How to Get Started With Bodyweight Training Today!

Today you take your first steps towards becoming a ninja/jedi/assassin/superhero, without needing to step foot in a gym.

Interested? Of course you are!

That’s 4 amazing things all combined into a nerd mecha-robot.

Here’s the deal: It doesn’t matter if you’re a 300-pound guy who wants to lose weight and get back in the dating scene; it doesn’t matter if you’re a mom of three who wants to drop a little fat and gain a little muscle; it doesn’t matter if you’re an in-shape twenty-something who’s just looking for a new workout challenge.

Right now — right in front of you— are all the tools you need to get into amazing shape and live a healthier, happier life.

So…just where the heck are these tools? Check the mirror! Seriously go look in the mirror.

Did you go look? That’s okay if you didn’t. But keep reading.

Bodyweight Training Can Change Your Body — And Your Life.

camp rings

“Use your body to improve your body.” – Something some zen master said at some point probably

Bodyweight training means doing any exercise that leverages your own bodyweight to build strength and muscle, burn fat, and become more resilient. Now, you might think that’s just basic stuff like push-ups and squats. And those things ARE bodyweight movements, and absolutely crucial to building a healthy foundation.

Hidden in plain sight, your own bodyweight is actually a complete training system waiting to be used. +5 points to Gryffindor for you being a complete training system. Go you!

Whether you want to use your bodyweight as a centerpiece in your training routine for decades to come (like me or Team Nerd Fitness Member Jim Bathurst), just build a foundational strength before you move to barbell workouts, or mix in some bodyweight training to complement your yoga/swimming/running/dancing/international jewel thievery, today we’ll take you through exactly how to get started.

The best part: since bodyweight training scales in difficulty and has plenty of variety, it truly can be used from Level 1 to Level 50.

How Bodyweight Training Can Help You Build The Body You Really Want

pushups kid

Your body is a complex piece of machinery that has been fine-tuned over thousands of
generations. Think of yourself as Human Ver. 100000000.0.0.1. We’ve been doing “bodyweight training” as a species since our days as cavemen and cavewomen – except back then it wasn’t called training, it was called “life” and there were no spandex in sight:

Things like:

  • Sitting in a deep squat around a campfire with our tribe.
  • Crawling under and over things as we encountered obstacles in nature.
  • Pulling ourselves up into a tree or over a cliff to escape danger.
  • Pushing ourselves up onto a ledge or platform to get a better view.
  • Swinging from vine to vine as King of the Jungle. (Okay maybe not this one).

Because we’ve had to adapt to do all of those things to survive, our bodies LOVE the idea of working with all of our muscles and bones and joints in unison to accomplish movements or overcome obstacles.

It’s the reason we rage against the machines in the gym – cue “bulls on parade” – they often create imbalances and other weird problems through isolation and non-functional movement. Think of it this way: Cavemen didn’t pick up various rocks to isolate their triceps muscles or do “curlz for the cavegurlz.” And they certainly didn’t lie on a bench at a 30-degree angle while doing log presses to emphasize their upper pectoral muscles before going to kill a gazelle.

Instead, men and women did whatever they needed to do in order to survive — and their bodies adapted as a result.

If you’ve been reading Nerd Fitness for a while, you know I’m a fan of this quote from the trainer of the actors in the movie 300: “Appearance is a consequence of fitness.”

Bodyweight exercises tap into our full, natural anatomy. Movements like squats, push-ups, pull-ups, dips, and rows recruit all the muscles in our body and teach our body to work in unison. When you do bodyweight training, your body becomes more efficient working as a unified organism: all of your muscles, tendons, joints, and bones get strong as hell together — and safely.

Plus, you get to master your body like a freaking Jedi.

We know that strength training — with your bodyweight or with free weights — also happens to burn plenty of calories and builds muscle and strength. So it doesn’t matter if you’re male or female, young or old — bodyweight strength training can help you build a body that looks good and feels good. In fact, as you get older one of the best ways to feel young is to stay strong! Just ask our older rebels.

Period. Exclamation point! Loud noises!

Bodyweight Exercises Can Be Done Anywhere

pullup bar forest

Read that headline one more time. Crap, there goes that excuse for not exercising! You always have your body with you, which means you always have the ability to exercise, even if it’s just for a few reps here and there.

You can always improve yourself physically. Anytime. Anywhere. Whether you’re:

Seriously, right now you can just drop down and do some (knee/wall) push-ups.

I’ll wait.

You didn’t do them, did you?! You sandbaggin’ son of a biscuit… you SAILOR you.

Even if you DIDN’T do them, you weren’t completely overwhelmed at the idea of doing a few reps!

My point is this: You don’t need access to a gym to get in great shape. You simply need to know a few moves — which we’ll teach you below — and you can train anywhere.

You Can Make Bodyweight Exercises As Easy — Or as Challenging — As You Need

camp handstand

Although bodyweight exercises are a bit more tough to visualize as a scalable activity compared to weight lifting (where you just put more weight on the bar), with just a little bit knowledge bodyweight training is like improving a particular skill tree in video games.

For example, in the pushup you might start on your knees or with your hands on an elevated surface. Over time, by slowly adjusting the angle you are manipulating your bodyweight, you can effectively change the difficulty of an exercise to make it more challenging. With a tougher angle, you have to move a higher percentage of your bodyweight, and thus more strength is needed!

I guarantee you can train with just your bodyweight for the next 20 years and you will not reach a “MAX LEVEL” screen.

Here’s what an oversimplified progression tree for the pushup might look like:

Wall push-ups -> Knee push-ups -> push ups -> feet elevated push ups -> pike push ups-> handstand push ups.

Show me somebody that has advanced to the end of one or more bodyweight skill trees, and I’ll show you somebody that is in peak physical condition (and looks damn good too!).

Once you learn the progressions, it’s just like adding points to a skill tree or leveling up a skill to unlock the next one in a video game. You start at the base exercise, get stronger and better, and then rank up when that movement becomes too easy. Gamification ftw.

There’s always a new skill to work on, a new challenging variation, the next level in the skill you’re working on.

Bodyweight Exercises Build Great Physiques

jim_handstand

If you’re like me (and the other 7.2 billion people on the planet), you might look at gymnasts or see what Jim Bathurst is doing in that photo above and say “holy crap I wish I had a body like that” or “dang, would be cool to do that, but not me.”

If you happen to be somebody who is stockier or heavier, you might look at bodyweight-training-jedi and say “I can’t train like them, because i’m not built like them. I need to lose weight first before trying to those things” You’ve got it backwards.

They look like they do precisely because they train like that!

In fact, we have TONS of success stories from people in our community, male and female who have transformed thanks to bodyweight training. Yours truly included!

Some people use the training to slim WAY down, others like me, use it to pack some muscle on (click on each photo for the story!):

Steve Before During
joe

Veronica-Before-After

Now, not only do ninja/assassin/gymnasts look good, they can also do some pretty cool party tricks – like Jim doing handstands on chairs above.

I don’t think I’ll be doing handstands on stacked chairs anytime soon, or busting out one-handed handstands, but it’s amazing to know what our bodies are capable of when we train them with conviction and follow the right progressions!

If you’re somebody who scrolls through Instagram far too often (like me!), use motivation properly and follow people that inspire you to be stronger, fitter, and better.

May I suggest:

How to Get Started With Bodyweight Training

Steve Squat

At this point, you’re most likely nodding your head at your computer and saying “okay fine Steve I get it, I’m going to make bodyweight training a focal point of my training!”

Seriously, I can see you. You look nice today, and those shoes go great with that shirt.

But you might think you’re too overweight or too old or too [something] and that’s all nonsense. Hogwash. Poppycock. Balderdash. (Here’s that 53 year old Gymnast again who is in better shape than 99% of people 20 years younger.)

If you’re brand new to Nerd Fitness, we recommend you get started with the Nerd Fitness Beginner Bodyweight Workout. Read the article, and watch the video below, featuring me about 30 pounds lighter and with helmet hair:

(Fun fact, this is our most viewed video on Youtube at 700,000 views, and my shorts are on backwards. Professionalism at its finest!)

If you’re feeling particularly feisty, check out our Advanced Bodyweight Workout too.

Quick note: If you’re looking for more structure and variety and a boss battle system, you can check out the Nerd Fitness Academy, our flagship program with boss battles and a leveling system with 7 levels of Bodyweight Exercise Routines (and video demonstrations!) to follow along with as you level up.

But you can get started with the basic stuff right, now, equipment and cost free! Start today by creating a free character and start working your way through the Assassin Quests which are primarily bodyweight focused!

Here are the three moves I want you to master:

If you can do a workout with 3 sets of 10 push-ups, 3 sets of 20 bodyweight squats, and 3 sets of 5 pull-ups, you will be in better shape than 95% of your peers.

Are those movements too easy for you? We have more advanced stuff soon…

Struggle with these movements? Don’t worry, more articles coming this month to help you perfect each of them!

For now… answer me this:

What is the BIGGEST thing holding you back currently from getting started with bodyweight training?

What’s one reason you are going to add bodyweight training to your routines this month?

Leave your comments and questions below and we’ll do our best to answer them.

-Steve

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Photo: Leg0Fenris:Lego Pushup, Exile: Pull-Up Bar

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  • Stefan D

    Amazing article. The options are literally endless. One great thing about body weight training is that eccentric training is also easily used. It’s a great way to progress yourself to performing certain movements. For example, jump up to a pull up bar and lower yourself as slowly as possible. Perfect for individuals who do not have the strength yet to perform regular chin ups.

    Btw: Great progression you made Steve

  • Ben Shugart

    Love the subtle “Wedding Crashers” reference. Classic.

  • Keepin’ it realz

    Steve’s “After” picture looks like layers of shirts giving a ballon animal effect. How about an After photo in just a t shirt like the Before photo? 😛

  • http://www.robhorton.net Rob Horton

    Love this article Steve! One reason that bodyweight training has been something I’ve largely avoided is the intimidation factor. And a healthy dose of male-stubbornheaded-pride mixed in too. Avoiding pushups because at first I couldn’t do them except on my knees, and then later avoiding them again because I couldn’t bust out 50 but rather 20. But time to make small progressions and grind out some quests.
    The reason I’m adding it in this month is because my Spidey-sense is tingling that something NEW from The Rebellion might be afoot. I’m hopeful and excited to be part of a new thing (maybe in the Academy?). Regardless, I just want to be better about moving my body efficiently through space with strength and coordination.

  • OCR Assassin

    Right, that’s what I keep thinking… I trust that is actually in great shape, but that picture looks almost comical.

  • OCR Assassin

    I have fallen in love with bodyweight exercises, and more often that not leave the weights alone at the gym now days. I may be a long way from level 50, but I feel great because it gives me control over my body and all around strength (not just in very specific motions).

    Instagram may be a great place for motivation and developing goals, but I am reminded of a very important saying: “Never compare your ‘behind-the-scenes to someone else’s highlight reel.” Remember, they were once like you, it took a long time grinding on the basics before mastering a high level skill. Trying to emulate them right from the start is a great way to injure your body and ego. Trust me, I have a habit of trying too much too soon, and even if you don’t get hurt you will probably be grinding away without making any meaningful progress.

  • Jason

    In honor of “Bodyweight” month, I’ll be starting a PLPS (S for squats) challenge tonight after work (probably with 20 total reps) of each. Here I am saying it. I’ll do it every day, at least through the end of the month. anyone want to join me?

  • Tracee Lambrecht

    I am VERY excited about this! I love the idea of bodyweight training. Right now I just need to figure out the best way to go about it. I’m currently working on baby #6 so I think this would be the best kind of training for me. Plus I have built in training partners age 17 thru “just made their presence known”.

  • Night

    (Fun fact, this is our most viewed video on Youtube at 700,000 views, and my shorts are on backwards. Professionalism at its finest!)

    Is this the secret to YouTube view success?

    Have been involved in CrossFit for about a year but the pounding stress on my almost 50yo joints have “encouraged” me to take a short break and I am seriously considering starting back using mostly BW exercises. Looking forward to more articles!

  • Lucinda

    I think this is my first post here although I’ve been a Rebel for ages. The biggest thing holding me back from bw training? Dodgy shoulders. “I think of rings and my shoulders cringe.” But why I’m nevertheless adding bw training to my routine this month? I’ve read the article, clicked on ALL the links and I agree: bw training is AWESOME. I want to be the one in control of how my body moves! I see that Jim Bathurst has sneaked a couple of bw exercises into my weights program (I’m one of the lucky Rebels who has the Master of the Fitness Universe as her online coach for a little while) and I just want to incorporate more of this style of training and to up the ante gradually. And, it will be great for my forthcoming trip to Antarctica – I can totally get a great workout whilst on the ship for weeks. Yay!

  • Marla

    I love this article! On a side note, I looooove those garter workout tights! I wish someone could tell me where they’re from. (My friend in the handstand picture)

  • run_brown_wolf

    What are the pull-ups, push-ups, what is the L? I’ll play, but I’m not doing 20 pull-ups. lol. Not yet, anyway. I will, however, promise to do them to failure.

  • run_brown_wolf

    I’ve started to play with yoga in the last couple months, and my running has scarcely ever felt stronger. I love it. I can only imagine that improved overall body strength will help my running (and swimming) even more, which is exciting. I’m on board. :7)

  • Angela R

    Awesome article! The big thing holding me back from bodyweight training is my knees. They snap and crackle and I’m scared they’re gonna pop! When I think “bodyweight,” I think lunges and squats — seems everything requires weight-bearing knee-bending. I feel like I’m in a Catch-22: I won’t heal my knees until I lose weight and strengthen them … but the more outta shape I get, the harder it is to strengthen them! Any suggestions? Can bodyweight exercises be modified to be gentler on one’s knees?

  • Naxius

    This will be great. I normally work out at a gym, but am having a harder time these days due to time pressures. Doing BodyWeight exercises at home/near home will be much quicker.

  • Jim Bathurst

    Lucinda – we’ll keep working with your shoulders and adding more bodyweight exercises! You are an incredibly hard worker and I’m enjoying working with you greatly!

  • Jim Bathurst

    I asked her. They are from here! https://carouselink.com/

  • Jim Bathurst

    Angela – a lot of times it’s a matter of finding the right exercise that gives “just” enough challenge without causing pain. The Academy has tons of variations already for just such a situation!

    My quick additional answer is to try squats to a range of motion that feels good for you, and while holding onto something (doorframe/squat rack) for support and to reduce the weight on your knees. Deadlift variations and glute bridges are also beneficial, as they strengthen the hips (important) while putting the knee through a less intense range of motion.

    All the best with it!

  • Shadowsinger

    Hi Angela;

    I feel your pain. *taps ACL brace with a knuckle* I started out squatting against a wall. Really, squatting is just getting up and down out of a chair without falling, and when my PT explained that, it got a lot less scary. My primary issues are range of motion (or lack thereof) and balance. I don’t know that I’ll ever be able to do lunges because of the balance thing, but here was my progression for squatty goodness:

    0) Leg presses at about half body weight (optional, but my legs were in really bad shape)
    1) Squats with my back against a wall for support (reduces body weight)
    1a) Squats with a stability ball (improved range of motion, could use a basketball in the small of your back or something)
    2) Squats with one hand on a bar or chair or counter to balance
    3) Bodyweight only squats with a chair behind me to check my range of motion (squat until my butt taps the corner of the chair, then get up)
    4) Goblet Squats (holding a dummbell under your chin, you could use a rock or a milk jug or something too); make sure your head and shoulders stay up

    I haven’t gotten to the bar yet, and it took me a year to get to goblet squats because I am super super careful. Form, form, form, form. If you’re having a lot of trouble, do some homework to correct your form. When I turned my feet out a little and put them farther apart than my shoulders, suddenly things were possible. 🙂

    Being diagnosed correctly and getting a proper ACL brace has helped immensely, while I can’t wear the ACL training (it doesn’t have the range of motion to squat right) having it there to support my knee the rest of the time has been really helpful in terms of helping with the general load on my knee.

    Hope that helps!

    =Shadowsinger=

  • Pedro Toledo Tec English

    Love it! Really! I’m anxious for more articles!

    But Steve, you are fishing there! I have no shoes or shirt on! kkkk

  • Jason

    Lunges; Steve did an article on the 60 day PLP challenge a while back. I should have linked it but you could google it. I’m going to add squats because 20 lunges is a yawn amount of leg-work and I want to work my squat mobility anyway.

    The idea is to pick a doable number of reps for day one (the article says you can start as low as one rep!) of each exercise (pullups, lunges, pushups, in my case squats). You break the total number up into however many sets you need to. Then perform the exercises as circuits. In my case with 20 reps, I might start at 5 circuits of 4 reps/exercise so today I will do 4 circuits of 5 reps/exercise. Then tomorrow I will do 1 circuit of 5 reps and 4 more circuits of 4 reps for a total of 21 reps. The next day would be 5,5,4,4,4 etc. When the sets get too big, I can add a set so if I can’t get 8 pull-ups in a row when its time for 36 (8,7,7,7,7), I would instead add a circuit and do 6 circuits of 6.

    No need to start at 20 reps, in fact. I didn’t start last night–SHAME ON ME–so I might decide “20 pull ups, yeah right!” and switch to a starting point of 15 reps or 10 reps.

  • Robin F

    Honestly the biggest thing holding me back is my work. I know that sounds like a poor excuse, but working anywhere from 10 to 16 hours a day, 5 days a week (huzzah for overtime!) throwing around 50+ lbs of construction hardware doesn’t leave much energy for exercise in the morning. That said, I have done a few days of bodyweight exercise and can honestly say that choosing how much I exercise can determine whether I get out after 10 hours of work or 16. With the slow season coming up I SHOULD have plenty of time at home and at work to get exercise in, and I’ll need it if I want to meet my goal.

  • Lucinda

    Ha! Thanks Jim and thanks Marla for asking. I was thinking the exact same thing!

  • David Fisher

    Great Article Steve,
    I’ve been patiently, lazily waiting on the sidelines for months now trying to get my life together to find time to get back in shape. I love the idea of bodyweight exercise, because it completely eliminates my excuses for not having time to prepare. I’m starting in the morning. This ranger is going to level up.

  • Jason

    I just started P90x3 again (never finished it) because I love bodyweight stuff and it is great for developing all around athletic movements. I eat mostly Paleo and added butter coffee to my morning routine and after almost a week, I’ve lost a few lbs and feel lighter and stronger. Nerd Fitness has been motivating me for years 👍🏼

  • Angela R

    Thanks so much for your responses, guys! I’m such a noob, I’m not sure how to do any of this stuff yet, but I think it’s high time I figure that out. Thanks again for chiming in!!

  • Jason

    I got my start a day late at 10 reps/exercise. Friday was 4,3,3. Saturday 4,4,3. 4,4,4 actually happened first thing Monday morning and 5,4,4 Monday afternoon.

  • Xingyu Zhang

    I switched from body weight workout to free weights because after a while all those squats and push ups became less challenging, yet I still can’t do one more pull up. While for free weights, I can increase weights by a few times every time and feel awesome about it.
    I wanted to go back to body weight training because I injured my back (it’s a combination of long sitting hours at work, some PR deadlifts and one afternoon of badminton) and I need some low impact activities to keep myself active.

  • GM

    My question about body weight rows: we don’t have a suitable table at home. We live in a very small cramped house, so our tables are all fold-down varieties. Any suggestions please for other everyday objects I might use? I couldn’t think of any. We do have a set of stairs and I’ve been working my way down them on my way to floor push-ups…

  • http://www.weekendwarriorzone.com/ Kris

    And once you find some bodyweight exercises you like, it becomes a lot of fun! There are so many variations and you don’t need to do anything crazy or be a super-athlete. I”m dealing with a bunch of injuries and can’t really lift weights any more, so I’ve discovered a whole new workout world with bodyweight exercise and feel great!