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4 Challenging Bodyweight Exercises to Take Your Workout to the Next Level

woman doing lunges in a park
Amp up your workout with these challenging bodyweight exercises.

by Catherine Santino


Getting strong in the gym doesn't always have to involve heavy weights — or any weights, for that matter!

Bodyweight exercises can be an incredible way to strengthen muscles and gain flexibility and stability, but there will probably come a time when you'll want to increase the intensity of your bodyweight moves. Adding weights doesn't have to be your next step; there are plenty of easy ways to create challenging bodyweight exercises that don't involve any equipment!

Taking Things to the Next Level

Before we break down some tips, let's begin with an important question: how can you tell when it's time to graduate to more challenging bodyweight exercises?

For starters, your heart rate can be a great indicator. If you're not getting your heart rate up high enough during a workout, it might be time to challenge yourself a bit more! Ideal heart rates vary depending on age; use this tool from the American Heart Association to find yours.

Other indicators may include the ability to do multiple reps without getting tired. On the other hand, if your heart rate gets too high, that could mean you're exerting yourself too hard. Don't take this as a sign of weakness! Instead, just dial it back from an intensity perspective.

If you're ready to take your workouts to the next level, here are four great techniques to get you started.

1. Pulsing

Do you ever wonder why tiny movements can be more difficult than full-range ones? That's because they don't give your muscles the break they would normally get once you reach the top of the movement. Instead, you're working each muscle more consistently and providing a new kind of challenge to the muscles — though it's definitely not the most laid-back way of doing so.

To incorporate pulsing into a squat, for example, squat normally, but before you raise yourself back up, slowly make small pulses up and down. Do this until you feel challenged, and then stand back up.

2. Unilateral Exercises

Unilateral movements, which involve using just one side of your body at a time, can be an amazing way to build strength. Pistol squats are a perfect example — you simply bend into a deep squat with one leg extended out in front of you.

Unilateral moves can help to prevent injuries because they stimulate your nondominant side by discouraging the body from favoring your dominant side. Lunges, leg lifts, and even push-ups are all bodyweight exercises that can be done unilaterally.

3. Plyometric Moves

Plyometric movements — or "jump training" exercises — are high-intensity moves that require the maximum amount of effort from your muscles. But there's more than just jumping involved; pushups can be made plyometric by pushing up with enough force that your hands actually leave the ground for a moment before you begin the next rep! Other plyometric moves include squat jumps and alternating lunge jumps.

4. Slow Repetitions

Slowing down movements can also be a great challenge, and it can reduce impact while giving your muscles a challenge. In 2010, the Los Angeles Times reported on research findings that showed how working through the resistance component helped ease pain for patients with cancer, fibromyalgia, and other diseases.

To take advantage of the benefits, simply slow down your favorite bodyweight moves. For example, instead of traditional mountain climbers, slowly bring one knee toward your chest and then move back into a plank and repeat with the other foot. This movement should engage your core and arms even more, which can make the move challenging in a whole new way.

As always, please consult with a physician prior to beginning any exercise program. See full medical disclaimer here.