Incorporating body-weight strength training into your routine at home is a great way to build muscle and lose weight, if that's your goal. Even better news: you don't need any equipment to do it.
In addition to cardio, strength training boosts energy, improves mood (hello, endorphins!) and of course, provides a total-body workout. The best part is no fancy equipment or large chunk of time is required. Just 30 minutes, five days a week is all you need to start seeing results.
As a personal trainer I am often asked: Do body-weight exercises count as strength training? And can you build muscle mass with body-weight exercises? The answer is yes! And there is good reason to add strength training moves to your routine, even if you do not own dumbbells.
Research shows that the combination of strength training and cardio exercise bode well for weight loss. Strength training helps build strong muscles that help burn fat and also helps speed up the metabolism. Research also shows that strength training is associated with reductions in anxiety symptoms among healthy adults and reduced depression symptoms for adults with diagnosed depression, plus improvements in sleep quality among depressed older adults.
Squeeze in strength training with these circuits that you can perform on their own or during or after a walk (or cardio of choice!).
What a sample week could look like
We’ve created three body-weight circuits to give you a full body strength-training workout that can complement your cardio walking plan.
- Monday, Wednesday, Friday: Lower body circuit + core
- Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday: Upper body circuit + core
- Sunday: Core
The core circuit is done every day; since the muscles of the abdominals are smaller, they do not require a rest day. But the larger muscles of the legs and glutes and the arms and back do require a rest day in order for them to recover and repair.
A question I get asked a lot as a personal trainer is: does it matter if I split up the workouts or do them all in one day? My answer is that it doesn’t matter. Research shows that whether you decide to do all of your strength training in one day, or split up the workouts into lower body or legs one day and upper body or arms another day, your results will be similar.
So if you’d like to knock out the circuits in three days instead of six, combine the lower body and upper body circuits and do them both together three days a week (just remember to skip a day in between).
Lower Body Body-Weight Exercises
Start in a squat position with your feet as wide as your hips. Pull the abs in and bend the knees to sit back as if you’re trying to sit into a chair. Then step your right foot to the right into a wide leg squat, and bring your left foot a step to the right to the starting squat position. Keep walking sideways with this squat 10 times, then stand up and repeat to the other side.
Squat with knee lift
Start in a squat position. As you press down through the heels to stand up, lift your left knee up toward your chest. Gently put the foot back down and lower into the squat, then stand up again but lift your right knee up. Repeat this 10 times to each side.
Side lunge with a twist
Step your left foot to the left into a side lunge as if you’re trying to sit your left butt cheek down into a chair. Then press off of the left foot to come back to center and lift the left knee up towards your chest. Twist your torso to the left to engage your core and also work your balance on your right leg. Repeat this 10 times, then switch sides.
½ lunge walking lunge
Step your feet as wide as your hips. Then step the right foot forward and bend the right knee halfway to a half lunge. Bend the left knee halfway down. This is a half lunge position. Continue walking forward for 20 half lunges.
Standing leg lift to the back
Stand upright on your right leg with your left leg pointed back. Pull your navel in toward your spine and lift your straight left leg up behind you to work the glute. Repeat this 10 times, then switch legs.
Upper Body Body-Weight Exercises
Pushups on the knees
Coming down onto your hands and knees, place your shoulders over your wrists and knees underneath your hips. Then walk the hands forward about 1 foot, and bring the shoulders forward to stay over the wrists. Pull the naval in toward the spine, and bend the elbows out to the side to lower down into a pushup. Press down through the palms of the hands to come up to the starting position. Repeat 10 times.
Sit on your butt on the ground, and place the hands behind you. Turn the fingers to face your butt, and lift your butt up off of the mat. Keep your knees over your ankles, and bend the elbows straight back lowering down into a tricep dip. Press down through the palms of the hands to straighten the arms, while working the tricep muscle (the back of the arms). Repeat 10 times.
Plank to downdog
Starting on your hands and knees, walk the knees back to tuck the toes under and lift up into a plank position. Maintain a flat back as you keep the shoulders over the wrists and reach the heels toward the back of the room. Then, pull the abs in and lift the butt up toward the ceiling and back, coming into an upside down "V" position. Take a breath in, and then exhale as you shift forward into plank. Repeat this 10 times.
Standing up straight, reach your arms up toward the ceiling, keeping them shoulder-width apart. Then pretend that you’re grabbing a bar as you pull the arms and elbows down with the elbows bent out to the sides, engaging the upper back. Squeeze the shoulder blades together. Then return the arms to the starting position. Repeat this 10 times.
Reach the arms out to the sides as high as the shoulders and move the arms in 10 circles forward and then 10 circles backward. Repeat this 10 times total!
Core Body-Weight Exercises
Crunch with knees up
Lying down on your back, bend the knees at a 90-degree angle. Place the hands behind the head, elbows open wide. Lift the head and neck about 1 inch off of the ground. This is the starting position. Engage the lower abs as you curl up as high as you can and hug the elbows in to try to touch your knees. Lower the head, neck and elbows down to the starting position. Repeat this 10 times.
Criss cross & reach with knees up
Lying on your back, keep the knees lifted at a 90-degree angle. Press the palms together at the center of your chest. Curl up as you reach the arms across the right thigh, then come back to center. Curl up across the left thigh, then come back to center. Repeat this 10 times to each side.
Single leg lower & lift
Lying on your back, place your left foot on the ground and lift your right leg up toward the ceiling. Tilt the pelvis to press your low back into the ground. Keep your back pressed against the ground as you lower the right leg down about 45 degrees, then bring it up to center. Repeat 10 times and then switch legs.
Single leg straight toe touch
Lift both legs and both arms up towards the ceiling. Curl your head and neck off of the ground as you lower the right leg and reach your fingertips toward your left toes. Come back to center, bring the right leg in and lower the left leg down. Reach up toward the right toes. Repeat 10 times to each side.
Modified side plank elbow to knee
On your knees, lower the right hand down to the ground to the right of your body; making sure the right shoulder stays over the right wrist. Then extend the left leg out as high as your hip. Place your left hand behind your head, and crunch the left elbow toward the left thigh. Your body may not move very much, but you’ll feel the left side waist engaging. Repeat this 10 times, then switch sides.