Bodyweight Exercises For Strength

by James Kerrison on November 16, 2010

Bodyweight training should form part of any solid exercise program for strength. There are hundreds of exercises and just as many variations to these exercises that will challenge the rookie right through to the seasoned exerciser.

A lot of the bodyweight exercises that you’ll use for strength aren’t always a whole lot of fun! Bear in mind though that there is almost always a direct correlation between an exercise being hard for you and the benefit you will get from it.

Here are two of my favorite exercises to use for developing strength with your own bodyweight (and at times some extra weight!)

Chin Ups

These are pretty much a staple of any strength program using bodyweight. There are plenty of variations on the standard version and there are also ways to make the exercise easier and harder.

Technically speaking the chin up is performed with the palms facing the body holding onto a straight bar. You start with your arms extended so they are in line with your torso and then you lift your body up by pulling back and down with your elbows until you reach the top!

The quickest way to make this exercise harder is to emphasise the lowering portion of the movement. By lowering yourself under control for 3-6 seconds you will instantly make this exercise a lot harder. This is great if you don’t have access to external weight such as a weight vest, kettlebells, dumbells or a belt and chain.

Adding weight is obviously going to make this exercise harder and is a great  option if available.

Resistance bands are also a ‘nice’ alternative as they give the movement a different challenge again to what adding weight does. Attach them to the bottom of the chinning station or rack and loop them around a lifting belt. As you get higher the resistance will increase making it tough all the way to the top.

You can also use the bands to make the exercise easier by attaching them to the bar in between you hands. This will give you assistance from the ground up (where it is most difficult) and less help at the top where you are a little stronger.

If you can’t do chin ups even with the help of the bands you can work on jumping up to the top position and lowering yourself as slow as possible (up to 8 seconds lowering). If this is still too hard use the bands to perform pulldowns and progress as soon as your strength allows.

From here you can mix and match your grips to keep challenging your strength. Everyone will be a little different in terms of which grip they find easiest but the main choices will be palms facing away from your body, or palms facing each other. From here you can play around with the width of your grip and you’ll have an almost endless array of choices and challenges.

Push Ups

Another staple of the bodyweight strength exercise library is the push up. There are more variation of this exercise than you’d care to know about!

As with the chin up, one of the quickest ways to make this exercise harder is to slow right down on the lowering portion of the movement. By going slower and lower on the way down (2,4 even 6 seconds) you’ll find that you might only be able to do half as many pushup as you normally do.

The next way to make them harder is to increase the height of your feet. This is pretty straight forward and it will increase the relative amount of weight that you are lifting. To make it harder with your feet elevated you can use a stability ball or TRX for your feet to rest in and on.

You can also use the resistance bands or external weights (softer ones like sandbags are a bit more user friendly) to make any version mentioned here a little or a lot harder.

By adding an alternate knee raise, such as with the spiderman pushup, you’ll notice things get a little harder again! Same as with the chin up, you can vary your grip width to make things a little different.

Typically speaking, just wider than shoulder width will be the easiest width. Wider will be harder and narrower will be harder.

So for a challenge try some feet elevated, narrow grip, spiderman pushups (you won’t need extra weight for this!)

To make things a little easier you can either drop to your knees or elevate your hands. Using an box, bench or bar in the power rack will all work. If needed you can focus just on the lowering phase of the exercise as well just as with the chin ups until you are able to do regular ones.

Two exercises, hundreds of variations. They are both great bodyweight exercises for strengh t and you should get them added to your workout as soon as possible!

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