A 10-move bodyweight strength workout that’s perfect for beginners

Strength training isn’t just about lifting heavy weights: you can use your own bodyweight to build muscle and stave off health conditions.​​

Strength training is an important form of exercise as we age. It helps protect our bones and joints from health conditions such as osteoporosis and osteoarthritis. It also prevents sarcopenia – the loss of muscle masswhich can occur in later life.  

The term strength trainingoften conjures up images of people lifting heavy weights in the gym, but it can take many different forms.

Whilst some rely on items such as resistance bands and dumbbells, bodyweight strength workouts offer an equipment-free way to enjoy the benefits of strength training.

Man in plankCredit: Shutterstock / Monkey Business Images

What is bodyweight strength training?

As the name suggests, bodyweight strength training involves using your own bodyweight to create resistance – and, in turn, improve strength.

Laura Melia, personal trainer at Pure Gym Manchester, says: “To improve strength, and to even grow muscle, all you need is some form of resistance – this can be created by using just your bodyweight.

“You can even progress certain exercises to make them more difficult, without the need for extra equipment.

A good example would be push ups: you can start with incline push ups, move them on to kneeling push ups, then to full push ups.

“Other progressive bodyweight exercises could include bodyweight squats, by adding a three-second hold at the bottom, and kneeling planks, which can progress to full plankswith increasing time increments.” 

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Benefits of bodyweight strength training

Using your own bodyweight for strength training has many positives:  

  • It allows you to master movement patterns safely before progressing to using weights, if you decide to.  
  • You can make it easier or more difficult as needed by adjusting the range of motion or speed of the movement.  
  • It’s a great way to become more aware of how your body moves and its capabilities.  
  • It’s portable. If you master some simple moves, you can do a bodyweight strength workout wherever you are.  
  • It’s free. In a cost of living crisis, what could be better than being able to improve your health and wellbeing without spending any money? 

A 10-move bodyweight home workout

To help you get started, I’ve put together 10 bodyweight strength exercises that you can do at home – no equipment required.

For all the bodyweight exercises listed below, I’d suggest you begin with three to five repetitions (reps) to get used to the movement. From there, build both the number of reps and rounds to suit your abilities – for example, three rounds of 10.

If you need any extra help, feel free to contact me!

If you are unsure about whether an exercise is suitable for you then always seek the advice of your GP, who can advise you further.

1. Squats

Squat no weightCredit: Saga Exceptional

How to do it:

  1. Stand with your feet slightly wider than hip-width apart.  
  2. Bending the knees and pushing the hips back, squat as low as possible (as if sitting on into a chair). 
  3. Come back up to standing position and repeat – squatting then standing.  

Top tip: Keep your chest lifted and look straight ahead, holding onto something for support if needed.  

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2. Lunges

Reverse lunge no weightCredit: Saga Exceptional

How to do it:

  1. Stand with your feet hip width apart.  
  2. Take a step back on one leg, lowering the knee towards the floor.  
  3. Allow the front knee to bend at a 90-degree angle.  
  4. Come back to standing, then repeat on the other leg. 
  5. Continue the exercise, alternating legs. 

Top tip: Don’t take too large a step backwards, and hold onto something for support if needed.

3. Side lunges

Bodyweight side lungeCredit: Saga Exceptional

How to do it:

  1. Stand with your feet hip width apart.  
  2. Take a large step out to the side with one leg, pushing the hips back and bringing your bodyweight with you.  
  3. Drive into the outside foot and bring yourself back up to standing. 
  4. Repeat on the other side. 
  5. Continue the exercise, alternating legs.

Top tip: Keep both feet flat on the floor throughout and don’t let the heels come up.

4. Single leg lifts

Woman doing a single leg deadliftCredit: Saga Exceptional

How to do it:

  1. Standing on one leg, slowly hinge (bend) the hips, letting the other leg float up behind you.  
  2. Keep the hips square to the ground and let the leg rise as high as possible.  
  3. Come back to standing and switch sides. 
  4. Continue the exercise, alternating legs. 

Top tip: Take this very slowly and hold onto the back of a chair for support.

5. Glute bridges

Woman lying on floor pushing hips into the airCredit: Saga Exceptional

How to do it:

  1. Lie on your back with the knees bent and feet flat on the ground.  
  2. Push into your feet and lift your hips towards the ceiling, squeezing your glutes (bum muscles) as you do so.  
  3. Hold for three seconds, then lower down and repeat.

Top tip: Rest your head on a rolled up towel if needed.

6. Inchworms

Woman doing an inchworm, walking out to plank and back upCredit: Saga Exceptional

How to do it:

  1. From standing, bend at the hips and, keeping the legs straight, bring your hands to the floor.  
  2. ‘Walk’ the hands out until the body comes into plank position (body extended in one long line from shoulder to heels).
  3. Reverse the motion, rolling the body up slowly so the head is the last thing to come up, and repeat.

Top tip: Don’t leave your hips up in the air or let your back sag. 

7. Push ups

Woman doing a pushupCredit: Saga Exceptional

How to do it:

  1. Hold your body in a plank position, arms fully extended.  
  2. With the hands slightly wider than shoulder-width, slowly lower your body, letting the elbows come out to a 45-degree angle.  
  3. Push back up to the starting position, and repeat. 

Top tip: ​If you’re struggling with the bodyweight exercise, our how to do a push up guide features easier variations to try, including wall push ups, incline push ups and more.  

8. Tricep dips

Woman doing a tricep dipCredit: Saga Exceptional

How to do it:

  1. Begin in a seated position, knees bent, and hands by your hips, facing your feet, elbows bent.  
  2. Pushing into your hands and heels, drive your body up, lifting the hips as high as possible.  
  3. Bend the elbows to bring you back to the starting position, then repeat.

Top tip: Make sure you feel this move in your triceps – the small muscles in the back of your arms. 

9. Crunches

CrunchCredit: Saga Exceptional

How to do it:

  1. Lie flat on your back with knees bent, feet flat.  
  2. Place your hands by, or behind your head, but don’t pull on your neck.
  3. Think about bringing your ribs to your hips, as you exhale and ‘crunch’ up towards your knees. 

Top tip: This isn’t a sit-up, so you don’t need to lift up too high – just enough to feel a ‘crunch’ in your abs (stomach muscles).  

10. Planks

PlankCredit: Saga Exceptional

How to do it:

  1. Lie face down on the floor and bring your arms into your side.
  2. Come up onto one knee, the other leg straight behind you.  
  3. Keep your forearms flat on the ground,
  4. Extend the other leg, taking the knee off the ground, until you’re in a plank position. 
  5. Keep your forearms, shoulders and elbows in line.
  6. Squeeze everything!
  7. Hold for five to 10 seconds, gradually increasing time as you become more proficient.

Top tip: Keep the hips down and don’t let your lower back sag.  

How often should I do bodyweight strength training? 

“The suggested guidelines for exercise to boost strength is a minimum of twice per week per muscle group,” Melia says. “If you are starting out by doing full body workouts, then even two 30minute sessions per week will help you see improvements.

“If you are effectively warming up before, cooling down after, and ensuring your body gets enough rest I’d suggest two days’ rest per week – then you should prevent injury.

Over time, as your abilityand, I hope, love for exercise – increases, you might want to add another session in. Focus on upper body one day, lower body on another, and then adding one full body workout in as well. You could also combine strength training with cardio exercise too – alternating between push ups and short runs on a treadmill is a personal favourite.  

Does bodyweight strength training build muscle?

It is possible to build muscle by doing bodyweight strength training. However, it’s fair to say that the strength gains will be most noticeable in beginners, as the body adapts to a new stimulus. But that can also be said of any strength training – when you start lifting weights, you’ll also see much more noticeable progress and results than those who have been lifting weights for years. 

Muscle gain is a serious process that requires progressive overload – that is the principle of increasing either the weight used, the number of repetitions or the number of times you workout so that the body is continually forced to adapt. It also requires eating high-protein meals and balancing the amount of cardio you do.

For most people who are just trying to improve their overall health and wellbeing, bodyweight strength training is a great place to start. Over time, if you want to continue seeing the benefits of strength training (such as fat loss or muscle definition), you’ll need to progress to using resistance bands, dumbbells, kettlebells or joining a gym for a wider range of options.   

But it’s not all about visible changes – it’s arguably the ‘unseen’ changes that count. Bodyweight strength training and any other resistance training has huge benefits for heart health, bone density, mental wellbeing, and longevity. Yes, that’s right, those squats can help you live longer. 

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Becky Fuller

Written by Becky Fuller she/her

Published:

Becky Fuller is a fully qualified Personal Trainer, specialising in strength and conditioning for over 50s. Becky’s focus is helping people to become stronger both in body and mind, and to move well without pain. Becky also has many years’ experience working as a freelance journalist, writing for a wide variety of publications such as Screen Rant, Geek Feed, and Daily Actor. She also regularly reviews theatre productions for UKTW.

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