A Bodyweight Workout for Busy Men

by Brett & Kate McKay on June 26, 2009 · 27 comments

in Health & Sports


“Get Yo Abs Right Mayo’nnaise!”

Editor’s note: If today’s challenge to take the Marines Corps Fitness test humbles you into wanting to get into better shape, starting out with a bodyweight workout is an excellent way to go. Here, Jim Smith from Diesel Crew lays out a great plan for one.

Many men don’t realize that serious muscle and strength can be built with just bodyweight exercises.  Not only that, bodyweight only workouts can be high intensity and done in quick training sessions throughout the week.

Many men don’t have time to spend hours in the gym because they have families, they work long hours or they are just too busy going out on dates. Yet they still want to stay in fighting shape. For them, a short, intense bodyweight workout is just what the doctor ordered.

So what are the ground rules when you are setting up your bodyweight training routines?

  • You should definitely include as many full body movements as you can to jack up the intensity and decrease the time of the workout
  • You can increase the intensity of the bodyweight movements by doing more reps, decreasing the rest time between exercises or by changing the angle of the movement
  • If you can’t do movements with your full bodyweight, you can change the angle or use elastic bands to deload the movement

Why is bodyweight training so effective?

The most basic form of all training is bodyweight training. Being able to move your own body in all 3 anatomical planes of motion; sagittal, frontal and transverse, or in real world situations, is the key to more fluid movements and injury prevention.  In fact, many trainers won’t allow their lifters to pick up any weights until they “master” bodyweight training.  This might be a little extreme, but the state of fitness in the US is very sad when many people, even kids, can’t efficiently move their own bodyweight.

At a fundamental level, bodyweight training improves:

  • Balance
  • Coordination
  • Mobility
  • Reactiveness
  • Stability
  • Weaknesses

So you can see, as you improve your ability to control your body, it will become your strength foundation moving forward when you begin to engage progressively resisted strength training exercises.

There are some rules that should be followed for any training session or workout program.  Every session must be started with some dynamic movements to charge or excite the central nervous system, increase your core temperature and prepare you for the upcoming demands of the routine.

Here is a sample bodyweight workout:


1. Glute Bridges, 3×15

2. Tin Men’s, 1 min

3. Piriformis Stretch, 2×5 each leg


1A)  Beyond the Range Push-ups, 3×20

1B)  Bulgarian Split Squats, 3×10 each leg

2A)  Pull-ups, 3×8

2B)  Walk Walkouts, 2x 1 min (AMAP*, As Many As Possible)




The Warm-up

Warm-up Exercise #1:  Glute Bridges

This movement activates the glutes and hamstrings which are responsible for hip extension and hip abduction.  Make sure it is the contraction of the glutes and hamstrings that elevate the hips for each rep, not just driving the feet downward and hyperextending the lower back.  If done correctly, it is a short range movement.



Warm-up Exercise #2:  Tin Men

After we activate the glutes and hamstrings, we will work on some dynamic movements.  Walking back and forth, the lifter will swing their legs in an alternating fashion while making sure their torso and hips remain in neutral alignment.





Warm-up Exercise #3:  Piriformis Stretch

This movement improves hip mobility and pelvic alignment.  This is a great movement to supplement with Tin Men’s because it further improves hip movement by stretching the hip abductors.



The Workout

1A) Beyond the Range Push-ups

This movement is not only great for activating more muscle fibers and improving shoulder strength and stability, it also builds a big chest.  Beyond the range push-ups are done with the hands on an elevated surface like blocks or swings.  The swing variation adds much more difficulty to the movement because of the instability factor.



1B)  Bulgarian Split Squats

Unilateral movements are often forgotten in the gym where deadlifts and squats rule.  But they are essential for maintaining a balance in the hip ad/abductors; they improve knee stability and have real world carryover to everyday life and movement.

split squat

2A)  Pull-ups

One of the best, if not the best mass builder for the back.  Pull-ups have too many variations to list, but here are a few:

  • Shoulder width – conventional
  • Wide grip
  • Side to side
  • Chin-ups
  • Narrow grip
  • Towel pull-ups
  • L-sit pull-ups

pull-up swing set

If you have any elbow issues, a narrower grip on the end of a pull-up should be used:

pull-up narrow

2B)  Wall Walkouts

At this point we’ve improved our hip mobility, strengthened our upper and lower bodies, and now we will hit the core.  Wall walkouts seem very simple, a movement where you start in a handstand against the wall and then you walk out until you are parallel to the ground.  At that point, you walk your hands back to the starting position.  Well, it is not quite that simple.  This movement will kick your butt, quickly.  Not only will you be building a strong core (anti-extension) but you will develop serious shoulder strength and stability.

walkout 1

walkout 2

walkout 3walkout 4


Well, there you have it, a quick, high intensity bodyweight routine.  Remember, kettlebells, barbells, dumbbells, sandbags and everything else are tools to get you to a goal.  They are not the end all, be all.

Jim Smith, CSCS is a highly sought after lecturer, author, consultant and strength coach at http://www.dieselcrew.com/.  Jim is an expert writer for Men’s Fitness and a member of the Elite Fitness Q/A staff.  Jim’s just released his new killer product for building muscle, while losing fat – all with only 3 short muscle building workouts a week – click here.

{ 27 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Cory Martinez June 26, 2009 at 8:00 am

Excellent article! I’ve used playgrounds for years to help build strength and balance without weights. The bars and platforms provide an infinite number of variations to keep up muscle confusion as well.

2 Heel June 26, 2009 at 8:31 am

I was just thinking I needed add something to my workout (push-ups, pull-ups, squats, running) to target my shoulders. I’ll give Wall Walkouts a try, along with some of the pull-up variations. Thanks.

3 Keith June 26, 2009 at 8:54 am

Heel, you want shoulder exercises? My recent challenge has been a crossfit one:
21 handstand pushups
21 Dips
21 Pushups

14 of all of the above

7 of the above

Handstand pushups have granted strong shoulders.

4 Jack June 26, 2009 at 9:44 am

Is Tin Man exercise is supposed to dynamically stretch the hamstrings or the quad muscles?

Because the picture shown has the guy bending his knees. The bending of his knees wouldn’t be giving the hamstring the full stretch.

5 Bernie W. June 26, 2009 at 10:12 am

Anyone wanting a good bodyweight workout should check out http://www.rosstraining.com. I have his book Never Gymless and am very impressed with him. He references real medical studies (via footnotes) and is primarily a trainer for MMA athletes.

6 Lauren June 26, 2009 at 10:31 am

This is a pretty cool blog! I had my boyfriend read it and he thought it was interesting. There are a lot of workouts that can be added to his daily routine so thank you for that!

7 Jeff June 26, 2009 at 1:35 pm


If you mean 21-15-9, then yes thats a Crossfit hero work out named JT, which can be found here: http://www.crossfit.com/cf-info/faq.html

8 Heel June 27, 2009 at 6:27 am

Thank Keith. I’ve not tried handstand pushups – I just assumed they would be too difficult. I’ll give it a try.

9 Greg June 27, 2009 at 8:04 am

A bit over 30 years ago, a civilian version of the US Army’s minimalist, age-rated workout plan came out. Essentially, it was a daily routine that started with a warm up (some stretching and jumping jacks), and consisted of crunches, squats, “trunk twisters”, pushups and some aerobic work. The routine was part of “The West Point Diet and Fitness Book”. The book included age specific exercize routines for men and women, and included exercise routines for increasing cardiovascular fitness, flexibility, and a (admittedly simplistic) diet program. The practical benefit of the regimen was that it assumed you were starting from absolute zero in terms of any physical fitness work, and phased you in over a 12 week period. Equipment needed was basically a wall, a hard armless chair, and [for the flexibilty program] some stairs. Time required depended on how far you went, but the minimum beginners’ level workout was less than 15 minutes daily.

10 Brett June 27, 2009 at 10:32 am

@ Greg-

I’ve been looking into some military workouts. As you mentioned, they’re nice because they require little or no equipment.

11 Don June 27, 2009 at 7:52 pm

For another simple and free exercise search on “burpee excercise”.

12 Demian June 28, 2009 at 5:31 pm

Is this workout meant to be done daily, and that’s what the 1A and 1B are for?

13 Jedd June 30, 2009 at 2:56 am

The 1A, 1B and 2A, 2B are referring to two consecutive exercises done in the same set. Set 1 has two exercises – exercise A is BTR Pushups. Exercise B is Bulgarian Split Squats. The same pattern is applied for set 2 A and B.

The Tin Man exercise is not hitting one specific muscle, it is a warm-up exercise for the entire hip complex. An effort is made to keep the leg straight. In the photo the leg is not 100% straight, but the effort is made to keep it that way. With the still photography, the coach can check the form and find areas of opportunity. In this case the athlete would need to work on hamstring flexibility and range of motion as well as putting some attention to the glutes and piriformis.

Thanks everyone and good article, Smitty.

14 Gary Slaughter July 19, 2009 at 1:30 pm

I just found a great website, bodyweightculture.com. Lots of good stuff there. It’s free to join.

I found it while researching Georges Hebert, the founder of Methode Naturelle (a precursor to Parkour). I learned about him after reading an article in the April 2009 issue of Men’s Health, spotlighting Erwan Le Corre. I have really started to get interested in functional fitness and muscular endurance, rather than “mirror muscles.”

15 Phillip August 28, 2009 at 3:39 pm

BW exercises are under utilized in our society, exercises that used to be the foundation of fitness are not use anymore. The exercises listed here will help you develop functional strength, meaning strength you can use in the real world to control forces exerted on your body as well using your body to exert force on objects. If you have any doubt at how strong BW exercises can make you, look at elite level male gymnasts and their strength and muscular development

16 KARSAN September 10, 2009 at 8:00 pm

WoooooW … Nice Very Nice .. Tnx ..

17 Luke - AspiringGentleman September 30, 2009 at 12:58 am

This is how I work out regularly. No fancy machines or gym memberships for me. A pair of running shoes and a bar across my door are all I need (sometimes with some free weights as well). You can work out pretty well any muscle, and most exercises naturally work multiple muscles groups at once, in contrast to the targeted machines you find at the gyms.

18 workout routine December 24, 2009 at 1:42 pm

It’s not necessarily the instant you calling but it’s the interval so a point frame should pass on length original and then try to increase velocity by index locomotion and maybe plane someday by jogging. A ovate generality of moulding is 100 calories per knot for a 180 poet organism. So an hour’s vocation would discolor 400 calories, and that’s not too bad for a stroll around the tract.
workout routine

19 Dr. Harris Meyer January 1, 2010 at 5:11 pm

Awesome! This is so do-able.

20 spence March 10, 2010 at 10:22 pm

Sounds real good. How about this: pushups,pullups,burpees,planks,crunches,pistols,and explosive lunges.

21 Sean April 15, 2010 at 9:45 am

Piriformis Stretch is the best stretch ever, just so you know.

22 Binaural Beats May 13, 2010 at 8:06 pm

The guy there told me from the Four Thieves Vinegar Spell, and just how this really is for Banishment and how to go about performing it, what elements I would require and some very good advice.

23 Lion McLean June 23, 2010 at 1:06 pm

Something that often gets missed in the shuffle of health and wellness is that weight bearing exercises actually increase your metabolic engine.

This allows you to keep a healthy weight and body composition easier than someone who has less muscle mass.

I recommend that patients who are trying to lose weight start with weight bearing exercises to increase their metabolic engine at the beginning of and as a part of a cardio regimen.

24 Seth February 28, 2013 at 9:35 pm

Those wall-outs are ridiculous; kick-butt exercise, thank you. Exactly what I was looking for.

25 Trent March 5, 2013 at 7:01 pm

Bodyweight exercises are a great way to add a little more definition to your body. And best of all, they can be done (essentially) anywhere. For those that like doing bodyweight cardio exercises, burpees, mountain climbers, and high knees are excellent exercises to get some cardio in without hitting the gym. Here is a pretty comprehensive list of bodyweight exercises (about 60 of them) along with demonstration videos and GIFs for those who want to take a look.


26 greg June 19, 2013 at 11:36 am

I love this workout. What’s the rest period recommended between sets? I assume 1a/1b is a no rest super-set? but what’s a good rest between super-sets? 45 seconds?

27 Gregory Bolton October 4, 2013 at 6:31 pm

I have a program from google play on my Android phone called circuit trainer assistant.
It has a lot of bodyweight and kettlebell routines that are pretty quick and you get a good burn.

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