Exercise, Fitness
best bodyweight exercises

23 Fitness Experts Share The Most Effective Bodyweight Exercises

Most people are skeptical when I tell them I build my muscle through bodyweight exercises. And I understand why……The media has led them to believe lifting heavy weights is the only way to build muscle and get strong.

Well….that’s not true. You can build muscle and strength with bodyweight exercises alone. But don’t expect much if you are only doing a few push ups and sit ups. To see great results, you have to do the best bodyweight exercises.

To find out the most effective bodyweight exercises, I asked 23 calisthenics enthusiasts this question:

What are your top 5 bodyweight exercises for building muscle and strength?

Discover the best bodyweight exercises for muscle and strength according to fitness experts

And I got an overwhelming response. Here is a list of the contributors (in alphabetical order).

The-best-bodyweight-exercises-according-to-experts

Al Kavadlo, Alex Zinchenko, Brad Gouthro, Brian Schiff, Chad Howse, Daniel Vadnal

Danny Kavadlo, Greg O’Gallagher, James Bathurst, Jerome Fitness, Krista Stryker

Logan Christopher, Nia Shanks, Nick Anton, Nick Janvier, Nick Nilsson

Oskar Faarkrog, Ryan Hurst, Travis Stoetzel, Tyler Bramlett, Vic Magary, Will owen, Willy Weldens

Below, is what each expert had to say.

Al-KavadloAl Kavadlo

Al is one of the world’s leading experts in bodyweight strength training and calisthenics. Visit his website to learn more about his work. You may also want to check out his Facebook page and follow him on Twitter.

 Here is what he had to say:

I gotta tell you, it’s tough to pick just 5, since there are a lot of great bodyweight exercises out there. It’s also worth noting that my picks are all scalable to various fitness levels. For example, advanced trainees can do pistol squats instead of regular ones.

With that being said, here’s my top 5:

Squat

Push-up

Pull-up

Back Bridge

Hanging Leg Raise.

Al's-tweet

Alex-ZinchenkoAlex Zinchenko

Alex is a strength teacher and an athlete, an independent fitness writer, and the author of RoughStrength.com. Here is his Facebook page, don’t forget to follow him on Twitter.

 Below, is what he said:

According to my recent experiments, the best exercises for building muscle and general strength are the ones that have the simplest movement patterns and can be the most progressive intensity-wise. Pure bodyweight training won’t give you the opportunity for using such exercises, thus it is reasonable to talk about weighted calisthenics here. My top 5 picks would be:

– Weighted Dips

– Weighted Chin-Ups

– Wall-Assisted Handstand Push-Ups (we’re talking about full range of motion here)

– Weighted Lunges or Step-Ups

– Glute-Ham Raises

These exercises can be combined into a good program. However, I would advise to add Deadlifts, Swings, or Snatches to the mix.

If you insist on using purely calisthenics, then I would go with these five:

– Muscle-Ups

– Progression to the One-Arm Chin-Up

– Wall-Assisted Handstand Push-Ups (we’re talking about full range of motion here)

– Pistols

– Glute-Ham Raises

Alex's-tweet

Brad-GouthroBrad Gouthro

Brad is the host of Lean Live Tv, he has been featured on top magazines and websites. Follow him on Twitter and find him on Facebook.

 In his own words:

  1. Bodyweight Squats: knees at 90 degrees or use a bench to tap
  2. Jump Squats: knees at 90 degrees or use a bench to tap
  3. Push Ups: chest to the ground (If you can’t do 10 push ups:beginner modification:incline push ups with hands on bench)
  4. Clapping Push Ups:chest to the ground to hands off ground (If you can’t do 10 push ups:beginner modification: incline push ups with hands on bench)
  5. Pull Ups:full hang to chin over bar (If you can’t do 10 pull ups:beginner modification: inverted rows)

Brad's-tweet

Brian-SchiffBrian Schiff

Brian , PT, OCS, CSCS is a licensed physical therapist, board certified orthopaedic clinical specialist, strength and conditioning coach, author, industry speaker, and educator. Check out his website and follow him on Twitter.

 Here is what he had to say:

Top 5 Bodyweight Exercises

  1. Single leg squats – builds lower body strength, addresses limb asymmetries, increases dynamic balance, facilitates ankle mobility and helps prevent knee injuries
  2. Single leg RDL – again builds lower body strength, improves HS mobility, demands neutral spine alignment and core stability
  3. Pull-ups – develops upper body posterior chain strength, targets rotator cuff and scapular stabilizers,
  4. Close grip push-ups – develops upper body anterior chain strength and with narrow feet or single foot it also requires greater trunk stability
  5. Diagonal mountain climber with hip extension – big bang for your buck pillar exercise that also works on hip disassociation (see description below as I featured this in PFP a while ago)

Begin in a tall plank position.  The hands should be beneath the shoulders with the feet on the floor and shoulder width apart.  Slowly bring the left knee/hip under the body and toward the right elbow.  Pause at the end point prior to losing form or control.

Next, return the left leg toward the start position and up into full hip extension in one continuous movement.  Pause at the top end of available hip extension and repeat the cycle for 10 repetitions or time on the same leg.  Alternate legs and perform 2-3 sets on each side.

This exercise is an excellent way to promote shoulder, core and hip stability while facilitating hip disassociation as well.  Driving the hip back up into extension will activate the gluteals and simultaneously force the stable (fixed) hip to stabilize the pelvis and counterbalance the movement pattern.

In addition, the client will have to effectively activate the hip and abdominal musculature throughout to avoid unwanted pelvic tilt/rotation during the movement.  This will improve pillar strength and is an effective way to train rotational strength and stability with the leg driving the motion.

Brian's-tweet

chad-howseChad Howse

Chad is the creator of Chad Howse Fitness. He will teach you how to transform your body, become legendary and how become an alpha male. Like his Facebook page and follow him on Twitter.

In his own words:

  1. Push ups.

We don’t do enough push-ups anymore, no matter how advanced we are in our training they should be in our routine even if they’re in our morning routine.

  1. Pull-ups

They’re the best bodyweight exercise there is.

  1. Dips

They help increase your bench press, chest size and traps size. They’re awesome.

  1. Split squat

You can never get too strong for a single leg bodyweight squat.

  1. Roll outs.

In my mind they’re the best abs exercise around

tweet-chad

Daniel-VadnalDaniel Vadnal

Daniel is very passionate about bodyweight training and he’s always pursuing excellence in his discipline. Check out his popular Youtube channel, his website and like his Facebook page.

 Here are his top 5:

Handstand
Pullup
Hanging leg lift
Squat
Planche

Daniel's-tweet

Danny-KavadloDanny Kavadlo

Danny is one of the world’s foremost authorities on calisthenics, nutrition and personal training. To see his work and products, visit his website. Check out his Facebook page and Youtube channel.

 In his own words:

My Top 5 Bodyweight Strength Moves:

SQUAT- You ain’t strong if you don’t have strong legs. Period. The squat is the most basic and fundamental bodyweight exercise there is. Back in my day, a lot of guys overlooked leg training. I am happy to see that the trend is coming to an end. Squat or rot.

PUSH-UP- The Push-Up is the definitive upper body strength move. As a kid I remember having push-up contests with my brothers on an almost daily basis. The more things change, the more they stay the same…

PULL-UP- The ultimate back exercise, BAR NONE. There is no substitute for the almighty pull-up.

HANDSTAND PUSH-UP- This one is less basic than the others, but I am including it because it requires more raw strength than anything else on this list. For body-weight shoulder training, the handstand push-up is king of the castle.

DIP- Dips are very underrated. They produce more raw strength and power than a lot of the flashier moves out there. Dips are the unsung heroes of bodyweight training.

Danny's-tweet

Greg-O'GallagherGreg O’Gallagher

Greg is the creator of Kinobody. Kinobody is about transforming your physique and living the life of your dreams. Check out his youtube channel and Facebook page.

 Here are his top 5 exercises:

Full Range Handstand Push ups (hands on parrallel bars or blocks)

Assisted One Arm Chin ups (non working hand holding a towel)

Pistol Squats

One Arm Push ups

Muscle ups

Greg's-tweet

 beast-skiilllJames Bathurst

Jim has a diverse background in the field of physical fitness. He is the creator of Beast Skills, a website that deals with bodyweight strength. Like his Facebook page and follow him on Twitter.

Top 5 bodyweight exercises –

  1. Chin-up

Nothing can come close to comparison for building up the arms and back. When it gets too easy, you can move on to harder variations such as the one arm chin-up.

  1. Handstand push-up

We could list the handstand push-up or the dip on this one. Both are phenomenal for building pushing strength in the upper body. The handstand push-up has the advantage of moving the scapula in the opposite direction of the chin-up.

  1. One legged squat

I prefer barbells for the lower body, but the one legged squat is a challenge and will do in a pinch.

  1. Hollow body rock

People often do endless crunches, yet can’t hold a hollowbody for 20 seconds. Great for midsection stability and the rock challenges you to control your whole body.

  1. Handstand

Builds strength in the hands, wrists, and forearms. It is a staple in gymnastics and is a great challenge to overcome.

Tweet-jim

Jerome-FitnessJerome Fitness

Jerome has created a great resource for nutrition, flexibility and fitness. Visit Jerome Fitness and connect with him on Facebook and Twitter.

 Here are his top 5 bodyweight exercises:

Number 5: Squats
Despite the fact that working out your legs is very important, I give the body weight squat a 5th place. It’s difficult to get a real challenge for your legs with body weight training only. The pistol squat is a good example of a more challenging exercise for the legs using body weight only, but it’s still not quite as hard as performing a squat with a lot of weight on your shoulders. For me the body weight squat is mostly used as a warm up before I do my stretching. In that case I do slow and deep squats, which I always recommend doing anyways, with or without weights.

Number 4: Hanging Leg Raise Push Out
This is something I have came up with on my own, which is probably why I don’t know a decent name for it. The abdominal exercise I’m talking about is performed as follows. While hanging on a pull up bar you raise your legs until they touch the bar. So it’s a full leg raise with one thing different: the push out. When you’ve reached the bar with your toes you push your hips out so you are kind of hanging upside down on the bar. The extra push you have to give with your hips makes a lot of difference in how advanced the exercise is. A good second and third are the hanging leg raise (so without the push out) and hanging knee raises.

Number 3: Knuckle hip push ups
I’m not sure how exactly they are called or what the official name is, but I call them ‘knuckle hip push ups’. It’s a push up on your knuckles where your hands are placed near the hips. This makes the exercise a lot harder as the hands are at or near the center of your body, giving your arms a bigger load to move. Great to develop your chest, triceps, shoulders, abdominals, back and even legs.

Number 2: Hindu push ups
The hindu push up is one of the best exercises in my opinion as it targets one of the harder to train muscles with body weight only: the shoulders. Handstand push ups are obviously a good choice for this too, but I tend to get headaches when doing handstand push ups and I find it an uncomfortable position. Modified handstand push ups or pike push ups work similar and I get less of a headache while doing them, but it still isn’t very comfortable. Besides, hindu push ups are more fun to do in my humble opinion and they are more difficult than pikes or modified handstand push ups. Besides shoulders you’ll also target your triceps, back, abdominals and a little bit of chest too.

Number 1: Pull Ups
It’s definitely one of the basic exercises, but there aren’t many people who can do this exercise. Ask someone to do a push up and most people will be able to show something that at least gets close to a push up. However, asking someone to pull their own body weight up on a bar is a completely different story. There are various variations on the pull up and my personal favorite is the wide grip pull up. There’s not much difference regarding the muscles that are targetted. A normal or close grip pull up for example, target your lattisimus dorsi, the same muscle that is primarily used for a wide pull up. The wide grip variation does allow you to focus more on your back though, as it’s difficult to utilise your bicep muscles when doing a wide pull up.

Jerome's-Tweet

Krista-StrykerKrista Stryker

Krista is the founder of 12 Minute Athlete, a blog that teaches how to get fit in the shortest time possible and without using equipment. Find her on Facebook and Twitter

 Here are her top 5 bodyweight exercises:

Pull ups

Handstand push ups

Triceps dips

Pistol squats

L-sits

Krista-tweet

Logan-ChristopherLogan Christopher

Logan is the owner of Legendary Strength. He will teach you everything about hand balancing, bodyweight training and kettlebells. Subscribe to his youtube channel and check out his Facebook page.

 His top 5 bodyweight exercises:

Handstand Pushups

While pushups are great, and possibly better for mass building as they use the chest a bit more, handstand pushups are my favorite for strength as you’re basically lifting your full bodyweight overhead. Of course, there are progressions and regressions for this exercise to make it suitable for most anybody.

Pullups

It’s a classic. While the handstand pushup works the pushing muscles of the upper body, the pullup does the opposite, hitting the pulling muscles like the back and biceps. Simple yet effective.

Hill Sprints

When it comes to bodyweight exercise I have to put hill sprints over squats because they do so much. They’re probably the best exercise for releasing growth hormone, which in turn can help you to build muscle. They’re awesome for conditioning and that explosive strength can be carried over to so much else.

Hanging Leg Raise

You can’t forget the abs. While there are many great ab exercises I think the hanging leg raise and its many variations are among the top. It’s not going to be a big mass builder but it will get you strong in a way that carries over into a whole lot else.

Bridging

Since I only had five to choose from I round out the list with bridging exercises. Both the neck and hand bridges, also known as wrestler and gymnast respectively, are great but for different reasons. Many people neglect the neck so working on the wrestler’s bridge can shore up that weakness. I know personally it also helped transform me from a pencil neck. But it also does much more than work the neck. The whole body is involved.

Logan's-Tweet

Nia-ShanksNia Shanks

Nia has a no nonsense approach to fitness and nutrition, she’ll teach you how to become the most awesome and strongest version of yourself. Check out her blog. Also follow her on Facebook and Twitter

 In her own words:

I love bodyweight exercises because there are numerous progressions for all, from easier to more advanced.

Handstand push-ups and variations

Pull-up variations

Single leg squats to a box

Push-up variations

Inverted row variations

Single leg hip thrust variations

That’s six and not five, but they’re my favorite because they allow you to hit every muscle in the body.

Nia's-Tweet

Nick-AntonNick Anton

Nick runs All Things Strength. On his blog, he shares his passion for training, everything that worked for him and all the resources that helped him become stronger. Follow him on Facebook.

 Here are his top 5:

#1. The Bridge

This is my favorite exercise. I really enjoy the feeling of stretching and opening my abs and chest.

I like to train mostly static holds after my workouts, but sometimes I try different ways to get in and

out of the static position.

#2. One Arm Push Ups

This is one of the first advanced movements I accomplished (following “Naked Warrior”) and it is by far my favorite pushing exercise.

#3. Hill Sprinting

This is my go-to exercise for conditioning, when I have hill in close proximity. This is a great exercise for leg strength,

explosiveness and mental toughness.

#4. Wheel Roll Outs

This is my favorite core exercise. Basically, I really enjoy this movement because I put a lot of effort to accomplish it.

#5.  Pull ups

I enjoy training with pull ups GTG style. Most of the times I use various tools to challenge my grip (like fat grips, ropes, etc).

Other than this 5 exercises, I really enjoy training for new movements. Currently, I am progressing toward the front lever and focusing on perfecting my handstand.

Nick's-tweet

Nick-JanvierNick Janvier

Nick is the creator of Start Bodyweight, a free strength training program based on a tried-and-tested system of bodyweight progressions. Don’t forget to like his Facebook page.

  In his own words:

Your question is a difficult one to answer, as my recommendation for the top 5 bodyweight exercises is entirely dependent on the athlete’s current level of strength and fitness. For most though, I would suggest exercises which are as progressive as possible, and the difficulty of which can be adapted.

For this reason only, and because the following possess many variations which can suit different levels of ability, my list would be:

  1. bodyweight squats leading to one leg squats – the only trully progressive lower body bodyweight exercise
  2. pull ups – from assisted pull ups to one arm pull ups
  3. dips – I include them here as a chest and triceps exercise rather than push ups, as they have more of a direct carry over to advanced execises such as muscle ups
  4. horizontal pulls, and all their variations – an awesome back exercise which also really engages the core in its advanced variations (front lever rows).
  5. handstand push ups – a great shoulder exercise. However, for most they might prove too difficult which is why I recommend pike push ups, in order to progressively lead to them.

Nick's-tweet

Nick-NilssonNick Nilsson

Nick has created a handful of successful products on fitness and building muscle. Visit his website to see his work. Remember to connect with him on Facebook and Youtube

  In his own words:

You bet!  I’ve got a good list for those that cover all the major muscle groups.

  1. Elevated Pistol Squats.  There are the standard Pistol done elevated on a bench or Step riser so the floor doesn’t interfere with the front leg.  The benefit of the elevation is that it makes the exercise more accessible to perform for more people.  You’re not limited by flexibility or hip flexor strength on the front leg. It’s also easier to balance.
  1. Chin-Ups.  This is the single best bodyweight back and bicep exercise you can do.  In terms of focus, to hit the lats more, lean back and puff the chest out as you come up. To hit biceps more, keep the torso vertical and keep chest flat.
  1. One-Arm Bench Push-Ups.  These are done with one arm on a bench out to the side like an outrigger.  Normal push-ups are excellent but don’t provide enough resistance to build a lot of muscle.  This puts all the focus on one side pec, increasing the resistance by a larger factor.
  1. Handstand Push-Ups.  These can be done with the feet against a wall for balance.  To increase difficulty, set hands on handles for elevation and greater range of motion.  To make them easier, you can do these in a pike position (waist bent 90 degrees) with your feet on a bench.  This takes up some of your bodyweight and makes balancing easier.
  1. Bodyweight Tricep Extensions – these are done with the hands set on a low bar, body slightly bent at the waist and mostly horizontal. feet set back about 4 feet or so. Then, you bend only at the elbows, ducking the head under the bar in a tricep extension pattern.  This one is really more of an isolation exercise for triceps, but it does build MASSIVE triceps once you start working with more challenging variations, i.e.feet back further, bar lower, then moving to feet elevated.  You can start putting tremendous loud under enormous stretch on the triceps as you get stronger with this one.  It hits the core very effectively as well.

Nick's-tweet

Oskar-FaarkrogOskar Faarkrog

Oskar is an ISSA Certified Personal Trainer and he created Skinny-Fat Transformation to help skinny-fat guys to transform their physique. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook.

 Here are his top 5:

  1. Muscle up > Trains entire upper body.
  2. Handstand push up > Trains shoulders, upper chest and triceps.
  3. Chin up > Trains back, rear shoulders and biceps.
  4. Diamond push up with feet elevated on a bench > Trains triceps, front shoulders and chest.
  5. Pistol squats > Train legs.

Oskar's-tweet

Ryan-HurstRyan Hurst

Ryan is the program director at Gold Medal Bodies. He has many years of experience in strength and movement coaching – he makes sure that everything we do puts health first and gets results. Follow GMB on Twitter and Facebook

 Here are his top 5 exercises:

  1. Pullup
    The best way to build upper body pulling strength with minimal equipment, and it creates a foundation for more challenging bodyweight skills such as front levers, human flags, and muscle-ups.
  2.  Hollow Body Hold
    It’s a simple position, but yields so much benefit. If you haven’t tried it before, give it a shot and you’ll see just how challenging it is. The key is keeping the low back glued to the ground the entire time.
  3.  L -Sit
    It engages the upper body, which has to support your weight, the core, which works hard to keep your body upright, and the legs, which must be locked out completely throughout the hold.
  4. Pistol Squat
    The pistol squat displays a very good level of hip and ankle flexibility as well as lower body strength, balance, and coordination.
  5. Handstand
    Handstand training encourages flexible shoulders, a tighter core, stronger legs, butt, and back.

Ryan's-tweet

Travis-StoetzelTravis Stoetzel

Travis has a hardcore approach to training. Check out his website to learn more about his aggressive strength training. Like his Facebook page and follow him on Twitter

 Here are his top 5 exercises:

Handstand Push Ups

EROM Push Ups – Suspended / Ring Push Ups

Rope Climbs

Chest To Bar Pull Ups

Bar or Ring Muscle Ups

travis-tweet

Tyler Bramlett 

Tyler-ByrTyler aka The Garage Warrior, he will teach you everything you need to know about nutrition, building muscle and strength. Read his blog and follow him on twitter and Facebook.

His top 5 bodyweight exercises:

Pull-ups
One leg squats (pistols)
Handstand push-ups
One arm push-ups
Bridge push-ups

tyler-tweet

Vic-MagaryVic Magary

 Vic is a U.S army veteran who has been helping people lose weight and get fit since 2001. Check out his blog to see his work and products. Don’t forget to connect with him on twitter and Facebook.

Top 5 bodyweight exercises for building muscle and strength:

Squat

Lunge

Push up

Dip

Pull up

If you would have given me 6, I would have added the inverted row so there would be two lower body exercises, two upper body pushing exercises, and two lower body pulling exercises.  These are foundational exercises that can be scaled to nearly any fitness level.

Vic's-Tweet

Will-owenWill Owen

Will helps people get in shape while they travel. Whether you’re backpacking your way around the world, spending a week or two away with family, or on a business trip, he will help you! Check out his blog and connect with him on Facebook and Twitter

 In his own words:

Here are my top 5 bodyweight exercises for building muscle and strength:

  1. Squat(s)

I’m going to cheat a little bit here and include all squatting variations – everything from air squats to pistols. There isn’t really a ‘one-size-fits-all’ squat, especially when it comes to training with your bodyweight. I think it’s better to find a squat that is tailored to your current strength, anatomy, and goals. One of my favorites is the rear foot elevated split squat (sometimes called a Bulgarian split squat).

2. Chin-Up

I’m a fan of both chin-ups and pull-ups using a variety of different grips. They all have their individual merits and each are extremely effective exercises. I like chin-ups (palms facing you) in particular because they take you through a larger range of motion and are a little easier for beginners than pull-ups (palms facing away) – plus there’s no better way of training your biceps!

  1. Glute Bridge

Yes, they look a little silly and seem pretty easy. But when people try to do glute bridges correctly they often run into problems (like using their hamstrings instead of their glutes). There’s lots of ways to make this exercise more challenging, too. You can do them on a single-leg, or put your shoulders on the edge of a couch to increase the range of motion.

  1. Push-Up

Just about everyone has attempted a push-up at one time or another, but attempting one and doing one correctly are different matters. When they’re done right, push-ups are an amazing full-body exercise and a lot more challenging than people think. When the basic variation has been mastered, you can continue to challenge yourself with countless variations all the way up to the one-arm push-up!

  1. Hollow Body Hold

The hollow body hold is great because it can easily be modified to accommodate everyone from beginners to seasoned athletes. It’s an important exercise because it gives you the strength to perform so many other movements like hanging leg-raises, levers, and handstands. It should be part of everyone’s routine (I incorporate it into my warm-ups).

Will's-tweet

Willy-WeldensWilly Weldens

Willy is the Guinness world record holder for the most consecutive ninety degree push ups. Check out his website and like his Facebook page.

 In his own words:

There too, difficult thing to choose.

For me, my 5 favorite exercises are push-ups, but beware, a lot of push-ups, when burn arm must continue. The traction on high bar, I love. Always on the bar I love doing abdominal, legs and feet stretched spikes, your feet should touch the bar at your hands, and so on.

I run for the thighs, five kilometers every morning as fast as possible and jumped rope, about 30 minutes. The planch on the balance in hand on the floor that is perfect for sheathing. And my favorite exercise are push-ups 90 degrees is the hardest exercise as it takes practice but is very effective and works on a lot of muscle. Always practice these exercises slowly, it’s helpful.

Willy's-tweet

Final Word

There you have it, the best bodyweight exercises for building muscle and strength. In case you can’t do some of these exercise, start with easier variations and keep progressing.

I would also like to share with you my top 5 bodyweight exercises:

Handstand Push ups. Hanging leg raises. Pull ups (different variations). Pistol squats. Bridging

I would also like to know your top 5.

What are your top 5 bodyweight exercises for building muscle and strength? Leave a comment below.


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2 Comments


  1. Matt

    June 15, 2015 at 4:26 am

    Great list! I see the handstand push up is getting a lot of votes. The problem is being upside down is hard for me, what should I do?

    • Brian Syuki

      June 15, 2015 at 7:49 am

      Hey Matt,
      It would be a good I idea to start with easier shoulder-strengthening exercises. The pike push ups will be a great start https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WyKO0SjQxrQ
      Being upside down can be uncomfortable, especially for beginners….just practice regularly, until you get used to it.

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