5 Bodyweight Moves That Work Nearly Every Muscle in Your Body

By Lauren Bedosky |

All you need is a little floor space to build head-to-toe strength and stability.

5 Bodyweight Moves

If you want to build functional strength and stability, bodyweight exercises are hard to beat. That’s true for all levels of exercisers, but especially if you’re new to strength training.

“It’s really important to be able to control your own bodyweight and have good alignment and form before adding additional weight,” says Ashley Fluger, C.S.C.S., a sports performance specialist at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York City.

Many bodyweight exercises also work multiple muscle groups, making them an efficient option for building functional strength—meaning the strength you need to perform everyday movements with ease, she says.

Plus, bodyweight exercises are incredibly convenient. All you need is your own body, a little floor space, and maybe a chair, wall, or table.

There’s no shortage of options, but the five bodyweight exercises below are some of Fluger’s all-time favorites for challenging almost every major muscle group.

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How to Use These Bodyweight Exercises

Fluger suggests two options:

1. Pick two or three exercises to string together into a quick, do-anywhere bodyweight workout. This approach works best if you’re tight on time or want to supplement your existing routine with some extra strength work. It’s also great for people who get bored by doing the same workout again and again—you can pick different moves each time.

2. Do all five exercises in order for a longer, full-body strength session.

Whichever approach you choose, start by doing two sets of the suggested number of reps for each exercise, resting 30 to 60 seconds between sets (or more if you need it). Gradually work up to three sets of each exercise as your strength improves.

Ready to get started? Here’s how to perform each movement. As always, safety is key. The exercises here may be different or more advanced than those you’ll experience in a SilverSneakers class. If you have a chronic condition, balance issues, or injuries, talk to your doctor about how you can exercise safely.

Bodyweight Exercise #1: Squat

Do 2 to 3 sets of 8 to 12 reps

Hip-hinging or squatting movements are a staple of daily life: getting into and out of chairs, bending down to pick something up, using the toilet. That's why this is one exercise all older adults should learn and continue doing as long as they can.

How to do it: Stand tall with your feet shoulder- to hip-width apart. Hold your arms straight out in front of you at shoulder level, and brace your core. This is your starting position.

From here, push your hips back, and bend your knees to slowly lower your body into a squat, not letting your knees cave in as you do so. Pause, then push through your heels to slowly return to starting position. That's one rep. Perform two to three sets of eight to 12 reps total, resting 30 to 60 seconds between sets.

Make it easier or harder: Check out tips in our beginner’s guide to the squat.

Bodyweight Exercise #2: Glute Bridge

Do 2 to 3 sets of 8 to 12 reps

As expected, the glute bridge is a great exercise for strengthening the all-important muscles in your glutes, hips, and hamstrings, Fluger says. What you might not realize is this exercise also requires you to activate the muscles in your abdominals and lower back to keep your body stable-so it doubles as a great core exercise.

“Keeping these muscles activated will help you walk and climb stairs, maintain balance, and ease hip or back pain,” Fluger says.

How to do it: Lie on your back with knees bent, feet flat on the floor about hip-width apart, and heels a few inches away from your buttocks. Press your arms into the floor for support, and brace your core to minimize the arch in your lower back.

From here, push through your heels and squeeze your glutes to lift your hips up until your body forms a straight line from your knees to shoulders. As you get stronger, focus on getting your shins as close to vertical as you comfortably can at the top of the movement. Pause, then slowly lower your hips to return to starting position. That's one rep. Perform two to three sets of eight to 12 reps, resting for 30 to 60 seconds between sets.

Make it harder: Try the marching glute bridge. Lift your hips to the raised position. Keeping your hips raised, lift one knee to your chest, lower it back down, lift your other knee to your chest, and lower it back down. Lower your hips to return to starting position, and repeat.

Want more strength moves to level-up your fitness game? Check out our SilverSneakers Classic class.  This online or in-person class is appropriate for all fitness levels.

Bodyweight Exercise #3: Modified Pushup

modified pushup
Do 2 to 3 sets of 8 to 12 reps

The pushup is often credited as an upper-body exercise, but in addition to working your chest, shoulders, arms, and back, it also strengthens your core, quads, and glutes, Fluger says.

“A lot of muscles are working,” she says, adding that perfecting your pushup will help you with a wide range of everyday tasks, including pushing grocery carts, lifting grandchildren, and even maintaining great posture.

How to do it: Stand facing a table, dresser, or wall. The taller the object or the more upright you are, the easier the move. Place your hands on the edge, slightly wider than shoulder-width apart. Move your feet back until you are at a comfortable angle, keeping arms straight and perpendicular to your body.

Bend your elbows to slowly lower your chest toward the object, pause, and then press back up to straighten your arms. Keep your body straight throughout the entire movement, making sure to engage your abs and squeeze your rear. That's one rep. Perform two to three sets of eight to 12 reps, resting 30 to 60 seconds between sets.

Make it harder: Lower your hands to the floor to perform traditional pushups.

Bodyweight Exercise #4: Stepup

Do 2 to 3 sets of 6 to 8 reps

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Single-leg exercises like stepups are an essential part of a well-rounded strength routine. These exercises train each leg to be strong and stable independently of the other, which helps iron out any imbalances, Fluger says.

While stepups primarily target the muscles in your lower body, your entire core has to engage to help maintain your balance.

How to do it: Stand in front of a step. Start with a low step, increasing the height for a challenge. If you like, perform the move next to a wall for support.

Set your left foot on the step, push down through your heel, and lift yourself up until your leg is straight. Step down. That's one rep. Perform six to eight reps or as many as you comfortably can, then repeat on the opposite side. That's one set. Do two to three sets, resting 30 to 60 seconds between sets.

Make it harder: Once you’ve mastered the bodyweight stepup, it’s time to add some resistance. Grab a pair of light dumbbells, and hold them at your sides with palms facing your body as you perform the movement.

Bodyweight Exercise #5: Bird Dog

Bird Dog
Do 2 to 3 sets of 6 to 8 reps

The bird dog is a great multitasking strengthener with an emphasis on your core.

“Your core—which includes the glutes, hips, abdominals, and deep core muscles that support your spine—plays a key role in just about everything you do, including walking, standing, sitting down, and rolling over in bed,” Fluger says.

During this movement, you have to control your arms and legs while they're moving, Fluger says. That requires engaging your muscles from head to toes to keep your body stable and avoid toppling over.

How to do it: Start on all fours with your hands below shoulders and knees below hips. Engage your abs, keep your spine neutral, and gaze down or slightly forward.

Lift your left arm and extend your right leg until they are in line with the rest of your body. Pause, then lower back down, and repeat on the opposite side with right arm and left leg extended. That's one rep. Perform two to three sets of six to eight reps total, resting 30 to 60 seconds between sets.

Make it easier: Keep your hands on the floor, and only extend your leg.

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