These are the only bodyweight exercises experts reckon are *actually* effective

Try from home, the garden, or the gym.

A woman doing a series of bodyweight exercises
(Image credit: Getty Images)

If you're on the hunt for bodyweight exercises that you can do from anywhere (read: the comfort of your own home), then you're in the right place. 

We're big fans of simple yet effective home workouts here at Marie Claire UK - most of us are time short as is, so hour-long weight training workouts that require a drive to the gym just won't be doable.

A 20-minute session you can do from your living room, however, is a whole different matter. You can squeeze in before the kids wake up or when you get home from work, in your pyjamas or favourite gym kit - whatever floats your boat.

That said, many wonder whether bodyweight exercises are actually effective or worth your time. For those of you who don't know, the basic definition of a bodyweight exercise is a workout move you do using just the weight of your body - think a push-up, squat, or lunge. 

Bodyweight workouts utilise resistance so as to create muscle tension, in turn boosting both your strength levels and general fitness.

According to Lucy Campbell, the fittest woman in the UK, PT and CrossFit coach, there are loads of benefits of doing workouts simply using your bodyweight. "Being able to control your own weight can involve great strength and is a fantastic way to build muscle as well as growing your body awareness," she explains. "Just look at gymnasts - they largely use their own body weight and are incredibly strong." 

Benefits include improved fitness, strength and muscle mass, better blood flow, plus they put less strain on your joints if you're recovering from injury.

"Bodyweight training also allows you to build a strong base with a variety of exercises that can be made more challenging by reps, tempo and inclines," Campbell continues. 

To improve your fitness week on week, Campbell and Jess Rosart, gym manager, coach and personal trainer at WIT House London, recommend aiming for progressive overload - that is, gradually increasing the amount of reps or sets of an exercise you do so your body adapts and gets stronger. "As long as you are consistent with the movements and your sessions, you could see results within a month," Campbell shares. 

For their top picks of the best moves to try at home, keep scrolling. Looking for other workouts to try? This Pilates workout gets our vote.

Bodyweight exercises: 10 best to try anytime, anywhere 

1. Air squat

According to Campbell, air squats are a great bodyweight move to try at home. "It's a multi-purpose movement in that it can be used to warm up and mobilise your body before lifting weights, performed in volume to build leg endurance, or done as part of a recovery routine by promoting blood flow to your legs and glutes."

Rosart agrees, adding that they're a great lower body movement to improve mobility of your ankles, knees and hips and also leg strength.

How to: Imagine you’re sitting on a chair, with your hips go back and your knees forwards. Keeping your chest up, keep sitting down until your hips are ideally below the parallel line of your knees. Then stand up. Sometimes raising your arms to eye level as you descend can help to maintain your chest position in this movement, so try that if you find you’re leaning forwards too much.

How long: Start with 5 rounds of 20 air squats. When you're used to that, try adding time under tension, advises Campbell - aim to take 4 seconds to get from standing to the bottom of the squat, as a start point.

2. Lunges

Next up? The humble lunge. Often overlooked, this bodyweight exercise has a multitude of benefits and can be performed in a variety of ways, share the experts. "They work your stability and balance as well as requiring the single leg strength to drive from the bottom position," shares Campbell. 

How to: Bring one leg out in front of you, and as your foot lands on the floor lower down your back knee to touch the floor with your front leg creating a right angle. Drive back up from the front leg to standing.

How long: Start with 5 rounds of 20 and build from there.

3. Jumping lunges

Jumping lunges, according to Campbell, are great for explosive strength and building leg endurance via lactate threshold training (aka when lactate acid builds up in your blood faster than the body can remove it). "This means you'll be able to work for longer and at a higher intensity," she explains.

How to: Perform as a regular lunge - as above - but instead of stepping into each position, jump explosively.

How long: Build up with a few sets of 10 to 16 reps.

4. Push up

A push up is one of the best shoulder exercises you can do, plus the most basic form of pushing strength. "It can also be easily scaled to suit all abilities," shares Campbell.

How to: Begin in a top plank position with your hands underneath your shoulders and lower your chest down to the floor whilst maintaining the same body position. Once your chest has touched the floor, push yourself back up to your starting position. This can be scaled to lowering yourself down to a bench or box – this is preferable to a kneeling push up as it includes the full range of motion and maintains the core demand of the movement.

How long: To build strength with these you want to aim for progressive overload where you increase the reps or sets you perform each session. For example, one week you could perform 3 sets of 6 to 8, then the next week, aim for 3 sets of 8 to 10. Either way, your workload is increasing and your body is therefore working harder and will need to adapt to get stronger.

5. Ring row

This is another great movement that can be easily adapted to make it challenging for people of all abilities. "They're incredibly underrated and a great way to build lat and back strength, too," shares Campbell. Do note: you will need rings for this one, so it's best performed in a gym or at a Crossfit bos.

How to: With your feet on the floor, either the full foot for more support or just heels to make it harder, begin with your arms fully extended and lats engaged by pulling your shoulder blades back and down. Pull the rings in to touch your chest and lower back to the start position in a controlled manner. To make it more difficult, make your body more horizontal or elevate your feet on a box or bench.

How long: Like push ups, you want to build reps week on week where you push yourself a bit more each session. Aim for 3 sets of 6 to 8 and progress from there. Try adding a pause at the top or a tempo on the way down for ultimate bang for your buck.

6. Pull up

A pull up is another seriously simple yet effective bodyweight move - it's one of the most pure and simple forms of strength and further motivates so many women to get stronger in the mission to get a pull up. Again, unless you have a sturdy enough piece of kit at home, do try this one at the gym, too.

How to: Start with your arms fully extended hanging from a bar and initiate the movement by squeezing your shoulder blades together to avoid overly using your traps. Pull up until your chin is above the bar, squeezing your legs together throughout the rep. Lower yourself down in a controlled manner to your starting position.

How long: If you can perform one rep or less, practising negative pull ups so you’re able to eventually do more. "This means that you jump to the top of the pull up position and control the descent," explains the expert.

If you can perform at least two reps, she advises gradually add reps or sets on each session.

7. Wall walks

Wall walks are a simple movement but simultaneously very humbling and deceiving, shares Campbell. It's a great way of building shoulder strength in a way that's a bit different, plus it's slightly more fun than other movements, she reckons.

How to: Start with your body face down on the ground with your hands by your shoulders and feet touching the wall. Push back into a down dog position before placing your feet on the wall and then moving your hands and feet at the same time up the wall until your hands are a couple of inches away from the wall and body in one line. Lower yourself back to your starting position in a controlled manner. To scale these, perform with your feet on a box or bench and stop when your hands are underneath your hips.

How long: To build up your capacity add in more reps or sets each time you perform them. Start by aiming for 3 sets of 6 to 8.

8. Sit ups

Rosart rates sit ups for boosting your core strength. Top tip: fold a towel up and place it under your lower back for support and full range of motion.

How to: Start by lying down on your back with your feet flat against the floor and your knees bent. With hands on either side of your body, brace your core and raise your upper body off the floor, sitting up towards your knees until you are upright. Then, bracing your core again and being careful not to strain your neck, lower yourself back towards the ground. Repeat.

How long: Aim for 3 sets of 6 to 8 reps.

9. Plank

You'll all have heard of a plank, but for good reason - according to the trainer, it's a great move for core stability which will transfer over to other moves, such as squats and deadlifts, and also improve your posture.

How to: Start with your elbows, forearms, and toes on the floor so you are holding your body in a straight line. Keeping your core tight, your spine neutral and your shoulders braced, hold the position, remembering to breathe. 

How long: Aim for 3 sets of 45 to 60 seconds.

10. Burpees

Last but by no means least, another bodyweight move you'll have heard of is a burpee - a high intensity interval training move that will get your heart rate up and boost your cardio.

How to: Start by standing with your feet beneath your hips, arms by your side. Lowering yourself into your standard squat position, put both hands on the floor and jump your legs back into a plank position. Bracing your core, bring yourself back up to your starting position and repeat.

How long: Aim for 3 sets of 12 to 15 reps.

What happens if I only do bodyweight exercises?

As Campbell explains, bodyweight exercises - such as air squats or lunges - are good to incorporate in lighter or active recovery sessions. "Many athletes include them in their training programmes and studies have proved can massively benefit your training," she shares.

"Performed at the correct intensity for each individual, they will promote blood flow to the muscles helping to speed up recovery without putting them under too much strain with added load from a weight," she continues.

Additionally, the muscles’ time under tension can easily be manipulated in  these exercises through alterations in the tempo of the movement, or by adding pauses. 

In short, bodyweight exercises are a great way for beginners to build both muscle and strength.

Ally Head
Senior Health, Sustainability and Relationships Editor

Ally Head is Marie Claire UK's Senior Health, Sustainability, and Relationships Editor, nine-time marathoner, and Boston Qualifying runner. Day-to-day, she works across site strategy, features, and e-commerce, reporting on the latest health updates, writing the must-read health and wellness content, and rounding up the genuinely sustainable and squat-proof gym leggings worth *adding to basket*. She's won a BSME for her sustainability work, regularly hosts panels and presents for events like the Sustainability Awards, and is a stickler for a strong stat, too, seeing over nine million total impressions on the January 2023 Wellness Issue she oversaw. Follow Ally on Instagram for more or get in touch.