17 Bodyweight Exercises for Optimum Strength and Conditioning

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Anyone that knows me knows that I love to throw a barbell around.  Lifting weight is my sanctuary.  There is something to be said about being able to move your bodyweight though.

The strength required to perform high skill bodyweight exercises is not to be underestimated.  Not only that, you can actually get pretty jacked without any additional resistance.

One of the biggest ironies in the fitness industry is that there seems to be these ongoing futile attempts to create “revolutionary” exercises but bodyweight training still remains to this day to be one of the most effective training methods and it requires virtually no equipment whatsoever!  Go figure.

Some of the main benefits of bodyweight training include:

  • Little to no equipment required – leaves little to no excuse to get off your ass and move.
  • Less stress on the joints and connective tissues – weight training can take it’s toll after a while if you’re not careful.
  • You can build strength and muscle – simply by choosing exercises that maximize time under tension and force you to move a large percentage of your bodyweight, you can get some pretty impressive results.

Here are 17 bodyweight exercises for optimum strength and conditioning:

1. Chinup/Pullups – Disputably the best back exercise you can do.  You can mix up your grip to hit your biceps and forearms more as well.  Strict, weighted, or kipping, it just depends on your goals but I’m a fan of all variations.

2. Pushups – It doesn’t get any more basic than this.  The variations are endless too – clap pushups, ring pushups, decline pushups, the list goes on and on.  Mastering the pushup is a must if you want to become a bodyweight ninja.

3. Rope climbs – A true test of athleticism, rope climbs build your grip and lat strength in a hurry.  If you really want to spice things up, you can go legless.  Focus on a controlled descent to maximize your strength gains.

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4. Dips – Next to the bench press, this is your best bet for chest and tricep development.  Straight bar dips are great for focusing a pure strength whereas ring dips will challenge your stability a bit more.  You can put more focus on your triceps by keeping a more vertical torso throughout or use more chest by leaning forward on the way down.

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5. Burpees – Oh yes! I can’t talk about bodyweight training without mentioning burpees.  As the king of conditioning exercises, the burpee needs no explanation.  Try 10 on the minute for 8 minutes next time you need a quick finisher for one of your workouts.

6. Split Jumps – When it comes to plyometrics, split jumps could be one of the most lethal variations.  Quads and glutes are main victims here.  These are an excellent way to mix up your lower body training.  3-4 sets of 20 reps will do the job.

7. Hanging Leg Raises – If you’re sick of situps, give this one a try.  A more advanced core exercise but an effective one nonetheless.  Full body strength is required to perform this exercise with proper control.  Try to keep your legs as straight as possible throughout and bring your legs down under control to keep tension your core throughout the movement.  If you’re more athletic, the kipping variation is also a great option if you want to do higher reps and increase the intensity.

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8. Inverted Rows – This exercise works wonders for upper back strength development.  If your chinups aren’t that strong yet, this is a great place to start.  Ideally, you want to keep your body as straight as possible and focus on squeezing your shoulder blades together at the top of the movement.   Being able to perform this exercise with a perfectly horizontal body position with your feet elevated is the goal.

9. Handstand Pushups – Who says you can’t build big, strong shoulders without lifting weights? This exercise will definitely build your core strength as well as shock the shit out of your shoulders.  Maintaining a tight plank position is the key.  If you’re new to this, try handstand holds first – hold yourself in the lockout position for 10-15 seconds at a time to build your stabilizers.

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10. Box Jumps – I’ve always said that power development is the missing link in most people’s training.  The box jump does exactly that.  The primary benefits come from being quick and explosive off the ground onto the box.  If you aren’t as athletic or have achy joints, then stepping down from each jump is a good consolation.

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11. Sprinting – Did I mention that power development was the missing link in most people’s training?  When people think of bodyweight training they definitely don’t mention sprinting.  One of the most natural expressions of athleticism, sprinting will get you jacked and turn you into a metabolic furnace.  Hill sprints, parachute sprints, or just straight up sprints will trump 5km jogs any day of the week.  Incorporate sprints into your training at 1-2 days per week to shed fat and get chiseled.

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12. Lateral Jumps – Unless you play sports on a regular basis, you most likely never move laterally.  This is a great way to  mix things up and test your athleticism.  Again, the focus is to be quick off the ground and move under control.

13. Muscle ups – We can all thank Crossfit for making this exercise popular.  Whether you use a bar or rings, this exercise requires skill and upper body strength.  A combination of pulling and pushing puts the muscle up among the best upper body exercises.  Definitely not for the novice but an excellent exercise for those that are stronger and more athletic.

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14. Pistol Squats – If you want to take your lower body training to the next level, the pistol squat is the way to go. Strength, mobility, and stability are needed for this exercise.  If you struggle with getting full range of motion, you can hold a light dumbell or kettlebell to counter balance your weight.

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15. Glute/Ham Raise – The ultimate posterior chain exercise.  You can use a glute/ham machine, have someone hold your feet, or anchor your feet under a heavy barbell.  Start with negatives if you’re new to this exercise or try 6-8 full reps if you’re more advanced. 3-4 sets will get the job done.

16. L-Sit – As far as tests of core strength go, the L-sit ranks among the best.  Start with 5-10 second holds and try to add 5-10 seconds to build up your strength.  Try to work up to 30 second holds for 3-4 sets.  This one will bulletproof your midsection.

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17. Lunges – The lunge is excellent for quad and glute development as well as opening up the hips.  Walking lunges, elevated lunges or just static lunges are all great variations.  The development hip and knee stability make this exercise a great accessory to the squat as well.

These are just a few of the best bodyweight exercises you can do to optimize your strength and conditioning.  You can work these into your regular strength training program or do them as a stand alone bodyweight training program.

For bigger guys, you might find some of these movements more challenging but I highly recommend incorporating them into your training even at low reps (6-12) to offset all of the heavy lifting you may do.  Your body will thank you for it in the long run.

Good luck and keep lifting!

Isaac Payne

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