Many people into weightlifting think that bodyweight exercises are below them, or a waste of time–that you’ll never be able to build any real muscle or strength with them.
Once you hit a certain level of strength, it can seem like basic exercises like crunches and push-ups are below you.
But no matter how jacked you are, you can use bodyweight exercises to challenge your body in new ways, and even increase muscle strength and endurance. A good bodyweight workout routine is a very time- and cost-effective way to build a strong, aesthetic physique.
So, let’s get to some of the best bodyweight exercises that are worth working into your routines.
Dragon Flags are a deceptively hard core exercise, and a particularly great way to target your lower abs.
They are done by grabbing onto a bench with the arms at a 45-degree angle, but it’s toughest with your arms kept straight with the tips of the elbows pointing up.
To start, grab onto a buddy’s ankles or a vertical pole. From shoulderstand position, isolate movement of the feet first while keeping the hips up as high as possible. Not only does that take a ton of core strength, but by straightening the arms you’ll also challenge your triceps.
First, work on slowly lowering until your body is hovering horizontal an inch above the ground. After you master that, turn your attention to lifting back up with just as much control.
The Muscle Up is one of the hardest bodyweight exercises you can do for your upper body.
It’s essential a pull-up followed by a dip, and gymnasts use it to go from below a sets of rings or bar to above a set of rings or bar. You might be able to do pull-ups and dips fairly easily, but transitioning between the two takes a surprising amount of strength and coordination.
The key to nailing the transition is getting your shoulders (your weight) directly over your hands, which is accomplished by pulling yourself up and then leaning forward. As you get stronger, you won’t need to hit the transition as cleanly, and it will become a pull-up directly into a triceps pushdown.
It’s not easy to target those deep core muscles, but V-Ups will give you no choice. If you’ve ever tried to hold boat pose in a yoga class, this will feel familiar.
Start out lying on the ground with your hands above your head. Your heels and shoulders will be lifted off the ground about 1 inch and your arms will stay above your head. Crunch up into a V shape (pike) and lower back down with control.
To increase the difficulty, move slowly and hold at the halfway point for 15 seconds.
Whenever a bodyweight exercise gets too easy, you can make it harder by adding or subtracting a limb.
In the case of squats, you can double the weight load by taking away one leg. It is also a great way to work on flexibility and mobility for barbell squatting.
This is a major test of balance as well as strength, but holding your arms out straight provides some counterbalance. For more assistance, hold a weight.
For a greater challenge, clasp your hands behind your back.
Skin the Cat is a great way to work the shoulders, back, chest, and abs, this move can be completed on a pull-up bar, rings, or aerial apparatus like silks or straps.
Start inverted underneath the bar with legs tucked in, and slowly rotate through and lower your feet toward the ground. It takes practice, but with time you can lower all the way down and come back by rotating the shoulders.
Once you achieve full rotation, straighten one leg, and then finally work with both legs straight.
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The Back Lever is similar to the Skin the Cat movement.
Before you hit the bottom of the Skin the Cat rotation, stop with your tailbone flat. Kick out one leg at a time as slowly as possible, careful to keep it parallel to the ground. This is where a gym buddy can help spot you, either by guiding you to a horizontal position or by holding your feet.
There are a lot of great variations on push-ups – three point, wide stance, diamond – but hardest of all is the handstand, which makes use of your full body weight, and blasts your shoulders.
Unless you can already perform stable handstands, start with your feet against the wall, or with a friend holding them.
Just kidding. Kipping is fail. Enjoy the video.