How to use your body weight to build muscle and strength

If you want to get into the best shape of your life, you don’t need Olympic weights and fitness machines. In fact, you never need to step inside a gym. You’re walking around with the most effective workout equipment known to man: your own body.

Take a cue from the fittest athletes on the planet — gymnasts, boxers, soldiers and martial artists — and use bodyweight exercises to work out wherever you happen to be.

“Bodyweight exercises are natural, functional and athletic,” says B.J. Gaddour, author of Your Body Is Your Barbell (Rodale Books, 2014) and trainer in the best-selling DVD series Men’s Health DeltaFit. “They prepare your body for the way it’ll be used every day.”

Here are some of Gaddour’s favorite bodyweight movements that helped transform him from an overweight college kid into one of the fittest men in the world. Do these as a circuit, moving from one exercise to the next. Rest for 30 seconds between exercises. Beginners may rest for a minute before repeating the circuit. Challenge yourself by resting less until you can complete four circuits with little or no break.

You should always check with your physician before starting a new exercise routine.

JEFF CSATARI is the author of the New York Times best-seller The Belly Off! Diet.


This is a great exercise to start with because it increases your heart rate, warming your body while activating your core. Get into a pushup position with your arms straight and hands under your shoulders. Your body should form a straight line from your head to your ankles. Now lift your right foot off the floor and bring your right knee to your chest. Return to the starting position and repeat with your left leg. That’s one rep. Alternating back and forth, do 10 to 20 reps, increasing speed but maintaining control.


This progression makes the pushup much harder because you are pushing more of your body weight. Place your feet on a sturdy box or chair or on the second step of a staircase. Place your hands on the floor directly under your shoulders with arms straight. Your body should form a straight line from head to heels. Lower yourself until your nose is an inch above the floor, then push back up. Do eight to 10 reps.

Easier: To build strength for the feet-elevated version, start with five to 10 regular pushups, but do the last rep very slowly, taking 10 seconds to lower and 10 to push yourself up.


Start this low-back-strengthening exercise by lying facedown with your arms and legs extended. Keeping your torso as still as possible, simultaneously raise your arms and legs off the floor and hold this contraction for two seconds. Slowly lower your limbs to the floor and repeat. Do 10 reps. Cape optional.


Lean your back against a wall with your feet 2 feet away from the wall and shoulder-width apart. Slowly bend your knees to lower your rear end. Make sure your head, back and tailbone keep contact with the wall at all times. Keep your knees in line with your ankles. Lower your body until your thighs are parallel with the floor. Hold this position for 20 seconds before rising and resting for 30 seconds. Work up to 60-second holds.

Harder: Do the six-stop Wall Sit. Lower yourself a few inches at a time for six stops and hold each stop for 10 seconds.


Stand straight with your feet together and arms at your sides. Step forward with your right foot and lower your body until your front knee is at 90 degrees and your back knee is about an inch off the floor. Pause and then push off your front right foot while straightening your left leg to return to the starting position. Repeat. Do five reps with the right foot then repeat the lunge with your left for 10 total reps.

Harder: Try the clock lunge. After doing a forward lunge and stepping back to feet together, take a big step to the right (3 o’clock) and lunge again. Finish the semicircle with a backward lunge, stepping back to the 6 o’clock position before returning to feet together. Repeat the sequence with your left leg stepping into a forward lunge and then to 9 o’clock and 6 o’clock. That’s one rep. Do 10.


Lie on your back with your legs bent at right angles, feet flat on the floor hip-width apart. Place your hands under the small of your back. Now, push through your feet to raise your hips as high as you can without arching your back. Squeeze your glutes as you lift your hips and brace your abs. Hold the top position briefly, then slowly lower to the floor. Repeat for 10 reps.

Harder: Start out with your right knee bent with your foot on the floor and your left foot and leg extended straight. Your left upper leg should be in line with your right upper leg. Push your hips up, squeeze your rear end and lower to the starting position. Do 10 reps, switch legs and repeat.

To get the most from this bodyweight workout, reduce the weight of your body by paying closer attention to your diet. One of the best ways to shed fat is by eliminating added sugar, especially in the form of empty liquid calories: juices, sodas, sweet tea and alcohol. Make a habit of drinking mostly water and unsweetened iced tea. Then focus on cutting back on carbohydrates like breads and snack foods, and adding more protein and produce.

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