You’re at home with no equipment and you want to work out; what do you do? No matter where you are, bodyweight workouts are your best friend. Today I’ll go over the best upper body bodyweight exercises so you can still get a pump in when you’re away from the gym.
Bodyweight exercises also can be classified as callisthenics, are exercises that use your own bodyweight. Meaning no external equipment, just you and your limbs. While you’re not going to look like Arnold after doing a few sets of dips, it’s still going to stimulate your muscles.
Bodyweight exercises can be performed anywhere, whether you’re travelling or just sitting at home. Since these exercises require no tools or equipment, you can increase the difficulty easily depending on your skill level.
Gold standard: Push ups
Push ups are the go-to exercise to working your chest with no equipment. Like the bench press, push ups work your shoulders, triceps and chest muscles.
Tips: Keep your legs straight and brace your core. Your body should be tight and rigid, don’t lose form as you complete a push up!
Variation: Stretch Push Ups
Stretch push ups are a modified push up with an increased range of motion. Start by getting yourself in a normal push up position. Now put your hands away from your body, approximately one foot from where your hands would normally be. Another way to perform a stretch push up is by having your hands elevated.
You can see that from the start the stretch push up puts tension on your chest. From the stretched position, you stretch out your chest, even more, recruiting more muscle fibers.
Gold standard: Pull Ups
Pull ups are a phenomenal exercise to grow your back without weights. It’s a really underrated exercise that provides much more growth than you think.
Can you remember the last time you were at the gym and saw someone doing pull ups? Most people skip over pull ups and opt for cable or barbell back exercises. Plus what’s more impressive than lifting your own bodyweight?
Tips: Cross your legs to keep stable, you don’t want to be swinging here. Keep your back straight and core tight!
Alternative: Chin Ups
Same idea as pull ups but instead your palms will be facing towards you. This, in turn, changes the dynamic muscles used of the exercise making it more bicep focused. Same as chin ups, you want to keep your core tight and keep your legs tucked to reducing swaying.
You may ask “why do I want to reduce swaying on the way up and down?”. The answer is that you can properly recruit the required muscles instead of relying on momentum. If you use momentum to get yourself up, then you’re only cheating yourself.
Another alternative: Hanging Row or Inverted Row
Not everyone has the ability to do this exercise just based on no equipment, but if you are able to do it then it’s a killer exercise to add to your arsenal. Some actually find the hanging row more difficult than pull ups just due to the nature of the exericse.
The hanging row uses your lats, rear delts (shoulders), traps and biceps.
Gold standard: Dips
Triceps are the biggest part of your arms so it makes sense that if you want to get big arms you would train triceps. I’m sure you’ve been in the gym for hours on end doing bicep curls, trying to grow your arms. Generally, the tricep muscle is 2/3 of your arm. Biceps are proportionally smaller than triceps, but usually much more enjoyable to train.
Dips, either on a bench or couch, are a great tricep arm builder exercise. You can add variations by having your feet elevated, the depth you descend or the tempo of the exercise (time under tension).
Tips: Like chin ups, keep your core tight! Straighten your legs so you’re not cheating yourself.
Alternative: Diamond Push Ups
In most chest exercises, your triceps are used just due to the musculature of the human body. For an exercise like push ups, your chest is primarily used, then triceps then shoulders. If you really want to isolate your triceps during push ups, try the diamond push up.
Get yourself in a standard push up position first. Place your hands together and make a diamond shape with your hands by touching your index fingers and thumbs together.
Gold standard: Plank
I don’t think I’ve met anyone that enjoys planks. To be really honest, it’s a really boring exercise. You’re literally not moving and staring at the floor, so no wonder why people hate it.
Having said that, it’s an exercise that requires mastery. By performing it every day, you can work your way up to a longer hold time, thereby increasing the time under tension which is a crucial factor in muscle growth.
Planks use your abdominal muscles, which include the external obliques, serratus anterior and rectus femoris (quadriceps).
Tips: Use a neutral spine here, meaning don’t cave towards the floor. Your arms should be directly under your shoulders. Flex your abdominal muscles by drawing your navel into your spine.
Alternative: Mountain Climber
If you want to be a bit more active in bodyweight ab exercises, then the mountain climber exercise is for you.
Mountain climbers use your abs, quadriceps, hamstrings, obliques and hip abductors. By getting your heart rate up you can add this to your cardio workout.
Tips: Keep your core (abs) muscles engaged and tight. For more of a challenge, touch your knee to your chest.