So you want to work out but you do not want to buy expensive equipment, or you feel you do not have time to make it to the gym.  Cardio is not the only exercise you can do without weight equipment.  There are exercise programs that can be done with only bodyweight that can make any person scream uncle.  Many bodyweight exercises are good because they can be modified in order for anyone to be able to do them, and get a good workout.

                  Push-up- The push-up is the most basic bodyweight exercise that most people know.  It can be modified to be easier by either placing your hands on a surface that is higher than the ground such as a table or chair. The push-up can also be modified to be harder, by placing your feet on an incline, or by changing the tempo.  Changing tempo means that you would lower yourself at a slower pace.  A good time to start with, if regular push-ups are easy, would be to lower yourself in a three count, pause for one second, and then raise yourself up at a normal speed.  To make it even harder, clap push-ups, flying pushups, and push-ups with a slower press in the concentric (the way up) portion can also be done.

                  Squat- The squat is an exercise that is very for many people.  It is important for form to be proper on these.  Modifying the squat can be done quite easily as well.  To make a bodyweight squat easier hold onto a stable surface.  That will allow you to use your upper body to help pull yourself back up to standing position.  As you excel at the squat try to use less support from the upper body. T Now to make the bodyweight squat harder many things can be done.  You can start with adding more reps or going for time.  If that is very easy then doing pulsing squats for time can be a way to make it harder.  That means you go down like a normal squat but you do not come all the way back up and go right back down.  Keep pulsing for time or for a high number of repetitions.  Another way to make these harder is to hold something of weight at chest level.  That could be anything from a gallon of almond milk, to can of paint.  Anything to add some resistance without hurting yourself would be good.

                  Lunge- The lunge is an exercise that many people think may not be possible for them, because it is a hard movement.  But there are ways to change it to make it easier, and also harder.  The ways to modify this are the same as the squat.  Use the upper body for support and stay stationary, to make it easier.  This is called a split squat, but it does emulate a lunge.  To make it harder do walking lunges, hold weights to your side, do pulsing lunges, or increase the distance you are lunging.  Some crazy Zen trainers even lunge a FULL MILE!!!!!

                  Burpee- Burpees are one of the highest calorie burning exercises per repetition.  It is done be squatting down until your hands can be on the floor, then jumping your feet back into push-up position, doing a push-up, then jumping your feet back forward into squatting position, and then doing a small jump into the air.  To make this easier you can use an inclined surface to put your hands on, step your feet back and forward instead of jumping them, and do a calf raise off the floor instead of jump.  To make a burpee harder than the original first try to do more repetitions, they do get hard very quickly.  If they are still very easy then a few modifications can be tried.  Using one leg instead of two throughout the burpee or doing a jump for height or distance at the end will make it more challenging.

                  Pull-up- The pull-up may be one of the hardest bodyweight exercises of them all.  To make them easier try starting with bodyweight rows under a bar or other stable hanging surface.  You can also do them with a bar that you can get your chin over while standing, that will allow you to use your legs.  Make sure when doing this you make your upper body work as hard as possible, it is easy to let your legs do the work.  To make the pull-up harder, again more repetitions is always an easy way.  There are other ways though, such as switching your grip by moving your hands wider or closer together, or doing holds with your chin over the bar, or even lowering your body slowly like on push-ups.  To make it much harder things like muscle-ups can be done.

                  Plank- A plank is the best abdominal exercise you can do.  To make a plank easier have your arms on a raised surface, while still keeping your body flat.  To make a plank harder you can do it on your hands which will work the shoulders more, do side planks, or put something with some weight on your mid-back.  Side planks and planks on your hands are a great addition to the regular plank.  Adding weight to your back should only be done with a very advanced person.  I would not suggest that unless you can do a ten minute plank on your elbows with no shifting.

                  Handstand Push-up- Do not let the name fool you, it can be done!!!! Regular handstand push-ups are done against a wall, while in a handstand, and lowering yourself until your head is almost at the ground before pressing yourself back up.  To make this easier start with your hand on a chair.  With this modification and all the other easier ones you should be able to see your shoes, which will allow you to keep your head between your shoulders.  So if having your hands on a chair is too easy try having your hands and feet on the ground.  Remember, you should still be able to see your shoes.  If that is still easy try putting your feet on a higher surface (the higher the surface, the harder the push-up). If you want to make a handstand push-up harder you can do it without a wall, you can do handstand holds before or after your repetitions, or just do handstand holds for time.  You can also do one handed handstand holds or presses for very advanced people.

                  You have the essentials for a great bodyweight exercise program.  Now finding where you are with each exercise is important, you may have to modify some to make them easier, and others to make them harder.  You should do multiple sets of each exercise and usually with bodyweight exercises you can do opposing muscle groups to help get more sets in the same amount of time.  Obviously, weights  are ideal for everyone to lift as long as you know what you are doing or you are being trained by a professional, but bodyweight exercises can really help to burn body fat, increase strength, and even help cardiovascular function.


Paige Rogers

Executive Director, Personal Trainer, Yoga Teacher