Updated: Aug 6
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The common misconception is that to burn fat, keep fit and retain a respectable level of physicality, you need a fancy gym full of high-tech training equipment and state-of-the-art machines.
As this article aims to demonstrate, you can obtain, maintain and advance your fitness with minimal equipment and without even having to step foot in a gym.
It may come as a surprise to some but there are in fact loads – literally loads and loads – of exercises and activities that you can do in the home (or local environment). With minimal equipment, a postage stamp-sized patch of space and perhaps your local park, you have ample resources to remain physically active.
Exercises that you can do at home
The aim of this blog, then, is to provide you with 12 exercises that you can do at home and/or at your local park. Yes, the majority of the exercises are simple. But this shouldn’t be regarded as a limitation or weakness.
Quite often it’s the simplest exercises that tend to deliver the best fitness results (which accounts for why they are used in military training). Also, simpler exercises are usually more accessible to a wider audience, meaning they are perfect for the beginner, which of course makes them more inclusive, and they stimulate the whole body – not just target a specific muscle.
This is an important attribute that we should look for in an exercise; especially so when we are pursuing general fitness, improved mobility and augmented health. An exercise such as the burpee, though pitifully simple, stimulates the whole body including the heart and lungs (cardio-respiratory system).
Can you workout at home
There are a few exercises that you could do in a gym that offer the same range of physical engagement. And those that do (such as, say, a barbell thruster) probably require considerable equipment.
Incorporating the following 12 exercises into your training regime can provide you with all the tools you need to forge whole-body fitness. Exercises such as burpees, press-ups, and pull-ups enhance muscle endurance and functional strength.
Exercises that you can do at home #1: Sumo squat
Muscles worked: the primary muscles worked when practising the sumo squat are the quadriceps (anterior thigh muscles). As well as the quads the sumo squat also engages the hamstrings, gluteus maximus and your calves (also the soleus).
The sumo squat can be performed as a bodyweight exercise. However, to enhance the intensity, you can include a plyometric jump or use weights – either a barbell or a pair of dumbbells. You can also modify the exercise and during the upwards phase of the squat bolt on a lateral raise – thus engaging the deltoids and trapezius muscles.
The sumo squat is a great exercise if you are looking to improve the muscular strength and endurance of your legs. Additional physical benefits include improved balance, stability, and your range of squatting flexibility (augmented mobility at the knee).
Sumo squat teaching points
Stand with your feet 1.5 shoulder widths apart. Your toes point outwards at roughly 45 degrees. This will create a stable platform from which to execute the squat.
Slightly bend your knees, and push your hips back whilst keeping your chest up and your knees pointing outwards.
Keep lowering your hips until you can see that your hamstrings are parallel (or slightly below parallel) to the ground.
On reaching the halfway position your shins should be almost vertical, your back is straight and your shoulders are pulled back.
To complete the movement fire through the quads and glutes and stand up nice and erect – there should still be a slight bend in the knee.
Technique dos and don'ts
Do maintain a wide stance throughout the exercise.
Do keep your chest pointing forwards and knees pointing out.
Do keep your back straight to avoid injury.
Once you develop sumo squatting confidence you can begin to include weights – don’t use weights if you are not yet comfortable with the exercise!
Don’t dispense with technical discipline during the movement and make sure that you maintain strict posture throughout.
Don’t get carried away by doing too many repetitions before you master the mechanics of the exercise.
Exercises that you can do at home #2: Running
Muscles worked: the muscle groups targeted when running are the quadriceps, hamstrings, gluteals, hip flexors, calves, thoracic diaphragm, tensor fascia latae, flexor hallucis brevis or longus, tibialis anterior, peroneals, core muscles, and upper body muscles (chest and back). And, of course, the cardo-respiratory muscles (the heart and diaphragm respectively).
There are many physical and mental benefits to running. For example, running can improve your overall mental health due to the fact that the brain, during cardiovascular exercise, releases dopamine, norepinephrine and serotonin; collectively called the feel-good chemicals (also known as the runner's high).
Don’t run off, there’s more!
Running also strengthens your heart and diaphragm whilst improving the efficiency of your cardio-respiratory system. In addition, a runner can expect to enjoy increased bone density, weight loss and a plethora of other positive outcomes.
Running teaching points
Establish a distance you would like to run. A beginner should look to run for no further than 2 miles – and running should be interspersed with walking. When you develop your physicality you can, of course, increase the distance.
Always warm up prior to running (prior to any and all exercise!). A warm-up may consist of walking, light jogging and mobility exercises.
When you begin running, remember to keep a relaxed posture so that you do not develop tension in the body. Remain relaxed and avoid hunching over.
Breathe steadily and deeply so that you replenish the working muscles with the oxygen they need.
Running dos and don'ts
Do wear clothes you feel comfortable running in – either Lycra or if you’re a bit self-conscious loose-fitting cotton wear. (Check these best Men's Running Tops and the best rated running trainers on Amazon.)
Do ensure that you wear cushioned running trainers and not fashionable pumps.
Always warm up before setting off on your run. This will reduce injury and at the same time improve performance.
Don’t force yourself to go faster than what you are capable of as this will increase your chances of sustaining an injury.
Don’t attempt long distances if you have not built up sufficient stamina in the legs. Start off with shorter distances of 2 to 3 miles and, over time, build up to 5 to 6 miles.
Don’t run too often, and don’t run more than what your body is capable of. Overtraining could result in injury, decreased performance and loss of motivation.
Exercises that you can do at home #3: Lunge
Muscles worked: the muscles targeted include mainly those of the legs and the surrounding areas. Other muscles involved during the lunge are the erector spina and many muscles of the core.
Lunges enjoy popularity amongst fitness enthusiasts because they improve muscular endurance whilst developing agility and coordination. Furthermore, lunges are often used in sports conditioning because they work several components of fitness simultaneously making them a very effective exercise.
Of course, there is always the option of holding weights when lunging. This increases the resistance thus increasing the intensity. But you can also perform dumbbell or kettlebell presses while executing the lunge making this a true whole-body exercise. And finally, as with the sumo squat, you can incorporate a plyometric element by explosively powering out of the lunge.
Lunge teaching points
Start by standing up tall, feet shoulder-width apart, hands resting by your sides.
Lead off with a leg of your choice and step out about two to three feet to your front.
When the foot is firmly planted bend the knee until your hamstring roughly makes a 90-degree angle with the calf. In this position, the rear leg should be extended with a slight bend of kink at the knee.
To conclude the movement fire through the quadriceps of the lead leg and return back to the start position.
Either repeat 10 to 12 reps on one leg, or alternate as you progress through the set.
Lunge dos and don'ts
The knee of the leading leg should be aligned with the ankle and when in the lung position you should be able to sight your toes.
Do keep your back straight.
Do fix your eyes on an object to your front.
Do maintain abdominal contraction throughout the exercise.
Don't slouch forward or back – like a line dancer your torso should remain in an upright position whilst performing the movement.
Don't step short as this will result in extreme bending of the knee – no more than 90 degrees.
Don't tap the knee cap of the rear leg on the floor as you lunge forward; this is a common mistake and one to be avoided.
Exercises that you can do at home #4: Handstand wall walks
Muscles worked: when wall walking the muscles stimulated include the deltoids, triceps, rhomboids, abdominals and erector spinae.
Regularly performing handstand wall walks will develop multiple components of fitness. For example, wall walking increases functional strength, muscular endurance, balance and coordination.
Handstand wall walking is a great way to improve upper-body physicality. This exercise is a quintessential functional strength builder but it also helps to forge rock-solid musculature whilst carving a lean defined physique. Truly, wall walking is one way to get the body of a gymnast.
Wall walks teaching points
Start in the ‘up push-up’ position with your feet against a wall. Probably the best way to get into the correct position is by walking the feet up the wall from a push-up. If all else fails ask a mate to help manoeuvre you into a handstand.
Once in position simply start to walk your hands from one side of the wall and back again. Make sure that you cover the same distance from left to right.
Keep your core tight and back straight.
To finish, either walk your hands away from the wall whilst stepping your feet down the wall until you are back in the push-up position. Alternatively, slide your legs to one side bending at the knees as you do so.
Handstand wall walks dos and don'ts
Do keep your back as straight as an ironing board.
Do keep your core engaged throughout the movement.
Do remain close to the wall while walking – the further your hands are away from the wall the more likely your back will sag: this must be avoided at all costs.
Do place a soft training mat down where you plan to walk – just in case you decide to go the way of a Jenga stack.
Don’t walk straight away: just begin by supporting yourself in the position.
Don’t perform this exercise in a cluttered room or near jutting surfaces/objects.
Don’t hold your breath.
Don’t lockout at the elbow.
Exercises that you can do at home #5: Bear crawl
Muscles worked: Bear crawling activates the entire body. But the primary muscles worked include the deltoids, triceps, glutes, quadriceps and hamstrings. Secondary, or incidental, muscles include the pectorialis major (chest), upper back (trapezius, rhomboids, latissimus dorsi) and core.
The bear crawl is a classic functional exercise that can develop orangutan-like upper-body strength – and if you didn’t know, it is orangutans, not gorillas, that are the strongest primates. In addition, the bear crawl will improve core strength and cardiovascular fitness.
A simple way to increase the intensity when bear crawling is to don a weighted vest.
Bear crawling teaching points
To perform this highly underrated exercise firstly kneel down – preferably on a soft surface, such as grass – and place your hands on the floor as if you were about to prostrate yourself before the good lord. When you’re ready to crawl tip your weight forward and pop up onto the balls of the feet.
At this point, you should resemble that of a big baby.
Now begin walking by leading off with the right hand whilst stepping forward with the left leg.
Continue on in this fashion until you have covered the set distance.
Bear crawl dos and don'ts
Do keep breathing throughout the exercise – obvious though this ‘do’ is it is very tempting to hold the breath; believe me, I’ve done more bear crawling than Grizzly Adams.
Do keep your eyes fixed on the patch of turf about a foot or two from your lead hand – so as to avoid the birdbath and/or garden furniture.
Don’t lock out at the elbow – the arm should remain slightly kinked.
Don’t allow your back to sag and don’t let your head loll about; ensure to remain in control of your body at all times.
Exercises that you can do at home #6: Skipping
Muscles worked: Primarily those of the lower body. However, if you can sustain a moderate intensity for five minutes, you'll likely experience a searing burn in your deltoids. And, if you can sustain a high intensity, you'll also feel a burn in your cardio-respiratory system.
Skipping, or ‘jumping rope’, is a staple of the boxer’s daily training diet. Primarily used as a warm-up and cool-down exercise, skipping confers many physical benefits. Bruce Lee purportedly said that ‘10 minutes of skipping rope is like 30 minutes of jogging.’
Related: Try Bruce Lee's Complete Fitness Routine
Though I’ve yet to encounter any research that supports his statement, anyone who’s vigorously skipped for ten minutes will probably agree with him. So why is such a seemingly simple and, excuse the term, old-fashioned exercise so stimulating?
Related: Best Skipping Rope
This probably has something to do with the way skipping works the body. When performing this exercise multiple major muscle groups are simultaneously recruited; such as the quadriceps, back and shoulders and of course the heart and lungs (diaphragm). In addition, a plethora of ‘synergist’, or stabilising, muscles are engaged to, well, stabilise the body during the movement. I suppose, in short, I could have just said that skipping in some way activates every muscle in your body. It’s no wonder then that ten minutes of jumping rope gets the blood pumping and the sweat pouring.
How to skip rope like a pro
Step 1: WARM-UP!
Step 2: Whilst holding the rope in your hands, practice double-footed jumping – you are not jumping rope yet. Spend 1 to 2 minutes doing this.
Step 3: Holding the handles loosely, the rope at rest behind you, turn it over and jump the rope.
Step 4: Congratulate yourself.
Step 5: Repeat Step 3.
Step 6: Again, a bit of self-praise.
Step 7: Now that you’ve had a little go at getting over that wily rope it’s time to start racking up personal bests: try to count as many unbroken double-footed skips as possible. Every time you clip the rope or whip your arse, stop, take a 3-second count, then back into it trying each time to better your previous PB.
Steps 1 to 7 should span a duration of about ten minutes. I would advise against exceeding this. Put the rope away and merrily go about with the rest of your session. Over the course of the week try to get two or three more practice sessions in.
Exercises that you can do at home #7: Press up
Muscles worked: pectoralis major (chest), anterior deltoideus (shoulder – the front bit), triceps brachii (the curtain rail from which bingo wings flap) and transverse abdmoinus (the six pack – for those that’ve got one (six)).
The humble press-up is a classic calisthenic exercise that is a staple of the military training diet. And it still features as one of the mandatory fitness tests that all aspirant soldiers must pass if they wish to gain admittance into the British military.
Perhaps the reason why the press-up is so popular throughout military training is that it provides an almost instant indicator of the recruit’s upper-body strength. Also, the technical application can be explained and demonstrated in seconds and no equipment is required. Making this one of the most accessible exercises on the market.
Press up teaching points
First, adopt the pre-press-up position: hands placed on the floor spaced slightly over shoulder width and in line with the shoulders, knees down.
When you are ready to start your set raise your knees so that you are in the ‘high plank’ position.
Under control lower your body until there is a 90 degree angle at the elbow joint (you can, of course, go lower if you wish).
Pressing evenly through both arms return to the high plank.
Press up dos and don'ts
Do keep control throughout the movement.
Do fix your eyes on a point about 1 to 2 feet from your fingertips.
Don't lock out at the elbow at the top position.
Don't hold your breath – this is a very common mistake and one to be avoided
Don't allow your back to sag in the middle: it should remain perfectly flat like a piece of wood.
Exercises that can be done at home #8: Burpee
Muscles worked: primarily the quads, core and cardiac (muscle). Yes, the burpee is a superb cardiovascular and perhaps the single most functional bodyweight exercise ever conceived.
Not quite convinced with my over-enthusiastic assessment of this sadomasochistic soul destroyer? Master the technical mechanics outlined below and have a bash at performing 100 reps as quickly as your physicality will permit, then email which muscle it worked the most.
Remember, When completing multiple repetitions, as you only ever should do with burpees, as you land after the jump sink straight into the next rep. This saves energy and helps to keep the momentum going.
Burepee teaching points
Start by standing nice and erect like the good soldier on parade.
Squat all the way down until the palms of your hands are firmly planted on the floor.
Shifting your body weight forward shoot both feet back simultaneously. If you’ve followed the previous teaching points, you should be in the start position of the press-up position. This is half the burpee completed.
To complete the movement push off the floor with your feet springing them back level with your hands.
Stand up ensuring to jump at the top position.
Burpee dos and don'ts
Do keep the body composed – limbs shouldn’t be popping and pinging out all over the place: when burpeeing the movement must be smooth and sleek like a Bolshoi Ballet performer.
Do remain relaxed during the movement.
Do ensure that your legs go out and come in together – a common mistake is to shoot out one leg first followed by the other.
Don't hinge at the hips. Instead, ensure to squat all the way down.
Don't perform partial burpees: failing to fully extend the legs from crouched into the press-up position.
Exercises that you can do at home #9: Plank
Muscles worked: The primary muscles activated include the rectus abdominis (abs), erector spinae (back), the transverse abdominis (which is a sheet of muscle under the rectus abdominis that enfolds around the torso like a large belt), the latissimus dorsi and, to a lesser extent, the pectorialis major (chest).
Though the plank appears to be a simple exercise, many find it difficult to hold the position for more than a minute (as of this writing, the world record is about 36hrs ±5 minutes). But by working on your planking performance, you will eventually develop a robust core and increased endurance in many of the anterior muscles.
The plank is a highly versatile exercise. From the primary position, you have the option of raising an arm or leg – or both! (opposites of course) – off the floor which amplifies the resistance. Also, you can, whenever the fancy takes, pop into the high plank (which is just the press-up start position) and intermittently do exactly that: press-ups. And then there’s the side plank, the dolphin and the downward dog (both of which are Yoga movements).
Plank teaching points
Start off by kneeling down – preferably on a soft surface; such as the shag pile rug or Yoga mat.
Lowering down from the hips rest your elbows on the floor – the elbows should be roughly in-line with your shoulders.
As you engage the core extend your legs out one at a time.
If you’ve followed the previous teaching points, you should by now be adopting a perfect plank position: weight evenly distributed between your elbows and feet, legs together, back flat, elbows spaced shoulder width, hands clasped together, breathing slowly and methodically.
When your anatomy resembles the written description above your objective is to hold the position for a set time period – 20, 30, 40, 60 seconds – without allowing gravity to corrupt your posture. The moment you feel cracks appear in your posture rest your knees down.
Planking dos and don'ts
Do maintain a perfectly straight posture throughout the exercise.
Do control your breathing.
Do keep your spine in a neutral position – no saggy backs!
Do keep your neck straight and in line with your body.
Don't stick your ass in the air!
Don't let your head loll about – maintain composure at all times.
Don't collapse into an ignoble heap once the time elapses – come out of the exercise under control.
Exercises that you can do at home #10: Pull up
Muscles Worked: Pull-ups require the use of a variety of different muscles of the upper body. These include latissimus dorsi, teres major (back), rear deltoid (shoulders), pectoralis major (chest), biceps brachii, triceps, brachialis and brachioradialis (forearms).
The pull-up is imbued with an air of infamy for the fact that few people can perform even one full repetition. Many aspiring Royal Marines have failed the pre-training course because they lacked the upper-body strength to complete 5 full pull-ups – a mandatory PRMC fitness test.
However, by persisting with this notoriously challenging exercise, you will develop enviable upper body strength. In addition, you will sculpt supper-sharp back muscles.
If ever pull-ups become easy, you can increase the intensity by gripping a weight between your legs. Alternatively, you can wear a weighted vest or use a weights belt.
Pull up teaching points
First you need to locate a parallel bar (or power tower) that is suspended at least 6 feet above the ground. In my experience, the best place to find such a bar is usually at a public park.
Stand directly under the bar and reach up and grasp it. (There is a variety of different hand positions you can employ. Palms facing backwards places emphasis on the biceps; palms facing forward the forearms and lattisimus dorsi; palms facing each other – neutral grip – works a mixture of the aforementioned muscles.)
Prior to initiating the exercise remain in a ‘dead hang’ – that is, arms perfectly straight – and without using momentum for assistance smoothly pull up.
It’s not until your chin has cleared the bar that the upwards phase of the movement is completed.
Once your chin has cleared that bar, under control lower back to the dead hang.
Pull up dos and don'ts
Do start at a dead hang – arms and legs straight.
Do ensure to keep your eyes riveted to the bar when pulling up.
Do keep breathing throughout the exercise.
Always lower down slowly and with control.
Don't swing into the upwards phase of the exercise.
Don't let your fall from the upper-most position.
Don't jump into the exercise and carry that momentum up into the movement.
Exercises that you can do at home #11: Box jump
Muscles Worked: Plyometric box jumps primarily stimulate the muscles of the lower body – the quadriceps, gluteus maximus and gastrocnemius. To a lesser extent, they also work the hip flexors (the muscles that help raise your legs into your chest so that you can clear the box) and lower abdominals. However, if you decide to have a go at the modification ideas, box jumps quickly transform into a whole-body exercise.
Though arguably one of the least colourful exercises amongst the grand spectrum of alternatives, box jumps are brilliant for developing explosive ‘plyometric’ power in the legs. And the physicality they aid in developing has wide and far-reaching applications.
Related: Best rated Plyometric Boxes
Sport and athletics application
For example, I used box jumps to help a county-level swimmer eke out an edge in competitions. As I am not a swimming instructor, I couldn’t help him improve his efficiency through the water. However, I thought that, if I could increase the explosive power in his quads, he’d be able to fire out torpedo-like from each tumble turn marginally quicker than his competitors.
So I started including box jumps in his training regime which over time conferred a neigh on negligible time advantage during each turn. But when multiplied over the 62 tumble turns that swimmers have to perform when competing over a mile (in a 25m pool), this negligible advantage made a noticeable difference in performance. This is what we call in the business ‘marginal gains’.
In addition to augmented explosive strength in the quadriceps box humps, if completed in multitudes, are a great cardiovascular antagonist. And when combined with press-ups they make for one of the best all-round fitness developers.
Box jump teaching points
Locate a solid and stable object of about two to three feet high to jump on. If at this stage you do not feel confident to jump onto an object, simply convert the exercise to squat jumps.
If possible place a soft mat (such as a Yoga mat) below the object on which you plan to jump.
After a warm and a few practice jumps (preferably on a lower-height object), adopt a shoulder-width stance about a foot away from the object.
Using your arms to generate momentum, explosively power through the quads and perform a double-footed jump onto the object. Both feet should be on the box – not just your toes – and planted firmly.
Now stand up.
From here you can either step down off the box in a controlled manner – ensuring to alternate legs with each new repetition – or hop back down.
Box jump dos and don'ts
Do ensure that you maintain ‘soft’ knees throughout all phases of the exercise.
Do step down off the box under control – you can always hop back off the box of course.
Do apply the double-foot jump technique.
Do place the entire foot on the box (object).
Don’t land with a thud – if you are then it is an indication that you are not adequately bending the knees on impact.
Don’t attempt to jump on a tall object first.
Don’t perform this exercise in inappropriate footwear: cushioned trainers only!
Exercises that can be done at home #12: Ab twist
Muscles Worked: the ab (or 'Russian') twist targets the transverse abdominus and all the surrounding muscles of the abdomen.
Granted, the Russian twist does not boast the same range of muscle engagement as its predecessors. However, it is a terrific core developer and abdominal sculptor.
Russian twists make for a helpful 'recovery' station in a high-intensity circuit. After a barrage of burpees, pull-ups, and box jumps you'll be grateful for the breather twists offer.
Russian twist teaching points
Sit on a soft surface – preferably a training mat – with your knees and hips bent to about 90 degrees.
Your feet? They should be suspended about 6 inches off the floor.
Grasp an object that you plan to pendulum from side to side. Good objects include medicine balls, (light) kettlebells, dumbbells, tins of Heinz beans or the pet pooch – if you’ve got one. But, I hasten to add, you can of course perform the Russian Twist unencumbered – that is, without resistance.
Hold the object out at your front; note: the further the object is from your body the harder the exercise will be.
Begin to twist from side to side in a smooth sweeping cyclical motion.
Twisting dos and don'ts
Do rotate at the hip.
Do keep your eyes fixed forward as you twist.
Keep the core engaged throughout the movement.
Don't sit too high as this places stress on the lower back
Don't rush or race the action – maintain methodical momentum
Once you've mastered the basic techniques outlined above, you can begin including the exercises in your workouts. There are loads of ways that you can do this. I'll quickly mention two. (If you need more circuit ideas, see our dedicated Fitness Training page.)
First, you could create a circuit out of the exercises. Organise them into a loop and apply either a rep range (say 10 reps per station) or a time (20, 40, or 60 seconds per station). Now, cycle around the circuit as many times as possible in 30 minutes. (Here's an example of a Bodyweight Circuit.)
Second, apply a repetition ladder to the exercises. Depending on your current fitness, the ladder range could be as short as 1 up to 5 reps or 1 up to 10 reps. You could remain on the same exercise until you have reached the top of the ladder. Alternatively, you can change exercises after each rung.
Related: 10 Best Fat Loss Exercises
About Adam Priest –
A former Royal Marines Commando, Adam Priest is a content writer, college lecturer, and health and wellbeing practitioner. He is also a fitness author and contributor to other websites. Connect with Adam via LinkedIn or email@example.com.