When you’re short on time but want to make your exercise session count, bodyweight exercises are brilliant. But, which exercises get the biggest results? Olympic gold medallist, Jessica Ennis-Hill, reveals all…

Strength training isn’t going anywhere, but the big difference is that we’re ditching the weights and getting fit and strong by using our own bodyweight.

It’s easy to see why, too. Requiring no equipment and very little space, you can do a bodyweight exercise circuit anywhere, making it great if you’re pushed for time.

Even better, when it comes to making the most of your workout time, bodyweight exercises come out on top for both fitness gains and fat burning because of the number of muscles used and the explosiveness of the activity.

When it comes to which bodyweight exercises stand out against the rest, we’ve turned to Olympic gold medallist, Jessica Ennis-Hill, for her top picks. But before we limber up, here’s why she rates a bodyweight exercise programme.

Time saviours

“When I went from Olympic athlete to busy working mum of two, the luxury of time to exercise went out the window. Where I’d previously trained up to 4/5 hours a day, I found it hard to even get a 20-minute session in.”

“Because of this I started creating bodyweight circuits that would give me maximum efficiency in the shortest amount of time. These are always about working multiple muscle groups and I usually do them as part of a Pyramid-HIIT style circuit so that I’m ramping up my heart rate and then resting, ramping up my heart rate and then resting (you can see these circuits in my Jennis app). Here are 5 of the hardest working bodyweight exercises there are.”

Burpees

“Everyone hates burpees (me included), but they’re probably the very best bodyweight exercise that exists – working your arms, back, chest, core, glutes, legs, revving up your metabolism, burning fat and building muscle. Burpees definitely burn, but when you think of all the body parts they benefit, you can see that they are definitely worth it.”

Get your form right like this:

– Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart.

– Bend your knees, reaching forward to place your hands on the floor.

– Kick your legs straight out behind you and lower your body down to the ground, bending at the elbows.

– Use your arms to quickly push your body back up and hop your legs back under your body.

– Jump straight up into the air, using your arms to propel you.

– Land with your knees slightly bent. Repeat for 20-35 seconds.

The bicycle crunch

According to various studies, the bicycle crunch is one of the most effective ab exercise you can do, stimulating more stomach muscle activity than the traditional crunch and really working your lower stomach and obliques.

Get your form right like this:

– Start by lying on the ground with your lower back pressed flat into the floor and your head and shoulders raised slightly above it.

– Place your hands lightly on the sides of your head.

– Lift one leg and bend your knee towards your chest.

– As you do so, twist through your core so the opposite arm comes towards the raised knee (note: you don’t need to touch elbow to knee), and lift your other leg just off the ground and extend it out.

– Keep alternating sides for 20-35 seconds.

Squat

“You’re probably starting to see a theme here. All my favourite exercises work multiple muscles, making them super efficient. The squat is another one, working multiple muscles – activating your glutes (bum muscles) and back, targeting the quads (thigh), hamstrings and calves, burning fat and building muscle.”

Get your form right like this:

– Stand with your feet hip width apart, and place your hands on your hips.

– Tighten your stomach muscles, bend your knees and squat, while keeping your upper body as straight as possible.

– Don’t allow your knees to overshoot your toes.

– Don’t allow your back to curve.

– Squat down as if you were sitting on a chair with your arms out in front.

– Straighten your legs back up again, being careful not to lock your knees when you reach a standing position and repeat.

– Repeat the movement for 20-35 seconds.

Plank walking half circle 

“This is one we used to do all the time in training to help with shoulder stretch and stability. It looks relatively easy, but because you’re holding up your body weight and shifting your weight at the same time, it’s a really intense ab, core and upper body exercise. Try doing it with and without crossing your hands over each other and you’ll really notice the difference.”

Get your form right like this:

– Get into press-up position with your hands directly under your shoulders.

– Keep strong through your core and glutes throughout the whole movement.

– Cross your right hand over your left, then pull your left hand out so that you are back in press-up position, then cross your right hand over your left so that you are shifting your whole body to the left.

– Repeat movement until you are at right angles from where you started.

– Then repeat the hand movements going back the way you came (crossing one hand over the next as you go) until you create a full half circle.

– Keep going from side to side for 20-35 seconds.

Ab scissors

Ab scissors work the hip flexors and a whole range of different stomach muscles (rectus abdominis, obliques and the transverse abdominis, the deepest muscle in the stomach), so it really is a brilliant exercise for the abs.

Get your form right like this:

– Lie down with your back pressed against the floor. Your arms should be fully extended to the sides with your palms facing down.

– If this is too difficult place your hands to your side but slightly under each bum cheek

– With a slight bend at the knees, lift your legs up so that your heels are about 6 inches off the ground. This is the starting position.

– Lift your left leg up to about a 45-degree angle while your right leg is lowered until the heel is about 2-3 inches from the ground.

– Switch movements by raising your right leg up and lowering your left leg.

– Repeat for 20-35 seconds.

Interested in doing more bodyweight exercises? Find out more about Jessica Ennis-Hill’s Fitness app. Don’t forget that Vitality members can get up to 50% off trainers from Runners Need.

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