Don’t have fancy equipment or a gym membership? No problem.  Bodyweight training increases lean muscle mass and is great way to ease into strength training.

I usually do my weight training (body weight or otherwise) in what’s called a full body split, as opposed to an upper/lower split. That means I work out every major muscle group in the same day about twice a week. Every time I try to target seven major muscle groups:

  1. Chest
  2. Back
  3. Shoulders
  4. Triceps
  5. Biceps

That list was only five because I throw in legs and abs, the other two groups, throughout the chest-back-shoulders-triceps-biceps sequence.

I work my way down from largest to smallest muscle group. Why? Because our smaller supportive muscles, if we exercise them first, will be too fatigued to really load our large muscles. And if we want to build muscle, we really need to work our muscles to fatigue.

There are beaucoups (or boo-coos, as I grew up saying) of body weight exercises out there. A goldmine on YouTube. Here are six of my favorites that’ll hit all your major muscle groups:

  1. Pistol squat

Hold arms straight in front of you at shoulder level, parallel to the floor. Raise your right leg off the floor, and hold it there. Push your hips back and lower your body as far as you can. Pause, then push your body back to the starting position.

  1. Pushups (regular, tricep and incline)

For regular pushups, place hands a little wider than shoulder-width. Body in straight line from your head to your heels (or knees), lower until your chin is two to three inches off the ground. For tricep pushups, get in plank position with hands under your shoulders.  Or try both on an incline.

  1. Seated row

Sit on the floor with your back upright and your legs out in front of you with your knees slightly bent. Hold either end of a towel and place the middle around the sole of one foot. Pull the towel toward you, bending your elbows straight out to your sides. Bend your knee and push against the towel with your foot as hard as you can for resistance. Return to the starting position, still pushing against the towel with your foot.

  1. Superman

Lie facedown with your arms outstretched above your head at about a ten o’clock and two o’clock position. Lift your arms and legs a few inches off the ground. Hold for one second, looking at the floor to avoid straining your neck. Lower slowly.

  1. Planks (forearm and side)

For forearm planks, start in pushup position, then bend your elbows and rest on your forearms. Tighten your abs and hold a straight line from head to toe as long as you can. For side planks, lie on your side with your forearm on the floor. Raise hips, squeeze glutes and tighten abs to form a straight line. And again, hold for as long as you can.

  1. Squat thrust pushup

Stand with feet shoulder-width apart. Squat to the floor and place your hands on the ground, in front and outside of your feet. Then thrust feet behind you so that you’re in a push-up position. Keeping your back flat and your abs contracted, do a push-up. After you raise your chest, keep your hands on the ground and hop forward, bringing your feet toward your hands. Repeat from that point (don’t stand up until you’ve completed a set of 10-15).

Lastly, here are three tricks to get the most from your bodyweight workout:

  1. Decrease your time between sets.
  2. Increase your hold time during sets.
  3. Time yourself and always aim to beat your last record.


Jenny Pruitt Cleveland is a Content Creator in Nashville, Tenn. She swims, bikes, and runs a lot. In former lives she’s been a middle school teacher, magazine reporter and editor, cycling tour guide, and underwater photographer.