Reviewed by Michael W. Smith, MD on April 14, 2021
What Are Body-Weight Exercises?

What Are Body-Weight Exercises?

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They're exercises that use your body’s weight as resistance. They usually target many muscles and help build stability and strength. You don’t need any machines or weights, so you can do them just about anywhere. You can also tailor these exercises to your needs. So whether you’re a beginner or an expert, you can get big benefits.

Pushup

Pushup

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This might be the most well-known body-weight exercise. You’ll use your triceps and chest muscles the most, since you’re pushing up your body weight. At the same time, your deltoids -- the muscles in your shoulder -- support your arms’ movement, and your abdominal muscles work to keep your core tight.  Don't let your hips or back dip down or arch up. Make controlled, smooth movements.

Squats

Squats

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They're perfect for making yourself more flexible and building lower body strength. You’ll make your lower body and hips more mobile. The main muscles you use are the big ones in your leg, like your quadriceps, hamstrings, hip adductors, and gluteus maximus. Be careful not to put too much weight on the balls of your feet. Instead, squat with your thighs parallel to the ground and push back up through your heels.

Planks

Planks

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Planking -- an exercise where you hold your body up parallel to the ground -- is a very versatile exercise with plenty of benefits. If you’re looking to strengthen your core, the plank is definitely for you. Core work can help with lower back pain. It’ll also ease stress on your spine, which can help improve your posture. You’ll get more flexible and gain balance, too.

Mountain Climbers

Mountain Climbers

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As the name suggests, this exercise has you imitating the movements you might make as you climb a mountain. These can be a great warmup to a workout or a powerful exercise to practice all on its own. You’ll work your legs, core, triceps, and shoulders, but almost every muscle group will get some use, all the while including cardio. Mountain climbers also encourage your body to move in ways you don't usually move.

Pelvic Tilt

Pelvic Tilt

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To do one of these, lie flat on the floor, lifting your pelvis off the ground while keeping your knees bent and your feet flat. It makes your posture better and strengthens the muscles in your buttocks and core. Don’t forget to keep breathing while you’re doing this. Try not to lift your shoulders or upper back off the floor.

Burpee

Burpee

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To do this full-body exercise, bring your body down to the ground to do a squat thrust before exploding with a high jump. You'll engage all your major muscle groups. At the same time, you’ll work your heart and lungs. Burpees help you build strength, which can fight back as your body loses muscle as you age.

Single Leg Deadlift

Single Leg Deadlift

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Stand on one leg with a slight knee bend. Focus on keeping your core tight. Then slowly bend forward at your hips and keep that standing knee slightly bent. Although this technically works the whole body, you’ll feel it most in your hips and legs. It builds endurance and strength in the muscles below your waist. This exercise also helps build your ancillary muscles -- muscles that improve your balance -- and offers the most resistance on your lower body.

Lunges

Lunges

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These focus on working the muscles in your legs. They’re also great for conditioning for sports, particularly ones like soccer, basketball, or tennis, since they all use lunging movements. Make sure that your knee doesn’t go farther than your toes and that it stays in the middle over your foot. Don't let your knee roll outward or inward.

Abdominal Crunch

Abdominal Crunch

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Lie flat on your back with your knees bent and your feet flat. Fold your arms across your chest and raise your shoulders and head off the ground, using your core muscles. It'll strengthen those muscles and make it easier to do most sports and physical activities. Never clasp your hands behind your head when you’re doing these crunches. Doing that can not only stop you from targeting the abdominal muscles, but it can also hurt your neck.

Step-ups

Step-ups

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Although you don’t need any equipment for this one, make sure you have access to a set of stairs. Standing in front of them, you’ll push through your main foot and lift your body up onto the step before stepping back into the position you started. Keep your core muscles tight and your back straight. This targets your gluteal muscles, hamstrings, and quadriceps.

Superman

Superman

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For this, you’ll lie flat on your stomach and raise both your legs and arms at the same time. It builds the muscles in your lower back, which can help you ease back pain or avoid it altogether. Just make sure you hold the position for at least 5 seconds to activate your muscles.

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SOURCES:

Southern Illinois University: “What Can Bodyweight Strength Training Do For You?”

CDC: “Strength Training for Older Adults.”

North Carolina State University: “7 Exercises You Can Do Anywhere, Anytime.”

Mayo Clinic: “Video: Lunge exercise,” “Video: Abdominal crunch,” “Weight Training Exercises,” “Body-weight training: Ditch the dumbbells,” “Are Burpees and Jumping Rope the Cure for What Ages You? Or, Perhaps It’s Crawling.”

Cleveland Clinic: “Got Back Pain? Trying Doing ‘Superman’ and 3 More Exercises.”

The Mountaineers: "Peak Performance: Single Leg Deadlift: Open Book T."