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Bodyweight Exercises: Progressions and Regressions

We’ve talked about choosing your intensity before, and not shying away from the exercises or modifications that are labeled as “easy”. Last week, we went back to the basics and detailed the benefits of using your bodyweight! We have to take into consideration our own limitations, exercise history, and even preference before we choose an exercise. With that being said, let’s break down the four exercises show last week, as well as progressions and regressions of each. Check out the video at the end of the article to see each of these in action!

The Squat

Regression: Use a box or a chair to help control depth and increase confidence that you won’t lose your balance! The form stays the same, but with the step there, it allows you to sit back into the squat without worrying about balance. As you feel comfortable, take the chair away and move on to a bodyweight only squat.

Progression: Mix up the tempo! Moving slower on the way down increases the “time under tension” of the muscle. The time under tension is the amount of time your muscle is contracting. In this way, more time under tension equals more work the muscle has to do. At the same time, driving up fast out of the bottom of the squat helps increase power and powerful muscles are strong muscles.

The Push-Up

Regression: Elevate your hands! By elevating your hands, you’ll be able to take full advantage of your pec majors, or large chest muscles, and the large muscles on your back, the latissimus dorsi, will assist as well. As it becomes easier, slowly lower the height of the bench, chair, or step, until you reach the floor.

Progression: Elevate your feet! Performing a decline push-up changes the muscle activation slightly. You’ll still use your pec majors, but you’ll also recruit more of your shoulders and upper chest muscles. Not only will it be more difficult, but you’ll strengthen different muscles as well.

The Lunge

Regression: Split the squat! Without the forward step, you don’t have to decelerate the movement. This can take pressure off the front knee, especially if you have a habit of keeping the feet too close together when you step. Perform these next to a wall for an added element of stability and balance assistance.

Progression: Challenge your balance! Although the step back lunge can be less difficult than the traditional step forward variation, adding the knee drive forces you to adjust and balance on a single leg between each repetition. This will challenge the stabilizers of the hip, knee, and ankle, as well as your core and larger lower body muscles already active when performing a lunge.

The Neutral Grip Pull-Up

Regression: Use the Smith machine! Incorporating the Smith machine and performing inverted rows is a great way to increase strength and work toward completing that first bodyweight pull-up. Moving the bar lower will increase the difficulty. If you reach the lowest setting, but aren’t quite at the pull-up from the hanging position, incorporate some of the tempo work we used with the bodyweight squat to increase the difficulty further.

Progression: Mix up your grip! You might be amazed at how much more difficult a pull-up is when you widen out your grip and face your palms away from you. As you widen your grip, you won’t be able to “cheat” and recruit your biceps. You’ll have to rely almost entirely on those muscles in your back to pull you to the top.

See the progressions and regressions in action below.

Bottom line: There is a bodyweight exercise variation for everyone. Once you’ve found yours, you’re able to take it with you – in the gym, at home, or even outdoors. Next time you’re in the fitness center, if you want a form check, feel free to ask any of the staff at the front desk to assist.


Do you have questions or a topic you would like a trainer to weigh in on? Email Emily at with your questions!


Key Word: Progression

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