Getting fit doesn't have to be complicated. Simple bodyweight exercises can be a great choice for achieving gains in strength, flexibility, and overall health. Best of all, they don't cost a thing and you can usually do them just about anywhere. Still not convinced? We've got 13 reasons why bodyweight exercises should be a key component to your workout regime.
Why Bodyweight Training Is the Best
1. It's a super-efficient workout.
Research suggests high-output, bodyweight-based exercises like plyometrics yield awesome fitness gains in short durations. Effects of 6-Weeks Resistance Training Combined With Plyometric and Speed Exercises on Physical Performance of Pre-Peak Height Velocity Soccer Players. Rodriguez-Rosell D, Franco-Márquez F, Pareja-Blanco F. International journal of sports physiology and performance, 2015, Jul.;():1555-0265. Plyometric training improves voluntary activation and strength during isometric, concentric and eccentric contractions. Behrens M, Mau-Moeller A, Mueller K. Journal of science and medicine in sport / Sports Medicine Australia, 2015, Feb.;():1878-1861. Since there's no equipment involved, bodyweight workouts make it easy to transition from one move to the next with little rest. And you've probably already heard that those short-but-intense HIIT workouts can yield major results. Eight weeks of a combination of high intensity interval training and conventional training reduce visceral adiposity and improve physical fitness: a group-based intervention. Giannaki CD, Aphamis G, Sakkis P. The Journal of sports medicine and physical fitness, 2015, Jan.;():0022-4707.
2. It can combine cardio and strength training
Performing quick cardio sessions (such as 60 seconds of burpees or high-knees) between strength movements (such as a set of push-ups or lunges) will keep the heart pumping while still encouraging muscle and strength development. Extremely low volume, whole-body aerobic-resistance training improves aerobic fitness and muscular endurance in females. McRae G, Payne A, Zelt JG. Applied physiology, nutrition, and metabolism = Physiologie appliquée, nutrition et métabolisme, 2012, Sep.;37(6):1715-5312.
3. You can burn fat—fast.
Just a few minutes of a bodyweight circuit training can have a major impact on the body's metabolism. Evidence based exercise - clinical benefits of high intensity interval training. Shiraev T, Barclay G. Australian family physician, 2013, Nov.;41(12):0300-8495. If you've ever heard of the afterburn effect, you know that even when your workout is over, your body can still be revved for hours to come. A 45-minute vigorous exercise bout increases metabolic rate for 14 hours. Knab AM, Shanely RA, Corbin KD. Medicine and science in sports and exercise, 2012, Mar.;43(9):1530-0315.
4. At any fitness level, it's challenging.
Bodyweight exercises are great because they're easily modified to challenge anyone. Adding extra reps, performing the exercises faster or super slowly, taking shorter breaks, or adding a ballistic movement (like a clap at the top of each push-up) are just a few ways to make the simplest workout tougher. And with each added modification, your progress is obvious.
5. You'll gain core strength.
Your core is more than just six-pack abs. In fact, at least twenty-nine muscles make up the trunk of the body, and many simple bodyweight movements can be used to engage all of them. Such exercises won't just give you tighter abs, you'll also gain better posture, relieve lower back stress, and improve overall performance. Optimizing performance by improving core stability and core strength. Hibbs AE, Thompson KG, French D. Sports medicine (Auckland, N.Z.), 2009, Mar.;38(12):0112-1642.
6. It can increase your flexibility.
Not everyone who does regular resistance training has to end up with tight muscles and inflexible joints. Bodyweight training can go hand-in-hand with building strength and flexibility. Completing bodyweight exercises through a full range of motion ensures your joints are moving freely. Plus, it can lead to improved posture and might reduce the chance of exercise-related injury. Basic principles regarding strength, flexibility, and stability exercises. Micheo W, Baerga L, Miranda G. PM & R : the journal of injury, function, and rehabilitation, 2013, May.;4(11):1934-1563. The effects of eccentric training on lower limb flexibility: a systematic review. O'Sullivan K, McAuliffe S, Deburca N. British journal of sports medicine, 2012, Apr.;46(12):1473-0480. Yoga, the fave no-equipment workout for many, is another great way to to improve flexibility while also significantly improving strength. Bikram yoga training and physical fitness in healthy young adults. Tracy BL, Hart CE. Journal of strength and conditioning research / National Strength & Conditioning Association, 2013, Nov.;27(3):1533-4287.
7. There's never an excuse to not workout.
Ask someone why they don't exercise, and chances are they have "no time" or it's "inconvenient." Luckily bodyweight exercises eliminate those common obstacles. When you only need a little space, it's easy to squeeze in workouts wherever you are. Exercising without equipment can also be used as a stress reliever whether you're working at home or on the road.
8. You'll achieve better balance.
When it comes to this type of training, sometimes increasing resistance means increasing balance, too. For example, a normal squat can be ramped up by swapping in a single-leg squat (a.k.a. a pistol squat). Functional movements like that one can improve balance through increased body awareness and control.
9. You'll never get bored.
It can be easy to get stuck in a workout rut of treadmills, bicep curls, lat pull-downs, and bench presses. That's why bodyweight training can be so refreshing: There are countless exercise variations that can spice up any workout routine. Working with a variety of exercises not only relieves boredom, it can also help break plateaus and spark further progress.
10. Mixing up your workout is easy.
Indoor excercise isn't for everyone. Luckily you can do these moves inside or outdoors, alone or with a group of friends. Think about adding some strength moves to your next park run, or finishing a swim session with a quick bodyweight circuit to keep things interesting.
11. It's free.
Gym memberships and boutique classes can quickly add up—but bodyweight training is free. Experts cite the low cost of bodyweight training as key to its rise in popularity.
12. It can help with injury prevention.
Injury is one of the main reasons people stop working out, so preventing those aches and pains should be a big priority. Bodyweight exercises are generally safe for any exerciser regardless of experience, age, or fitness level. Many simple bodyweight movements can actually be an effective option for rehabilitation, even for those with significant impairments. The effectiveness of body weight-supported gait training and floor walking in patients with chronic stroke. Peurala SH, Tarkka IM, Pitkänen K. Archives of physical medicine and rehabilitation, 2005, Sep.;86(8):0003-9993.
13. You'll see results.
Bodyweight exercises get results partly because they involve compound movements—meaning numerous joints and muscles are engaged in each move. Compound exercises such as push-ups and lunges have been shown to be extremely effective for strength gains and performance improvements. Kinetic analysis of several variations of push-ups. Ebben WP, Wurm B, VanderZanden TL. Journal of strength and conditioning research / National Strength & Conditioning Association, 2012, Feb.;25(10):1533-4287. Forward lunge: a training study of eccentric exercises of the lower limbs. Jönhagen S, Ackermann P, Saartok T. Journal of strength and conditioning research / National Strength & Conditioning Association, 2009, Aug.;23(3):1533-4287. And research shows improved core strength (see No. 5 above) translates to improved strength gains throughout the entire body. Effect of core strength on the measure of power in the extremities. Shinkle J, Nesser TW, Demchak TJ. Journal of strength and conditioning research / National Strength & Conditioning Association, 2012, May.;26(2):1533-4287.
While there's no universal "best" way to exercise for everyone, bodyweight movements offer lots of benefits, especially if you're new to resistance training. Whether you're at home, at the gym, or even in a hotel room, bodyweight training is one tool that can be helpful to all levels in every setting.
Originally published January 2013. Updated August 2015.