There’s a lot to be said for machines and free weights. However, body resistance exercises have a lot of advantages too. You don’t need to clear time on your calendar for them, you can do them anywhere, they don’t require equipment that you need to buy, find space for, or pay a subscription to use.
Just like every cloud has a silver lining, the moon has a darkside. So, what’s the problem with body resistance exercises? There are so many!
Here we’ll talk about some of our favorite body resistance exercises including how to do them and what muscle groups they work out.
What Are Body Resistance Exercises
You’ve definitely heard of body resistance exercises, even if you haven’t heard that term.
Body resistance exercises are exercises that pit your muscles against the weight of your own body. That’s opposed to resistance from free weights or from the weights and resistance bands used by workout machines.
As discussed above, body resistance exercises are nice for a number of reasons: they’re free, they’re simple, they can be done anywhere. Further, because they don’t require a specific machine meant to do a specific thing, they get you thinking about your body and your environment in an organic way.
Upper Body Exercises
Unfortunately, body resistance exercises are the most limited category with only one major workout group. The good news is that that one class of workout group is extremely customizable. We’re talking about push ups.
We’ve covered push ups before in our Upper Body Workouts article. In that article, we also covered a lot more exercises that do require weights and machines so if you don’t want to limit yourself to body resistance exercises, be sure to check out that article as well.
Push Ups and Push Up Modifications
You know the basic push up: arms under shoulders, body supported just above the floor, legs and back straight. Push up. Hold. Lower down. Repeat ad infinitum.
It’s actually a great substitute for the classic bench press when you can’t get to the gym. But, if you’re bored with the standard push up, have you tried modifying them?
Do them on your knuckles to condition them if you’re a boxer or a martial artist. Move your hands farther apart or closer together. Move your hands in towards your ribs and rotate your fists so that the thumbs are pointing forward to target the triceps. Go down to your knees and crank out high reps with lower resistance for better toning. Or, increase the resistance by putting your feet up on a bench or a bed.
These modifications don’t just switch things up, they also target different muscle groups and change the focus from building to toning.
Toward the end of this article, we’ll talk about the final modified push up: the plank – which is actually a full-body body resistance exercise.
We also talked about core exercises in an earlier article. And, like above, be sure to check out that article if you want alternatives using machines.
Most, if not all, of the machines that work your core are really just these body resistance exercises rotated in space. So, doing these exercises when you don’t have access to a machine can help you to perfect your form for when you do.
Crunches, Sit Ups and Sit Up Modifications
Sit ups are like push ups: too many people learn them in physical education classes in grade school and then as soon as they get a gym membership they never look back. Which is a shame.
In case you haven’t done a sit up in a while, they look like this: put your toes under the edge of your bed or a couch, or have a partner hold your toes down. Have your knees bent, fingers interlaced behind the head, back against the floor. Then, bending at the waist, lift your face to your knees. Repeat ad finitum.
Don’t have a partner available or can’t find something to fit your feet under? Do crunches instead. Lie on your back with your knees bent and your feet off the floor and bring your head toward your knees. You may not feel the same range of motion as with a sit up, but any contraction is working your muscles, so just keep at it.
These are huge ab-targeters. But, throw in a twist so that you touch one elbow to the alternate knee as you come up and you add in the obliques deeper to the abs and the lats in the back. Or do a standard sit up and throw in three twists when you reach the top to further target those obliques while still working the abs.
Leg Raises and Flutter Kicks
If you aren’t big on body resistance exercises, leg raises might be newer to you than sit ups or crunches, which we’ll talk about next.
Lie on your back, feet together, hands under your glutes. Raise your legs together from the waist while keeping your knees as straight as possible.
This exercise works the abs but does so through reverse muscle action.
To modify this exercise more for toning, throw in flutter kicks. Instead of raising your legs to ninety degrees, try raising them to forty-five and kicking your legs up and down before lowering them.
Lower Body Exercises
As has been a theme throughout this article, we’re focusing on our favorite body resistance exercises. However, there are other exercises targeting these muscle groups with free weights and machines. For leg exercises, learn more here.
Stand with your feet flat. Now, rise up onto your toes. Hold and lower down.
It’s a humble exercise but it targets the calves – a pretty difficult muscle to target but one that most of us could stand to pay more attention to.
Stand with your feet flat. Now, bending at the knees, lower down until your knees are bent at ninety degrees and your upper legs are parallel to the floor. Now rise up. This humble exercise targets the upper legs.
Like all of the body resistance exercises in this article, there are ways to modify these two exercises to switch things up, target different muscle groups, and increase the difficulty. Fortunately, these two exercises can both be modified in all the same ways.
The first is by doing the exercises one leg at a time. It immediately doubles the load for added difficulty.
The next is to add a jump at the end of each exercise. This simple modification does a lot of cool things but the most interesting has to do with involving different muscle fibers within the muscle group.
Finally, do all of these exercises at the same time! Stand with feet flat. While raising onto toes, bend at the knees. Then spring back up to standing. If you’re advanced in lower body strength and balance you can try doing this on one foot at a time, but be aware that a bad landing could be dangerous.
Full Body Exercises
Full body exercises are great for when you’re in a hurry, when you want to make sure that you’re touching all of the bases, and for coordinating how your muscles work together. For more on full body exercises incorporating body resistance, machines, and weights, see our article here.
The humble plank. Hover above the floor with your body supported on your forearms and toes with your back straight. That’s it. Set a goal for how long you want to hold it or just hold it for as long as you can.
It’s a great way to tone your muscles – and it tones just about all of them.
For this exercise, start like you’re about to do a standard pushup but with your feet hips-width apart or a little wider. Keeping your back and arms straight, bring each knee toward your chest and then extend it back alternately. Supporting your body works your arms and shoulders, keeping your back straight works your core, and the motion of the exercise works your legs.
How to Modify Any Exercise
A couple of the exercises that we’ve discussed here have handy modifications. However, there’s a handy way that you can modify any exercise (except maybe planking).
Your body works through antagonistic muscle pairs. Basically, that means that when one muscle works to move a body part, that muscle relaxes and another muscle works to move the body part back to where it was.
When you work out, you usually target one muscle or muscle group at a time. However, when you understand antagonistic muscle pairs, you can double the effectiveness of every exercise by relaxing slowly and deliberately after the flex. The pushup is a great example.
When most of us do push ups, we focus on, well, pushing up. And that’s great. But, if you focus on lowering yourself down slowly and deliberately you don’t just target the “push up muscles” but the “lower down muscles” as well.
A similar philosophy applies to every workout in this article except for the plank – which uses a rare form of muscle action called isometric contraction which is specifically great for toning. You can incorporate this into every exercise by pausing at the top of a form when your muscles are most engaged. Do this to your mountain climbers and it turns into a balance exercise.
Now, Go Work Out!
No gym, no machines, no weights, no problem! Hopefully, this article has given you everything you need to get a workout wherever you are, no matter your resources, and no matter how much time you have.