Bodyweight exercises should be included in everyone’s strength training program to some degree. Heck, some people train with bodyweight workouts exclusively out of necessity or personal preference. So how can you change them up so you don’t bored doing the same thing every time and can keep getting stronger and achieving body-transformation results?
For the past year most of my workouts have consisted of bodyweight exercises and several months ago they started to get a little stale so I added some variety by using different techniques to make the same old exercises somewhat “new” again, and more challenging.
Below you’re going to see six ways to add variety to bodyweight exercises. These training techniques will present new challenges and shake out the cobwebs if you’re tired of doing the exercises the same way for weeks or months straight.
1) Side-to-Side Reps
I don’t know if this technique has a more formal term, but I call them “side-to-side” reps. The purpose of this technique is to overload one side of the body with each rep.
Here are side-to-side reps in action with a pull-up:
Begin by pulling your body up to your left hand, lower under control, pull up to your right hand, and repeat. This is definitely an advanced variation, so give it a shot if you can already perform several bodyweight pull-ups.
If you can’t (yet!) do pull-ups you can always perform side-to-side pull-ups using resistance bands for assistance for some variety.
Side-to-side reps work well with inverted rows too:
If you can already perform 12+ reps with inverted rows, give this variation a shot to make the movement more challenging. This is a great way to train inverted rows in a lower rep range to increase your strength.
And finally, you can perform push-ups side-to-side style too:
If you can perform 10+ reps with push-ups give this a shot.
If you can only perform a few push-ups but want to add variety to the exercise, you can elevate your hands to make it easier while performing them side-to-side style.
2) Typewriter Reps
Again, I’m not sure if this have a more formal name but I’m going with “typewriter” reps because of how this technique looks.
This is another style that works best with upper body exercises.
Here are pull-ups performed typewriter rep style:
This is definitely an advanced variation and perfect if you can already perform several pull-ups. But just as with the side-to-side reps above, you can still use still technique for variety if you use resistance bands for assistance. I’m using a neutral grip in the video, but a traditional palms-down grip works great too.
Pull all the way up to the bar, then slide to your left hand, then all the way over to your right. Return to the center and lower under control. I alternate which side I slide to first on each rep. (My middle and lower traps are always sore from these the next day).
You can perform inverted rows typewriter-style too:
Be sure once you pull up to the bar to keep your shoulder blades pulled down and back and hold them there as you slide to each side. The lower the bar is to the ground, the harder this will be. Likewise the higher the bar, the easier it will be.
Push-ups can also be performed typewriter-style:
You can make this easier by elevating your hands or even more difficult by elevating your feet.
3) 1.5 Reps
This is another technique that instantly makes an exercise more challenging and it’ll definitely make you “feel the burn” and it’s used in the new Beautiful Badass Bodyweight 10 Phase Training System (along with numbers 5 and 6 below).
One of my favorite bodyweight exercises to perform 1.5 rep style are single leg hip thrusts:
To perform this exercise 1.5 rep style you begin by doing a regular hip thrust by thrusting your hips up until you’re in the top position. From there you lower half way down, then return to the top position. Then lower all the way back down. Repeat: thrust all the way up, lower half way down, thrust back to the top, then lower all the way down.
You can perform any bodyweight exercise 1.5 rep style. Another favorite exercise for this technique are rear foot elevated split squats.
(I’m holding dumbbells in that photo, but you obviously don’t have to if you’re training exclusively with bodyweight). Begin by lowering all the way down, squat half way up, lower all the way down again, then squat all the way to the top.
You can use the 1.5 rep technique for pull-ups, push-ups, inverted rows, and practically any other bodyweight exercise.
4) Dead-Stop Reps
This is a super easy way to instantly make any bodyweight exercise more challenging. Perform each rep from a “dead stop”.
Using a pull-up as an example, you’d pause in the bottom position for a solid 1-3 seconds (the longer you pause the harder it will be) before pulling back up.
For a push-up you would pause in the bottom position (but don’t rest on the ground!) for 1-3 seconds before pressing back up.
You can perform all bodyweight exercises dead-stop style: step-ups, skater squats, inverted rows, pike push-ups, etc.
5) Increase the Range of Motion
This is a progression I use primarily with lower body exercises to make an exercise more challenging.
You can increase the range of motion, usually, by elevating the working leg. With a rear foot elevated split squat (as pictured above) you can put your front foot on a 1-6 inch elevated surface: the higher the surface, the more difficult it will be.
You can also do this with skater squats by standing on a 1-6 inch platform as shown in this article.
Other exercises include reverse lunges and single leg hip thrusts (as pictured above). By increasing the range of motion for most lower body bodyweight exercises, you generally start to work more of your hamstrings and glutes the further down you can do. Using the rear foot elevated split squat, for example, it primarily works the quad muscles, but when you elevate the front foot and increase the range of motion (so as you squat down your hips are below your knee) you increase the activation in your hamstrings and glutes.
6) Drop-Set Style Sets
When you hear “drop-set” you likely think of the old school bodybuilding technique where you perform a set of 10+ reps and then immediately switch to a lower weight and do as many additional reps as possible. For example with something like a dumbbell biceps curl, you may be able to perform 15 reps with 20 pounds, and then you’d immediately grab a set of 10’s or 15’s and do as many reps as possible with that lower weight.
But I started applying this same “drop-set” technique to the last set of some bodyweight exercises to kick things up a notch.
So how do you do “drop-sets” with bodyweight exercises since you’re not using any weight? Simple.
Do a regular set of an exercise for anywhere between 6-12 reps, typically, then immediately after that set perform another set using an easier variation of the same exercise.
With push-ups, for example, you may be able to perform 12 traditional push-ups. Immediately after that set you could elevate your hands a couple of feet (by putting them on a bench or barbell set securely in a power rack) and perform as many additional reps as possible.
Using rear foot elevated split squats as another example, you may do a set with your front foot elevated on a six inch platform and perform each rep from a dead-stop (combining methods 4 and 5 from above!) and then immediately after do a regular set of rear foot elevated split squats without the increased range of motion or dead-stop technique.
There you have it: six unique ways to add variety to your bodyweight exercises and workouts. Hopefully you see now that if you choose to work out solely with bodyweight exercises that you have a LOT of variety if you use some different training techniques.
Related Article: You can use all of the techniques in this article with these 7 of the Best Bodyweight Exercises You Should be Doing to more variety as well.
Want a done-for-you bodyweight workout plan? If you want done-for-you bodyweight workouts you can do anywhere, then be sure to check out the Beautiful Badass Bodyweight Workout Guide.