Today's paradigm seems to be the Reg Park workouts in different flavours, like Starting Strength and StrongLifts 5x5. A few compound exercises with free weights, using barbells, as opposed to the 80's fever of specialised machines and crazy complex workouts combining lots of isolating exercises that confused the beginner.

I would like to see a bodyweight-only routine that follows analogous principles, thus using only a few compound exercises. I can imagine something like:

  • Squats (with no weight)
  • Push-Ups
  • Dips between two chairs (?)
  • Chin-Ups if you have somewhere to hang from. If not, what?

What more? Specially for shoulders, I can imagine there is some work with the Indian Push-Ups, but ?

Ok, strength training is done with barbells or dumbbells, but if you can barely perform one or two push-ups at the beginning, and add a few each week, nobody would doubt that you are gaining strength. Eventually a point will be achieved in which you are able to perform, say, thirty of them. After that, I agree that going for more means you are training for endurance and not strength.

This might be useful too for advanced trainees, merely as a program to help maintaining form during a holidays travel or similar.

(yes, starting with the barbell alone in a 5x5 program will lead you to strength gains too, and yes, long live Mark Rippetoe! Ok, but that is not the question)

  • 1
    My answer to an almost identical question may be relevant. Commented Jul 2, 2013 at 15:15
  • It is relevant, thanks. However, I don't pretend to emulate the efficiency and long-term reach of a barbell (or dumbbells) strength program with bodyweight calisthenics. But I am wondering if they can be a more balanced and perhaps less risky way of developing overall strength and flexibility for an completely out-of-shape computer nerd. After all, the video Arthlete posts shows a truly strong and flexible and athletic, healthy and well developed body. If I managed to get half that physical level, I wouldn't give a damn not being able to deadlift heavy...
    – Mephisto
    Commented Jul 2, 2013 at 23:18
  • I'm not concerned with the long-term reach so much as the short-term return on investment and long-term ability to load the lower body. Commented Jul 2, 2013 at 23:53

4 Answers 4


That is a good question. Years ago I started with weight lifting but then switched to body weight training. Obviously as you said after you pass a certain number of push-ups you continue working endurance with little to no strength.

That's why I switched to gymnastics strength exercises. Now you can say that if you go on a holiday you can't do these. However that depends on the holiday. I usually bring a pair of rings that I hang from a tree and I continue my workouts. That or one can always look for a pull-up bar OR bring a portable one with him(that can be attached to a door. Obviously the pull-up bar will be insufficient for some of the exercises below but those that could be executed on it are more than enough for a good workout!

The compound exercises that I would recommend would be:

To list just a few of the Shoulder exercises:
-Handstand Push-Up
-Front Lever
-Back Lever
-Ab-Wheel Rollout
-Pseudo Back Lever Pull-Up

Harder exercises would be:
-Iron Cross
-One Arm-Chin Up

Here's a workout that I recorded for my followers to demonstrate some of these exercises: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sT2tvhIv8qM

Watch the video and you will see a demonstration for most of the listed ones.

These will NOT only allow you to maintain strength but will boost it as well.

Here's a routine that doesn't include a pull-up bar or rings:
-Handstand Push-Ups x 8-12 for 3 sets ;
-Ab-wheel Rollout/Crunches x 5 for 2 sets(or 30 for 3 sets if you are doing crunches) ;
-Wide Stance Push-Ups x 15 for 4 sets ;
-L-Sit on the ground for time for 2 sets;
-Plank for time

Here's a routine designed for a pull-up bar, rings:
-Front Lever(or a variation of it) x 6 for 5 sets;
-Diamond Push-Ups x 10 for 3 sets;
-Regular Pull-Ups x 10 for 3 sets, if you do them in a L-Sit you will put more stress on the shoulders and work the abs too;
-Crunches x 25 for 3 sets her.

  • A-M-A-Z-I-N-G video! You are working your core and entire upper body just with that bar. Sure there is some kind of systematic training for that kind of exercising. Somebody did a comment in your video mentioning a so-called "level 5 gymnast" or similar. I guess there is an entire training system with its own principles, vocabulary, theories, just as with weight training... Where can I start learning? I really would love to initiate myself at the very basic level...
    – Mephisto
    Commented Jul 2, 2013 at 12:26
  • Thank you very much! Yes there is a gymnastics code of points for these exercises. I am currently developing a training system based on 10 years of experience that I would like to share with people for free. Perhaps you would be interested into helping me with it? :)
    – Arthlete
    Commented Jul 2, 2013 at 12:30
  • How? You can write a mail to [email protected]
    – Mephisto
    Commented Jul 2, 2013 at 12:37
  • FWIW, an open closet door with a towel across the top to cushion the edges does a fairly decent job of being a pull-up bar. If you're worried about structural integrity or the door moving, a rubber door stop can be wedged under the open end.
    – Sean Duggan
    Commented Aug 30, 2016 at 17:56

When I don't have access to weights, I try to get in as many of these as possible:

  • Push-up work (either regular, handstand, or Hindu)
  • Pull-up work (either chins or pull-ups)
  • Squat work (either Hindu squats or pistols or burpees)

Those are the high-return exercises I focus on, and that I think are most similar to barbell work. Plenty of other exercises are excellent, too, like lunges, sprints, or various gymnastics work such as planches, levers, and L-sits.

However, the desire to mimic a 5x5 barbell routine using only bodyweight is a fool's errand. The two are intrinsically different. If you want to train with bodyweight, don't pretend that it's anything like a 5x5 routine. If you want to train with barbells, don't pretend it's anything like a bodyweight routine. They have different goals, different timelines, and different results. Whichever method you pick, be clear about what you want from it. Be consistent: pick a program and stick to it for at least three months.

Bodyweight exercise is most useful because of the element of self-dominance, or the mastery of one's own body. Barbell work is most useful because it produces the most strength and power and does so much faster than any other method.

Many people with the goal of sports performance or overall athleticism will combine the two: mostly bodyweight exercise for the upper body and mostly barbell work for the lower body. This uses the strongest elements of each approach: unmatched loading for developing back and leg strength with barbells and maximal range of motion exercises for the upper body.

  • you didn't mention Sit-Ups. I am curious to know why. Is there something wrong with them? (in some places they say they are unhealthy and should be substituted by crunches).
    – Mephisto
    Commented Jul 2, 2013 at 22:56
  • @Mephisto For ab work, I prefer stabilization work, as with barbells, rollouts, or L-sits. Commented Jul 2, 2013 at 23:52

The closest approximation to starting strength is the 3x8 progression routine from startbodyweight.com.



I use a starting strength barbell routine focused on squats and deadlifts on Mondays and Fridays, and do a start bodyweight routine on Wednesdays focused on push ups, pull ups, and pistol squats.

Good luck!


Fortunately, this topic is popular as heck and there are some great trainers over at reddit's r/bodyweightfitness that can point you in the direction of a well written recommended routine based around the compound movements you can do with bodyweight and some simple equipment:

Warmup (~10-15 minutes)

Dynamic Stretches to get the joints nice and loose.

Bodyline Work to remind you of the proper positions

Skill work (~10 minutes)

5-10 minutes Handstand progression

2-3 minutes Support practice

Strength work (~40-60 minutes)

Pairing two exercises means doing a set of the first exercise, then resting 90 seconds, then doing a set of the second exercise and resting 90 seconds, and then repeating until you've done all sets of that pair.

First Pair

3x5-8 Pullup progression

3x5-8 Dipping progression

Second Pair We recommend doing barbell work for legs. If you have access to barbells (and a squat rack), see below on how to incorporate this in the routine.

3x5-8 Squat Progression

3x10sec-30sec L-sit Progression

Third Pair

3x5-8 Pushup progression

3x5-8 Row Progression

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