“There’s a misconception that body-weight exercises are less effective for building strength than loaded ones, so they’re often thought of as ‘the beginner’s routine,’ ” says certified strength and conditioning specialist Mike Robertson, founder of Robertson Training Systems in Indianapolis. But, “I’ve destroyed super-fit clients using nothing but their own weight as resistance.”
As deceptively tough as body-weight moves can be, they offer a unique perk. “By eliminating the extra stress of weights, your brain has one less thing to worry about, so you can zero in on your form and stability,” says Robertson. People forget that adding weights can be a challenge and cause you to shy away from using a full range of motion, he adds. (Consider the squat: Throw in a kettlebell right away and you might not drop as low with every rep.) “You’d actually be doing yourself a disservice, since you’re not activating the right muscles to their fullest potential.”
This ubereffective total-body workout from Robertson keeps things simple so you can squeeze the full benefits from every rep and fast-track your results. (Heads up: There is a bench involved, to get your body into an ideal position—”body weight” just means no added weight-bearing equipment. But you could use a couch or park bench instead.)
Hit the circuit two or three times a week to see changes in as little as three weeks. Starting with the first exercise, perform all sets and reps as instructed. Then complete the next two moves (2A and 2B) as a superset: Do all reps of move A and move B without resting, then rest 60 seconds before repeating for two or three total sets; continue this pattern for the next four exercises (3A and 3B, 4A and 4B). Finish with one set of the final two moves.
How to: Stand with feet shoulder-width apart, arms at your sides, then push your hips back and bend your knees to lower into a squat (a). Jump off the floor as you raise your arms overhead (b), then sit back into your squat when you land; hold for three seconds. That’s one rep; do five. Rest for 60 seconds, then repeat twice for three total sets.
Make it tougher: Jump as high as you possibly can—your glutes will have to fire harder to generate the force.
How to: Stand with your left foot in front of your right, and prop the top of your right foot on a bench behind you (a). Reach your arms directly in front of you at shoulder level, then slowly bend your knees to lower your body as low as you can (b); pause, then push yourself back up to start. That’s one rep; do eight to 12, then switch sides.
Make it tougher: Place your front foot on a short step to increase the distance your body has to travel down to the floor (and back up).
Switch up your squat with these 20 variations that will help you tone your butt:
How to: Start in a pushup position, wrists under your shoulders and legs extended so your body forms a straight line (a). Brace your core and bend your elbows to lower your chest toward the floor (b), then quickly press through your palms to extend your arms. Push your hips up and back so your body forms an inverted V (c). Reset at start. That’s one rep; do eight to 12.
How to: Stand with your feet together, a slight bend in your knees, your left arm outstretched in front of you and your right arm at your side (a). Shift your weight onto your right foot as you raise your left leg behind you, then hinge forward at your hips until your torso is near parallel to the floor (b). Reverse the movement to stand on your right leg, then bring your left knee and your right elbow almost to touch (c). That’s one rep; do eight to 12, then switch sides.
Make it tougher: Keep your raised foot totally off the floor between reps to better challenge your balance. (The Slim, Sexy, Strong Workout DVD is the fast, flexible workout you’ve been waiting for!)
How to: Lie on your back with knees bent, feet together, and arms reaching toward the ceiling, then lift your legs so they form a 90-degree angle with the floor (a). Engage your core as you extend your left leg and right arm in opposite directions a few inches off the floor (b). Reverse the movement to return to start. That’s one rep; do eight to 12, then switch sides.
How to: Sit on the floor with your upper back resting on the edge of a bench, feet flat and knees bent; press your right foot into the floor as you raise your left foot (a). Push your hips up until your body is parallel to the floor and your left foot points to the ceiling (b). Lower your hips to return to start. That’s one rep; do eight to 12, then switch sides.
How to: Get into a modified pushup position with your elbows bent and your weight resting on your forearms, your body forming a straight line from shoulders to ankles. Brace your core and hold for 45 to 60 seconds.
Make it tougher: Raise one foot, one arm, or both (on opposite sides) to challenge your stability (which comes from your core).
How to: Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart (a), then push your hips back and bend your knees to lower into a squat, reaching your arms in front of you (b); press through your heels to return to start. That’s one rep. Then place your hands on a step or bench and get into a pushup position, wrists under shoulders and legs extended (c). Brace your core and bend your elbows to lower your chest toward the bench (d). Quickly press back up to start. That’s one rep; immediately reset at start and do two reps of each, then continue the pattern (adding one rep to each) until you hit eight to 15 total reps, resting only as needed.
Make it tougher: Place your hands on the back of your head (called “prisoner stance”) so your arms can’t work to counterbalance you.