My top 5 best body weight exercises
Updated: Feb 27, 2021
by Dan Eiden
From left to right, top to bottom the exercises are split squats, chin ups, inverted rows, step ups and push ups.
Here is a list, in no particular order, of my top 5 best body weight exercises. One of the best things about these exercises is they can be done pretty much anywhere and with no equipment necessary. One could put together a great training program with just these exercises and get great results whether your goal is building muscle, fat loss or increasing strength. These exercises are all multi joint exercises as well. Multi joint exercise work multiple muscle groups or body parts and give you the most bang for your buck when exercising. These exercises all will expend a lot of energy which means more calories burned. They will also stimulate muscle building and fat burning mechanisms and hormones in the body and help ramp them up for hours after exercise for enhanced fat burning.
1) Split squats and or lunges = I have chosen split squats and lunges over regular squats because after a while doing just your body weight will be insufficient for most people as they will get too strong for them over time. With split squats and lunges (the only difference between the 2 exercises is split squats are done stationary with the feet not moving and lunges are done with the feet moving either stepping forward, back or laterally to the side) you are working predominantly one leg at time, although the other leg is always working some for stabilization. This makes the exercise more challenging and makes using even just body weight difficult enough for most people. A split squat and or lunge is a great exercise for many reasons. I already mentioned one of the things that makes it great is that it is a unilateral (one limb at a time) leg exercise but it is also a ground based leg exercise. Ground based leg exercises are done standing and tend to be the most challenging and most demanding leg exercises that you can do. It works the entire lower body including the major muscle groups like the quadriceps, hamstrings and glutes. There are also many variations of lunges and split squats such as step back lunges, lateral lunges, walking lunges and rear foot elevated split squats that allow for a lot of training variety.
2) Chin ups = If squats are the best lower body exercise then chin ups are the best upper body exercise. They work multiple muscle groups, require a lot of strength to lift the entire body weight up and down and expend a lot of energy (calorie burn). They can also be done almost anywhere. I used to do them at my parents house jumping up to grab the back of stairs from the 1st floor. I also did them just outside my apartment on the stairs going up to the 2nd floor during the quarantine this past year when the gyms were not an option. Many people have built a great physique on training programs built around chin ups and their variations.
3) Step ups = Step ups is another great multi joint, ground based leg exercise that works a lot of muscles, burns a lot of calories and gets a lot of bang for the buck when training. This is another exercise that can be done almost anywhere. You can use stairs, a bench, a stool or any other sturdy surface that allows you to step up onto it. During the quarantine this past year I used an in home stereo system that I had never used that was still in it's original box for step ups. Step ups also offer a lot of training variety as well as there are many variations such as lateral step ups and diagonal or 45 degree step ups. Step ups work the entire lower body including the major muscle groups like the quadriceps, hamstrings and glutes.
4) Push ups = Push ups may be the most popular and well known body weight exercise there is and for good reason. They can be done anywhere, work a lot of muscles and can by done by anyone of any age or fitness level. Like the other exercises mentioned there are many variations of push ups that can be done to add training variety, add progressions and regressions in a training program and to continue to challenge even the most fit individual. Push ups are great for the core (glutes and abdominals), chest, shoulders and triceps as well as less trained body parts like the serratus anterior and pectoralis minor which are muscles involved and needed for healthy movement around your scapula (shoulder blades).
5) Inverted rows = Inverted rows are basically the exact opposite motion of a push up. Instead of pushing yourself away from the ground or the bar (in the case of a incline push up) you are pulling yourself towards the bar. This is what is referred to as a horizontal pulling moving. Horizontal pulling movements work the mid back muscles between the shoulder blades (rhomboids and trapezius 2 fibers), the shoulders and biceps. Just like with the push up inverted rows work the core of the body to stabilize and control your body. Also like the push up they can be done by anyone of any age or fitness level by progressing or regressing the exercise (the higher the bar or incline level and more vertical to the ground you are the easier the exercise). There are also many variations to inverted rows to allow continuous training progress and variety.