Bodyweight Strength: Six Exercises to Help You Get Strong Without Weights

By Molly Galbraith

Physical strength is one of the tenets of strength on which Girls Gone Strong is built, including strength of mind and character. Often, these three tenets will play off one another and help increase overall strength levels. But what is physical strength, really? Is it how much you can Deadlift, Squat or Bench Press? Is it always about the number on the bar?

We believe that true strength involves not only mastery of the bar, but also mastery of the body.

We also believe that just because you might not have access to weights it does not mean you can't get a good strength training session. To help you master your body and give you moves to practice when you can't get to the gym, we have compiled a list of some our favorite bodyweight exercises.

1. Pull-ups

neghar-pullups-at-deuce-350x350There are few strength exercises that feel as empowering as pulling yourself over a bar. Not to mention, you can do this exercise just about anywhere! We've used monkey bars at playgrounds, rigged pull-up bars in hotel gyms and even used beams and door frames.

If you haven't achieved your first unassisted Pull-up yet, you will! All you need is some bands for assistance and a few tips. This article by Nike Master Trainer Jennifer Lau might help you with your pull-up progress. If possible, try not to use the weighted assisted pull-up machines. Bands and isometric holds (use a box to get over the bar) are much more effective.

Who these are for:

Intermediate and advanced lifters, although beginners can use the bands and isometric holds discussed above.

2. Single-Leg Squats or Pistol Squats

alli-1-leg-squat-to-bench-300x375Squats are often hailed as the king of exercises for what they do for your glutes and their total body effect. Single Leg and Pistol Squats will help you with your bilateral Squats, but also increase stability and sculpt your booty. The great thing about squatting one leg is that you don't really need any equipment, since just using your bodyweight is an incredible challenge.

Start by squatting to a box or bench (as Alli McKee demonstrates in the photo on the left) at a height that you can control, and consider raising your arms out in front, or even a light weight, to create a counter balance and increase stability.

Who these are for:

Intermediate and advanced lifters.  Beginners should master more basic squat variations first. Check out our Exercise Spotlight on the Single-Leg Squat, and watch this step-by-step guide to learning a pistol squat from GGS Head Coach Jen Comas.

3. Handstands

upsidedown-JenComas-handstand-327x400Handstands might seem like a scary move at first, but the benefits are numerous. The strength and core stability involved will translate to all of your other lifts. You can start by doing handstands against a wall, and eventually even handstand push-ups against a wall. Handstands require a ton of practice-so be sure to practice them often and try not to get frustrated. Check out our article about mastering handstands.

Who these are for:

Everyone! As mentioned above, someone new to strength training (or handstands in general) can start by practicing them against a wall, while more seasoned lifters can practice off the wall.

4. Split squat/Reverse lunge

If squatting on one leg is something that seems a little out of your comfort zone, start with split squats and eventually reverse lunges. These are great for both stability and mobility and work your glutes, quads and core. Just make sure to always keep your shoulders stacked right over your hips and your back glute squeezed tightly.

Here are detailed instructions (and video) of how to perform a Split Squat.

Who these are for:

All ability levels. Beginners should start with a static split squat, while intermediate and advanced lifters can give the reverse lunge a go. Obviously you can always increase the challenge by adding some weight.

5. Push-Up

Contrary to popular belief, push-ups are not just an upper body exercise. If done properly, they engage your entire body, including your core, glutes and legs.

how-much-cardio-vs-strength-molly-pushup-bench-450x338Instead of starting on your knees, try placing your hands on an incline so that you can do a full push-up with assistance. You'll want to keep your abs braced, glutes and quads tight, and your body in a straight line from ear to ankle. When you go down, squeeze your shoulder blades together, and when you come up push them apart to engage your shoulder stabilizing muscles.

To see more about performing push-ups properly, check out these four beginner push-up progressions by Jen Comas.

Eventually you can move down to the floor, and once you can do 10 on the floor, try adding load by putting a weight on your back or wearing a weighted vest.

Who these are for:

All ability levels. Beginners can start off doing incline push-ups, intermediate trainees can do regular push-ups, and more advanced trainees can try weighted or decline push-ups.

6. Hill sprints

No matter where you are, you can get a legit conditioning session that will help you blast fat and get amazing legs. All you need is a hill and a willingness to work hard!

brooke-kalanick-hill-sprints-350x375We suggest doing a brief dynamic warm-up before you get started, and using the first few sprints as a warm up to make sure your hamstrings, hips, glutes and ankles are ready for the challenge. The last thing you want is to get injured! Then, use about 70 to 90 percent effort to sprint uphill and walk downhill. When you're first starting out, five sprints might be your max, but you can work your way all the up to 15.

Just be sure to take as much time as you need in between to fully recover, and remember the steeper the hill, the tougher the sprint.

Who these are for:

All ability levels.  That's the awesome thing about hill sprints. They are a self-limiting exercise, meaning they are tough enough that you can only push yourself as hard as your  level of strength and conditioning will allow, so if you're new to these, you won't be able to run as fast or perform as many repetitions, whereas someone with more experience will be able to run faster and perform more repetitions of Hill Sprints.

7. (BONUS!) Yoga

Wait... yoga?  Yes, yoga.

AdvisoryBoardSecondaryImage-JenComas2-327x300While some fitness professionals who have a more strength-biased approach to their training have been known to poo-poo yoga as "lesser than" strength training, we couldn't disagree more.  In fact, we believe that when performed properly, many types of yoga are an incredible complement to a well-balanced strength training program.  You can read more about the types of yoga we recommend here.

Who is this for:

All ability levels (Jen, pictured on the left, is doing an advanced yoga pose).  That's one of the things we love about yoga. It's your journey, and you're not "competing" with anyone. With a good instructor, you can walk into a class without a speck of experience and still have a beneficial experience.

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About the author:  Molly Galbraith

Molly Galbraith, CSCS is co-founder and woman-in-charge at Girls Gone Strong, a global movement of 800,000+ folks passionate about women’s health, fitness, and empowerment. She’s also the creator of the The Girls Gone Strong Academy, home of the world’s top certifications for health and fitness pros who want to become a Certified Pre-& Postnatal Coach or a Certified Women’s Coaching Specialist.   The GGS Academy is revolutionizing women’s health and fitness by tackling critical (and often overlooked) topics like body image struggles, disordered eating, menopause, amenorrhea and menstrual cycle struggles, PCOS, endometriosis, osteoporosis, pre- and postnatal exercise, incontinence, diastasis recti, pelvic organ prolapse, postpartum recovery, and much more.   Learn more about Molly on her website and connect with her on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

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