Your alarm clock doesn’t go off. You slept in. Gym time? Obliterated. But you can still squeeze in a few last-minute body weight exercises to get in your cardio and strength-building before you dash out the door.
Exercises that utilize your own body weight—in lieu of weights and machines—can be equally as challenging and beneficial (if not moreso) to your body. “One of the best things about body weight exercises is that you incorporate both strength and mobility together,” says Matt Basso, a personal trainer and president of the New York-based Iron Lotus Personal Training. “Most of the time if you’re holding weights or a band, you’re really tense and tight, so it’s hard to work mobility into the movement. With body weight exercise, one joint can focus on mobilization while the other joints are focusing on strengthening the muscles.” (In case you were wondering: Mobility exercises are crucial supplements to your everyday workout routinebecause they help prevent joint wear and tear.)
Here are five of Basso’s favorite body weight exercises—plus his explanation as to why each is so beneficial to total-body strength building. For beginners, he suggests cycling through the exercises (10 reps each) as a circuit, repeating the whole circuit three times. If you’re more experienced, crush the exercises to failure.
1. Reverse Crunch
- Lie on your back on the floor, with your legs fully extended out in front of you and arms straight in air, as you see here.
- Roll your knees into your chest, and then quickly press them up straight in the air.
- Bring your legs back down to that starting position (using the same motion, but in reverse). That’s one rep.
Basso says: “People do traditional crunches, which end up becoming ‘neck-ups.’ It leads to neck pain rather working your abs. This ab exercise makes it easier to stabilize your upper back and neck.”
2. Split Drops
- Start with your feet together and jump into a split squat, with one leg in front of the other, as seen here. (Don’t do a single leg lunge—move both legs simultaneously.)
- Then, jump back into standing position.
- Repeat for 20 total reps, alternating which leg drops in front.
Basso says: “This exercise is great for your hamstrings, glutes, and the quad of whichever leg is in front, plus it gives you a better stretch reflex in your hamstring. The weight of your body dropping brings you further down than you would if you were doing a regular lunge.”
3. Stork Stance Vs
- Balance on one leg with your knee slightly bent and your hip slightly flexed. Your other leg should be extended slightly behind you at about a 45-degree angle from the ground, parallel with your torso. Extend your arms fully down toward the ground with your hands open and your thumbs pointed up.
- Lift your arms toward the sky focusing on squeezing your scapula (shoulder blades) together to make the movement happen, as you see here. Lift as high as you can without extending your hips or falling. Hold the leg position, but do reps extending the arms.
Basso says: “It’s a very core-centric exercise. By balancing on one leg, you’re firing the glute medius—the muscle that is essential to keeping your body upright when you’re walking and running. You’re also adding a dynamic aspect by extending your arms in the V motion, which strengthens your postural muscles.”
4. Monkey Push Up
- Start in a traditional push-up position.
- Press up, and when your arms are fully extended, rotate and kick left leg underneath your body and out to the right side, as you see here.
- Repeat with right leg. Again, alternate sides for a total of 20 reps (each side gets 10).
Basso says: “By adding this rotation, you’re developing the oblique muscles while getting the benefit of a regular push-up. It’s also a great stretch reflex for the chest muscles.”
5. Power Burpee
- As in a traditional burpee, drop into push up position.
- Then, jump into squat position.
- Follow that with a jump about six inches into the air.
- Finally, drop into a squat and then do an explosive tuck jump—as high as you can and pulling knees in, as you see here. That’s one rep.
Basso says: “On top of having your heart rate elevated, you’re really firing your hamstrings because you have to elevate your body as much as possible. When you pull your knees up in the tucked position, you’re actually working your core too.”
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