Muscle for life

8 Bodyweight Exercises That Will Kick Your Ass

8 Bodyweight Exercises That Will Kick Your Ass

You might think you’re too big and strong for mere bodyweight exercises, but let’s see how you do with these…


Many people into weightlifting think that bodyweight exercises are below them, or a waste of time–that you’ll never be able to build any real muscle or strength with them.

Once you hit a certain level of strength, it can seem like basic exercises like crunches and push-ups are below you.

But no matter how jacked you are, you can use bodyweight exercises to challenge your body in new ways, and even increase muscle strength and endurance. A good bodyweight workout routine is a very time- and cost-effective way to build a strong, aesthetic physique.

So, let’s get to some of the best bodyweight exercises that are worth working into your routines.

Dragon Flags

Dragon Flags are a deceptively hard core exercise, and a particularly great way to target your lower abs.

They are done by grabbing onto a bench with the arms at a 45-degree angle, but it’s toughest with your arms kept straight with the tips of the elbows pointing up.

To start, grab onto a buddy’s ankles or a vertical pole. From shoulderstand position, isolate movement of the feet first while keeping the hips up as high as possible. Not only does that take a ton of core strength, but by straightening the arms you’ll also challenge your triceps.

First, work on slowly lowering until your body is hovering horizontal an inch above the ground. After you master that, turn your attention to lifting back up with just as much control.

Muscle Ups

The Muscle Up is one of the hardest bodyweight exercises you can do for your upper body.

It’s essential a pull-up followed by a dip, and gymnasts use it to go from below a sets of rings or bar to above a set of rings or bar. You might be able to do pull-ups and dips fairly easily, but transitioning between the two takes a surprising amount of strength and coordination.

The key to nailing the transition is getting your shoulders (your weight) directly over your hands, which is accomplished by pulling yourself up and then leaning forward. As you get stronger, you won’t need to hit the transition as cleanly, and it will become a pull-up directly into a triceps pushdown.


It’s not easy to target those deep core muscles, but V-Ups will give you no choice. If you’ve ever tried to hold boat pose in a yoga class, this will feel familiar.

Start out lying on the ground with your hands above your head. Your heels and shoulders will be lifted off the ground about 1 inch and your arms will stay above your head. Crunch up into a V shape (pike) and lower back down with control.

To increase the difficulty, move slowly and hold at the halfway point for 15 seconds.

Pistol Squats

Whenever a bodyweight exercise gets too easy, you can make it harder by adding or subtracting a limb.

In the case of squats, you can double the weight load by taking away one leg. It is also a great way to work on flexibility and mobility for barbell squatting.

This is a major test of balance as well as strength, but holding your arms out straight provides some counterbalance. For more assistance, hold a weight.

For a greater challenge, clasp your hands behind your back.

Skin the Cat

Skin the Cat is a great way to work the shoulders, back, chest, and abs, this move can be completed on a pull-up bar, rings, or aerial apparatus like silks or straps.

Start inverted underneath the bar with legs tucked in, and slowly rotate through and lower your feet toward the ground. It takes practice, but with time you can lower all the way down and come back by rotating the shoulders.

Once you achieve full rotation, straighten one leg, and then finally work with both legs straight.

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Back Lever

The Back Lever is similar to the Skin the Cat movement.

Before you hit the bottom of the Skin the Cat rotation, stop with your tailbone flat. Kick out one leg at a time as slowly as possible, careful to keep it parallel to the ground. This is where a gym buddy can help spot you, either by guiding you to a horizontal position or by holding your feet.

Handstand Push-Ups

There are a lot of great variations on push-ups – three point, wide stance, diamond – but hardest of all is the handstand, which makes use of your full body weight, and blasts your shoulders.

Unless you can already perform stable handstands, start with your feet against the wall, or with a friend holding them.

Kipping Everything

Just kidding. Kipping is fail. Enjoy the video.


 What do you think of these bodyweight exercises? Have any that you would like to add? Let me know in the comments below!

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  • Michael


    • Michael Matthews


  • Beck

    Don’t forget floor L-sits and V-sits

    • Michael Matthews

      I have V-Ups in there. 🙂

      • Beck

        I was thinking of the gymnastics version (not sure if there is a different name to distinguish between them). It looks like a lot of people are of the same mindset: the truly devastating bodyweight exercises seem to all come from gymnastics. If only my parents had signed me up for gymnastics lessons instead of swim lessons when I was a kid….


  • CPANinjaDoug

    I know you don’t like CrossFit, but all of these body weight exercises (aside from the dragon flag) are ones we have done as part of the strength portion of the workouts. At the box I go to this week included working on the back lever. Hand stand pushups and muscle ups (on the rings) are frequently included in the workouts as well as the strength activities. The kipping video is pretty funny, but you’d never see any of that at a real CrossFit gym. Yeah, the kipping pullup, sure, but if you try to do 100 pullups in a row, sooner or later you’re just naturally going to kip. But for workouts that have smaller numbers of pullups in a set, it’s usually strict pullups.

    • Brian Zimmer

      I think the point is that you don’t need to do 100 pull ups in a row. Progressive overload and lower reps are your friend for the most efficient strength gains. =)

      That being said, the cardio aspect of CrossFit definitely can kick my butt.

      • CPANinjaDoug

        The 100 pull-ups in a row aren’t for the most efficient strength training. They’re for cardio, endurance, and coordination. You will gain some strength — especially grip strength — but I agree that’s not the focus of that exercise.

        • Michael Matthews

          There are far better ways to train cardio, endurance, and coordination IMO.

          • CPANinjaDoug

            Probably true, but it’s also for variety. One thing you can never say about CrossFit is that it’s boring.

          • Michael Matthews

            Very true. 🙂

      • Michael Matthews

        Yeah exactly.

    • Michael Matthews

      I wouldn’t say I dislike CrossFit–it really depends on who’s teaching it. I dislike bad CrossFit coaches.

      I don’t know if I’ll ever be sold on the value of the kipping pullup, haha.

  • Devan

    I think crossfit is pretty badass, as it has conditioned me for the Marines. The only problem I ever had was with kipping, which they classified as a functional movement (and not meant to isolate the muscles used in a normal pullup). During crossfit season, we were also forced to do weighted pullups, strict pullups etc.

    • Michael Matthews

      Thanks for sharing Devan. I guess I don’t get the point of the kipping pullup. Why would you want to do it instead of a proper pullup?

      • Devan

        It is often used in conjunction with power clean workouts, as they work muscles more similarly than a strict pullup will (I personally feel it way more in my forearms). And for more of a metabolic workout to tire you out. The kipping turns it from a vertical pull (deadhang) to more of a horizontal pull, thus training different muscles. I think kipping pullups have their place in fitness, but I do prefer strict just like you haha

        • Michael Matthews

          Ah I see. I guess I would just prefer other exercises for training forearms and doing cardio, haha.

  • Brian

    Awesome article, keep it up!

    • Michael Matthews

      Thanks Brian!

  • Gabe

    Nice list, man. Bodyweight exercises can prove extremely progressive if you get creative with the angles and limb subtraction as you mention.

    I’ve never experienced anything more humbling than ring work.
    I have tremendous respect for gymnasts—Deadlifts are usually given credit as the best demonstration of raw strength but I don’t know of any feat quite as mind blowing as the iron cross or it’s variants.
    How you avoid catastrophic shoulder dislocation is beyond me.

    • Michael Matthews

      Thanks Gabe. Ring work really is next level. The amount of strength you need to have in relation to your body weight is just outrageous.

      • Gabe

        Fur sure Mike. It goes to show that there are a lot of ways to build a tremendous body, although I’d argue this is the hardest!

        • Michael Matthews

          Yup. In reality you need to already have a solid foundation of strength to make good use of the rings.

          • Jonas

            How can implement ring and handstand skill work? To learn skills like that you definitely need some frequency!!!

          • Jonas


          • Jonas

            Mike, which of those listed exercises can you perform?

          • Michael Matthews

            I’m not sure you’ll have to see how your body responds in terms of overtraining.

            And no it won’t unless you’re going to get on the same drugs and train as many hours per day as they do for as many years as they have been.

  • Brian Zimmer

    Those headstand pushups above are still pretty hard to pull off, but the real deal is keeping your elbows closer to your body and using something to elevate your hands so you can get full range of motion.


    • Michael Matthews

      Yeah this would be next level.

  • Murilo

    For a second I thought the kipping one was for real… Haha

    • Michael Matthews


  • Hector Hernandez

    Really tough but fun looking exercises listed. Do you have a routine or workout based on these and other body weight exercises?

    • Michael Matthews

      Check out this article:

      https://www.muscleforlife.com /the-ultimate-bodyweight-workout-routine/

      I don’t include the exercises in this article, but you could work them in.

      • Hector Hernandez

        Okay thank you

        • Michael Matthews

          YW 🙂

  • Mike

    We saw a Circ show while in Vegas..pretty amazing strength, coordination, etc..most guys were prob 4-7 perc bodyfat ..pretty crazy impressive

    • Michael Matthews

      Yeah, those shows and performers are amazing.

  • Pingback: 8 Kettlebell Exercises That Will Kick Your Ass | Muscle For Life()

  • Matt

    How would I go about incorporating bodyweight and gymnastic type exercises into the BLS program?? I do not want to hamper my recovery but I feel that merely lifting weights without anything else besides some HIIT is really limiting myself. Is there some way to create a more hybrid program that might incorporate more forms of strength training? Any help is very much appreciated Mike!!

    • Michael Matthews

      Yeah you could do this. I would lift 3x per week and do bodyweight training 2x per week focusing on muscle endurance. Pushups, pullups, jump squats, pistol squats, and so forth.

      • Jonas

        How to split? Shoulders+ chest and tris together, than back+ bis and legs?

        • Michael Matthews

          Chest + tris, back + bis, legs + shoulders

  • Danielle Martinson


    • Michael Matthews

      Hahah so fail.

  • Steve Crook

    Your video of the V up looks like it’s gone walkabout. When I click to play it says “this video does not exist”…

    • Michael Matthews

      Fixed. Thanks for the heads up.

  • Pingback: 8 Kettlebell Exercises That Will Kick Your Ass | Muscle For Life()

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  • Wade

    Skin the cats come easy for me, despite the fact that I tend to stay more on the big hoss side. I have yet to be able to segue into a back lever, I want to increase my pullups a bit and lose some excess weight before exploring levers. Great article!

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