Muscle Up

Don’t get me wrong, I love the gym.  I enjoy pushing weight, using equipment, and getting inspired by fellow gym-rats.  But, there are plenty of times when we just can’t get there. That’s why I love bodyweight exercises– you can train anywhere, and you don’t need any equipment. When asked to my pick my top 25 bodyweight movements, I chose exercises that most generally fit people can perform. There are plenty of crazy moves out there that are fun to watch, but not many can perform slow-motion-one-handed-pull-ups, or behind-the-back clap, plyo push-ups. This is a list of practical and functional movements, which build strength in all muscle groups

Most bodyweight training involves multi-joint movements, so it’s great for total-body fitness. This list shows some emphasis on targeting certain “primary movers,” starting with lower body, moving into upper body, and finishing with core. There is also a bonus move at the end that demonstrates how to put several moves together into a compound exercise.

These exercises are proven to make you lean and mean. So choose a move or two for the major muscle groups and throw them into a circuit. The variety and challenge will be good for your body AND mind.




1. Basic Squats

One of the simplest yet most effective exercises you can do! Glutes, quads, hamstrings are doing a lot of the work. 

Progressions: There are many!  Single-leg, pistols, squat-jumps, etc.

Coaching Tip: “Numbers up!” This means think about the uniform numbers on your chest- if I can’t read them, you’re leaning forward too much.


Broad Jump

2. Broad Jump (Leaping)

Explosive power comes from glutes, quads, hamstrings, calves primarily.

Progressions:  Quick repeats (plyometric training- reducing transition time between the eccentric and concentric muscle action) Single-Leg, Improve distance and height, etc.

Coaching Tip: Train like an athlete! Compete!



Single Leg RDL

3. Single-Leg Romanian Dead Lift

Stabilization and strength move for glutes and hamstrings primarily. Core aids in control.

Progressions: Add resistance in one or both hands.  Change tempo.

Coaching Tip: Kick the door open with extension behind you. Only move as quickly as you can remain under control.


4. Athletic Lunge- Sagittal Plane

Simple effect of touching the ground in front of you is that of making this more “functional” and athletic. Sagittal plane is basically moving forward and back. Glutes, quads, hamstrings, calves primarily.

Progressions: Add resistance to one or both hands. Further- throw hands above head when you push back up, increasing the load on the front leg. Do in combination with the other two planar lunges.

Coaching Tip: You don’t need to step too far- stay controlled and be intentional about your knee placed above your foot.



5. Athletic Lunge- Frontal Plane

Again, touch ground in front of toes. Frontal Plane is basically moving side-to-side. Glutes, quads, hamstrings, calves, along with Abduction and Adduction complexes.

Progressions:  Add resistance to one or both hands. Further- throw hands above head when you push back up, increasing the load on the front leg. Do in combination with the other two planar lunges.

Coaching Tip: Again, control the knee to stay medial (inside) of the foot.  Also, keep your eyes up like an athlete.


6. Athletic Lunge- Transverse Plane

Transverse Plane is basically rotational. Glutes, quads, hamstrings, calves primarily.

Progressions: Add resistance to one or both hands. Further- throw hands above head when you push back up, increasing the load on the front leg. Do in combination with the other two planar lunges.

Coaching Tip: The stepping foot goes to the rear 45 degree direction, while the planted foot stays pointed to the front. Eyes up!


7. Split Jumps

Explosive power comes from glutes, quads, hamstrings, calves. Stabilization strength developed upon landing

Progressions: Plyometric repeats.  Add resistance to one or two hands. Improve height.

Coaching Tip: Stick the landing and pause- remain under control, explosively! Numbers up, Eyes up!


Calf Raise

8. Calf Raises

Simple way to train the gastrocnemius and soleus processes.

Progressions: Single leg, add resistance.

Coaching Tip: Keep it Simple…

See VIDEO at end of this article for demonstration of all 25 moves.  

Push ups 10 25


9. Basic Push-Up

Tried-and-true move for building strength in pectorals, triceps, deltoids primarily.

Progressions: So many! Clapping, Single-arm, Decelerating, T Position, Add resistance, etc.

Coaching Tip: Get full range of motion, and keep core plank position braced. I’d rather see 10 good ones than 20 bad ones!


10. Triceps Dips

This is one of the movements here that isolate a single-joint exercise for triceps emphasis.

Progressions: Add resistance, single-leg for balance, feet elevated.

Coaching Tip: Keep your head and eyes up!


11. Skullcrushers

Work your way up to this one, a lot of core strength and triceps pushing.

Progressions: Add resistance (someone on your back? ha)

Coaching Tip: Keep a tight plank, limit your reps to what you can control safely.


Andy Shoulders

12. Handstand Push-Ups

An advanced way to put pushing emphasis on your deltoids and triceps primarily.

Regressions: Can put your feet on a step or chair, hands on ground facing chair.

Coaching Tip: Avoid looking at the ground, which puts your head in the wrong position. Keep your eyes aimed where your hips are aimed.


Pull up 16

13. Pull-Ups

Performed from a dead hang, palms facing away from you without “kipping,” this might be the very best upper body exercise.  Trains all your pulling muscles, lats, biceps, etc.

Regressions: Assisted pull-ups can be done kipping, with feet braced, jumping, etc.

Coaching Tip: These can be done from anything that will support your weight. One of the best ways to build grip strength is to hang at the end of a set for as long as you can.


14. Chin-Ups

I feel the emphasis differently when palms face inward.  Still trains all the pulling muscles, perhaps more stress on the bicep in this variation.

Regressions: Assisted chin-ups can be done kipping, with feet braced, jumping, etc.

Coaching Tip: This is one of the best body weight exercises for isolating the bicep along with the back muscles.

See VIDEO at end of this article for demonstration of all 25 moves. 




15. Basic Plank

Forearms on the ground, the plank is meant to brace all of your abdominal, lumbar, and inner pelvic girdle muscles into a stable platform.

Progressions: So many! Hands in push-up position, single-arm, single-leg, weighted, etc.

Coaching Tip: Don’t think about holding a plank for time- think about intensity: if you’re truly activating ALL of your core muscles, you won’t be able to maintain for very long.


16. Supermans

A simple way to train your lower back, lumbar and extension complex.

Progressions: Try lifting one arm and the opposite leg, etc.

Coaching Tip: Don’t try to develop “strong abs” without training your whole core- it all works together.


17. Bird Dogs

Another way to train the entire core to be a strong stable platform.

Regressions: Try just one arm or one arm extended first.

Coaching Tip: Slow and steady wins this race.


See VIDEO at end of this article for demonstration of all 25 moves.

Mountain Climbers

18. Mountain Climbers

Push-up position, feet “climb” as fast as you can maintain control. Your core and energy systems are taxed quickly.

Progressions: Try both feet together. As many reps as possible for 1 minute, etc.

Coaching Tip: This is an excellent “active rest” for between rounds of a tough circuit.


19. Hanging Leg Raises

Under control, raising legs up using your core muscles can target the often sought-after lower abdominals.

Progressions: Try alternating legs, pausing at the top, straight legs, toes to the bar, etc.

Coaching Tip: To avoid swinging, practice doing one rep and then pausing before your next. This will help control and target the rectus abdominis (the six-pack!).


20. Knees to Elbows- Inside

Push-Up position, bring one knee up to the inside of the opposite elbow. Great for stability and strength of the core system.

Progressions: Try pausing for an extended moment at the top.

Coaching Tip: Keep eyes down to maintain proper head position.

Knees to Elbows

21. Knees to Elbows- Outside

Push-up position, bring knee to the outside of the same elbow. Great for stability and strength of the core system- targeting the obliques more specifically.

Progressions: Can incorporate a push-up to add some pushing to this core movement.

Coaching Tip: Try to keep hips down. This is another great exercise to be used as an “active rest,” since so many muscles are working together.


22. Bear Crawls

Push-up position, move right leg-left arm together, then left leg-right arm together. Traveling this way is taxing for your entire core and peripherals.

Progressions: Increase tempo, increase distance, carry a load, etc.

Coaching Tip: Try to keep your hips down, reach as far as possible with hand and foot to increase the distance and workload.


23. Hand Walkouts

With only slight bend in knees, walk hands out slowly as far as possible. Pause, then walk feet to your hands. Advanced move for core and posterior chain, including hamstring flexibility.

Progressions: Increase distance, increase pause. Reverse: walk hands back to feet.

Coaching Tip: For an extra challenge- try this in the sand!


24. Side Crawls (Crabs)

Push-up position, move sideways by simultaneously separating feet and bringing hands together, and then hands apart and feet together. Great challenge for core and also coordination!

Progressions: Increase distance, speed, load.

Coaching Tip: Feet apart-hands together, Feet together-hands apart. Repeat. Harder than it looks.


25. Basic Burpees

Sprawl down to a push-up, pop-up to your feet and jump. A great total-body movement that works well in all kinds of circuit training.

Progressions: Jump up onto a step, hold weights in hands, work for speed.

Coaching Tip: Any time you hit the ground and then have to pop up and jump- it closely mimics the rigors of many athletic events.



Squat-Jump to Muscle-Up to Sprawl to Push-Up to Kick-Through to Scorpion to Pop-Up

This is just a fun example of how you can combine several exercises together.  Even though this might not be realistic- it illustrates the idea that if you only have 10-20 minutes to exercise, you can still get a total-body, muscle-building, fat-burning workout wherever you are and without any equipment. 

Take away your excuses.  Feel better. Look better. Do better.

Video of all 25 Bodyweight Exercises


Andy graduated from Northwestern University in 1998. He played professional soccer for 6 years, taught Martial Arts, and served as a cop for the past 7 years on the Tactical Response Unit in Phoenix.  He’s now working as an Actor, Host, Model, and Fitness Coach in Los Angeles. To connect with Andy, follow his pages at and on Twitter @andymcd23

Get more features like this for free in the web version of the Muscle & Fitness 2014 Training Trends Special Digital Issue.