Bodyweight exercises can be done virtually anywhere, anytime, with minimal to no equipment.
For that reason, people want to know which are the best bodyweight exercises so they can get the most of their training.
Truthfully, it all boils down to your own personal goals.
However, we have comprised a list of the most useful exercises based on the goals of the average trainee and, of course, the foundational exercises.
These are ideal if:
Let's get started.
The easiest way to break down the exercises is into two categories:
Upper body covers the exercises performed primarily using the muscles in the upper body.
In the lower body section are presented legs exercises that can be performed with both free weights and bodyweight.
If you want to elicit growth in your legs, we recommend you to consider training them with external weights. Bodyweight training does not offer enough intensity for your legs' muscles.
To get started with bodyweight training, we recommend you to check our beginner bodyweight workout.
The push-up is one of the foundation exercises in bodyweight fitness.
They are simple, can be done everywhere, and engage multiple muscle groups at the same time.
The primary muscles used in push-ups are:
Once you master the basic variation, there are lots of other variations to take its place. We even recommend you to move on to more difficult progressions once you can perform sets of 15 to 20 repetitions.
These two variations are great if you can't do a push-up yet.
For incline push-ups find an elevated surface, place your hands on it and lower your body by bending at the elbow.
The closer you are to the ground, the harder the exercise will be.
To start with negative push-ups get in the push-up position and start lowering by bending at the elbow. Once your chest touches the ground get back in the starting position and repeat.
For best results lower over a period of 5-8 seconds.
These are, in order, increasingly harder progressions.
For decline push-ups start by elevating your feet on a box, bench, etc.
The higher the surface is, the more shoulder engagement you will have.
Archer push-ups are a stepping stone towards one arm push-ups.
Start in a wide push-up position then lower by bending only one of the elbows, and extending the other arm to the side.
The one arm push-up is one of the most difficult variations.
Most often they are done with the legs spread apart for balance. For good form, keep your hips parallel to the ground, instead of leaning on one side or the other.
If you want proficiency with bodyweight fitness you must be good with dips.
That sentence is not hyperbole.
In our opinion, strength acquired with this exercise has the most transferability to more difficult exercises (e.g. planche, handstand push-ups)
Furthermore, the straight bar dip - which is one of the variations - is a fundamental movement you should strengthen if you want to muscle ups.
In our opinion, the only worthwhile option if you can't do dips is to do negative dips. They are the best strength building variation that you need to get your first full repetition.
We chose not to include bench dips in this section. There are three muscles that dips engage:
Out of these three, bench dips will only train the triceps. Even with enough triceps strength you will not be able to lift your body without the help of the other two muscle groups.
Straight bar dips is the next progression once you have mastered the parallel bar variation.
It is more difficult and, most importantly, it's an integral part of muscle ups.
If you’re looking to do your first muscle up, start training this variation to get closer to your goal.
We consider Korean dips the most challenging dip variation. These are similar to straight bar dips, only that they are done with the hands behind your back.
Korean Dips tie together the need for both strength and mobility.
Christopher Sommer, GymnasticBodies
The planche is one of the most difficult elements in the world of bodyweight fitness.
To get an idea of how difficult it is, most people specifically train the planche for months or even years before reaching the straddle planche.
If you are persistent, disciplined, and consistent, then it may be a good goal for you.
There are several key areas you have to develop to do this exercise:
The first progression towards achieving the straddle planche is doing what’s called a planche lean. This progression is the most fundamental, which means that you will always train it to some degree.
Once you are able to do a tuck planche, it’s just a matter of going through the progressions.
However, this is overly simplified.
There is a massive gap between progressions. Therefore, more often than not, you will have to do some kind of isolation work to target weak links.
Most people will not reach these levels as there is too much work involved. There is nothing wrong with it, given the amount of dedication needed.
That is gymnastics strength level, which very few people have an interest in achieving.
While the handstand push-up (HSPU) is a push up variation, we felt like it should have its own section.
There is tedious work involved in achieving this skill.
Not only you need a solid handstand for this exercise, but you also need strong core muscles to keep your body tight during the movement and strong anterior deltoids to do the push-up.
The HSPU mainly targets the anterior deltoids.
For this reason, it serves as a great strength building exercise to help with the planche.
We will discuss the easier and harder variations only from a strength standpoint.
If you lack the balance required to perform this exercise, all progressions trained in a handstand can be done against the wall.
The idea behind these variations is to incrementally load your shoulders.
In the pike progression, half of the weight is distributed on your shoulders, while half of it is spread through the lower body.
In the elevated pike, more than half of your body weight is distributed on the shoulders.
Finally, the headstand (HeSPU) progression fully loads your shoulders; however, the range of motion is reduced. Therefore, your will not need as much strength as in the HSPU.
The first step to make HSPUs harder is to increase the range of motion.
You can do that by using parallettes or doing the exercise on an elevated surface.
The 90 degrees push up is a combination between a HSPU and a bent arm planche (imagine the bottom position of a push up, but your legs are off the ground).
Start in a handstand and lean forward in a bent arm planche. From the bottom position, push back up into a handstand.
Pull ups are the bread and butter of all the pulling exercises.
They help you develop every single muscle of the back, your biceps and forearm, and get the V taper look.
Aside from that, they are also impressive, which is a pity...
Hear us out.
We understand that there are multiple ways of training...
We also understand that bodyweight training is just a means to an end...
But pull ups should not be impressive. There are lots of people who are packed-full with muscles and cannot do a single pull up.
Not being able to do this exercise is not a shame, but we believe that everyone should train to achieve at least a set of 10 repetitions.
Any of these two variations are great if you can't do a pull up yet.
If you don’t have the strength or the body control to do an eccentric (negative) pull up, you should start with inverted rows.
Once you are able to control the eccentric portion of the movement you should add it to your workout routine.
The eccentric pull up is, hands down, the best progression towards achieving your first full repetition.
The first variation, the L pull ups, are ideal if you want to incorporate core training into your routine.
You will need hip flexor strength and core stability to hold the L position. If you can't do an L sit we recommend you to start isolating these two elements.
Archer pull ups are ideal if you want to bridge the gap between the basic pull-up and the one arm pull up (OAP).
Start in wider than shoulder width pull up and pull your body towards the left arm, while the right arm is extending towards the right side. You will mainly be pulling with your left arm.
Once you finish the repetitions using the left arm, repeat with the right arm.
The OAP is the most difficult progression. If you are able to pull yourself to the top of the bar only using one arm, you know that you have an insanely high pulling power.
The front lever is one of the main goals of most bodyweight fitness enthusiasts.
We consider it one of the best exercises because it engages muscles throughout your entire body.
Note that it's not easy to gain the necessary strength for the front lever. Even though it is easier to achieve than the planche, it is by no means an easy skill.
If you are consistent you should be able to do a front lever towards the end of the intermediate phase. However, lacking consistency will prevent you from
(perhaps ever) doing a front lever.
The main muscles used in this exercises are the lats and core.
Most advanced bodyweight isometric holds require you to gradually get your body used to the movement by slowly changing the lever.
The same holds true for the front lever.
Reaching specific goals requires specific training.
You could train your lats and core like there is no tomorrow and not be able to do a front lever.
That's why we recommend you to start with the progressions and properly build to it.
Unfortunately, there is quite a gap between the progressions.
You will need to find weak links and fix them to close that gap, or you will be stuck at the advanced tuck variation forever.
Luckily, we have found and embedded below one of the best front lever tutorials we have ever stumbled upon. Don’t forget to check it out.
If you want to take your front lever training to the next level, then you should consider doing front lever pull ups. These will challenge your body and take your pulling strength to a whole new level.
The best way to go about these is to train them along with the isometric hold.
Isometric holds build strength at their joint angle with a carryover of about 15 degrees both sides.
Therefore, if you only train the isometric hold you will build strength only in the trained angle and 15 degrees on both sides of that lever.
Isometric front lever holds have no transferability towards front lever pull ups. However, there is strength transferability the other way around.
Keep this in mind for further reference because it holds true with all isometric holds.
The back lever is another fantastic pulling isometric exercise.
Just as with the front lever and the planche, this isometric exercise requires tension throughout your body for perfect form.
It is also the easiest among the three of them.
If you care about the health of your shoulders, then this exercise is a must-have in your routine because it works a plane of motion that is hard to train otherwise. Especially with bodyweight exercises.
We advise you to train the front lever and the back lever together for structural balance at the shoulder joint.
Besides, the strength gains are translated between the two movements. If you are looking to progress faster, you should train them together.
Considering the position of your arms, you should start training the back lever slowly.
Skin the cat is a great start because it takes the strain off your elbows and relies more on the shoulders (which are stronger).
With time you can slowly progress towards the tuck back lever, where your elbow joints will take some of the strain.
Given that this exercise is fairly easy, going through the progressions is enough and will get you results reasonably fast. More often than not you will not need isolation exercises to achieve the back lever.
These pull ups are pretty tricky because the pulling motion is quite unnatural.
If you want to start training for these, you should keep in mind that a narrow grip is ideal. Also, remember to start from the tuck position and build up to the full back lever pull ups.
The plank is the second best abs exercise with the hollow body hold being first (see next).
At least that is our opinion.
As opposed to most exercises, we didn't find any drawbacks to these two exercises.
For example, crunching can place unwanted pressure on your cervical spine.
Even leg raises are detrimental, if you suffer from anterior pelvic tilt (as most people nowadays do).
Due to prolonged sitting the hip flexor muscle tightens pulling on the lower back. Leg raises engage the hip flexors, tightening them even more, which is the opposite of what you actually need to do - i.e. stretch them.
The plank is one of the safest and most popular exercises for core development...
However, a lot of people are doing it wrong.
The proper way to do the exercise is to tense your entire body.
Get in the plank position and squeeze your abs, glutes and tense your legs as much as possible. Tilt your pelvis backward, so you get further engagement in the abs.
This is the actual proper form of the plank.
If you can't hold a forearm plank with correct form you can do the exercise in a push up position.
This variation of the exercise will take some of the strain off your abs.
At this point, you should also start doing the plank with your pelvis posteriorly tilted (tilted backward).
Ingraining good habits early on ensures that you won't have to relearn the exercise later.
If you don’t find the forearm plank challenging enough, you can protract your scapula for increased tension.
When you protract your scapula, you will naturally lean forward, resulting in two changes:
If you feel like you are up for this challenge, give it a try.
Since discovering this variation, a long time ago, we have stopped doing planks with our scapulas in a neutral position.
Muscle focused progressions:
If you want to target the obliques more than the rectus abdominis (six-pack muscles), then we recommend you to do the side plank.
Ideally, however, you will do both variations.
Reverse planks are a more “underground” variation of the plank and the one that you’re not doing and missing out.
If you got bored with the forearm plank and wanted something more challenging, try doing the exercise upward.
The reverse plank maximizes the use of muscles that the forearm variation lightly engages, such as the hamstrings, glutes, obliques, hip flexors, and hip adductors.
In our opinion, the hollow body hold (or hollow body position) is the best core exercise.
Even better than planks.
And here's why...
Have you ever seen gymnasts doing their thing?
Imagine the strength and stability requirements of their core.
Well, the most fundamental core exercise in any gymnast’s arsenal is the hollow body hold.
This exercise is the very first core exercise they learn and master.
The idea behind the exercise is to extend your legs and arms while your lower back is in contact with the floor.
The closer your legs are to the ground, the harder the exercise will be.
To get started with the tuck HBH lay on the ground, lift your legs off the floor, bend your knees, and close the gap between your lower back and the floor.
Stay on this level until you can comfortably hold the position with your lower back flat on the floor.
Once you can comfortably hold the tuck position, extend your legs a bit.
Keep extending until you reach a position that is difficult, but that will allow your lower back to stay cemented to the floor.
If you can easily hold the hollow body position, you can make the exercise dynamic by doing hollow body rocks.
Get in the hollow body position and start rocking back and forth keeping tension throughout your body.
This slight change will make the exercise more demanding.
Leg raises are a dynamic exercise that is worth its place in this best bodyweight exercises list.
The best part about the leg raise is that it can be done on the ground, parallel bars and on a pull up bar, making it versatile and a very convenient core exercise.
Knee raises are the ideal variation to build core strength for leg raises.
Start by lifting your knees to the chest, then slowly lower them to the starting position.
If you are doing leg raises on a pull up bar, you could work your way up to doing toes to bar.
However, this exercise depends a lot on your compression strength too. You may need to start doing pike compression drills before doing toes to bar.
If you want to build a muscular and strong lower body, then there is no way around doing squats.
The squat is a quadriceps-dominant exercise; however, it also targets the hamstrings and glutes.
There is a very important benefit of squats: they create an anabolic environment which promotes muscle building throughout the whole body.
The easiest progression is the regular squat done without any additional weight - a.k.a. the air squat.
We all have the necessary strength to do that; however, mobility also plays a significant role when it comes to squatting.
If you see that you cannot go all the way down, you may have issues with the hip, knee or ankle mobility.
You can check the video below to fix any such issues.
If you want a more difficult bodyweight progression of the squat, then you should try the Bulgarian split squat. Place one of your feet on an elevated surface, get in a position that resembles a lunge then squat on one of your legs.
If you find yourself doing exercises with both limbs and they are too easy, try unilateral training.
Think of the Bulgarian split squat as the archer push up or the archer pull up of the lower body. If you are able to do them with ease, you can progress to the next variation which is even harder.
The pistol squat is the single leg variation of the squat.
Unfortunately, if you reach this level of strength, there is not much room left to grow only using your body's weight.
Once you can do the pistol variation with ease, we strongly recommend you to consider adding extra weight to your training.
You can do that with weighted vests or barbell training (which we recommend).
The lunge is ideal if you want to train all your leg muscles from another angle and if you want to fix any muscle imbalances.
Just as the Bulgarian split squat, over which we’ve lightly brushed above, it is a unilateral exercise that can help you build muscle, strength, and endurance in your lower body.
One of the great advantages to lunges is the ability to load them up quite heavily.
There is no easier progression than the regular lunge.
Aside from adding weight, which will not be discussed in this article, you can make lunges harder by elevating the surface on which you step.
If you perform the elevated lunge, your hips have an increased range of motion, having the ability to go below parallel with your knee.
Extra muscle fiber is broken down thanks to the extended range of motion; therefore, you will build more muscle mass.
Muscle focused progressions:
Lateral lunges are an excellent variation for building your inner and outer thighs - muscles which you cannot really develop with regular lunges.
If you want to get the most out of your leg development, we strongly recommend you to do both variations. This will assure optimal muscle building in all muscles of the thighs.
The wall sit is one of the best bodyweight exercises for strength building.
Even though it does not work through a range of motion - leaving a lot of blind spots - you can supplement your already existing training with this exercise.
Using it as a tool instead of relying on it will help you increase the strength in your legs.
You can start your wall sit training with a 45-degrees wall sit.
What this means is that there will be a 45-degree angle behind your knee, instead of the 90-degree angle in the regular wall sit.
This variation will be easier on your knees and muscles, allowing you to build up to the next variation slowly.
If you are comfortable with a 45-degrees wall sit, you can start doing the 60-degrees variation.
Once you can comfortably hold the wall sit, you could try lifting one of your legs off the ground.
You don't have to do much; hovering it above the ground should increase the strain on the one that is planted on the floor.
Don’t forget to do it for both legs.
The glute bridge is a simple and effective exercise to train your glutes.
In fact, it is so effective that it made it in our list of the best bodyweight exercises.
What we love most about the glute bridge is its simplicity.
All you have to do is lay on the floor, drill your heels in the ground, lift your pelvis, and squeeze the glutes.
There is no easier progression to the regular glute bridge.
When you can easily do the regular variation, you could try the elevated glute bridge.
Place your heels on an elevated surface and start repping out. The higher the surface is, the harder the exercise will be.
The single leg glute bridge is the next step.
Once you reach this point, you can also correct any imbalances you may have by focusing more on the weaker leg.
Lastly, as you progress, you should be able to do the one leg elevated glute bridge.
The Nordic curl is the most brutal bodyweight hamstrings exercise.
While the exercise is ideal for those who want to build muscle mass and stay injury free, it does not maximize the strength potential.
If you are trying to gain strength, rather than muscle mass, this may not be the best exercise for you.
Considering this, it is still one of our favorite exercises.
The best way to go about building strength for this exercise is doing it with assistance.
You can use a stability ball, a stick or even an ab roller. In the video below you can see exactly what we mean.
Remember to start small.
Even though it may look like a dangerous exercise, it’s actually the opposite.
The chance of getting injured drops significantly with the Nordic curl as opposed to other hamstring exercises.
All you have to do to make the exercise more difficult is to extend the arms overhead.
Doing so will increase the leverage, making the exercise more demanding.
Calf raises can be done literally anywhere.
To perform the exercise, you just have to get on your tiptoes and squeeze the calves.
The exercise is so versatile that you can even do it at the end of a squat, combining the two into one single exercise (avoid doing that with weighted squats!)
This is the most renowned calf building exercise, and it is done by bodyweight athletes and bodybuilders alike.
There is no easier progression to the calf raise.
To increase the load of this exercise, you only have to do it using only one leg.
You may find it easy to do the exercise using one leg.
However, if you want to build bigger calves, you should do lots of repetitions and squeeze the muscle at the top.
We guarantee that doing more repetitions and squeezing hard in the top position will not feel easy.
Few people get around training the muscles in front of their shin, and that is truly a shame.
All you need is to train them once or twice a week, and it’s going to be more than enough.
To do a reverse calf raise you need to elevate your heels on a solid object, then raise your foot by pressing through the heels.
There is no easier progression to the reverse calf raise.
Apart from adding extra weight to your body, the way to increase the difficulty of the reverse calf raise is to do it single legged.
By now, you should know which are the best bodyweight exercises, how you can make them less difficult, and how to increase the difficulty through progressions.
By now, you should know which are the best bodyweight exercises, how you can make them less difficult, and how to increase the difficulty through progressions.
At this point, you can create your own workout routine or you can go ahead and check our full body bodyweight workout.
Having all these in mind, remember that pinpointing the best exercises is not always easy.
What works for some people may not work for others depending on their body type, goals, and more.
Do the exercises that feel good to you and that help you progress.
Over to you.
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