I’m a huge believer in simplicity. Keeping exercise and workouts simple is vital for success. Nothing is more demotivating than a complex workout with lots of confusing exercises.
Recently I’ve been experimenting with one exercise per day bodyweight workouts and my ‘How to Perform 100 Push Ups‘ is a good example of this.
Push Ups are great and so are many other bodyweight exercises but it’s important to choose exercises that target the whole body, this way you avoid muscle imbalances, postural problems are also increase your fat burning potential more efficiently.
So I asked myself a simple question:
“What would be the minimum amount of bodyweight exercises I could use to target the whole body effectively?”
The answer produced the title of this blog post: Top 3 Bodyweight Exercises
OK, lets not waste any more time and get straight into the 3 exercises…
Bodyweight Exercise # 1 – Inverted Rows
The inverted row is a highly underused exercise, in fact I rarely see anyone performing this exercise in a gym when I’ve been training.
I chose this exercise because:
- It works the posture muscles at the back of the body and counteracts sitting
- It works most of the pulling muscles in the body
- It’s the exact opposite of a Push Up
- It integrates all your core muscles beautiful
- It improves scapula retraction
How it’s done
You lie underneath a bar and keeping your body in line from shoulder to heel you pull your chest up towards the bar. It is important to keep your body straight by activating your core muscles. The more parallel your body is during the movement the more difficult the exercise will be.
My Inverted Row Tips:
- Always keep your core engaged and body in a straight line
- Never let your hips sag
- Pull your sternum to the bar
- Never reach with your chin keep it neutral
- Breathe in as your pull up to the bar and out as you lower
- Use a tempo of 2 seconds up and 2 seconds lower
- Never use wrist straps let your grip improve naturally
Here’s a Video showing you the Inverted Row
Start with the bar high and lower the bar each time you can perform 12 good quality repetitions.
Continue to lower the bar until your back almost touches the floor on the downward part of the movement. Once you can perform 12 good repetitions at this height raise the bar again and place your feet on a bench.
Once you can perform 12 good repetitions with your feet on a bench and the bar as low as you can go without your back touching the floor advance to instability exercises. For instability exercises try using just one leg on the bench or swapping the bench for a stability ball. Once you can perform 12 good repetitions of these try using a TRX or Suspension Straps. You can even try one arm rows as you get really strong.
Performing these at Home?
If you are working out at home then chances are you won’t have an adjustable bar in your house. You can still perform inverted rows by lying underneath a table and pulling yourself up to the underside. Just be careful if you use this method that your table is strong enough and doesn’t tip over.
Bodyweight Exercise # 2 – Push Ups
Everyone knows the Push Up and how effective they can be. Performing proper Push Ups is not as easy as you think and I would advise everyone to take a look at the tutorial video below to get it right. If you want to find out more about training your Push Ups then please see my 100 Push Ups Article
I chose this exercise because:
- It works most of the Pushing Muscles in the Body
- It’s the complete opposite of the Inverted Row
- It perfectly integrates the core muscles and strengthens the Abs
- It improve shoulder stability
How its Done
Face down with weight on hands and toes lower and Push Up the body keeping the body in perfect alignment from shoulder to heels. Most people will find they are weak in the core and sag at the hips, if this starts to happen stop the exercise.
My Push Ups Tips:
- Keep the Core engaged throughout the exercise and the body in a straight line
- Breathe In on the way down and Out on the way up
- Ensure that the elbows bend backwards and NOT outwards
- Contract the buttocks to stabilise the core
- Descend down until your elbow forms a 90 degree angle
- Pull yourself down into the exercise by rotating the arms inwards as you descend
Here’s my Complete Push Up Tutorial Video
If a proper Push Up is too much for you then start by doing Push Ups against a wall, when you can perform 20 repetitions move on to your hands on a table or chair.
You are performing proper push ups. Practice different hand widths, closer will be more difficult. Also try one foot on top of the other one or tapping your opposite shoulder after each repetition.
Practice more strength based Push Ups by raising your feet on a chair or bench. Try improving your shoulder stability by performing them with your hands on an exercise ball. Develop explosive power with clap push ups.
Have trouble with your Wrists?
Many people suffer with there wrists when doing Push Ups. If this is the case for you then try either using Push Up bars or performing the Push Ups off your knuckles (use a mat to cushion them).
Bodyweight Exercise # 3 – Pistol Squats
Pistols are an advanced exercise that combine the elements of both a lunge and a squat together. Not only will this exercise work the entire lower body but it will elevate your heart rate rapidly as well as improving your one legged strength and stability.
I chose this exercise because:
- It works all muscle of the legs and lower body
- It improves balance and single leg stability of the hip helping protect the knees
- It beautifully integrates the core and back muscles
- It’s hugely cardiovascular
- It works hip and trunk mobility often in decline due to excess sitting
How it’s Done
Standing on one leg with the other leg held above the floor. You then sit back onto your heel and drop down into a one legged squat. Next you drive back up to the standing position. At no point does the the one leg touch the floor.
My Pistol Squat Tips:
- Keep your weight back on your heel at all times
- Lower your body slowly keeping your knee in straight alignment
- Keep your arms and weight forwards to counteract the movement
- Never let your heel come off the floor
- Breathe IN on the way down and breathe OUT through pursed lips as you stand
Here a Quick Video of the Pistol Squat
The pistol Squat is a very tough exercise, the beginner should first master the basic lunge exercise, the basic squat exercise and finally the Bulgarian lunge which simply elevates the back foot during a static lunge.
Once your Squats and Lunges are strong then you can practice the lowering part of the Pistol onto a chair. Lower slowly down on one leg until your thigh is parallel with the floor. The chair can then take your weight and you can stand with both feet. You can also practice the pistol squat by using a chair, pole or strap to hold onto. Work up to 12 repetitions per leg.
If you can perform the pistol squat for 12 reps with assistance then it’s time to go for it. You may find holding a weight in front of you helps as a counter balance. My rolling version of the Pistol Squat is also another way to practice this movement.
Here’s a Video of the Rolling Squat
Once you have the Pistol Squat perfected work on adding load to the squats either by wearing a weight vest, holding dumbbells or kettlebells.
Problems with the other leg?
For many people holding the other leg off the ground can be a problem. In this situation you may need to work on your hip mobility. Practice spending time in the bottom position of the squat and opening up your hips, you can hold onto a post for support if needed.
To continue to develop strength while your hip mobility improves you can practice your pistols by standing on a box and letting your free leg hang over the side. Using this method allows the free leg to not touch the floor as you squat down.
Putting it all Together into a Workout
Now you understand my Top 3 Bodyweight Exercises you can now work on putting them into a workout.
There are 2 basic options that I have used successfully:
Workout # 1 – (One Exercise per Day):
You chose one exercise per day, for example:
- Monday: Inverted Row (12 reps, 60-90 sec rest, 3-5 sets)
- Tuesday: Pistol Squats (6 reps each, 60-90 sec rest, 3-5 sets)
- Wednesday: Push Ups (12 reps, 60-90 sec rest, 3-5 sets)
- Thursday: Inverted Row (12 reps, 60-90 sec rest, 3-5 sets)
- Friday: Pistols Squats (6 reps each, 60-90 sec rest, 3-5 sets)
- Saturday: Push Ups (12 reps, 60-90 sec rest, 3-5 sets)
- Sunday: Rest
Workout # 2 – (3 Exercises per Day):
Here you perform all the exercises in one day but you have more days off:
- Monday: Inverted Row (12 reps), Pistol Squats (6 reps each), Push Ups (12 reps), Rest 60-90 sec rest, Repeat 3-5 sets
- Tuesday: Rest
- Wednesday: As Monday
- Thursday: Rest
- Friday: As Monday
- Saturday & Sunday: Rest
Workout 1 is going to be a lot easier and allows for more focus on just one exercise. It will however overload that exercise each day so you will get strong fast this way. You also only perform each exercise 2 x per week compared to 3 x with Workout 2.
Workout 2 will be more cardiovascular as you perform more exercise and target more muscle groups per workout. So I would chose this option more for general fitness and fat loss. You also have 4 full days off for total body recovery.
With both of these workouts you will want to work through your progressions so start at whatever level you feel comfortable (Beginner, Intermediate, Advanced) and look at improving over the weeks, not days!. Most importantly keep the quality of each exercise high and NEVER sacrifice numbers for quality.
Looking for A Complete 12 Week Bodyweight Program?
If so see my 12 Week Essential Bodyweight Program here