What Are Bodyweight Exercises?
When all you need is your body to work out, the workout is a little easier to start—that’s the beauty of bodyweight exercises. And, while they can be a little more complicated than that, the truth of the matter is that a bodyweight training exercise is any exercise that requires you to utilize your own body’s weight against gravity to create strength, endurance, flexibility, and balance. So, when asked, “What are bodyweight exercises?” You’ve already got the answer! But for those who wanna stick around for the nitty-gritty, we got more info for you here.
The Three Planes Of Motion
In everyday life, we are not often aware that our bodies are always working within three planes of motion: sagittal, frontal, and transverse. To break it down simply, those look a little something like this.
- Sagittal Motion: Forward and backward motions like running, walking, lunges, and jumps.
- Frontal Motion: Side-to-side movements like side bends, side shuffles, and ski-downs.
- Transverse Motion: Rotation movements like hip abductions, Russian twists, and forward planks with knees to opposite elbow.
It’s important, especially as we age, to gain and maintain strength in all of these planes so that we can hold our balance, move our bodies, and lift objects well into our golden years. Fortunately, you can do that with bodyweight strength training.
Four Important Types Of Exercise
And while the planes of motion matter greatly to how we can and should build our strength, there are four essential types of exercises to practice those. You may have noticed a quick mention of them a little earlier: strength, endurance, flexibility, and balance. To us, variety is the spice of life, and a well-rounded routine is the mortar and pestle that makes it possible. Even the CDC’s website lists that it is not just important but essential to build strength in these four categories, and while we aren’t writing an article about this alone (yet), we wanted to point out that you can do this with bodyweight workouts. Amazing! Right?
Right! But, how exactly?
Bodyweight Workouts For A Well-Rounded Routine
Sagittal Plane Bodyweight Workouts
To start, we will focus on the Sagittal plane and one bodyweight move to help with each of the four types of exercise. Remember, the sagittal plane is our forward and backward movement.
1 | Strength – Bodyweight Squat
The bodyweight squat is one of our favorite exercises to help build muscle. Your ROI (return on investment) with this workout is sky-high. It is an exercise that is simple to catch onto—notice we did not say “easy”—and that strengthens several of your muscles at once: core, hips, glutes, inner and outer thighs, calves, and hamstrings. Oh, and there are tons of variations, so you will never get bored. We have compiled 25 here alone. But for the example below, we will stick with your classic squat.
To do a bodyweight squat, stand with your feet hip-distance apart and your toes pointed slightly outward. With your weight towards the heels of your feet, begin bending your knees as if you were sitting in an imaginary chair. Stop when your knees are at 90-degrees with your chest up and spine neutral. From a squat, engage your core to stand back up in your starting position and repeat.
2 | Endurance – Run or Walk
It’s not like you need to reinvent the wheel here, either. Some exercises are popular because they work. And, with a run or walk outside or in your gym, you can take a look at all of the sights and sounds around you to keep your mind occupied and maybe even get into a state of meditation. Walking and running are some of our favorite sagittal bodyweight workouts because anyone can do them anywhere they are. Even if you need to walk or run in place, all you gotta do is start movin’!
3 | Flexibility – Hip Flexor Stretch
After your squats and a run, your hips will want a little TLC. First, stand with your feet hip-distance apart and slowly step straight backward with your right foot. As you do so, keep your front foot straight, allowing your foot to rotate up towards the sky as you step back. In the same movement, begin to stretch down toward your toes. Now, you may not reach your toes, and that is A-ok. The point here is to start to loosen up your muscles in your hip flexors, lower back, and even your calves. So, go as far down as you can, back up to start position, and try again. You can either do these as fluid movements, bobbing safely up and down, or holding the stretch stagnant as you would in a Yoga Yin practice. We love this video for its thorough description and visuals.
4 | Balance – Single Leg Lift
While all of the above exercises will strengthen your balance, the single-leg lift is sure to enhance your core strength and balance coordination even further. First, stand with your feet hip-distance apart and your hands on your hips. Begin to lift one foot in front of you as high as you can without falling, lower it back down until you are just about to touch the floor, and lift again. Don’t worry if you have to touch your toes down a few times as you get started. It can be a movement to get used to. As you continue to practice this exercise, you will notice that what started as a lift a few inches above the ground can become a full-on kick forward as your balance and coordination improve.
Frontal Plane Bodyweight Workouts
1 | Strength – Lateral Lunge
Lunges, much like squats, are a powerhouse move. And, when you add a little flare to them, like moving on your frontal (side to side) plane, they become that much more explosive. To do a lateral lunge, start with your feet hip-distance apart. With your weight in your heels, step to the right with your right foot bending your knee until it reaches 90 degrees. Push back up into your starting position and switch sides.
2 | Endurance – Jumping Jacks
We may not be in primary school anymore, but jumping jacks aren’t going anywhere. Start with your feet together and your core engaged. Jump out to about hip distance or wider. At hip-distance at the same time, swing your arms overhead, clapping (if you choose) at the top of your Jack. Jump nack to start position and continue.
3 | Flexibility – Standing Side Bend
We wanna get all of the kinks out of our side bodies and a side bend can work wonders. With your toes touching, draw your arms up with your hands meeting above your head. With your core engaged, begin to bend your body to the right. You will look like you are about to do a swan-dive into a pool. Go as far as you can while still engaging muscles but not collapsing into the pose.
4 | Balance – Lateral Leg Lifts
Similar to the leg lifts from our sagittal bodyweight exercises, we will want to stand with our feet together and hands on our hips. Instead of lifting your foot out in front of you, you will want to slowly lift it out to the side. Remember, lift as high as you can without having to put your foot down, slowly lower until your foot is just about to hit the ground, and continue to repeat ten times. Switch sides.
Transverse Plane Bodyweight Workouts
1 | Strength – Side Plank With Rotation
Planks fall beautifully into many categories as they build strength, balance, flexibility, and even endurance. But, for the sake of this article, we are placing them right here with the side plank with rotation. To do this, get into a side plank position: Elbow or hand on the ground with your body laying on the side and legs stacked below you. Lift your body by engaging your core muscles, and with your top arm, lift your arm up, and twist it down between your foundational arm or hand under your torso, rotating slowly and securely to keep proper form. Do ten reps and switch sides.
2 | Endurance – Squat (Jump) With Toe Touch
This explosive move will be sure to make you sweat. For this, you will be doing the squat as mentioned above, but instead of keeping your arms in front of you, you will want to reach down in front of your opposite toe. So, the right arm reaches in front of the right toe and vice versa. For a more advanced endurance exercise, jump out of the squat onto the other side. Complete for one minute or ten toe touches on each side.
3 | Flexibility – Twisting Lunge
Taking your lunge forward and twisting will help you work flexibility in your hips, lower back, side body, and more. To do so, step forward into a lunge with your left foot. Place your hand on the ground and reach the left arm up to the sky with your right hand. Your chest should be facing your lunged knee. Stay here for 10 seconds or longer, then switch sides.
4 | Balance – Hip Rotation
Standing with your feet together, lift one leg in front of you, bending your knee as if you would do a standing hip flexor stretch. Slowly rotate your leg to the outside of your body and back, trying not to touch the ground for stability (though you may need to as you get used to the movement). Repeat ten times and then switch sides.
This article barely scratches the surface of the world of bodyweight exercise. We have tons of resources on our website and iChuze Fitness for you to get started. We hope to see you at our locations with a well-rounded wellness routine that not only sends some TLC to your body but your mind and soul as well.