7 advanced bodyweight exercises for strength, cardio and mobility

Take it up a notch with these next-level exercises that use zero equipment
7 advanced bodyweight exercises

For anyone into fitness training, bodyweight exercises are essential. Yes, it may feel great to bench rep your max or try out the latest piece of equipment at the gym, but learning how to train using just your own body has an enormous range of benefits.

The first is the most obvious: you don't need any equipment. That means that you always have a way to train whether there's a ten-deep queue for the free weights at the gym or you're in a hotel room miles away from the nearest dumbbell.

Secondly, bodyweight training is extremely functional. If you're performing a movement using your own body you're generally carrying it out in a way that helps to develop how it works as a whole unit. By that, we mean things like balance, symmetry and proprioception. All things that will help you carry out functional tasks, from carrying the shopping to running a marathon.

And don't let the fact that you're not lifting heavy weights lull you into the idea that bodyweight training is ineffective for building muscle. You only have to look at some of the top calisthenics athletes in the world to see that training smart with bodyweight alone is more than enough to get seriously fit.

Try these workouts

In our Real Workout series, we work with fitness professionals around the world to find the best workouts being used in gyms and studios to train real people. We’re not looking for quick fixes like ‘how to get killer abs’, instead we want to give clear honest advice on functional exercises that can be done by anyone, with a focus on developing the body in the right way.

We headed over to Sweat It, one of London’s most popular functional studios for HIIT and strength and conditioning, to run through some of the best resistance band exercises for the lower body with Zack Mills, an experienced trainer who specializes in fat loss, strength and conditioning and an overall healthy, balanced lifestyle.

Squat jumps

Muscles worked: Quads, hamstrings, glutes, lower back, abdominals

As we've mentioned many times, squats are one of the most important exercises to add to your training plan. They work a wide range of muscles, including the largest in the body, and they're at the top of the pile when it comes to functional movements.

The jump squat is a progression of the squat which modifies it in a number of ways. By adding the jump element to the exercise you start to train your explosive power – something that's beneficial to sports where you need quick bursts of speed. It also means you're pushing your cardio fitness harder, which is why the exercise is so popular in HIIT classes.

How to do it:

From a standing position with your feet hip-width apart. Lower into a squat with your back straight and your thighs almost parallel to the ground. From there, push against the ground and jump into the air aiming to gain enough height to be completely vertical off the ground.

As you land, keep the knees slightly bent and then lower back into the squat position with a controlled motion. Once lowered, repeat the movement. Ensure that the landing and lowering of the exercise feels comfortable with minimal impact on the heels or knees.

Safety tip: Remember that the exercise is a squat and getting that form right is essential to performing it without injury.

View the exercise on a video here.

The best bodyweight workout

Bear crawl

Muscles worked: Most across the body with key areas being the core, shoulders, arms and glutes

To the casual non-fitness observer, the bear walk is basically walking across the floor on all fours. Essentially it is, but this simple movement works an enormous range of muscles across the body and offers a number of functional benefits to any workout.

How to do it: Start in a plank position with both hands directly underneath the shoulders. Move your knees forward so they come slightly off the floor and the thighs are perpendicular to the body. Step forward with one knee and move the alternate arm forward at the same time. Continue for however many steps the space will allow then repeat the same format backwards.

One of the principal muscle groups being used during the exercise is the core, so make sure to maintain the stiff plank position as you move forwards.

View the exercise on a video here.

The best bodyweight workout

Shoulder taps

Muscles worked: Core, shoulders, triceps, glutes, quads

When it comes to core exercises the humble plank is hard to beat. However, if you're taking things up a notch then there are a number of variations to make the movement more demanding.

Adding shoulder taps to the plank means that you're not only incorporating the arms into it more, but the lack of stable positioning means you have to work your core at a higher level.

How to do it: From the plank position, lift up one hand across the front of the body and tap the opposite shoulder. Lower that hand and repeat the movement with the alternate hand. Be sure to maintain a tight core throughout the exercise as the main workload comes from the stability core muscles holding the body in place. If you start wobbling left and right you're no longer working the core effectively.

View the exercise on a video here.

The best bodyweight workout

Chest to floor burpees

Muscles worked: Arms, chest, quads, glutes, hamstrings, abs – pretty much everything.

Yes, we know. Nobody ever wants to do a burpee, but trust us, if done properly they're one of the most rewarding exercises you can add to your workouts. They're not the simplest movement to get right though and many studios throw them into a class without making sure that people are doing them correctly.

How to do it: From a standing position, jump your feet backwards as you lean forward and lower your hands to the floor. From there lower your chest to the ground in one fluid motion. With an explosive press-up, jump your legs forward and propel your body into a squat position before jumping into the air. Soften the knees and land before returning to an upright position and repeating the movement.

Safety tip: Make sure your back is straight throughout the whole motion. Maintaining the form for the duration of the exercise is difficult when fatigued, so if you can't maintain a safe position, rest and start again.

View the exercise on a video here.

The best bodyweight workout

More workouts

Spiderman push-up

Muscles worked: Pectoral muscles, deltoids, triceps and core.

Remember when Spiderman sued to climb along the floor in the old 1980s show and they filmed it like he was walking up a wall? Well, this is named after that movement. As exercises go, it veers towards the more advanced end of the bodyweight spectrum taking a normal push up and introducing a tricky core element.

How to do it: From a plank position, lift one leg off the ground and pull the knee up toward the body. At the same time lift the leg outwards so it's raised alongside the body instead of underneath, then lower the arms into a push-up position. From there, push yourself back up and move the foot back into that initial plank position. Repeat with a consistent, fluid motion.

Safety tip: For many, the inclusion of the leg raise may cause issues when it comes to mobility. Try to move the leg so that it remains above the ground and avoid twisting the body too much.

View the exercise on a video here.

The best bodyweight workout

One-legged walkout

Muscles worked: Pectoral muscles, deltoids, core, lower body mobility

Often used as part of a dynamic warm-up routine, the walkout is a great exercise that combines some strength training with an element of mobility. Here we've covered the one-legged variant to add an extra challenge for both the upper body and core.

How to do it: From a standing position, lift one leg off the ground and lean forward to place your hands on the floor. Try to keep your standing leg as straight as possible during the movement to ensure the hamstring is stretched and walk your hands forward until you're in a one-legged plank position. From there, step the hands backwards and push yourself back up into standing. Perform four or five reps on one leg before switching over to maintain the momentum.

Safety tip: Try maintain a strong core as you move in and out from the final plank position.

View the exercise on a video here.

The best bodyweight workout

V-up

Muscles worked: Core

An incredibly simple movement but one that's often overlooked in beginner workouts, the V-sit is an excellent core exercise that, due to the positioning of the body, works a wider range of muscles than a standard floor to knee sit up. The fact that you have to maintain a position raised from the floor makes for a more challenging exercise.

How to do it: Sit on the floor and raise your shoulders and legs off the ground. Try to keep your head in a neutral position with the spine and pull your thighs and torso together. Move back to the starting position and repeat. To maximise the exercise, carry it out in a slow and controlled movement, taking two or three seconds to lower the body to the starting position.

Safety tip: People tend to crane the head forward when doing the exercise. Try to keep it in line with the body as it can cause neck strain and injury.

View the exercise on a video here.

The best bodyweight workout


Try this workout

Carry out every exercise with only 15 seconds rest between each one. At the end of the full workout rest for two minutes then repeat. Complete the whole series of exercises three times.

Note: The majority of exercises focus on good form and controlled movements, not speed.

  • Squat jumps x 10
  • Bear crawl x 30 seconds
  • Shoulder taps x12
  • Chest to floor burpees x 8
  • Spiderman push-up x 10
  • One-legged walkout x 8 each leg
  • V-ups x 12

Are you a trainer or studio who would like to feature in an exercises series? If so we’d love to hear what training experience you can bring to our readers. Send us an email at [email protected].

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