It’s become pretty clear that we’ve taken many of the elements of our pre-pandemic lives for granted — things like going out to bars and restaurants, crowded shopping malls, and (perhaps most frustratingly for some) the gym. There’s an increasingly-likely possibility that gyms as we once knew them will never return — not, at least, as we once knew them. Furthermore, even if they do eventually reopen, we have no idea when that will actually take place. As such, more people than ever have been forced to figure out how to get exercise in new and different ways.
For those who have large homes, spacious garages, and expansive backyards, building a home gym is a relatively simple prospect — so long as you have the paychecks to afford the equipment. However, if you live in a cramped space (like a small city apartment) and/or you’re out of work, you might have to figure out some other way to get your blood pumping. Thankfully, there are actually numerous kinds of workouts you can do for your body that require absolutely zero pieces of equipment. And we don’t mean using household furniture (like chairs and tables) or even outdoor fixtures (like short cement walls). All of the exercises on the following list necessitate only one too: your body — although some of them can be augmented if you do have access to some pieces of equipment and you want to push just a bit further. For reference: we’ve noted some common variations of these exercises — a quick internet search will show you how they’re done — to keep your workouts a bit more interesting and effective. These are the 12 best no-equipment bodyweight exercises.
If you’ve ever gone to a group class-based gym, you’re probably dreadfully aware of the reviled burpee. And while you’d be hard-pressed to find a single person that would put burpees on a list of exercises they want to do, there’s also no denying their effectiveness. In truth, burpees are actually a combination of exercises. Essentially, you start lying face-down on the ground, get up into a standing position, and jump. This simple series of motions gets quite difficult very rapidly and targets muscle groups throughout your entire body — it is even effective at increasing your cardiovascular fitness. Plus, there are numerous variations that can target other groups of muscles, make your workouts even harder and more effective, and will help to keep things interesting. Of all the exercises on our list, this is probably the one with the greatest love-hate relationship potential.
Variations: pushup burpee, starburst burpee, superman burpee, etc.
Unlike most other mammals, humans typically don’t get themselves up and walking around until around the 1-year mark or even later. Before we walk, however, we learn to crawl. And while it’s a very basic instinctual movement, it can also be turned to as a productive and effective type of no-equipment bodyweight exercise. There are numerous types of crawls but they all follow the same basic format: get down on all fours and crawl — yes, it’s as simple as that. This is an exercise that can seem pretty easy, if a bit awkward, at first, but gets much harder the longer you do it and the more variations you add to your circuit. Furthermore, it can be done face-down or face-up — helping to target multiple muscle groups — and you can even alter your direction (forward, backward, and to either side) to increase the difficulty and effectiveness.
Variations: bear crawl, crab crawl, leopard crawl, seal walk, etc.
Even for top-level athletes and big-time gym rats obsessed with equipment, crunches and sit-ups are still incredibly valuable and even more effective than some weight-focused abdominal exercise variants. Best of all, you can get a full-on ab workout without a single piece of gear — literally all you need is your own body. What’s even better is that, by altering the movements even slightly, you can target and isolate specific parts of your abdominal muscles. Most people know your standard sit-up — raising your upper body toward your knees while lying flat on your back with your knees slightly bent and your feet flat on the ground — but there are also more variations than can probably be counted. You can also incorporate twists to target your obliques, hold positions to add some extra burn, and (if you have any available) even utilize heavy handheld items to increase the difficulty.
Variations: bicycle crunch, Russian twist, V-ups, reverse crunch, dead bug crunches, etc.
To some, having this on the list alongside burpees might seem like we’re fudging the numbers, but we’re calling these different and we’re confident others will agree. You see, the differences between a “get-up” and a burpee are numerous. For starters, get-ups are broader, whereas a burpee is a specific action — lying on your stomach, rising, and jumping. Get-ups can be much more simply defined; you simple start lying down, you rise, and you lye back down with the same motions you used to get up. The most well-known version of this exercise is the Turkish get-up, which calls on users to lie down, heft a kettlebell above their head, and rise to a standing position without lowering the kettlebell from a vertical position — then you get back down again in the same manner. While using a kettlebell helps make the workout harder, especially for your shoulder muscles (which are isolated when your arm is raised above your head with added weight), we promise that doing this without added weight can be plenty difficult and will help increase your strength, stamina, and more.
Variations: Turkish get-up, etc.
Even if you live dead in the heart of New York City, there are still variations of hiking you can manage — that’s true even inside the city limits, what with Central Park taking up so much space in the center of Manhattan. And that makes hiking one of the most accessible types of exercise around. All you really need are some comfortable shoes with good traction, access to drinking water, and the gumption to make it happen. Of course, if you get out into the great outdoors, the variations and range of difficulty increase exponentially. Whether you just want a solid day hike, you’re interested in making your way out to your favorite National or State Park for an overnighter, or you can take some time off for a more grueling multi-day adventure (like a thru-hike), you can make it happen pretty easily. Furthermore, while hiking — especially on steep inclines — will obviously give your legs a good burn, you can also work on your cardiovascular help by trying to increase your speed. If you’re already in good shape, trail running is a solid variation you may be interested in trying.
Variations: day hike, overnight hike, thru-hike, trail running, etc.
As previously mentioned, using your own body weight to work out can be an incredibly effective means of keeping yourself in shape. And one of the best types of exercises to illustrate that is jumping. Perfect for engaging your leg muscles and getting your blood pumping, jumping is one of the more versatile types of movements you can do without equipment. It can be as simple and small as no-rope jumps (in which you rapidly jump up and down like you might with a jump rope) or as difficult as high-knee square jumps (in which you jump and bring your knees up as high as you can while moving within a quartered square). You can increase your strength, cardiovascular health, coordination, and even performance in other types of exercise and endeavors in your life. Better still, you can actually combine several types of jumps to make the workouts harder, both physically and mentally.
Variations: box jump, lateral jump, vertical jump, long jump, square jumps, no-rope jumps, etc.
If burpees are the bane of your existence when it comes to high-movement exercises, planks are likely to make your list of most-hated stationary workouts. Punishingly difficult when done right and remarkably simple in regards to actual action necessary, planks are a type of hold exercise that — at least in their more standard forms — require no actual movement. The most basic kind of plank, what we call “standard” is to simply get down into a pushup position with your arms straight out, roughly shoulder-width apart, and your feet together at the ankles. From there, you simply hold it until you can’t hold any longer. It sounds simple, to be sure, but it gets insanely difficult in a very short span of time. If you’ve ever wanted to feel 30 seconds stretch into 30 minutes, try planks. These can also be altered to target different muscle groups, like your sides, and can have motion added to the exercise to tire out and target the entirety of your abdominals and core muscles. You’re definitely going to hate them if you don’t already, but the rewards will be worth the struggle.
Variations: side plank, reach plank, mountain climbers, spider-man planks, etc.
There’s a reason that pushups have been a standard feature of the exercise industry for as long as it has been around: they work. In fact, it’s believed that the act of doing pushups for personal health and fitness can be traced back through history as far or further than the Roman Empire. They weren’t given their recognizable name, however, until the 1900s, when an Indian strongman and wrestler by the name of Jerick Revilla introduced them to the world. The rest, as they say, is history. Today, the pushup is one of the most basic forms of exercise and is excellent for targeting your pecs and triceps. They can also be altered to be more difficult, incorporate other muscle groups, and more. In fact, even the most basic pushup can be made harder and more effective by simply altering your hand position or elevating your feet. If you have a friend around, you can also have them put pressure on your back or shoulders to increase resistance — just be sure you’re sticking to good form and not allowing your back to dip, as that’s a pretty easy way to injure yourself. Bottom line: if pushups are good for just about every military training regimen around the world, they’re probably good enough for you in your small apartment.
Variations: traditional pushup, wide grip pushup, diamond pushup, staggered pushup, clap pushup, one-handed pushup, etc.
Running isn’t for everyone. Some people have bad joints in their knees or back; others simply find the activity to be boring and repetitive — especially if you’re stuck jogging on a treadmill. However, if you’re of the mindset that running can induce a kind of zen and allows you to let your body be overtaken by the simple act of putting one foot in front of the other, you might also discover that running is a pretty great and exceedingly simple means of keeping yourself in shape. Furthermore — just like every exercise on this list — running can be altered in numerous ways to make it more difficult, more effective, and can even target different muscle groups. For instance, sprinting for short distances will help workout your fast-twitch muscles — these are the muscles responsible for explosiveness and quick reaction times — and long-distance running will target your slow-twitch muscles — which are better for stamina. If you really want to get hardcore with it, you could even don a weight vest to make running even more difficult.
Variations: sprint, long-distance run, jog, walk, interval run, hill repeats, etc.
Shadow Boxing/Martial Arts
For many, working out to increase your overall health, strength, and decrease stress is enough of a reason to pursue the activity. However, some people appreciate that you can use exercise to better your agility, mental acuity, speed, and more. In perhaps no sport(s) is this more true than in boxing and martial arts. Regardless of which discipline you pursue, these comprehensive forms of exercise can target your entire body, will help improve your overall cardiovascular health, can assist in making you sharper and more accurate in actions and thoughts, and so much more. Better still, there’s such a wide variety of martial arts — some focused on punches and kicks, others on throws, and others still on holds — that you can find the perfect one for your personal pursuit of physical and mental health. And while many of these martial arts are perhaps more effective with a partner — especially those that center around throws and holds — there are still plenty of martial arts-focused activities that can be done alone in small spaces.
Variations: boxing, Muay Thai, kickboxing, judo, jiu jitsu, karate, aikido, tai chi, kung fu, taekwondo, MMA, etc.
If push-ups are the ultimate no-equipment upper body exercise, squats are the equivalent for your lower body. In fact, they’re arguably more effective overall because they can be easily modified to target every single muscle group in your lower body from your glutes down to your calves. It could even be argued that squats are the basis for some of the other types of exercises on this list, like jumps. And when we say “easily modified” we mean extremely easy — all you have to do is alter the depth, positioning, direction, and/or the time it takes to complete a single rep. Furthermore, whether you’re doing basic air squats, directional lunges, jump squats, or even wall holds, you can bump up the difficulty exponentially by adding a bit of weight — be that in the form of plates, dumbells, a gallon of drinking water, or even a weight vest. And that makes for a very versatile form of basic exercise that will always be useful and effective regardless of whatever workouts you like to/are able to do.
Variations: air squats, lunges, sumo squats, jump squats, wall squat, pistol squat, etc.
Traditionally speaking, at least in the world of fitness, yoga has gotten a bit of a bad rap for its connection to spirituality and non-western religion. But, for those who are naysaying, we ask that you take a look at this type of workout through both a scientific and historical lens. Yoga has been a highly-respected form of exercise for literal thousands of years (some estimates put its founding in the 5,000-10,000-year range) and, even today, is lauded for its spectacular benefits. When done properly, it can increase your strength, flexibility, and even your mental health. Better still, there is a huge variety of ways to incorporate it into a fitness regimen — including stretching, flowing poses (which is good both for flexibility and muscle strength), held poses (see the planking section), and more. If you can open your mind a bit — or even just consider yoga a type of workout and not something spiritual — you may find that yoga can take your fitness to the next level and get you over those frustrating plateaus. Furthermore, just like all these exercises, there is always a way to make the workouts more intense and difficult as your body becomes accustomed to the movements and poses.
Variations: Ashtanga/Vinyasa, Hatha, Iyengar, Bikram, Yin, etc.
The 15 Best Pieces Of Workout Equipment For Small Apartments
If you’re not completely limited on space, you might want to pick up even a small selection of gear to help kick your exercise into high gear. In that case, you’ll want to take a gander at our list of the best workout gear for small apartments.
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