bodyweight substitutions

Whether you’re used to using much equipment in your workouts or not, there will always be times when you just don’t have access to any workout equipment at all.

Maybe you need to skip your usual gym workout and work out at home instead, or maybe you’re traveling for weeks or months and won’t have much gym or outdoor fitness park access while you’re away.

And though you can definitely get a really good workout in using no equipment at all, one of the main reasons I tend to use equipment (especially when I’m at home in my normal routine), is that it helps to mix up my workouts and keep them interesting. It’s fun for me to think of different ways to incorporate some of my favorite pieces of equipment such as plyo boxes, medicine balls, pull up bars, and dip bars or parallel bars into my workouts, and always keeps them challenging.

But that doesn’t mean you can’t still get in a good workout when you don’t have equipment available. A few simple substitutions and a bit of creativity guarantees that you can always get an awesome workout in, no matter what you have available. No excuses!

Here are 15 simple yet awesome bodyweight substitutions for when you don’t have access to any equipment:

Dip Bar/Parallel Bars Exercises

bodyweight substitutions

Figuring out substitutions for exercises that use dip bars or parallel bars can be tricky at times, so get creative with what you have around you!

Triceps dips

Dip bar substitution: Two chairs, benches, etc

Do it: Get two chairs, put your hands on one chair, then with your legs straight, put your feet on the other (the chairs should be far enough apart that you can straighten your legs fully with your feet resting on the other chair). Lower down as far as you can whiles keeping your chest proud.

Reverse push ups/Australian pull ups

Dip bar substitution: A sturdy table or bench

Do it: Lay down on the floor while grabbing onto the edge of a sturdy table, countertop, bench, etc., then pull yourself up as far as you can towards the table or bench. Bending your knees during this exercise will make it slightly harder, while straightening your legs will make it more difficult.

Knee raises

Dip bar substitution: Two high stools or a corner of a countertop

Do it: Find a corner of a countertop or place two high stools slightly wider than hip-width apart, place your hands flat on the counter or stools while keeping your arms straight, then raise your knees towards your chest while keeping your abs tight and chest proud. Lower your legs back to straight (or as straight as you can get them if you’re not up high enough to completely straighten them), then repeat the exercise.

Medicine Ball Exercises

bodyweight substitutions

Medicine ball exercises are fairly easy to substitute, although you won’t get the exact same workout using a substitute ball or heavy bag as you would with a heavier medicine ball.

Medicine ball twists

Medicine ball substitution: A weight plate, heavy book, backpack filled with heavy stuff, etc.

Do it: Lay on your back with your feet on the floor while holding a heavy object at your chest. Sit up, bring your feet off of the floor, then twist the object to one side as far as you can. Switch to go the opposite direction.

Squat thrusts

Medicine ball substitution: A weight plate, heavy book, backpack/duffle bag filled with heavy stuff, etc.

Do it: Stand with your feet hip-width apart holding a heavy object at your chest, then squat down as low as you can. Stand up explosively, and as you do so, bring the object over your head, return to the starting point and repeat.

Wall balls

Medicine ball substitution: A weight plate, heavy book, backpack/duffle back filled with heavy stuff, etc. OR a basketball, soccer ball, volleyball, etc.

Do it: For wall ball substitutions, you have a couple of different options:

Option #1: Simply substitute squat thrusts for wall balls (see substitution options above).

Option #2: Use a regular basketball, soccer ball, volleyball, etc. in place of the medicine ball. This will make the exercise slightly easier on your upper body, so make sure to go as fast as you can to keep the intensity level high.

Ab roll outs

Medicine ball substitution: A towel

Do it: Towels work really well as a substitution for ab rolls. To do them, make sure you’re on a slippery enough surface such as a hardwood floor, then get on your knees with your hands on the towel in a pike position. Slowly slide forward with control while keeping your knees in place. Once you get to a point where you feel like you can’t go any further, roll yourself back up to the starting position.

Tip: If you want to make this exercise even harder, start while standing.

Pull Up Bar Exercises

bodyweight substitutions

Pull up bars are one of the most difficult exercises to find non-equipment equivalents for, so if you regularly work out at home, I’d highly recommend adding one to your home gym.

Pull ups

Pull up bar substitution: A towel

Do it: There are really no great substitutions for pull ups, which is why I recommend anyone wanting to work on their pull ups get their very home home pull up bar. However, this is the very best substitution exercise I’ve come across. Basically, you’ll need a towel (or a t-shirt, or something you don’t mind putting on the floor) and a smooth floor like a hardwood floor. Place the towel underneath your chest and stomach, with your arms in a bent Y shape above your head and your palms flat to the floor. Squeeze your shoulder blades together as you pull yourself forward on the floor, trying to stay as flat to the floor as you can as you do so.

Hanging knee raises

Pull up bar substitution: Two high stools or a corner of a countertop

Do it: For this one, you’re actually going to do the same thing as you would with the knee raises exercise. Find a corner of a countertop or place two high stools slightly wider than hip-width apart, place your hands flat on the counter or stools while keeping your arms straight, then raise your knees towards your chest while keeping your abs tight and chest proud.

Hanging leg raises

Pull up bar substitution: Two high stools or a corner of a countertop

Do it: Get in the same position as you would for the knee raises substitute, but then instead of bending your knees towards your chest, straighten your legs and bring them parallel to the ground (or as high as you can) instead. Just be aware that this may actually feel harder than doing leg raises from a pull up bar since you won’t be able to swing your legs back at all.

Knees to elbows

Pull up bar substitution: Just your own body

Do it: Lay on the floor with your legs and arms straight. Tighten your by imagining your belly button being pushed to the floor, then raise your knees towards your arms until they touch (or almost touch) your elbows. Your legs will be in a butterfly position rather than knees pushed together as with hanging or regular knee raises. Lower back down and repeat.

This exercise isn’t quite as challenging as the regular hanging knees to elbows exercise, but it’s a pretty good substitution if you don’t have access to a pull up bar. Plus, the more you do of them, the harder they’ll get!

Plyo Box Exercises

bodyweight exercise substitutions

Plyo box-based exercises are actually some of the easiest exercises to find creative substitutes for, since all you really need is something sturdy to jump on such as a bench or a set of stairs. The only trick is that you might not find one high enough for you, especially if you’re used to jumping on higher boxes—but hey, it’s better than nothing.

Box jumps

Plyo box substitution: A bench or some stairs

Do it: Get in front of a sturdy bench or some stairs and perform box jumps as you normally would.

Elevated push ups

Plyo box substitution: A bench, some stairs, a couch, etc.

Do it: Elevated push ups can be done on just about any raised surface—use your couch, a chair, a bench… the list is endless. The higher the surface, the harder these will be.

Step ups

Plyo box substitution: A bench or some stairs

Do it: Benches or stairs are easy substitutions for step ups. The higher the step, the harder the exercise will be. If you can only find a low one, just make sure to go as fast as you can to keep the intensity level up.

Bulgarian split squats

Plyo box substitution: A bench or some stairs

Do it: Get in front of a bench or a few stairs, then place one foot on the bench with one foot on the floor in front of you. Making sure your knee doesn’t go in front of your toes, bend your front knee down as far as you can before pushing back up.

To make this exercise more challenging, grab some dumbbells, a weight plate, or just fill a backpack with some heavy stuff and put it on while doing the exercise.

Train hard! No excuses.