Seems like it should be easy — being able to move your body around in space — but anyone who has ever tried to do a dead-hang pull-up can attest to the fact that, no matter what you weigh, bodyweight exercises are among the hardest around. They are also some of the most adaptable, and you can create a kick-ass workout with only your personal collection of 37 trillion cells and some gumption.
Most bodyweight workouts contain some kind of lunge, squat or explosive plyometric movement. However, not everyone can (or wants to) perform these moves because of injury or mobility limitations.
These 15 compound moves work for any level of fitness participant, are 100 percent non-impact and are as knee- and lumbar-friendly as possible. First, become proficient at the two Moves to Master, then when you’re ready, take aim at the Goal Move. Though these moves are grouped specifically into trios for this article, each move on its own is awesome, so mix and match the different variations according to your druthers. Need ideas? Check out the sample bodyweight workout chart.
Moves to Master: Bear Squat
Level 1: Bear Balance
Photography by Cory Sorensen
Start: Get on all fours with your hands underneath your shoulders and your knees underneath your hips. Turn your toes under and press down into the floor with your hands and toes to lift your knees off the ground so your shins are parallel with the floor. Your head should be neutral, core braced, back straight.
Action: Hold here as you lift one hand and your opposite foot off the floor an inch or two, then replace. Continue, alternating sides.
Level 2: Bear Crawl
Start: Same as the bear balance.
Action: Now when you lift your hand and opposite foot, take a step forward, keeping your core engaged and your back straight. Also, try moving backward, laterally or in a circle, and go for distance, time or reps.
Goal Move: Bear Squat
Start: Same as the bear balance.
Action: Bend your knees and lower your glutes to touch your heels. Then quickly explode up and forward, straightening your legs and lifting your hips toward the sky as you shift your weight over your hands. Lower to the start and go right back into the next rep.
Moves to Master: Log Roll
Step 1: Hollow Body Hold
Lie faceup with your arms and legs extended. Press your lower back into the floor and brace your core, then lift your head, shoulders and legs off the floor several inches so your body makes a shallow crescent shape. Hold here for time.
Step 2: Superman Hold
Lie facedown with your arms and legs extended. Simultaneously lift your arms and legs off the floor while keeping your head neutral and aligned with your spine. Hold here for time.
Goal Move: Log Roll
Assume a hollow body hold and hold for two counts. Keep your arms and legs lifted off the floor as you roll to the left and onto your stomach into a Superman hold. Pause for two counts, then roll once more to the left and back into the hollow body hold for two counts. Repeat the same sequence while rolling to the right to complete one rep. Alternate between beginning in hollow body and Superman.
The slower you do the log roll, the harder it becomes. Challenge yourself and try not to touch down with your hands or your feet throughout.
Moves to Master: Wall Marching Glute Bridge
Step 1: Wall Glute Bridge
Start: Lie faceup and place your feet flat on a wall about hip-width apart with your knees and hips bent at 90-degree angles and your arms extended along your sides.
Action: Lift your hips until your body makes a straight line from your knees to your shoulders. Squeeze your glutes, then lower back to the floor.
Step 2: Wall Single-Leg Glute Bridge
Start: Begin as with the wall glute bridge, but with just one foot on the wall and the other leg extended straight up over your hip.
Action: Press your hips up to align with your knees and shoulders, keeping your pelvis level. Lower to the start. Do all reps on one side before switching.
Goal Move: Wall Marching Glute Bridge
Start: Same as the wall glute bridge.
Action: Press your hips up into a bridge and hold here as you slowly bring one knee in toward your chest, then replace. Continue, alternating sides, without lowering to the floor between reps.
A wall provides a solid surface on which to perform a variety of bodyweight exercises. Anything from glute bridges to handstand push-ups can be done without a single piece of equipment and just a humble blank wall.
Moves to Master: Diving Eagle
Step 1: Wobbly Flamingo
Start: Stand on one leg with your other knee bent and your foot next to your knee. Place your hands on your hips and find your balance.
Action: Imagine that your bent leg and hips are fused, so as you hinge forward, your leg moves rearward and upward. Return to the start. Do all reps on one side, then switch.
Tip: Make your standing knee soft; don’t lock it out.
Step 2: Soaring Seagull
Start: Same as the wobbly flamingo but with your arms extended to the sides.
Action: As you hinge at the hips, extend your leg rearward as you tip forward, getting your leg/torso as close to parallel as possible with the floor. Return slowly to the start. Do all reps on one side, then switch.
Goal Move: Diving Eagle
Start: Same as the soaring seagull.
Action: Hinge at your hips and tip forward as you extend your leg rearward, but simultaneously bend your standing knee and scoop your arms down and forward. As you extend your standing knee and hinge back to vertical, reach overhead and back out to the sides. Do all reps on one side, then switch.
Moves to Master: Wall Sit with Alternating Arm/Leg Lift
Step 1: Standard Wall Sit
Stand in front of a wall with your feet hip-width apart. Lean back so your head, shoulders and glutes are in contact with the wall, then walk your feet forward about a foot. Slide down the wall until your hips are level with your knees and your knees and hips make 90-degree angles, and hold here for time.
Step 2: Wall Sit With Leg Lift
Start: Same as the standard wall sit but extend your arms to the sides at shoulder height, palms facing rearward and pressed against the wall.
Action: Maintain your “seated” position as you extend one leg straight out from your hip parallel to the floor, and hold for two counts. Replace and continue, alternating sides.
Goal Move: Wall Sit with Alternating Arm/Leg Lift
Start: Same as the standard wall sit.
Action: As you extend one leg parallel to the floor, lift the opposite arm straight up overhead and press it firmly into the wall and hold. Replace arm/leg and continue, alternating sides slowly and deliberately.
Change the dynamic of any bodyweight move — and hit your core harder — by making it unilateral.
Here are some ideas for grouping these moves into different workouts or blending them in with some of your other bodyweight favorites to customize your programming.
Killer Ab and Core Circuit
Do each move for the prescribed time or reps with little to no rest between moves. Go through the circuit one to three times, depending on your fitness level, and rest 60 seconds between rounds.
Hollow Body Hold
Side-Plank Hip Lift
15-20 (each side)
Hanging Knee/Leg Raise
Complete all reps of one move before going to the next. Move steadily and quickly without sacrificing form, and record the time it takes you to complete. Try to meet or beat that time next session.
50 Bear Crawls
40 Bear Squats
30 Wobbly Flamingos (15 each side)
20 Wall Sits With Alternating Arm/Leg Lifts
10 Diving Eagles
10-Minute EMOM (every minute on the minute)
For each minute, do the prescribed moves and reps. Rest any remaining time. Begin at the top of the next minute.
Odd Minutes (1, 3, 5, etc.)
10 Wall Glute Bridges
10 Wall Marching Glute Bridges
Even Minutes (2, 4, 6, etc.)
Standard Wall Sit (30 seconds)
1 Log Roll (each direction)
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