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

Physical strength is one of the tenets on which Girls Gone Strong was built, including strength of mind and character. Often, these three tenets of strength will play off one another and help increase overall strength levels when one is lacking due to challenges. 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 here at GGS believe that true strength involves not only mastery of the bar, but mastery of the body as well. We also believe, that just because you might not have access to weights, does not mean you can’t get in a good strength training session. So, we have compiled a list of some our favorite bodyweight exercises, to help you master your body and give you moves to practice when you can’t get to the gym.

1. Pull-ups


There’s really nothing more empowering than pulling yourself over a bar. Not to mention, you can do this exercise just about anywhere! We’ve used monkey bars at playgrounds, rigged pullup 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 Neghar wrote might help you with your pullup progress. If possible, try not to use the weighted assisted pullup 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/Pistol squats

Squats 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 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, and when it comes time to learn the pistol, they can follow this step-by-step guide to learning a pistol from Master SFG Karen McDowell Smith.

3. Handstands

Handstands 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.
This video will help you once you’re ready to try Freestanding Handstands:
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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.
For detailed instructions (and video) of how to perform a Split Squat/Reverse Lunge, check out this article.
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. Pushup

Contrary to popular belief, pushups are not just an upper body exercise. If done properly, they engage your entire body, including your core, glutes and legs.
Instead 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 perfectly, check out this article, 5 Tips For A Perfect Push-up. 
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.
GGS Alli is a straight up beast when it comes to the One Arm Push-up, which is a great thing to work towards once you’ve mastered the Push-up.

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!
We 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 70-90% effort to sprint uphill and walk downhill. When you’re first starting out, 5 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.

While 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 these are for: All ability levels.  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.
Last thing — speaking of awesome body weight exercises and yoga, GGS Co-Founder Neghar Fonooni just announced that when you snag a copy of her Lean & Lovely program, you’ll be getting 3 (YES 3!!!) Power Vinyasa flows for FREE.
L&L Yoga Bonus
Even better… they are follow-along videos so they can be done in the comfort of your own home and she has options for ALL ABILITY LEVELS, with Neghar guiding you the whole way!   Even if you’re a yoga newbie, you’ll benefit from these videos.
Neghar has been practicing yoga for 14 years, and teaching for 9, so having her walk you through these is like having a seasoned instructor in your own living room.  Super cool.

Clearly Neghar is a seasoned yoga veteran.

These yoga workouts are perfect to perform as active recovery workouts on the days in between your Lean & Lovely workouts.
Find out more about Lean & Lovely (and how you can save 50% until Friday at midnight!) here.

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  • Jonathan Aluzas

    These are all good. I also recommend jump lunges, box jumps and plyo push-ups for explosive strength.

    • Neghar Fonooni

      Definitely. Those are all great advanced options!

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  • Kim

    As much as people will hate me for this one…burpees. Handstand pushups, handstand holds, wall walks, jump squats.