Erin Nitschke

One of the longest-standing myths in fitness and exercise is the belief that a high-quality workout requires a pricey gym membership and costly equipment. While the available tools at a gym are varied and dynamic, we can’t underestimate the value of what is accomplished in the comfort of a living room or wide open outdoor space.

Body weight is resistance — resistance we use regularly to accomplish activities of daily living. Aside from performing those daily activities, body weight can be used as a tool to build strength and stamina. By using body weight exercises, you can add variety and fun to a workout without purchasing large or expensive equipment that will take space from your wallet and living room. All you need is 30 minutes and enough room to move. Try out the following exercises and choose a combination that you enjoy and can commit to performing weekly.

First, begin with a 10-minute warm-up such as walking, light jogging, running in place or a combination of jumping jacks and dynamic stretching. A proper warm-up is essential to a safe and effective workout; it prepares the body for exercise and helps to gradually increase the inter-muscular temperature and heart rate.

Once the warm-up is complete, move on to the conditioning bout — or — the body weight resistance session. Brief instructions on how to execute the movement are included.

Body weight squats or wall-sits

Stand with feet hip-width apart, hands on hips or extended in front of the body, and toes pointed slightly outward (keep knees directly over the feet). Keep the chest out, shoulders back and squat until the thighs are parallel to the floor (if achievable as actual squat depth is dependent upon lower body joint flexibility). To perform the wall-sit, support the back with the wall and keep the same foot position. Squat to a comfortable depth and hold the end position for a predetermined amount of time. Muscles worked: glutes, hamstrings and quads.

Standing calf raises

Using a stable raised platform (stairs work well), place the toes on the edge of the platform so the heels can drop below. Slowly raise up on the toes (keeping the knees straight) and drop the heels below using a full range of motion. Repeat the movement for a specified number of repetitions. Muscles worked: calf.


Begin on all fours; make sure the hands are directly under the shoulders with fingers facing forward or slightly inward while the knees are under the hips (stack your joints). Keeping the shoulders back and core engaged, move in to a plank position (keeping head and spinal alignment intact) with heels reaching behind. Slowly bend the elbows and lower the body toward the floor. Keep the torso tight and hips elevated while elbows remain tightly at sides. Repeat the up and down motion. To modify this, keep the knees on the floor. Muscles worked: arms, chest and shoulders.

Forward lunges

Start with feet together and shoulders down and back. Keep the core engaged and move one foot forward into a lunge position (no need to touch the trailing knee to the floor) while keeping the other leg stable. Return to the starting position and repeat with opposite leg. Muscles worked: abs, glutes, hips and thighs.

Side lunges

Start with the feet together, hip-width apart. Keep your hands on the hips or out in front. Maintain spinal alignment and an active core while you take one step to the right (keeping the weight on the left heel). Place the right foot on the ground and shift your weight toward the right foot while bending at the knee and pushing the hips back. The shinbone should be vertical to the floor and the knee aligned with the second toe (keeping the non-lunging leg straight and heels on the floor while in the lunged position). Return to the starting position and repeat on the opposite side. Muscles worked: glutes, hips and thighs.

Triceps dips

Using the edge of a bench or a sturdy chair, place the legs in front of the body so that the heels are resting on the floor. Place the hands on the edge of the platform/surface (fingers curl over the edge) and keep the elbows pointing directly behind the body. Move the hips forward so they are not coming in contact with the bench and slowly bend at the elbows and lower to the ground and extend the arms to return to the starting position. Muscles worked: triceps.


Lie on your stomach with legs outstretched. Keep the toes pointing toward the wall behind you. Reach the arms overhead, palms facing each other. Keeping the head and spine aligned, anchor the core to stabilize the spine and slowly reach both legs away from the torso so they are off the ground. At the same time, raise both arms off the ground. Repeat this motion. Muscles worked: back, hips and shoulders.


Lie on your back, anchor the core, place fingertips behind the ears and keep the elbows open. Perform a cross-body movement by bringing the opposite shoulder to the opposite knee while keeping the shoulder blades off the floor. Muscles worked: obliques.

Mountain climber

Start on all fours; hands should be slightly in front of shoulders and fingers pointed forward. Bring one leg forward and place it under the chest (knee and hip are bent and the thigh is toward the chest). Lift the opposite knee off the ground (leg is straight). Engage the core and move the shoulder blades down and back. With the hands on the ground, jump to switch legs. Repeat this motion for a specified number of repetitions. Muscles worked: glutes, hips and thighs

Plank – forward and/or side

With legs outstretched behind you and weight supported on your elbows (or on the palms of your hands with arms straight), tighten the torso, engage the core, align the spine and head, and hold the position for a predetermined amount of time. To perform the side variation of this exercise, lie on your side and stack the legs. Support the weight with your elbows or palm of your hand. Keep the hips elevated and hold for a predetermined period of time. Remember to breathe and keep the core engaged. To modify the side plank, keep one leg bent and on the floor. Muscles worked: abs and back.

This list represents only 10 body weight exercises. The number, type and level of difficulty for body weight exercises far surpasses what this article can effectively accomplish. For more ideas or variations, visit www.acefitness.org/acefit/excercise-library/.

With a little creativity and space, you can design an at-home full-body circuit that is easily accomplished in 30 minutes. Start slow if you’re new to exercise and set realistic goals. Remember to wear appropriate workout gear, warm up, cool down, stay hydrated, and always check with your primary health care practitioner before making any changes to diet and exercise practices.

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Erin Nitschke is a health and human performance educator, NSCA-CPT and ACE Health Coach. She can be reached at erinmd03@gmail.com.


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