Body Weight Exercises to Master

Body Weight Exercises to Master ​

Getting in shape doesn’t have to be complicated. It actually shouldn’t be complicated and more often than not we overlook basic body weight exercises that are not only simple but extremely effective. Before we dive into which fundamental movements to master, lets take a quick look at why exercising with your body weight is so important.

  1. More than just strength training– unlike a machine or bench holding you in place and guiding your range of motion (such as a chest press machine), body weight exercises naturally force you to utilize many muscles, engage your core, work on balance, coordination and flexibility. When I was personal training fulltime, I often started clients out on fundamental body weight movements for 2-3 weeks before integrating any type of machine. I think we all (myself included) underestimate the importance on knowing how to move your body. This is especially important for individuals who have sedentary jobs where your core and stabilizing muscles are severely underutilized.

  2. Joint Health– ever take a yoga class or try doing chin ups or push ups and your joints hurt? Maybe it’s just because I’m getting older but I’m way more conscience of my joints (which is why I love rowing). Joint health is crucial to getting/staying fit. If you constantly use machines or even dumbells/barbells (to an extent) you aren’t doing your joints any favors. Integrating body weight exercises such as pushups, planks, pulls-ups, etc. creates tension in your joints with relatively low impact which increases blood flow to joints, helps them repair and improves overall mobility. This is why overtime, your wrists no longer hurt while taking an hour-long yoga class!

  3. Versatility– You can perform basic body weight exercises anywhere at any time­—no excuses. Snowing outside, can’t get to the gym? No problem. It only takes a combination of 2-3 body weight movements, performed in a fast-paced circuit to make a killer workout. Body weight circuits can also be easily adjusted to any fitness level.

I’m a firm believer in the necessity of integrating body weight exercises to improve strength, endurance, joint health and mobility. Upstate Row circuits will include intervals on the rower, body weight exercises, as well as other functional movements. Until the studio opens…..any day now 🙂 work on these essential movements :


I know, l know….some people HATE planks. BUT I’m here to tell you that you will grow to love them when you practice good form and feel your core getting stronger. The standard plank depicted below engages your abdominals, lower back, hips and arms which makes it a powerful core exercise. There’s numerous variations of the plank but for now, let’s stick with the basic plank.


The pushup is another obvious choice for a fundamental body weight exercise to master. It doesn’t get more basic than using your arms to push your body up from the ground. When practiced in good form, the push-up can be one of the best full body exercises. And like the plank there are many great challenging progressions and variations. Pushups help to strengthen your chest, shoulders, triceps, core and glutes which will come in handy when you’re mastering the indoor rowing machine at Upstate Row.

Need some more insight on form? Check out this article by Women’s Health Magazine 

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Pushup Goal

Beginner: aim for 10-15 assisted pushups (on knees) or 5-7 standard pushups and then finish off the rest of the 5-8 reps in the assisted knee position

Intermediate: 10-15 standard pushups. If you feel like you’ve mastered this- slow down the speed on the way down (towards your mat) for an extra challenge. 

Advance: Check out the decline pushup or stacked-feet pushup 

Single Leg Deadlift (SLDL)

This one may come as a surprise, but a single leg deadlift isn’t as scary as it sounds! This is a great movement that challenges your balance, flexibility and coordination all while strengthening your hamstrings and glutes. Girls Gone Strong states that the single leg deadlift is often thought as a “non-surgical butt lift!” I can attest that SLDL’s are amazing for firming your glutes. Don’t be shocked if you notice that your balance and coordination is better on one side. Training on one leg challenges your stabilizer muscles which tend to be stronger on one side. If you’re way off balance on one side, you may want to focus on hip opener stretches like the pigeon, as well as hamstring stretches.

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Form is Key

  1. Plant your foot to the ground with all 5 toes and heal on your stabilizing leg (straight leg) firmly rooted on to the floor.
  2. Slowly hinge your hips back while also hinging your knee until you have a very flat back.  (No rounding!)
    *The moving leg should be straight  with minimal knee bend. Never let your chest drop lower than your hips.
  3. As you hinge forward keep your hips, chest, and shoulders square and aligned. You should only go as deep as you can before your hips start opening.
  4. While going through the motion keep your gaze foward (pick a focal point to help with balance) and squeeze your glutes/keep your core tight

Single Leg Deadlift Goal

Beginners: focus just on the movement pattern alone, with no weight at all. Reps can range from six to 10 per side when learning the pattern. Perfom next to a wall or chair if you need some extra balance. 

Intermediate- Advanced: use 8-20lb dumbbells or a single kettlebell and perform 10-15 reps on each leg. *start with lower weight and work yourself 

The Workout- Putting it All Together

Now that you have the 411 on body weight exercises, it’s time to put it all together. You may be doubting how these simple movements can turn into a killer workout. The secret- incorporate one heart pumping move such as jumping jacks, skaters, mountain climbers, high knees, burpees, etc. Here’s an example:

***Before you start this circuit, if it’s been awhile since you’ve gauged your fitness , do so now by: doing max amount of pushups (in good form), hold a plank as long as you can and check your balance on the single leg deadlifts (pay attention to which muscles are tight and which side is off balance). Record your results to compare in 6-12 weeks.  Next, do the workout below but perform 3 rounds instead of 4. 

Warm Up
1 minute of jumping jacks, 10 body weight squats, light stretching

– Pushups, 10-12 reps
– Plank, 30-60 seconds
– Single Leg Deadlifts, 12 reps on each leg (start with no weight)
– Cardio Move for 1 minute (choose one: jumping jacks/skaters/mountain climbers/burpees, high knees)

**Repeat for 4 Round with minimal rest in-between (30-60 second rest)