We love our weights here at Red Leaf, but our favorite workout accessory is our bodies! A balanced exercise program should include cardiovascular exercise, resistance training, and bodyweight movements alike at varying intensities and in different combinations. But despite our bodies being our most versatile training accessories, bodyweight exercises often get overlooked because they’re perceived as being “unchallenging” or “boring.” We want to challenge that perception, so today we are bringing you our five favorite bodyweight exercises for blasting fat, as well as multiple variations of each movement you can try based on your skill level and desired stimulus. Keep reading to the end for a little challenge from our team to you!
The squat is one of the best full-body exercises because you can achieve various levels of stimulus with just a few small adjustments, and it’s very functional. We squat every day when we get into our cars, stand up from the couch, grab pots and pans from lower cabinets, and pick up our kids, to name a few. With that said, it’s important to squat with proper form to prevent injury. We love this great demonstration of proper squatting technique by our friends over at CrossFit HQ.
When it comes to squatting in a workout, you have a lot of options depending on the stimulus you’re looking to achieve. Want more cardio? Do jump squats. Want to feel the booty burn? Do 1 1/2 squats or pulsing squats. Obviously you can always add weight by using a dumbbell or barbell, but for the sake of this bodyweight exercise blog, here are our favorite squatting variations using only your body:
- Tempo Squat: count 5 seconds on the way down, pause at the bottom for 2 seconds, and then count 5 seconds on the way up. I like to set a timer for tempo squats and do as many as I can in the set amount of time.
- Pulsing Squat: squat down to full depth and then pulse up to about half-standing for ten reps.
- Jump Squat: this explosive, plyometric movement will get your heart rate up fast! Squat down to full depth and explode up, then land your jump back in a squat. Continue for 10 reps.
- Sumo Squat: put your feet in a wide stance, just outside of hip width and keep your toes turned slightly out. Ground your heels down, push your hips back, and squat to parallel, then stand. Do 10 reps for a killer glute and inner thigh burn!
This exercise is one we all love to hate because let’s be honest, they’re hard! Push-ups are a great full-body exercise, working not only your chest, shoulders, and triceps, but also your core, back muscles, and even your glutes (if you’re doing them right). There are countless push-up varieties you can perform in a workout, but it’s important to achieve proper form in a basic push-up before moving on to more challenging variations. Here are some of our favorite takes on the standard push-up:
- Wide Push-Up: place your hands just outside shoulder width, and turn them slightly outward to target your chest. Do ten reps and focus on bracing your core so your back stays straight!
- Narrow Push-Up: hand placement quickly changes the stimulus of a push-up! Bring your hands just inside shoulder width and turn them slightly inward. This will blast your triceps and shoulders.
- Plyo Push-Up: this is a more advanced variation where you perform a push-up and after your chest touches the floor, explode up, and land in another push-up. Wanna be extra crazy? Add a clap on the way up!
- Hand Release Push-Up: this style of push-up is great for developing form and strength. Keeping your core braced and thighs off the ground, touch your chest to the floor and lift your hands up briefly, then place them back on the floor and push back up to an extended arm position.
A lot of fitness accounts will claim that sit-ups won’t do the trick if you’re looking for defined abs, and to be honest, they’re lying. Are they the king of core exercises? No. Do they work the rectus abdominis well? Heck yes! Sit-ups are just one type of core exercise, but they’re a good one and definitely have an important place in any workout regimen. To get a well-defined core, however, you’ll need to do more exercises than just sit-ups because the core is composed of many muscles, not just the six pack group. Click here for some of our other favorite core exercises for six pack abs, and keep reading for our three go-to sit-up variations:
- Rocky Sit-Ups: place your feet in a butterfly position and when you sit-up, twist to touch your right elbow to your left knee, then your left elbow to your right knee, then return to the starting position. This movement works the rectus abdominis aka your “six pack,” and your obliques.
- Straight Leg Sit-Up: start by lying down with your arms and legs extended, then activate your core muscles and slowly raise yourself to an upright seated position. As you return to the starting position, curl your abdomen inward and slowly lie back to the floor. Try not to use any momentum from your arms and legs!
- Crunch + Sit-Up: do double duty with this burner! Plant your heels on the ground, and interlace your hands behind your head. Crunch halfway up and contract your upper abs, then lie all the way back down, slightly arching your back to extend your core. Then pull your abs back in and ground your low back to the floor, and sit all the way up to touch your elbows to your knees. Return back to the floor. That’s one rep…now do ten!
This core exercise is really a full-body exercise. Like the push-up (because let’s be real, a push-up starts as a plank), planks work your core, shoulders, triceps, back, glutes, and hamstrings. The key to performing a correct plank is bracing the core, flexing the glutes and hamstrings, and pushing up through your scapulae, so your tummy doesn’t sag. If your back is arched in a plank, you may need to scale down to your knees as you get stronger. Check out these fun plank variations below:
- Oblique Side Plank: work your obliques by turning to one side and propping yourself on your hand or elbow, stacking your heels one on top of the other, and holding for as long as possible. To make this more challenging, alternate sides by coming through a middle plank and twisting to one side, back through the middle, and twisting to the other side.
- Shoulder Tap Plank: perform an extended arm plank with hands placed directly under shoulders, and tap your left shoulder with your right hand, right shoulder with your left hand, then tap your left shoulder with left hand, right shoulder with right hand, and continue that sequence for as long as possible. Do your best to stay centered and minimize any twisting through your abdomen.
- Forearm to Extended Arm Plank: begin in a forearm plank, with your elbows directly under your shoulders. Place your hand on the floor and push up to extend your right arm, and repeat with your left arm so you are in an extended arm plank. Return to a forearm plank by bringing your right forearm to the ground, then your left. Repeat for 10 reps, alternating which arm you lead with each round.
My, oh my, how we love lunges here at Red Leaf. They are an incredible lower body exercise with so many bodyweight variations, you won’t even need to add a dumbbell or kettlebell to feel the burn. Before you give our favorite lunging exercises a try, check out this demonstration by CrossFit HQ for how to lunge with proper form!
- Walking Lunges: you can’t go wrong with this basic! Lunge forward with your right foot, and bring your left foot up to meet it. Then lunge forward with your left foot and bring your right up to meet it. You can make this more challenging by increasing your speed, or going straight from one lunge into the next without stopping in the middle between reps.
- Lateral Lunge: similar to a cossack squat, this lunge variation is great for promoting knee stability, and building strength in the glute, quad, and IT band. Start by standing with both feet together. Take a wide step outward from your body and push your hips back to perform a “squat” to about parallel. Stand up to fully extend your hips and bring your foot back to center, then repeat on the other side. Do five reps per side.
- Curtsy Lunge: this one takes some technique to do properly and we wouldn’t recommend it if you have knee problems. Start by bringing your right leg behind you and place it slightly outside your left hip, aka curtsy like you’re meeting the Queen. Then, drop your knee to the floor and pulse to a half-standing position for ten reps. Repeat on the other side for ten reps.
- Reverse Lunges: these are great for building stability and strength! Start from a standing position, and bring your right leg behind you and drop your knee into a lunge. With control, stand back up and return your right leg to center. Repeat on the left side and do five reps per side. To make this more challenging, you can also go straight from a reverse lunge into a forward lunge. Do this on the same side ten times, and then switch to the opposite side. You’ll thank us later for the burn…we promise…okay maybe after the DOMS wears off.
We hope that you have enjoyed learning some new bodyweight movements you can add into your weekly workout routine. It’s tempting, especially if you’ve been working out in the gym for a while, to neglect bodyweight exercises in favor of heavy weights and technical lifts. But trust us when we say, bodyweight movements are not only important for building stability, strength, and mobility, they can also be really challenging!
Here’s our challenge to you: create a workout using only bodyweight exercises, share it with us in the comments below, and we will try it and feature it on our social media channels. Thanks for tuning in!