The Beginner’s Guide to Getting Fit Without Equipment

So, you don’t have a gym membership, your gym is currently closed, or you don’t have any fitness equipment at home. This can make reaching your health and fitness goals a little more complicated, though not entirely impossible. After all, you don’t need equipment to get fit.

Having no fitness equipment means you only have the resistance of your own weight. At a certain point, your muscle and strength gains will begin to slow. To keep up with your progress, you can modify your exercises to make them more difficult or build your own fitness equipment.

You know the basics of bodyweight exercises, but continuing progress means you need to have an in-depth understanding. So, we’re going to go over the benefits of using fitness equipment, the benefits of bodyweight exercises, and how to adapt your routine to help you to get fit.

The Benefits of Using Fitness Equipment

There’s nothing that says that bodyweight exercises can’t improve your physical fitness. But, this type of exercise does have its own limitations.

For one, you won’t be able to add extra resistance and gain as much muscle mass or strength. There’s also the fact that you’re somewhat limited in the exercises you have to choose from.

So, let’s talk about why using fitness equipment is a great idea.

Principle of Progressive Overload

The principle of progressive overload sounds complicated. But, it’s actually pretty easy to understand.

In short, it means that you need to put your muscles and joints under greater amounts of stress to keep seeing improvements.

So, what does that mean for you?

Picture it this way: You’re at the gym doing a 100-pound bench press for 3 sets of 8 reps. You stick to this exact routine three days a week. Within a few weeks, you’ll find it a lot easier to put up the 100 pounds on the bench and you’re not as tired by that last rep.

That’s because your muscles have adapted to the load and have increased in size and strength as a result. At that point, you’re not really making any additional muscle or strength gains with that exact routine.

To see results, you need to change the routine in some way. If you’re looking for strength, muscle, or power, that means you’ll have to increase the weight that you’re benching.

The thing is, you can only really apply this principle with resistance training equipment.

Unless you’re doing decline push-ups, there aren’t many ways to add natural resistance with pure bodyweight exercises. That means there is a point at which you stop making strength gains with just bodyweight exercises.

Variation of Exercises

When it comes to strength training at the gym, there’s plenty of equipment to choose from. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for bodyweight exercises.

Now, we’re not saying that you don’t have a lot of options. You definitely do.

But, when you’re looking to build strength and power, your options are suddenly limited if you’re sticking to bodyweight exercises.

Let’s say you’re looking to build strength in your lower body, but you don’t have any equipment. 

To work your legs, you can do squats, wall sits, lunges, jumping lunges, split squats, etc. But, since you’re already using your legs just about 24/7 to walk and get around, using your own bodyweight for these exercises isn’t all that effective.

If anything, you’re working on endurance instead of strength.

That’s obviously ideal if you’re looking to tone your legs or lose some weight, but this won’t help you to gain a ton of muscle mass or squat more at the gym. 

Then you think about the equipment you have at the gym for your lower body. You have the squat rack, leg press, leg extension, leg curl, calf machines, dumbbells, barbells, etc.

You can choose just about any exercise, load up the bar or the machine, and start making gains.

The Perks of Bodyweight Exercises

Even though you’ll want to use some form of resistance to make muscle and strength gains, you still can make progress by using only bodyweight exercises. It’ll just be a little more difficult and you’ll have to be a bit more strategic.

Bodyweight exercises are a solid choice if you have no equipment or prefer building endurance instead.

So, let’s go over why bodyweight exercise can be so beneficial.

No Equipment Necessary

Obviously the best part of using this type of exercise is that you don’t need any equipment. That means you don’t have to spend any of your hard-earned money on your own fitness equipment or pricey gym memberships.

In fact, you can do bodyweight exercises just about anywhere.

You don’t have to force your way into the gym, wait on equipment, or schedule your gym visit for when the gym is less crowded.

You can just move the coffee table in the living room to the side and start working out. And, you can do it when you want, how you want, and how many times you want!

Less Stressful on the Joints

As much as you might want to make gains, weightlifting and powerlifting can be very hard on the muscles, bones, and joints.

In fact, even professional weightlifters and powerlifters injure themselves 2 to 3 times for every 1,000 hours they spend at the gym. That means you might actually be harming your body if you’re doing too much at the gym.

The best part about bodyweight exercises is that there’s a cap on your resistance. Rather than attempting a 400-pound squat at the gym, you know exactly how much weight you’re working against when you do a bodyweight squat.

The only thing that’ll change the resistance is if you gain or lose weight over time. So, bodyweight exercises are perfect for certain populations.

They’re definitely not the best choice if you want to build massive amounts of muscle or power. But, they’re a great idea if you have joint conditions like arthritis, osteoporosis, or pre-existing health conditions. 

Bodyweight exercises are a quick way to get fit without hurting yourself.

Calorie Burning

Perhaps the most popular reason that people do bodyweight exercises is that they tend to burn calories….and quickly!

The number of calories you can actually burn with bodyweight exercises depends on how much you weigh (among other factors).

On average, you can burn more than 400 calories an hour with just bodyweight exercises.

For reference, this is a greater number of calories than you’d burn just doing regular resistance training. In a way, bodyweight exercises are a combination of aerobic training and resistance training.

Developing Your Equipment-Free Fitness Routine

Once you’ve decided that you want to build your own bodyweight routine, you want to put a little effort into actually designing it.

Randomly doing push-ups, sit-ups, and jumping jacks will improve your health. But, this probably won’t be as much as you’d like.

So, let’s talk about how you should develop your routine.

Figuring Out Your Goal

The first thing you need to do is figure out what your fitness goals are. Here are some questions you might want to ask yourself first.

  • Am I looking to lose weight?
  • Do I want to build muscle mass?
  • Am I looking to build power?

This is important to figure out because it’ll help you to decide how many reps of each exercise to do. But, it’ll also help you to decide which exercises can best help you to reach your goals.

To lose weight, you’ll probably be performing 15+ reps for each exercise to burn the most calories. That means you’d want to choose exercises that you know you can do for 15 or more reps. For most people, this won’t include difficult exercises like pull-ups or regular push-ups.

To build muscle, you’ll want to focus on that 8-12 rep range. This is proven to help with hypertrophy (muscle growth). But, just stopping at 12 reps when you know you can do 25 isn’t going to cause these results. By the time you hit the 8-12 rep range, your muscles should be tired.

To increase power, you’re going to be working within the 2-5 rep range. For bodyweight exercises, it might be hard to target power since you’ll probably be able to do most exercises for way more than 5 reps. That’s why resistance training with equipment is much more ideal if you’re looking to build power.

Picking Exercises

Now it’s time to decide the exercises you plan on doing during your bodyweight routine.

If you want to target your entire body, this is a much simpler process. Just pick exercises that hit each area of the body.

Before we get into the exercises that you can choose from, remember that some are much easier than others. So, consider your current strength levels before deciding to add an exercise to your routine.

Also, it’s important to think about any pre-existing injuries you might have.

So, here’s a look at some bodyweight exercises and the areas of the body they work.

Upper BodyLower BodyCoreFull-Body
Pull-UpSquatPlankBurpee
Bodyweight RowCalf RaiseSit-UpJumping Jack
Push-UpLungeCrunchInch Worm
Triceps DipBox JumpRussian TwistMountain Climbers
Punching/BoxingHigh KneesBicycle CrunchJump Rope
Shoulder TapWall SitLeg RaiseBear Crawl
SupermanStep-UpFlutter KickPlank to Push-Up

There are obviously more exercises out there, but this is just a basic run-down of how to hit each area of the body. Most of the exercises on this list have different variations that you can do to target different muscles.

Remember: You have the choice between a full-body workout or a split routine. Either way, make sure you’re leaving between 48 and 72 hours between working the same muscle groups to avoid overtraining or tearing your muscles further.

When it comes to getting the most benefit, try to hit each muscle group at least twice per week. Just avoid exercising the same muscles during consecutive workouts.

Modifying Exercises

You don’t realize how difficult bodyweight exercises can be until you actually try to do them for more than a few reps.

But, just because you can’t do a regular push-up or pull-up doesn’t mean that you have to leave them out of your routine altogether. You just need to modify the exercises!

Now, you can do this for several reasons.

This is obviously a good choice if you’re not strong enough to power through the exercise for 5 or more reps. It might also be your best choice if you have a pre-existing injury to the muscle or joint in question.

But, you can also modify an exercise to make it more challenging.

So, how do you do this?

Let’s consider the regular push-up. 

If it’s too hard, you can work on the incline push-up. The incline push-up requires you to balance your hands and upper body on a raised object (chair, bench, table).

So, you’re working against less resistance and able to knock out a few more reps. The lower your starting position, the more difficult it’ll be.

If the regular push-up is too easy, you can do a decline push-up. For this exercise, you’ll actually be balancing your feet on a raised object (opposite of the incline push-up).

This puts more stress and pressure on your chest and arms during the push-up.

Most exercises do have modifications to make them easier or more difficult. Don’t force yourself to stick to the regular exercise if it’s not doing what you need it to do.

Planning a Transition to Equipment

The longer you do bodyweight exercise, the easier they’ll get.

At a certain point, even the modified exercises are going to seem too easy or like they’re not giving you the results that you’re looking for.

Eventually, you’re going to want to transition to using some equipment. But, that doesn’t mean that you’ll have to go to the gym or get a gym membership.

Yet, you will have to add resistance that isn’t 100% natural. 

There are quite a few ways to do this.

For example, you can do sit-ups while clenching a kettlebell to your chest. You can also do a squat while holding a dumbbell in each hand. 

For most of the exercises we mentioned above, you can just add some weight and continue to build muscle and strength.

Just remember the principle of progressive overload. If it feels too easy and you keep doing it, you’re probably not getting too much out of it.

Getting a Little Creative….

If you’re at that point in the article, it’s probably because regular bodyweight exercises just aren’t cutting it anymore. At the same time, you might not have access to a gym or you just don’t enjoy the gym lifestyle.

The good news is that you have a few other options here.

You just need to be willing to get a little creative.

Using Items You Already Have

If you don’t want to spend any extra money on gym equipment, it’s time to take a good look at what you already have lying around the house, garage, or shed. Anything that’s even remotely heavy is a possibility here.

For example, here are some household items that can be used as resistance.

  • A gallon of water or milk: This weighs about 8 pounds and can be used for bicep curls or tricep extensions without much difficulty. You can also fill it partway if you aren’t yet ready for 8 pounds.
  • Cat litter containers: These can weigh between 11 and 35 pounds. The more they’re filled, the heavier they are. If you don’t have any litter left, you can fill them with water or sand. These are perfect for upper body exercises or even squats.
  • A backpack: Now, filling up a backpack with too many items might cause the straps to snap. But, you can easily load a few books into the bag and use your backpack for squats or as a makeshift sandbag. A duffel bag would work too!
  • Paper plates: Just rest your hands or feet on paper plates on some smooth carpet and begin sliding. You can perform exercises like sliding push-ups, mountain climbers, or even jumping jacks. This is one heck of a workout, so be ready to sweat.
  • Dumbbells: There’s a pretty good chance that you have at least one set of dumbbells lying around, even if they aren’t too heavy. If bodyweight exercises are too easy, even adding a few extra pounds of resistance is better than nothing.

If you’re looking to make serious gains, obviously these won’t help for too long. But, even a little bit of extra resistance can help you to work your way to your fitness goals.

Final Thoughts

Is it possible to get fit without any gym equipment? Yes!

Is it going to be a little difficult? Also, yes!

To get the ball rolling on your brand new bodyweight exercise routine, you’ll have to put in a little thought. Make sure you’re deciding on a fitness goal and choosing exercises that can help to get you there.

Be ready to modify exercises if you find them to be too easy or too difficult. And, be ready to make an eventual transition to fitness equipment, whether you’re going to the gym or just making your own at home.

Home fitness is real and very much possible.