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April 25, 2013, 12:00AM PT in Fitnovatives Blog  |  0 Comments

5 Variations of Traditional Bodyweight Exercises

It’s good when exercise gets boring—that means you’ve been doing it often enough to get bored! Fortunately, you don’t need the latest equipment to keep the spark in your love of fitness. Many forget that they have two very effective fitness “tools” readily available to them at all times—your bodyweight and gravity—which allows you to exercise anywhere, anytime without any equipment needed. That said, because these moves don’t use the latest fitness gizmo or gadget, some people find that standard bodyweight exercises can get stale pretty quickly. Luckily for you, freshness has arrived—the bodyweight exercise variations below will engage your mind and bring a novel challenge to your body!

Hand-dance Push-up

Hand dance push up

Hand dance push up

This simple concept makes the push-up more beneficial by varying the hand position with every repetition.

HOW TO DO IT: There’s really only one rule: One hand has to change position with every repetition. You can do this with push-ups from the toes or knees. Start with your hands in the standard push-up position and, after performing the first repetition, change the position of one of your hands so that each rep is different than the one before. Here are some hand-position options for you to try:

  • Move one hand east or west (closer or farther away from the other hand)
  • Move one hand north or south (in the same direction the fingers point or the opposite direction)
  • Rotate one hand so the fingers point slightly in or slightly out

When you get going on this exercise, it will look a little bit like you are “dancing” with your hands. Plus, you have to admit that “Hand-dance Push-up” sounds far more appealing than “Push-Up!”

Dancing Squat

Dancing Squat

This exercise uses the same concept as the “Hand-dance Push-up,” but you move your feet with every repetition instead of your hands.

HOW TO DO IT: One foot has to change position every single rep. Start with your feet where you are comfortable starting for squats. After performing the first repetition, change the position of one foot so that each rep is different than the one before. Here are some foot-position options for you to try:

  • Move one foot east or west (closer or farther away from the other hand)
  • Move one foot north or south (in the same direction the toes point or the opposite direction)
  • Rotate one foot so the toes point slightly in or slightly out

NOTE: Be sure to make the foot movements small enough so that you avoid turning the exercise into a lunge—not wrong, just not what we are after here. The goal is to perform a squat, but with a foot position that varies slightly from what you normally would use.

Upper-body Jack Squat

Upper-body jack squat

The arm movement on this exercise adds challenge to the squat as you decelerate the weight of your arms.

HOW TO DO IT: Begin standing up with your arms overhead and feet a comfortable distance apart for squatting. As you drop down into the squat, drop your arms out and down to the side (as you would with your arms when performing a traditional jumping jack.) As you rise from the bottom of the squat, lift your arms out to the side and up so that when you return to the standing position, your arms are once again overhead.

BONUS CHALLENGE: Start with one arm overhead and one arm at your side. As you lower into the squat, switch the arm positions. This asymmetry in the arm positioning and movement will make the exercise a little harder from a balance and coordination perspective, but that’s what keeps the exercise from getting boring!

Helicopter Squat

Helicopter Squat

The arm movement on this exercise adds a rotational movement and helps get the glutes working more during the squat.

HOW TO DO IT: Begin standing up with your arms pointed horizontally to the left. As you drop down into the squat, simultaneously rotate your arms across and in front of your body so that they are pointed to the right when you get to the bottom of the squat. As you rise from the bottom of the squat, simultaneously rotate your arms across and in front of your body to the left so that when you return to the standing position, your arms are once again pointed to the left. Repeat with the arms positioned to the right at the top.

NOTE: Ensure that your arm and upper-body movements are strictly horizontal—this is not supposed to be a wood chop-type movement. Your lower body moves vertically while your upper body rotates horizontally.

BONUS CHALLENGE: Let your head and eyes follow your hands. You will get more rotation as a result.

Bird Dog on a Bench

Bird dog on a bench

This exercise moves the “bird-dog” exercise—prone opposite arm and leg extension—up to a bench. This variation is more comfortable for many people, but is also a bit more challenging as it adds a range of motion and balance challenge to the exercise.

HOW TO DO IT: Begin with your right hand and left knee on a bench. Let your left arm hang freely with the palm facing inward, while your right leg is straight with the toes gently resting on the floor. From a neutral back position, lift the free arm and leg (left arm and right leg) up and away from you using only the hip joint to move the leg and only the shoulder to move the arm. Repeat with the opposite arm and leg combination.

NOTE: The relative “ease” of this exercise means it is often performed using compensations. Let the opposite shoulder and hip perform all of the work and simply take what those two joints give you for range-of-motion. No more and no less. Moving higher and faster will bring in movement from the spine. You want your spine held still while your hip and shoulder move.

You can work these exercises into your regular routine with the sets and reps you are currently doing. Bodyweight exercise is only boring if you do the exact same things you’ve always done. These are just a few of the countless ways to add variation to any bodyweight exercise. I’m hoping that the few you see here will inspire you to create some variations of your own! 

By Jonathan Ross
Jonathan Ross

Jonathan’s “800 pounds of parents” inspired his fitness career as a two-time Personal Trainer of the Year Award-Winner (ACE and IDEA), fitness thought leader, and fitness/media expert for Discovery Fit & Health. His book, Abs Revealed, is a modern, intelligent approach to abdominal training. He is a Master Instructor for ACE, SPRI, Tabata Bootcamp, and formerly for TRX. His brain-based fitness training is transforming lives by transforming attitudes about fitness. A former astronomer, Jonathan used to study stellar bodies – now he builds them!

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