You’ve got squats down, you can lunge with the best of them, your push-ups are on point, and you’re a burpee pro. Bodyweight exercises are amazing at keeping you fit, but there comes a time when you need to kick it up a notch in order to continue to see results.
“If you’ve mastered standard movements, your heart rate won’t go up as much as when you first started. Your body won’t make the adaptations it needs to get stronger,” explains Daily Burn 365 trainer Dara Theodore, who also trains at The Fhitting Room in New York City. “You need to make sure the intensity is high to continue making those gains,” she says. Changing things up also beats boredom and jacks up the excitement factor.
Follow these eight ways to switch up your bodyweight workout for better results—and more fun, too!
Amp Up Your Bodyweight Workout in 8 Steps
1. Reduce Rest
Keep the same circuit of moves you normally do—squats, push-ups, tricep dips—but reduce your rest time in between exercises. “Go straight from one [exercise] into the other,” advises Theodore. And don’t stop there, either. Decide that you’ll complete four rounds and then rest at the end. This is going to keep your heart rate up throughout your entire workout. (It counts as cardio, too!)
2. Up Reps
You might organize your workout by, say, doing 45 seconds of squats and resting for 30 seconds; then 45 seconds of push-ups and resting for 30 seconds. Instead of focusing just on time, make time and number of reps your goal. So let’s say you know you can do 20 squats in 45 seconds. Aim to do 25 squats in 45 seconds (and so on with the other moves in your circuit). “If you have an open interval, you may hone it in, this way you work harder,” says Theodore.
3. Get Competitive
Against yourself. “This forces you mentally to push harder to get the work done,” says Theodore. You can add a little friendly competition it in two ways:
Option one: Plan out the moves and reps you’re going to do (e.g. 10 lunges, tuck jumps, mountain climbers, lateral lunges). Do as many rounds as possible in “X” amount of time. Then for your next workout, aim to do more reps or get further through the circuit than before.
Option two: Opt for a ladder or chipper workout. In this format, the moves are up to you. You might do 50 squats, 40 tricep dips, 30 bicycle crunches….and so on (chipper workout) or 10 push-ups, 20 squats, 30 jumping jacks…and so on (ladder workout). The goal here: Getting to the top of the ladder (whether that’s 50 or 100) without tapping out. Challenge accepted.
4. Add Weight
“Adding resistance with weights changes the stimulus entirely,” says Theodore. “It will call upon more muscles. And the more muscles you use, the higher your heart rate. The higher your heart rate, the more intense the exercise is—and the more calories you burn.” Simple as that! As long as it makes sense for the exercise (you may want to be careful doing something burpees with weights), you can hold one weight in both hands or a weight in each hand and complete the reps.
5. Make It an Incline/Decline
Sometimes flat is just…boring. That’s where changing levels comes in. Let’s take the example of a push-up. Doing an inverted push-up—either with your legs elevated or in a handstand position (with feet against a wall)—can mimic lifting a weight thanks to the added challenge of gravity, says Theodore. You can also use two stable boxes and, placing one hand on each box, to perform an incline push-up in between the boxes, which allows you to lower your chest even more. (Want more advanced push-up variations? Try these!)
6. Get Isometric
Want to feel more of the burn? Isometric exercises involve holding your body weight in a fixed position. The result is added stress on muscles, which can, in turn, help strengthen them. Try it: At the bottom of a move (like a squat or lunge), hold for one second before coming back up. Or, add a number of small pulses at the bottom.
7. Go Plyometric
Hello, hops! Adding some explosiveness will up the intensity of the movement and help you sneak in more cardio, too. Think: jumping split squats, jumping lunges, or plyometric push-ups. If this is too much of a challenge, start with a plyometric blast at the end of your reps. For example, do 10 weighted squats, drop your weights and do 10 explosive squat jumps. Or do 10 push-ups and finish with five plyometric push-ups.
8. Reduce Stability
Go for one-legged or one-armed moves here. So rather than a traditional squat, do a pistol squat or Bulgarian split squat. Regular burpees can become single-leg burpees. A regular plank is now a single-arm plank. “This will recruit more muscle fibers, and work your core as well,” says Theodore. Sounds like a win to us!
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