Whether you’re stuck at home and have no equipment, aren’t wanting to go to the gym given
the current situation, or are on a vacation and the only piece of equipment in the hotel “gym” is a
crappy elliptical, having an arsenal of bodyweight exercises to choose from can come in handy
when your jonesin for a great workout. Over the years as a Personal Trainer and Certified
Athletic Trainer I’ve developed an extensive library of exercises and realized there is no “best”
exercise for any one muscle group. It just depends on the situation – person, place, objective,
etc.. Below I’ve put together a list of some of my favorite go to exercises when I’m lacking
equipment. To watch a quick example of each exercise, click the video above!
Single Leg Hip Thruster:
“It’s all about that butt”…or the base. The way I think about it is that your hips are the base
support for your spine and your glutes are the largest muscles in your hips. If they’re weak,
you’re more likely to have back problems, knee problems, keeping up your pants problems. This
exercise is a great way to work your glutes along with working on rotational stability. You may
have to begin with a regular hip thruster or even regress to a bridge if necessary, but all are an
excellent way to help support your spine and keep your pants up.
Ok, I’m on number 2 and I’m already cheating, but I figure if you do a deadbug you should do a
bird dog as well. They’re like peas and carrots, although I rarely eat those 2 things together
anymore. Either way, both exercises focus on maintaining a neutral spine while moving your
extremities in a coordinated movement, both work your core muscles and both are great
exercises to perform prior to weight bearing exercises because you’re priming those stabilizer
muscles prior to working the bigger mover muscles.
Did you know inchworms aren’t worms at all but caterpillars who have legs at both ends of their
bodies and none in the middle. That’s why they look so weird when they move. However, that
doesn’t give you an excuse for looking weird when you perform this exercise. Stop slouching
and tighten that core! I love this exercise because it works on trunk and shoulder stability while
also hitting ankle and hamstring mobility. You can also increase the challenge by reversing the
motion and/or pausing at the end point.
Single Leg Squat:
The squat is one of the most functional exercises you could ever perform. Along with the deadlift
or a hinge, these exercises are a must in the majority of training programs in my opinion.
However, a bodyweight squat isn’t that hard, so I like to perform single leg exercises when
bodyweight is the resistance. It’s a great way to compare and balance out your lower extremity
strength and challenges strength in a relative manner. You can start off with a simple heel tap
using a step and then work your way up to a pistol squat. Either way, perform the movement
with control and focus on good alignment between your hip, knee, and ankle.
Single Leg Deadlift:
Like the single leg squat, the single leg deadlift is a great exercise to improve lower extremity
stability and balance. You’re not really deadlifting anything but it’s a great way to improve that
hinge pattern. You can increase the challenge by adding a pause, reach, or performing the
movement on an unstable surface like a mat or pillow. Just don’t roll your ankle please.
There’s a saying: If you’re not rowing, your muscles aren’t growing. Also known as a reverse
push-up, the inverted row is one of the most underrated and underused movements there is,
and one of the simplest. In the majority of fitness assessments, people can usually do 3-5 times
as many push-ups as they can do inverted rows – which means there’s an imbalance that can
lead to shoulder pain and injury. You may not always have the perfect set up at home or on
vacation for inverted rows but if you use your imagination, I bet you can find something. I’ve
used playgrounds, trees, and even benches to rep them out.
Speaking of push-ups, this movement like the inverted row is simple but highly effective for
training the chest, shoulders, and even core if you add in some variations. I frequently mix it up
using the following: the push-up w/ rotation, spiderman push-up, feet elevated push-up, walking
push-up, slider push-up, and the list goes on and on.
The name Copenhagen basically means merchants harbor. How that correlates to this exercise,
I have no clue. Unless, I guess, if you refer to the groin region as the merchants harbor.. More
likely it was developed by someone in the hockey realm with the last name Copenhagen. Either
way, this is a killer exercise for your adductor muscles and core.
Lunge to Step-Up:
Why choose one when you can do them both together. The lunge and step up are both great
lower body strengthening exercises. Combine them together and you’ve got some magic. Ok
not really, it’s more like pain and burning in your quads and glutes.
Nordic Hamstring Curl:
Also known as the Russian hamstring curl, Russian lean, Nordic ham curl, bodyweight leg curl,
etc, etc. This exercise is probably one of the top ten studied and referenced exercises in
literature. It’s used in many ACL prevention programs and is believed to reduce the risk of
hamstring strains. To geek out on you for a sec, it is believed to increase the hamstrings length
and shift the maximum strength of the muscle toward longer muscle lengths, which is believed
to be important in sports. In short, it lengthens and strengthens…and occasionally causes
cramps in people who aren’t used to the exercise.
I’m sure some of my readers are saying what about pull-ups, sit-ups, burpees, and calf raises.
Believe me, I probably could have listed 20-30 exercises easily, but if I did that you likely would
have stopped reading after the second or third. Who knows, you could have stopped reading
anyways and I am sitting here typing to myself. Hopefully not, and hopefully you picked up some
good exercises to add to your arsenal. Either way, be safe, give these exercises a try if you
haven’t already, and keep gaining!
If you experience any pain while working through these exercises, please stop and speak with
your doctor or physical therapist or schedule an appointment to be seen at one of our clinics.