How to Have a Killer Workout at Home Using Just Bodyweight

Going to the gym can be a real hassle. You have to pack up your gym bag, drive however long, find parking, make small talk in the lobby, shower, get to work, etc… Sometimes you just don’t want to put in the effort. I know, I know, you need to exhibit will power and make it routine – it’ll help you organize your day and all that. But what if – and go with me here – you could just stay home a do some old school calisthenics like your gramps did?

My grandfather was one of the fittest people I’ve had the pleasure of knowing, and he didn’t go to a gym. Granted, he lifted heavy things all the time, but other than that he just did good old-fashioned body weight exercises. Calisthenics is coming back in a big way, and rightfully so. It requires no – or at least very little – equipment and can be done anywhere. It’s also very safe (you won’t drop a heavy weight on your head doing push ups).

Finally, the exercises are simple, and when combined, can provide a very effective whole body workout. Now, I’m not saying that you should completely replace going to the gym, but you should at least know your options. Let’s review some of the most popular bodyweight exercises, and then I’ll give you a sample program that you can do at the end.

Push Ups

Muscles targeted: Pectoralis major with triceps and anterior deltoid working synergistically.

push-ups are probably one of the most well-known of the bodyweight exercises, and rightfully so. Push-ups work close to a dozen different muscles in the upper body and can be modified in many ways. Just by changing the width that your hands are apart can target different muscles and doing them from your knees provides a shorter lever, making the exercise easier for beginners.

From there you can make push-ups more challenging in a number of ways – for example adding a clap on the way up will turn the exercise into a plyometric workout.


Muscles targeted: quadriceps with gluteus maximus, soleus, and adductor magnus working synergistically.

Not only are lunges great for the quadriceps and glutes (thighs and butt), the also challenge balance, strength, and the cardiovascular system. While not as easier to modify as some other bodyweight exercises, the lunge can still be made easier by taking a smaller step forward. It’s important that when you’re in the squat phase of the lunge that you come straight down and not let your knees go over your toes.

Pull ups

Muscles targeted: latissimus dorsi with about a dozen muscles acting synergistically, including the biceps, rhomboids, and trapezius.

Pull ups can be modified in a number of ways. Widening the grip, underhand vs overhand grip, or using a milk crate to give yourself a little boast if you’re a beginner all change the exercise slightly. While pull ups do require a little bit of equipment, the cost is still very low. You can get a pull up bar that fits in your doorframe for about $30.

Jumping Jacks

Muscles targeted: um… pretty much everything

Jumping jacks are fantastic. Just as Jack Lalanne, who was an advocate of their use for years – before you ask, no they weren’t named after him. Jumping jacks work a hell of a lot of muscle groups at the same time, not the least of which including the hop adductors/abductors and the deltoids. They are also a fantastic cardio workout. Jumping jacks are probably the pinnacle of what a calisthenic exercise is.

Ok, so now that we’ve talk about some of the common bodyweight exercises – and there are many, many more – I’ll give you an example calisthenic workout. I’ve given the sections names to make it easy to remember.

Mini Cardio Start

  • 5 min jumping jacks

The 1-1-1

  • 1 min of push-ups
  • 1 min of pull-ups
  • 1 min of lunges

Repeat 4 times

Micro Cardio End

  • 3 min jumping jacks

There you have it, if my math is right, that’s a 20 minute workout that stresses your cardiovascular system and works every major muscle group in the body. Play around with calisthenics and have fun! There are loads more bodyweight exercises that can be put into the mix, like squats, planks, squat-thrusts, and the list goes on and on.

Brandon Goulding

Brandon Goulding holds a bachelor of kinesiology degree and masters in physiotherapy. He has worked professionally as a personal trainer and a kinesiologist - doing everything from teaching fitness classes to ergonomic assessments. His passion is the science of exercise and helping people recover from injury. You can read more by Brandon at his exercise and physical therapy blog Exercise Basics

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *