The 8 Best Full-Body, No-Equipment Exercises, According to Trainers
While we'll always love a dumbbell, kettlebell, or resistance band workout, there's something empowering about knowing that all we really need to challenge our muscles is ourselves. Yes, we're talking about bodyweight workouts. Though they're sometimes overlooked, the right combination of full-body, no-equipment exercises can help you achieve any goal, from building strength to working up a sweat.
"Bodyweight exercises refer to moves that use your own body weight to provide resistance against gravity," says Tara Nicolas, a Nike Training Club trainer. And while you might think that bodyweight exercises are naturally easier than moves that require equipment, you'd be wrong.
"I personally learned that the hard way during the pandemic," Nicolas says. With gyms closed and at-home weights on serious backorder, the trainer turned to full-body, no-equipment exercises to get her sweat on — and ended up more exhausted than she'd thought possible.
"Using equipment is fun, but you have 'help' in a way. With bodyweight exercises, you have to create all the force on your own, and when you get tired, you can't flub it. It's like, I have to pick my own ass up off this floor," Nicolas says.
So while bodyweight workouts can leave you just as tired and sore as powerlifting, there are full-body, no equipment exercises for every level of fitness. And Nicolas notes that bodyweight workouts can be a "safe space" for people who are intimidated by heavier weights — or have used them before and gotten injured.
They can be super functional too. "Bodyweight exercises mimic what you're going to do in the real world, and encourage you to have more body awareness," Nicolas says.
No-equipment exercises can also be surprisingly fun, because they encourage you to get out of the gym and find new ways to move your body — whether you're incorporating bodyweight moves into a dance cardio class, or getting outdoors and using a park bench to support your workout.
The following eight full-body, no-equipment exercises aren't a full workout, but represent a selection of moves you can plug into your routine to strengthen your muscles and get your heart rate up.
Listen to your body and modify as needed; bear crawls or inchworms might not be the right moves for people with wrist pain, for instance, and some people may need to work their way up to a full squat jump.
And one last piece of advice? Grab a sweat towel — you'll probably need it.
— Additional reporting by Abbey Stone and Mirel Zaman
The bear crawl is a resistance move that works your whole body, said Monica Straith, ACE-certified trainer and fitness lead at AlgaeCal. You'll hit your shoulders, chest, upper arms, back, core, and legs. "You can do them front to back and side to side," Straith explained. "The key is to keep your knees from touching the ground."
- Starting on all fours on a yoga mat, ensure that your knees are below your hips and your hands are below your shoulders. Set your spine in a neutral position and draw your shoulder blades down and back. Tuck your toes and lift your knees off the mat, resting on the balls of your feet. This is your starting position.
- Take a small step forward with your left foot and your right hand at the same time, ensuring that you keep your abdominals engaged to help minimize torso movement and so that your torso remains parallel to the ground.
- Take a small step forward with your right foot and your left hand at the same time, once again, ensuring that you keep your abdominals engaged to help minimize torso movement and so that your torso remains parallel to the ground.
- Reverse the move, taking a small step backward by moving your left foot and hand simultaneously. Do the same with your right foot and hand to return to the starting position. This counts as one rep.
Push-ups work your chest, shoulders, triceps, and core, says ACE-certified trainer Jennifer Nagel. "Push ups are forever the most humbling thing. It doesn't matter how strong I am," Nicolas says. "They're key to my upper body, not just strength, but wellbeing — building that stability and coordination."
- Start in a plank position with your arms and legs straight, shoulders above your wrists.
- Take a breath in, and as you inhale, bend your elbows out to the sides and lower your chest toward the ground. Stop as soon as your shoulders are in line with your elbows. Exhale to straighten the arms. This counts as one rep.
- To modify, do this exercise with your knees on the floor.
"This move pairs a bodyweight squat with a plyometric jump," said Sheri Saperstein, ACE-certified owner of Fire Up Fitness Studio. "It works your entire lower body, core, stability, coordination, balance, and cardio."
- Start in a squat with your arms by your sides. Your knees should be over your ankles, your back straight, and your core engaged.
- Swing your arms to the ceiling and jump straight up, pushing off the balls of your feet and engaging your core.
- Land quietly as you return to the squat position. This completes one rep.
"Lunges hit major muscle groups all around the body including your glutes, hamstrings, quads, back muscles, and abs," said ACE-certified trainer Bianca Grover of Bianca Grover Fitness. "Because they split your base and require balance, this is a great way to push yourself without the weights."
- Start standing, with your feet hip distance apart.
- Keeping your core engaged, step out to the side with your right leg, bending your right knee at a 90-degree angle, and keeping the left leg straight. Make sure your right knee is directly above your ankle; you should be able to see your front toes.
- Push back up to the starting position and repeat the lunge on the left side. This counts as one rep.
Think of inchworms as modified burpees. They aren't quite as intense, but they'll still have you feeling the heat. "The fast-paced movement will get your heart rate up and help you to burn more calories during your session," said NASM-certified trainer Melissa Walsh of Limitless Health and Fitness in reference to burpee exercises.
- Start from standing and walk yourself into a strong plank position, activating your core.
- Do one basic push-up, bending the elbows and then straightening back to plank.
- Walk your hands back to meet your toes and come to standing. That's one rep.
This is one of Nicolas's favorite bodyweight exercises — for good reason. "This move is going to hit several muscle groups at once — arms, core, legs, and glutes," said trainer Sarah Pelc Graca, NASM. It's essentially a half-burpee, she added, so it's a good modification if you're not up to the full burpee yet.
- Begin in a plank position with your shoulders over your wrists and feet hips-width apart.
- Jump your feet to the outside of your hands, coming into a deep squat and keeping your hands on the floor. Engage your core as you jump and land softly.
- Jump your feet back to a plank. This counts as one rep.
This cardio exercise comes with a variety of benefits, said ACE-certified trainer Lynell Ross: you'll improve your heart health and coordination while burning calories.
- Stand up straight and place your feet about hip-width apart.
- Place your hands palms down facing the floor, hovering just above your belly button.
- Quickly drive your right knee up to meet your right hand. Bring the same leg back to the ground.
- Immediately repeat on the left leg, bringing the left knee up to meet your left hand. This completes one rep.
- Alternate legs in a hopping motion, staying on the balls of your feet the entire time.
- Make sure you are engaging your abdominal muscles as each knee comes up to meet the hand.
Finish the workout off strong with another set of lunges. These pendulum lunges are a challenge not just for your leg muscles, but for your balance as well.
- Start standing, with your feet together and torso upright
- Keeping your core engaged, step your foot forward, bending your knees at about a 90-degree angle. As with the lateral lunges, make sure your knee is directly above your ankle; you should be able to see your front toes.
- Push through your heel to come back up to the starting position (hovering the foot above the floor if it's easier) and use the same leg to step backwards into another lunge. This counts as one rep. Repeat on the other side.