With challenge comes change. That’s why it’s good to tackle new exercises, including the tough ones! One means to do this is to make the current exercises you’re doing harder. A few ways to do that is by adding more weight, increasing the reps, slowing the tempo to emphasize the eccentric component of the movement or using advanced techniques like forced reps, drop sets, or supersets.
While you might think that exercises, like squats and deadlifts with weights, are among the most challenging exercises, some bodyweight exercises are demanding as well. Don’t assume that because you don’t have a barbell perched on your shoulder or a dumbbell in each hand that an exercise is easy. Here are some of the hardest bodyweight exercises you can do.
Bodyweight Exercise #1: Burpees
What list of tough exercises would be complete without the burpee, also known as squat thrusts? What makes this exercise so difficult? They work almost every muscle in your body simultaneously and they’re demanding from a cardiovascular standpoint. In fact, your body has to tap into anaerobic pathways for energy due to the vigorous nature of this exercise. So, doing burpees improves aerobic and anaerobic energy pathways. Plus, doing burpees helps develop greater agility and coordination. You’re getting lots of benefits from one, demanding exercise that you can do almost anywhere – no special equipment needed.
How to Make Burpees Harder:
· Pick up the pace.
· Do more of them.
· Add a tuck jump at the top of a burpee.
· Wear a weighted vest when you do them. (not for the faint-hearted)
Bodyweight Exercise #2: Pull-Ups
Pull-ups are so challenging that many people, man or woman, can’t do even one. It’s not easy pulling your entire body weight up over a bar. As you pull your weight up, you have to stabilize your core to avoid swinging your body. To do this, you need strong back muscles. If you have long arms, the exercise is even harder as you have a longer distance to travel to get your chin above the bar.
How to Make Them Easier:
For this move, you need to know how to make them easier, not harder:
· Use an assisted pull-up machine, like the Gravitron until you build up enough strength.
· Do exercises that strengthen your biceps, triceps, and latissimus dorsi, the largest muscle in your back before attempting push-ups.
· Start by hanging from a pull-up bar in the top position and gradually try to increase the time you can hang.
· Be persistent. It’s a tough move that takes time to learn.
Bodyweight Exercise #3: Clap Push-Ups
Push-ups alone are somewhat challenging but adding a clap between push-ups takes it to a whole, new level. Clap push-ups are a plyometric move that builds explosive power in your upper body, unlike most plyometric moves that target the lower body. It takes a certain amount of strength in the upper body to complete even one since you have to propel your upper body off the mat long enough to clap and place your hands in position to reconnect with the floor again. Do this exercise with caution as it places lots of stress on your wrists, elbows, and arms.
How to Make Them Easier
· Again, you’ll probably want to know how to make this move easier rather than harder.
· Start by doing them with your hands on an elevated surface, like a table. Gradually lower the height of the table as you build strength and become more comfortable with the move.
· Also, learn to do plyometric push-ups without the clap before adding the clap.
To Make Them Harder
If you’re a real star and need to make them harder, simply clap more times between push-ups. If you can clap more than once, you’re a superstar!
Bodyweight Exercise #4: Single-Leg Squats
Even if you feel comfortable with standard squats and can do them with a heavy barbell, single-leg squats add a new challenge. That’s because single-leg squats introduce a balance challenge to the movement. To do one, you need to be strong, mobile and have a good sense of balance. Not everyone has all of these traits, but, with practice, you can work up to doing a few single-leg squats.
To Make Them Easier:
Mike Robertson, C.S.C.S., a strength coach and author of The Single-Leg Solution suggests doing single-leg squats off of a box 12 inches in height. Place both feet on the box and position your arms out in front of you. Shift your weight to your right foot. Then, bend your right knee as you slowly lower your body to the floor. Stop when your left heel touches the floor. Then, return to the starting position. Master the box variation first. Then, gradually lower the height of the box that you use.
To Make Them Harder:
Try the harder version of a single-leg squat called the pistol squat. It’s a true test of strength and balance. Give yourself a pat on the back if you can do even one.
Bodyweight Exercise #5: Box Jumps
It’s not so much that box jumps are hard, but they’re intimidating. There’s something daunting about jumping on to a box and the higher the box the more intimidating the move is. But if you make this move a regular part of your training, you’ll get a variety of fitness benefits. For one, it’s a plyometric move that works your fast-twitch muscle fibers. Doing them consistently will help build explosive power. Plus, it’s a dynamic move that boosts your heart rate as effectively as any cardiovascular exercise.
How to Make Them Easier:
· Start by doing squat jumps without a box.
· Then, tackle a box with a low height. Gradually increase the height of the box.
· Rest between each jump.
How to Make Them Harder:
· Increase the height of the box, with caution, of course.
· Reduce the rest period between jumps. This will increase cardiovascular benefits & calorie burn.
The Bottom Line
Yes, these exercises are tough, and you’ll know you’re a star if you can do them. If you can’t, keep working at it!
Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, DOI: 10.1519/JSC.0000000000000522.
Int J Sports Phys Ther. 2018 Aug; 13(5): 871–881.
Robert Training Systems. “The Single Leg Solution”
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