercises for:some text
    • Lower body: squats, lunges, calf raises
    • Upper body: push-ups, pull-ups, dips, inverted rows
    • Core: planks, sit-ups, mountain climbers, bird-dogs, glute bridges
    • Cardio intervals: jump lunges, jump squats, skater jumps, high-knees, burpees
  • Bodyweight workouts can be structured using circuit training, split by muscle group, or as several total-body workouts per week.
  • Bodyweight training is suitable for all fitness levels, from novice exercisers and older adults to elite athletes and weightlifters, and can be performed anywhere without specialized equipment.
  • To avoid plateaus, adding external resistance may be necessary after an extended period of bodyweight training.

What is bodyweight resistance training?

In bodyweight resistance training, also known as calisthenics, you use your own body weight as resistance against gravity to strengthen muscles and improve balance and stability. You can perform bodyweight exercises from anywhere—no equipment needed. 

Bodyweight training can include both cardio- and resistance-based intervals. Since you recover faster from bodyweight exercises (think: the rest you need following a bodyweight squat vs. a barbell squat), you can sequence several exercises into a circuit training workout to save time. Like traditional strength training, repeated muscle contractions during your workout help develop muscular endurance and strength. 

The benefits of bodyweight exercises don’t stop there—regularly engaging in bodyweight workouts can enhance your overall health and well-being, providing an accessible and convenient way to improve your quality of life. 

Benefits of Bodyweight Resistance Training

If you’re dedicated to your resistance training routine, the last thing you want to do is take extended breaks from training when life throws you a curveball, such as traveling, moving, or a heavy workload. Bodyweight resistance training is an excellent way to extend your training so you never interrupt your goals. 

When you feel like you could use more time in your day, bodyweight training saves you time commuting to the gym or waiting to use equipment. Even cutting down rest periods within the workout or using short exercise snacks throughout your workday makes use of downtime to add to your workout.  

Studies show that adding bodyweight training to your routine can help you build muscle mass and overall body strength (1-4). A program targeting hypertrophy and strength gravitates towards traditional weight training; however, it is entirely possible to achieve these goals through bodyweight training as long as you perform the exercises through a full range of motion and challenge yourself with volume. 

Bodyweight training involves keeping your balance while performing all of the exercises. Hence, you hone your balance and stability, which translates to feeling sure on your feet in everyday life and improving proprioception in sports performance (5)

If that’s not enough benefit for you, bodyweight training routines also play an essential role in heart health and aerobic fitness. Consistent resistance training over a lifespan reduces your risk for cardiovascular and metabolic diseases, and higher-intensity calisthenics routines that increase your heart rate contribute to higher VO2max values—a quintessential marker for cardiorespiratory fitness (6-10)

25 Bodyweight Exercises for Full-Body Workouts

Endless variations exist when it comes to the best bodyweight exercises. To complete a whole-body workout without touching a dumbbell or barbell, you can choose three to four exercises from each muscle group.  

Squat to Toes | AIM7 App

Lower Body Exercises

  1. Squats
  2. Wall sit 
  3. Single-leg squats
  4. Static lunges
  5. Walking lunges
  6. Side lunges
  7. Curtsey lunges
  8. Calf raises

Push Up Plus | AIM7 App

Upper Body Exercises

  1. Push-up
  2. Narrow-grip push-up
  3. Triceps dip 
  4. Pull-ups
  5. Inverted rows 

Bird Dog Exercise | AIM7 App

Core Exercises

  1. Planks
  2. Sit-ups or crunches
  3. Mountain climbers 
  4. Bird-dog
  5. Supermans
  6. Side plank 
  7. Glute bridges

High Knees Exercise | AIM7 App

Cardio Intervals

  1. Jump lunges (alternating split squats)
  2. Jump squats 
  3. Skater jumps 
  4. High-knees 
  5. Squat thrusts or burpees

Designing a Bodyweight Training Program

No bodyweight training program looks the same—it is entirely up to you how you structure your workouts to best suit your needs and fitness level. Workouts can be split by muscle group (like upper body day, lower body day, and core+cardio day) or several total-body workouts per week. 

You’ll have more energy at the start of a workout, so try to put in your most taxing exercises then (like high-intensity intervals). Given the fast recovery between exercises, circuit training is a common way to structure bodyweight workouts. Here are a few circuits using the exercises from above:

Circuit One: 

  • Jump squats
  • Push-ups
  • Wall sit
  • Triceps dips
  • Glute bridge

Circuit Two: 

  • Skater jumps
  • Pull-ups
  • Walking lunges
  • Narrow-grip push-ups
  • Plank
     

Circuit Three: 

  • High-knees
  • Side lunges
  • Inverted row
  • Crunches
  • Bird-dog

You can rest after finishing an entire circuit before repeating and then move on to the following circuit. You also have the option to count repetitions or perform timed intervals. For example, 10 reps of jump squats will likely take less time than a 1-minute interval, so you can be creative with intensity by using shorter or longer rep ranges or interval times. 

When your bodyweight workout includes high-intensity intervals, consider including a warm-up to prime the body for movement. Your warm-up could consist of light cardio, slow/easy reps of the movements you’ll be performing, and dynamic flexibility exercises. A warm-up may not be as necessary if you’re using these exercises to break up long bouts of sitting. Follow up your workout with a cool down and static stretching routine to return your body to normal before resuming your daily activities. 

A Bodyweight Plan Built for you

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AIM7’s proprietary algorithms adjust your plan daily to how your body adapts to stress. This leads to rapid improvements in fitness and muscle gains and limits burnout and injuries.

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Bodyweight Training Solutions for All Fitness Levels 

Bodyweight training is one of the best ways to embark on a resistance training program if you’re a beginner. It teaches proper form and technique, ensures your starting position is on point, and develops your entire range of motion in new exercises. 

You can modify body weight exercises in countless ways, so you always have a way to perform an exercise when you’re just starting out. For example, push-ups can be swapped for wall push-ups until you build stability and strength, squats can be swapped for chair sits if you struggle at the bottom of the squat position, and double leg lifts can be swapped for dead bugs if you struggle with lower back pain. You can also hold onto something while you acclimate to the new stability needs of an exercise. 

If you’re unsure whether bodyweight training is right for you, consider speaking with your healthcare provider and maybe scheduling a session with a personal trainer to fine-tune your form before going it alone. Start where you are and progress the workouts to meet your needs and goals.

Intermediate and advanced lifters can include bodyweight exercises to enhance their current free-weight workouts or challenge their abilities with single-arm or single-leg variations, changing plank positions to handstands, HIIT, or plyometric exercises with slow and steady progressions. At a certain point, you may need to add external resistance (added weight or additional strength training modalities) to avoid plateaus. However, you can maintain an excellent base of muscular fitness with bodyweight exercise. 

Conclusion

Customized bodyweight workouts make getting a sweat in on the go convenient while still keeping you on track toward your muscle strength and endurance goals—a handy solution when traveling or stuck in wall-to-wall Zoom meetings. 

From novice exercisers and older adults to elite athletes and weightlifters, a bodyweight workout routine helps to enhance overall health and performance without a gym membership or specialized equipment. 

You’ll never get bored with new exercise variations and modifications/progressions based on your current fitness level. There’s virtually nothing stopping you from starting bodyweight exercise today. 

Bodyweight Resistance Training FAQs

What is an example of body weight resistance training?

Any exercise that uses your body weight against gravity to perform reps or hold a position. Examples include push-ups, wall sits, and bodyweight squats.

Can I build muscle with bodyweight only?

Yes, research shows that bodyweight training alone can build muscle mass. However, to avoid plateaus, you may need to add external resistance after an extended training period.

What are the benefits of bodyweight training?

You can expect to see improvements in muscle strength and endurance, heart health, body composition, insulin sensitivity, and aerobic fitness. 

How often should I train with body weight?

The frequency of training is up to you and your fitness goals. You may choose to perform exercises throughout the day to break up sitting time, perform concentrated high-intensity calisthenics targeting different muscle groups each day, or perform three to four full-body workouts throughout the week. 

What is the best way to build muscle with bodyweight only?

Ensure you complete high-volume training that overloads the muscles at different lengths. 

References for Bodyweight Resistance Training

  1. Minimal-Dose Resistance Training for Improving Muscle Mass, Strength, and Function: A Narrative Review of Current Evidence and Practical Considerations
  2. The acute and chronic effects of "NO LOAD" resistance training
  3. Effect of Progressive Calisthenic Push-up Training on Muscle Strength and Thickness
  4. Low-load bench press and push-up induce similar muscle hypertrophy and strength gain
  5. Comparison of Proprioceptive Training and Muscular Strength Training to Improve Balance Ability of Taekwondo Poomsae Athletes: A Randomized Controlled Trials
  6. High-Intensity Circuit Training Using Body Weight: Maximum Results With Minimal Investment
  7. Resistance Exercise Training in Individuals With and Without Cardiovascular Disease: 2023 Update: A Scientific Statement From the American Heart Association
  8. The effects of a calisthenics training intervention on posture, strength and body composition
  9. Calisthenics versus Pilates training on glycemic control and body fat in overweight individuals with type 2 diabetes mellitus
  10. Energy expenditure and heart rate response to breaking up sedentary time with three different physical activity interventions
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Cite this page:

Reiner, S. “Your Complete Guide to Circuit Training” AIM7.com, February 1, 2024, www.aim7.com/exercise/resistance-training/bodyweight

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