Before joining a gym or buying expensive exercise equipment, look at what you already have available to you in your neighborhood. With creativity, just your own bodyweight, and the right training progressions, you can get in a challenging workout any place. You can train in your own home, yard, or a local park.
Bodyweight training ranges from very easy to very challenging, depending on how you change the leverage and position of the exercise. There is potentially an endless number of exercises you can perform, without needing any specialized equipment. Calisthenics, also known as bodyweight training, is very minimalist. You need nothing beyond a bar, a wall, a walkway or porch, and a table, which can be readily found in your environment. If a pullup bar isn’t readily available to you, think outside the box. Playground equipment, low sturdy tree branches, hand rails on walkways, and even a door may suffice.
Progression with weight training is simple; add weight to the bar as you get stronger. With bodyweight training, you have to change the exercise itself to make it easier or harder. A well designed bodyweight training progression will gradually go from easy exercises to very hard.
Take a deload week when needed to allow your body to recover and rebuild. You can use one or more deload protocols or just take an “active rest” week. In either case, focus on mobility work and therapeutic modalities.
Deload protocols include but are not necessarily limited to:
Less volume (sets / reps), less frequency (training days per week), less intensity (regressions of any kind), less variety (less exercises)
Ideas include but are not limited to pickup games of your favorite athletic sport, taking a Yoga class, getting in some light walking, and yard work or household chores.
Below are a few free bodyweight-only workouts. If you want to learn the progressions and exercises, get in touch with me to set up a class. E-mail
Strength training programs
Always warm up and stretch for at least 5 minutes before a workout.
Beginner bodyweight strength training program
Build up to performing this workout three times per week. Choose an exercise from each progression that you can handle with good form for repetitions. Make sure it is difficult enough for you personally that you will have trouble meeting the goal sets and reps. Gradually build up to that goal over a number of workouts, then move on to the next exercise in the progression.
(Mon/Wed/Fri or Tues/Thurs/Sat.)
Beginner bodyweight strength program
Perform this program once a week if you need to. Build up to performing this program two or three times per week on non-consecutive days (such as Monday, Wednesday, and Thursday). You will be ready for the intermediate program once you are working with intermediate exercises in each progression.
Squat progression: 2-3 sets of 6-10 reps
Vertical pullup progression: 2-3 sets of 4-8 reps
Pushup progression: 2-3 sets of 6-10 reps
Bridge hold progression: 2-3 sets of 10-15 seconds
Midsection hold progression: 2-3 sets of 10-15 seconds
Intermediate bodyweight strength training program
Build up to performing this program three times per week, and a rest day.
Squat progression: 3-4 sets of 3-5 reps
Vertical pullup progression: 3-4 sets of 3-5 reps
Handstand pushup progression: 3-4 sets of 3-5 reps
Midsection hold progression: 3-5 sets of 10-15 seconds
Day 2 – Build up to
Pushup progression: 3-4 sets of 4-6 reps
Australian pullup progression: 3-4 sets of 4-8 reps
Bridge hold progression: 3-5 sets of 10-15
Lower body plyometrics: 5 sets of 3-5
Advanced bodyweight strength training program
Build up to performing this program twice each week, and a rest day.
Day 1 – Build up to
Back lever progression: 4-5 sets of 3-5 short holds
Pushup progression: 4-5 sets of 3-5 reps
Vertical pullup progression: 4-5 sets of 3-5 reps
Midsection hold progression: 5 sets of 5-10 seconds
Day 2 – Build up to
Handstand pushup progression: 4-5 sets of 2-4 reps
Australian pullup progression: 4-5 sets of 6-8 reps
Front lever progression: 4-5 sets of 8-10 short holds
Upper body mobility work: 5-10 minutes
Day 3 – Build up to
Squat progression: 4-5 sets of 3-5
Muscleups or dips: 4-5 sets (various)
Lower body plyometrics: 4-5 sets of 3-5
Mobility work: 5-10 minutes
The midsection hold progression can be replaced with the Dragon Flag progression, which I captured video of and list set/rep goals for. For progression videos and information, visit my website.
For my full, free guide with even more bodyweight only workouts, as well as plenty more training tactics, visit this page, Training Programs PDF.
Lastly, I have recorded a number of “Ditch the Gym” videos, in which I demonstrate various exercises. Check out the videos on this playlist. Ditch the Gym – YouTube Playlist.
Ditch The Gym, Part 1 –
Incline pushups – early exercise in the pushup progression
Decline pushups – intermediate exercise in the handstand pushups progression
Straight dips – early exercise in the dipping progression
Bodyweight triceps extensions
Horizontal pulls (aka Australian pullups, bodyweight rows, and inverted rows)
Archer Australian pullups, Horizontal bar dips, Perpendicular dips (V-bar dips)
Ditch The Gym, Part 2 –
Wall walking (advanced exercise in the bridging progression)
Stomach facing handstand pushups
Ditch The Gym, Part 3 –
Solid rollover (advanced leg raise progression exercise)
Pullups, “Round the world” pullups
Hanging frog raises, full range of motion hanging leg raises
Inverted front hang (early front lever progression exercise)
Transition to tuck back lever and back up as a movement
Dragon flag progression –
Seated knee tucks, Flat knee raises, Flat bent leg raises, Flat frog raises, Flat straight leg raises, Shoulderstand squat to shoulderstand and slow dragon flag negative, Kick up to shoulderstand and slow dragon flag negative, Tuck dragon flag with slow dragon flag negative, Dragon flag with slow negative and short isometric hold
A few park bench exercises –
Jowett pushups, full pike handstand pushups (full range of motion), parallel dips, feet elevated straight dips, elevated straight dips, hip thrusts, and one leg hip thrusts.
Poor Man’s Backyard Workout –
Weighted decline pushups on knuckles, with a “drop set” of decline pushups without the sandbag
Weighted horizontal pullups (aka bodyweight rows) using Equalizers, with a “drop set” of horizontal pullups without the sandbag
Weighted parallel dips using Equalizers, followed by a “drop set” without the sandbag
Midsection holds on the equalizers
Two “Hojo Undo” (Okinawan karate conditioning) exercises – useful for the forearms, wrists, and fingers, as well as technique
Sandbag exercises for the back and arms (sandbag rows, good mornings, farmer’s walk); the heavier bag is 120 pounds and the lighter two are 40 pounds each
Hanging grip work
For video tutorials on many more sandbag exercises, check out the YouTube playlist I have put together, Sandbag training playlist.
Full list of Dragon flag progression exercises:
Work with an exercise until you can meet the training goal, then move on to the next exercise.
Seated knee tucks – 3 sets of 50
Bench shoulderstand squat – 2 sets of 20
Flat knee raises – 3 sets of 40
Flat bent leg raises – 3 sets of 30
Flat frog raises – 3 sets of 20
Flat straight leg raises – 2 sets of 20
Bench candlestick hold – 2 sets of 15 second holds
Dragon flag negatives – 2 sets of 9
Dragon flag holds (isometrics) – 3 sets of 10 second holds
Tuck Dragon flag – 3 sets of 5
Bent leg Dragon flag – 3 sets of 5
Dragon flag (fully locked out) – 3 sets of 5
What are your thoughts? Comment below and share this information!
This article (Ditch the gym – build strength and muscle with your own bodyweight!) was created by Owen Johnston, an experienced personal trainer with over 10 years of teaching experience. He has served as the strength and conditioning coach at an established gymnastics club. For more information on his classes, qualifications, and training progressions, visit his profile page – Owen Johnston, personal trainer