Bodyweight exercises

No time to go to a gym? Try these exercises that keep you fit using your own bodyweight

Man doing pushups

Those who are hard-pressed for time can’t make it to the gym even if they want to. The same holds true for those constantly on the go—their constant travelling impedes their workout plans. Besides, it’s not possible to lug weights around. For individuals like these, exercising using their own bodyweight is a liberating option.

Own bodyweight workout is a form of strength training used to develop muscular strength and endurance, where the only resistance to movement is supplied by your own bodyweight. The purpose of this routine is to help you stay fit without heavy pumping of iron.

Start with a warm up for 5 – 7 minutes. You can use a combination of stretching, jogging and brisk walking for the same. The goal is to increase blood circulation, raise body temperature to prepare you for higher intensity exercise and reduce muscle stiffness to prevent injury.

Finish the workout with a cool down of five minutes by doing a few stretches and slow jogging. The goal is to relax the muscles and prevent muscle soreness after exercise and allow the heart to gradually return to a normal resting rate.

Perform each exercise either to the count of 30 or for 30 seconds to two minutes. Rest for five seconds after each exercise.

Exercising for 30 minutes to an hour is enough.

These exercises are simple ones that will keep you fit and are better than no exercise at all.

Push ups

Begin in push up position—on your toes with your palms flat on the ground. Perform four push ups, keeping your abs in and back straight. On the fifth push up, lower yourself halfway down and hold for four counts. Push back up and repeat the sequence—four regular push ups and one halfway—five or more times.

As you get used to it, you can try out variations such as do push ups with your legs in an elevated position, push ups on your knuckles [boxer’s push ups] or push ups with only one hand while holding the held at the back.

Muscles targeted: Chest, triceps, front of shoulder, muscle group on outer portion of the ribs cage.

Goal: To strengthen the above-mentioned muscles.

Don’t do if: You have wrist/hand injury.


Standing position with your feet apart and lowering yourself completely [bending your knees ] holding both hands out at 90 degrees.

Muscles targeted: Hips, thighs and buttocks.

Goal: Build lower body strength.

Don’t do if: You have back or knee problems.

Pull ups

To do pull ups, you either need some basic equipment or creativity. It’s a great exercise for the upper body. Slowly, you can try variations like pull ups with hands behind the neck, one arm pull ups, mixed grip [one hand facing outward, the other facing inward when you grab the bar] and weighted pull ups [in which you add weights to your body].

Muscles targeted: Biceps, shoulder and back muscles.

Goal: To strengthen upper body.

Don’t do if: You have shoulder problems.


Stand with feet together. Squat down and place your hands on the floor next to your feet. In an explosive movement, jump into a push-up position, and jump back in the squat position with feet between your hands and stand up.

Muscles targeted: Buttocks, hamstrings, front thigh and back of arm/triceps.

Goal: Build overall strength.

Don’t do if: You don’t have a basic fitness level or you’ve just started exercising.

Chair dips

Place a chair against a wall such that it is well supported. Sit on it. Grip the edge of the chair such that your palms should be down. Slowly, with the help of your arms, lower yourself down the front of the chair and while still gripping the edges and then lift yourself up. When you are down, your elbow should bend at a 90 degrees angle. Hold this position for two seconds. Do as many repetitions as possible.

Muscles targeted: Arms.

Goal: To strengthen arms and improve stability and balance.

Don’t do if: You have weak wrists/shoulders.

Wall sit

Stand with your back against a wall. Place your feet 2ft apart in front of the wall and slowly slide down bending your knees to make a 90 degree angle [like you are sitting on a chair]. Hold the position for 10 – 30 seconds.

Muscles targeted: Quadriceps [front of thigh].

Goal: Strengthen thighs.

Don’t do if: You have knee pain or quadriceps strain.


Woman doing crunches
Crunches help strengthen abdominal muscles

Lie flat on the ground with both knees bent and hands behind your head. Slowly raise the upper body without lifting your hips. Hold the position for 3 – 5 seconds.

Muscles targeted: Abdominal muscles.

Goal: To strengthen abdominal muscles.

Don’t do if: If you have lower back problems as this exercise puts unwanted pressure on the lower back.

Reverse crunches

Lie on the back with hands out to the sides, and knees bent. Keeping them bent, lift your knees toward your head till your hips come up slightly off the floor [don’t rock]. Hold for a second and repeat.

Muscles targeted: Lower abdominal muscles.

Goal: For strong lower abs.

Don’t do if: You have back ache or neck pain.

The Plank

Lie flat on your stomach. Slowly, on your elbows and toes get into the push-up position with your body above the ground. Contract the abdominal muscles. Keep back straight [don’t collapse in the middle]. Hold the position for 10 – 30 seconds.

Muscles targeted: Abdominal muscles.

Goal: To strengthen core muscles.

Don’t do if: You have chronic back ache.

Leg raise

Standing in front of a wall/pillar with your hands placed against it for support. Slowly, raise yourself on your toes. Hold for a second and come back to starting position. Once you are comfortable doing this, progress to doing a leg raise using only one hand for support.

Muscles targeted: Calf muscles.

Goal: For strong calves.

Don’t do if: You have toe pain or Achilles tendonitis.

One-leg balance

Hold a chair and lift one leg off the floor. Hold the position as long as possible. Repeat using the other leg after a minute or so. Gradually, use only one hand for support, and then leave both the hands.

Muscles targeted: Leg and thigh muscles.

Goal: To improve balance, lower body stability and strength.

Don’t do if: You have knee or back problems.

Jump lunges

Start in the lunge position–one foot forward and one foot back. Bending at the knees, jump high up and switch leg positions. Use explosive, but controlled movements.

Muscles targeted: Thigh and calf muscles.

Goal: Warm up, stretch and build strength.

Don’t do if: You have a knee injury.

Side jumps

Stand with feet together. Jump several feet to the right, keeping knees bent and landing in a squat position. Jump back to the left and continue jumping from side to side. Use a small object to jump over like a book or a pillow.

Muscles targeted: Thigh muscles, calf, shin and foot muscles.

Goal: To improve power, stability, balance and coordination.

Don’t do if: You have knee, back or foot troubles.

Suggested work out plan

  • Warm up for 5  – 7 minutes.
  • Running/jogging/swimming for 20 – 30 minutes.
  • Bodyweight exercises for 15 – 20 minutes.

Cool down for 10 minutes.

Design your own workout

Every fitness programme should have cardio respiratory endurance, strength, muscular endurance and flexibility.
Cardio respiratory endurance [CRE]: In simple terms, CRE means stamina—your capacity to perform moderate-to-high intensity exercise. It is an important part of overall physical fitness. Brisk walking, jogging, running, cycling, aerobics, swimming and aqua aerobics are ways to boost CRE.
Muscular strength: Muscle strength means the force your muscle can generate with a single, solid effort. Muscle strength depends on the size of muscle cells and the ability of nerves to activate them. Muscle strength is important for alignment of your body, everyday tasks and better metabolism. Push ups, pull ups, squats and lateral pull downs help build muscle power.
Muscular endurance: This means the amount of time your muscle can endure repeated contractions while fighting resistance. In simple terms, it tells you how many reps your muscles can take. 25 – 50 repetitions each of push ups, pull ups and squats help build muscular endurance.
Flexibility: It refers to the range of motion. Each of us has varying degrees of flexibility. Many factors influence a person’s flexibility such as gender, age, joint structure, fat and tendons. Stretching helps improve range of motion and keeps you flexible.
Guidelines for training

  • Start a new exercise with ease; don’t rush or force yourself.
  • Warm up before training and cool down [including static stretches] after it.
  • To burn fat, train aerobically [or within the target heart rate zone].
  • Prefer walking/swimming instead of performing exercises that bear down body weight on joints to prevent injury.
  • Whenever possible, train with a partner.
  • Try new activities/exercises to maintain your interest and motivation.
  • Try not to miss a workout in the first eight weeks.
  • Do not exercise for two and a half hours after a meal and for 45 minutes after a snack.
  • Drink lots of water—before, during and after exercise.

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Adithya Shetty
Adithya Shetty has a fellowship in Sports Sciences and a post graduate diploma in SPSN [Sports Physiotherapy & Sports Nutrition]. He is the co-founder and head of Exercise and Sports Medicine at Zela Luxury Health Clubs. Apart from being in the team doctor for several sports team, he has provided all the sports medicine support including fitness assessments, training plans, nutritional guidance, injury assessment and general medical management for the blockbuster movie, Chak De India.


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