5 Bodyweight Exercise Substitutions

“Hey Craig, I can’t do __insert exercise here___!” <= That’s one of the most common complaints I get from my Monday free workout emails. I understand. Sometimes it’s a piece of equipment, othertimes it’s just one of my weird exercises that causes confusion. So today I want to give you a list of really great exercise substitutions that eliminate all obstacles to your success.

Your’e going to LOVE this Master List of Bodyweight Substitutions. Now you can get in shape fast anywhere at any time without excuses OR bulking up.

1) Leg Exercises

Instead of using heavy dumbbell or barbell squats, you can do:

– Bodyweight Squats (wide stance and narrow stance) and Total Body Extensions
– Split Squats and Bulgarian Split Squats (stand near a wall to use for balance)
– Reverse Lunges, Diagonal Lunges, or Forward Lunges (make sure to hold your arms up in the “Prisoner” position to work your upper back, too).

Here’s another trick – if you want to make sure you don’t bulk up, you can cut back on how many sets you do. For example, if a program calls for 3 sets, only do 1-2. That way you’ll still get lean, sexy legs, but without the bulk.

Get over 100 more bodyweight “tricks” here to look sexy for summer

But wait, what if my knees hurt from squats and lunges?

2) Pain-Free Leg Exercises

Never fear, Bally the Dog is here to help you out. Here are a few of his favorite exercises for giving you stronger legs without pain. Try these substitutions for Squats and Lunges:

– Low and High-box Step-ups (leave the working leg on the step at all times)
– Lying Hip Extensions and 1-Leg Hip Extensions and even 1-Leg Hip Extensions with your feet at an elevated position (like on a stool or stability ball)
– Stability Ball Leg Curls (essential for hamstring strength and reducing knee pain)

But hey Craig, how can I work my upper body without bench press or dumbbells? Great question and I recently worked on a similar question with Men’s Health magazine.

3) Bodyweight Chest Exercises

You can replace dumbbell and barbell chest presses with:

– Kneeling Pushups or Regular Pushups (but keep your hands just outside of shoulder-width and keep your elbows close to your sides at all times…this reduces stress on your rotator cuff)

– Harder Pushups: Elevated Pushups (one hand elevated 4-6 inches), T-Pushups, Close-Grip Pushups, Decline Pushups, and Spiderman Pushups…or Decline Spiderman Pushups!

Get these pushups in my Bodyweight Bodybuidling program here

Now for something tricky…

4) Bodyweight Back Exercises

I have two admissions here.

First, I love a sexy back on a woman. When I see a woman at the gym doing pullups, chin-ups, or bodyweight rows, it puts a smile on my face. I’m grateful for Cross-Fit and Tough Mudder for making pullups “normal” for women everywhere.

Second, here’s the bad news. It’s almost impossible to work your upper back without equipment, such as a pullup bar, band or TRX-like piece of equipment. My favorite ‘bodyweight’ back exercises that rely on equipment are:

– Pullups and Chinups to replace all seated pulldowns
– Bodyweight rows to replace dumbbell and seated rows
– Band pulls to replace rows

The only other moves you can do for your back with absolutely NO equipment are Stick-ups (good for mobility), Prisoner-style leg exercises (putting your hands in the Prisoner position for squats, for example), or IRON CROSSES.

In the Iron Cross, stand with arms out to side and thumbs up. Brace your abs, squeeze your glutes (your butt), and then squeeze the muscles between your shoulder blades while tightening the back of your shoulders. Squeeze like heck for 20-30 seconds. If you do 2-3 sets of that, it will be a really great challenge to off-set all the pushups you do. Let me know what you think!

Get more UNIQUE bodyweight exercises here

Oh, and finally…

5) Ab Exercises

Forget weighted ab exercises like side bends and sit-ups and dangerous ab machines. Those are MURDER on your spine. Instead, use a variety of…

Spiderman Climbs…
Bodyweight Renegade Rows…
X-Body Mountain Climbers
Variety of Side Planks

Get over 100 Ab exercises from 38 bodyweight experts here


Because bodyweight exercises give you the lean look with definition and curves in all the right places. You won’t get that from doing cardio or the sit-up machine.

Enjoy those exercise substitutions.

Tomorrow: A fun article on the 5 things that Old Men do WRONG in the weight room! This is another true tale from the gym…it all happened Sunday morning and I can’t wait to tell you all about it. Until then…

Stay Strong and Keep Pushing On,

Craig Ballantyne, CTT
Certified Turbulence Trainer

PS – Success begins and ends with…

Your success depends on clear communication. This means communicating with others, laying down the law, and setting the explicit rules that you will be following to achieve your big goals and dreams.

This also means seeking out and communicating with other positive, like-minded individuals. Get social support by clearly communicating your goals and by asking for specific help.

And then comes the hard part – clearly communicating what needs to be done…with yourself. You must be clear about your own goals in your head. You must be clear about what it will take to succeed, and you must also be clear about what you will and will NOT do for success. Those are your rules. Know them, communicate them, and stick to them.

Finally, you must have a clear understanding of the consequences of all your actions and communication. Know what to do, know to do it, and know what will happen when you do. Clear communication = a smooth path to success. Get real and get loud about the great goals you have in life.

You can do it. I believe in you. Now is your time