By Dr. Mercola
Bodyweight exercises are great because you can do them anywhere, anytime, at your own pace and level, alone or with a friend. They don't cost a penny, because your own body provides all the resistance needed to challenge your muscles.
There's no equipment necessary and no gym needed, yet by doing a variety of bodyweight exercises, it's possible to train every muscle in your body while also getting cardiovascular benefits.
What Are the Hardest Bodyweight Exercises?
Traditional push-ups and pull-ups have nothing on the 100 hardest bodyweight exercises complied in the featured article.1 At the bottom of the list, meaning the easiest of the bunch, are mountain climbers and Burpees (which has historically been used by the military to test recruits for strength and agility).
The list then moves on to variations on the push-up, like power push-ups, diamond push-ups, and knuckle push-ups. Toward the middle of the list are creative exercises like windshield wipers, which involve doing a pull-up and then swinging your legs from side to side "windshield wiper style."
Squats – one of the best single exercises you can do – also made the list, particularly single leg squat jumps. Getting even more challenging are bodyweight exercises that require extreme fitness, strength and balance, like one-arm handstands and "hand hops," which is actually a break-dancing move. The top five hardest bodyweight exercises are quite extraordinary feats:
1. Balancing on Two Fingers
Only a few people in the world can do this exercise, which involves doing a "handstand" on only two fingers.
2. One Finger Handstand (Wall Assisted)
A handstand done with only one arm, with only one finger in contact with the floor!
3. One Arm Pull Up to Handstand
A one-arm pull-up is a feat in and of itself, but a few extreme athletes are able to transition from this position into a handstand.
4. One Arm Handstand Pushup
This move is a combination of a one-arm handstand and a push-up, driven by momentum and strength.
5. One Handed Planche
A Planche is a gymnastics move in which your body is held parallel to the ground, making it appear as though you're floating. It's usually done with two hands on the ground for support. A one-handed Planche is that much harder.
Are You Ready to Become a Bodyweight Master?
One of the best parts about bodyweight exercises is their versatility. There's an appropriate exercise for beginners and experts alike, and often the same exercise is suitable for varying levels of difficulty with minor tweaks in technique. In the video above, Jill Rodriguez, one of the personal trainers at Mercola.com, demonstrates basic bodyweight exercises and how to add levels of difficulty, as you're able. Below I've also highlighted techniques for mastering three of the best bodyweight exercises of all time: Burpees, push-ups, and squats.
How to Master the Burpee
A Burpee is performed in four steps, and was originally known as a "four-count Burpee":
- Start in a standing position and drop into a squat position (as if you're sitting back into a chair) with your hands on the ground.
- Bring your palms to the floor and extend your feet back in one quick motion to assume the front plank position.
- Return to the squat position in one quick motion.
- Return to an upright standing position.
Try it, and you'll see that it really packs a punch, targeting your legs, glutes, arms and core, all at the same time. Do several in a row (if you can), and you'll ramp up your calorie burn, too. If it's too challenging at first, here's a simple modification: Instead of going into plank position, do a Burpee by a wall. Squat down, stand up, and do a push-up against a wall. (This is especially important for anyone with knee or shoulder issues.)
How to Master the Push-Up
Push-ups don't just give you a stronger upper body, they also train your abdominals—as long as you're doing them correctly. I recommend watching Darin's demonstration of the proper form, but here's a summary of key points to remember:
- Keep your body stiff and straight as a plank
- Elbows at a 45-degree angle from your sides
- Breathe in on the way down
- Lower your body all the way down, allowing your sternum to gently touch the floor
- Breathe out on the way up
Push-ups take a certain amount of strength to perform properly, so if you're just starting out you may want to begin by keeping your knees on the floor. Bring your heels up toward your buttocks, and keep your body straight. Go slow and use full range of motion, allowing your chest to gently touch the floor. By pulling your elbows closer to your sides, you can place more focus on your chest muscles.
How to Master the Squat
Squats are phenomenal for increasing leg strength (including your quadriceps, hamstrings, and calves), but they also create an anabolic environment, which promotes overall muscle strengthening. In the video above, personal trainer and coach Darin Steen demonstrates safe squat techniques for beginner, intermediate, and advanced. A basic squat is performed as follows:
- Warm up
- Stand with your feet just over shoulder width apart
- Keep your back in a neutral position, and keep your knees centered over your feet
- Slowly bend your knees, hips, and ankles, lowering until you reach a 90-degree angle
- Return to starting position -- repeat 15-20 times, for 2-3 sets for beginners (do this two or three times a week)
- Breathe in as you lower, breathe out as you return to starting position
What Can You Gain From Giving Bodyweight Exercises a Try?
Bodyweight exercises will help build your strength and cardiovascular health while improving your balance, core muscles, and flexibility. Plus, aside from the improvements to your physical state, bodyweight exercise provides some other goodies as well:
- Fat is burned quickly. If you want to shed a few pounds, bodyweight training can help simply by including some Burpees. The metabolic increase they trigger will help you melt away the pounds.2
- It's convenient. So often, the reason people do not exercise is simply that it's inconvenient. You have to go to a gym, or go outside when it's raining, or stay inside when it's beautiful outdoors. With bodyweight exercise you do not need to pull equipment out and get set up. You do not need to fit exercise into a particular schedule. You just do it when it's convenient and fits your schedule.
- It's cheap. There is no equipment required. Your own body is all the equipment you'll need.
- It's fun! There's no boredom because you can vary your workout. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of variations that you can try.
- It's satisfying. You'll see and feel results quickly. Your mind will be sharper. You'll feel better. If you're overweight, you'll probably start losing weight quickly. You'll look better and your energy levels will increase.
Ready to get started? If you have a smartphone or tablet, try out these six bodyweight workout apps that offer video demonstrations and quick workout options so you can craft a customized bodyweight workout for your skill level.