The Cooper Institute

Founded in 1970 by the "Father of Aerobics"
Kenneth H. Cooper MD, MPH


Bodyweight Exercises: Exercise for Wherever You Are

Written by
Michael Harper, MEd
Posted in
Move more

Monday, May 07, 2012

Finding ways to incorporate exercises wherever you are may enhance your ability to stick with an exercise regimen and see positive long-term results. When on the road traveling for work, I often find myself in situations where I don’t have the luxuries of the same weight room I am used to at home. As a result, I often look to bodyweight exercises as a way to do resistance training. For the exercises to be effective for long-term benefit, it is important that they still challenge the body progressively. Increasing the number of repetitions or sets is a common way to achieve this.

But there are many other ways to do this as well. Progressing bodyweight exercises is often only limited by one’s own imagination. Here are some examples you might want to try:

  • Change the length of a lever arm – such as going from a modified push-up on the knees to a full push-up as was explored in “How Much Weight is Really Lifted During a Push-up?” Another example might include placing the arms overhead during an abdominal crunch to make the torso longer.
  • Change the angle of exercise or elevate a limb – such as performing a push-up with feet elevated on a box. Performing push-ups with feet on a 60” box compared to feet on the ground has been shown to increase the force applied against the ground by 10%. 1 Performing an abdominal crunch on a decline compared to flat on the ground is another example.
  • Change the range of motion - such as progressing a half push-up to a full push-up or a half squat to a full squat as was discussed in “What’s your Squat IQ?”, doing a step-up on a taller step or performing a full sit-up versus just an abdominal crunch.
  • Change rest times – decreasing rest time does not allow the body as much recovery time and has been shown to cause higher levels of perceived exertion during exercise, although this may decrease the number of repetitions that can be done as a result of the shorter rest.2
Really the sky is the limit to making bodyweight exercises more challenging. Be sure, of course, that the progressions you decide to try are safe. What are some ways you have changed a bodyweight exercise to make it more challenging?

1Ebben, WP, Wurm, B, VanderZanden, TL, Spadavecchia, ML, Durocher, JJ, Bickham, CT, and Petushek, EJ. Kinetic analysis of several variations of push-ups. J Strength Cond Res 25(10): 2891–2894, 2011

2Senna, G, Willardson, JM, de Salles, BF, Scudese, E, Carneiro, F, Palma, A, and Simão, R. The effect of rest interval length on multi and single-joint exercise performance and perceived exertion. J Strength Cond Res 25(11): 3157–3162, 2011