The complete bodyweight workout routine.
Bodyweight workout routines have become extremely popular and with good reason, considering all the benefits they give us.
But how do you create an efficient bodyweight workout routine? Which exercises to choose and how should the routine look like in order to cover both strength, condition, and stamina?
Well, all of this and more is what I will explain in this article and I will even give you a downloadable one-week example so you can try it out. Let’s go.
These are the topics I will touch:
Benefits of a bodyweight workout routine
As mentioned above, there are many reasons why you should consider a bodyweight workout routine. Let’s have a look at some of the most important ones.
They are free:
You don’t need an expensive gym membership and the only real equipment you need is a pull-up bar (you can actually do without that) which you can buy at Amazon for around 10 dollars.
They can be done anywhere and anytime that fits you:
Time is the biggest issue when it comes to staying fit for most people. And no wonder why we have to spend one hour in the gym and an additional hour for transportation and preparation. 1/4 of our free time just to stay fit is too much.
With a bodyweight workout routine, it’s very simple. You select your favorite place and workout at your favorite time. That’s it!
Most exercises are functional movements:
Now it becomes a bit technical; hold on.
When the whole fitness industry exploded in the 70s we were taught to use machines for our workout. We focused on specific muscle groups and worked them one by one.
All that is changing with the speed of light. Reebok lately had a big campaign that said “Be more human” and that is exactly what functional movements are about. They mirror a natural movement where a lot of muscles and joints are involved. In real life, we don’t need a specific attention on our biceps or calves. We need to be able to suddenly catch something or jump in a certain direction. We need to be able to pick up our shopping bags, even when we are 90 years old. Do you get the idea?
They are efficient:
All the time I get questions about if you can build muscles with bodyweight workout routine. Well, it’s very simple. Look at the gymnasts and calisthenics people. Do they look strong? Absolutely!
Building muscles is all about progressing the right way and controlling the muscles time under tension (TUT).
When it comes to cardio we all know that bodyweight workouts are efficient – think running!
Types of workouts to consider
According to American College of Sports Medicine, we need to consider a different kind of workouts to get fit. They are cardio, strength, flexibility & neuromotor activities (read functional movements), and with bodyweight exercises, we can target all of them.
We want to become stronger for several reasons, but the main ones are:
– Muscles give you a good posture and thereby less risk of injuries and diseases in the musculoskeletal system.
– Muscles help you to boost your metabolism and thereby burn fat, even when you are resting.
– Muscles make you look lean.
As mentioned above, we need to focus on the muscles time under tension (TUT) when we want to build more of them. Therefore, when it comes to strength we want to take it easy and do the exercises as slowly as possible, which equals more TUT.
Another term we need to learn is the “progressive overload”. What we mean is that we need to stress the muscles more and more so that they can become stronger. Therefore, we need to apply a good progression strategy to our strength sessions. We have 3 ways to do this.
Longer time under tension by doing the exercise slowly or adding more reps.
Applying more resistance to the muscles we workout.
I guess we are ok with option 1), but how about 2) if we don’t want to use weights?
3) Well, it’s very simple. We just do more advanced exercises. Instead of squats, we do pistols.
A good cardiorespiratory fitness level has for a long time been known to give a lot of benefits.
– Less risk of cardiovascular diseases.
– More energy.
– Cardio helps to burn calories.
All this is still very valid, but what has changed since the 70s is the focus on long aerobic sessions (think neon lights and curly hair) towards short intensive workouts also known as High-intensity Interval Training (HIIT) (think CrossFit).
The reason for this change is not just due to the wind of changes but well-documented studies that show the same and even more benefits with HIIT than traditional long cardio workouts. Basically, you can say that if you do the high-intensity training correctly (that is one of the biggest issues) you can boost your condition and get benefits that traditional cardio has difficulties to give. Some of them are:
– Shorter workouts. Normally done in less than 15 minutes.
– Boosts your cardiorespiratory fitness much more efficiently than traditional cardio.
– Gives you a long afterburn (up to 48 hours) which helps you to burn calories long after your workout is done.
– Build muscles. Long cardio sessions normally break down muscles after 30-45 minutes.
– Seems like this type of workout is better to burn belly fat.
– Activates hormones that have a positive impact on insulin – less risk of obesity and diabetes.
– Mostly anaerobic. This means we can use the energy stored in the muscles and not oxygen like in aerobics.
Now all of that seems very good, but what are the downside then?
HIIT has to be done with a heart rate, above 90% of your max heart rate – meaning it’s really really hard. Did I mention it’s hard? 🙂
This is also why most people fail with HIIT. They do a 7-minute workout at a moderate pace and believe they have done a great workout. Things couldn’t be more wrong.
When doing a real HIIT session you are only able to speak single words and you will be completely wasted after the workout.
Then shouldn’t you do long cardio sessions? Yes, and I will come to that soon.
We have already covered this. Bodyweight exercises are mostly functional movements.
Even though we just learned how fantastic HIIT is, we shouldn’t forget about longer aerobic sessions. Not long as in hours and hours but around 30-45 minutes is fine. And what is it we get out of longer aerobic sessions?
– Most daily activities are powered by oxygen (meaning aerobic) and therefore we should try to improve that system.
– Stamina – it seems like longer cardio workouts like running, swimming and biking (SportActive) are better to achieve lower heart rate both when resting but also when active. This means that we can continue longer activities with higher intensity.
– You recover faster from these workouts than HIIT.
So the conclusion is that as American College of Sports Medicine points out, we should combine all these forms in our workout routine and this is exactly what I will do in the one-week example. Let’s continue.
Most efficient exercises
We know that we are looking for bodyweight exercises, but if we Google that there are hundreds of exercises. And if you go to YouTube you will find thousands of videos showing slim people jumping around in different ways.
So we need to go back to what we learned. We want to look for functional movements that are natural and involve as many muscles and joints as possible. Here are the most basic ones.
Works the big muscles in your legs, glutes, and lower back. Do them as jumping squats and your heart rate will skyrocket in no time. In other words, you will get strong and boost your condition at the same time.
Excellent for strengthening the core. They can be done in many variations in order to activate specific areas.
Probably one of the most famous upper-body exercises we have. It works chest, arms, and shoulders. If the proper form can’t be kept, it’s perfectly fine to do them on knees.
Most people have weak and stiff traps (Upper part of the back). This is due to our living styles with lots of texting, typing, and driving. Pull-ups and rows are the right exercises to address these problems.
Talking about functional movements, here you probably have the #1. We all spend a part of our lives crawling, and millions of years ago we were crawling all the time. The bear crawl is an excellent strength exercise for the complete body – legs, core, and upper-body. Your shoulders, especially, will benefit a lot from this exercise.
This exercise has become extremely popular with the fame of CrossFit. They work the complete body and will boost your condition.
Surprised? Well, I guess you agree with me that it’s a natural movement? The biggest issues, especially with running, is that if it’s done too often in a weak body, there are big risks for injuries. Therefore, moderated running is good.
These are seven of the most basic exercises. There are many more great bodyweight exercises, but you can go a long way with these. Further down, you will see that my one-week example is built up by these exercises.
Starting and progressing properly