Bodyweight Workouts: Progression and Regression

By Don

July 30, 2021


Reading Time: 3 minutes

Progression and Regression for Bodyweight Workouts

In bodyweight workouts you can progress (make harder) and regress (make easier) the difficulty of any bodyweight movement. If you are advanced you can progress bodyweight exercises to match your strength level, and if you are a beginner you can regress any bodyweight exercises to adapt to your own level of fitness. As you become stronger, you can progress bodyweight exercises which allows you to continue to build strength. Regressing and progressing movements also allow for creativity and variety in training, which can cure the stalest and most boring workout program.
Like weight training, the basic principle for scaling difficulty in bodyweight training is by modifying resistance. You regress an exercise by reducing the amount of bodyweight the movement carries, and you progress an exercise by increasing the amount of bodyweight the movement carries. For example, a push-up can be regressed by performing the movement on your knees, which decreases the amount of weight your arms bear. A push-up can be progressed by performing the movement with just one arm, which increases the weight that one arm bears.
Here are four key bodyweight movements, instructions on how to perform them, the muscles used in the movement, and then several ideas on how the movements can be progressed or regressed.


  • Movement Instructions: Start with your hands and feet on the ground, with your back straight and hips parallel to the floor. Lower your body by bending your arms until your body is about to touch the floor, and then with control raise your body back to the starting position by extending your arms. Ensure to keep your back straight throughout the movement. Repeat.
  • Muscles Worked: Chest, shoulders, triceps, abdominals
  • Progression: 
    • Elevate your feet on a chair
    • Place your hands on surfaces that have different elevations
    • Use only one hand
  • Regression:
    • Perform on your knees
    • Perform on your knees with your hands on an elevated platform
    • Stand and perform with your hands on an elevated platform


  • Movement Instructions: Start by standing underneath an elevated bar (monkey bars, pull-up bar for doorframe, etc…). Grab the bar with your hands with your palms facing away from you, keeping your hands a little wider than the width of your shoulders. Pull your body up until your eyes are level with the bar, with your knees bent, and then with control lower your body back to the starting position, keeping your knees bent and off the ground. Repeat.
  • Muscles Worked: Back (latissimus dorsi, trapezius, etc…), biceps, shoulders
  • Progression: 
    • Hold your body at the top of the movement
    • Perform a lateral movement at the top of the movement
    • Use one arm (use your other arm to grip your wrist)
  • Regression:
    • Put your feet on a chair or elevated platform
    • Do an inverted pull-up

Body Squats

  • Movement Instructions: Start in a standing position, with your legs a little more than shoulder-width apart. Bend your knees until they are about 90 degrees, keeping your back straight, with your arms by your side. Stand up and return to the starting position. Repeat.
  • Muscles Worked: Legs, Quadriceps, hamstrings, glutes, calves
  • Progression: 
    • Perform the movement on an uneven or unstable surface
    • Use only one leg
  • Regression:
    • Hold onto a chair or elevated surface while performing the movement

Leg Lifts

  • Movement Instructions: Start in a supine position with your back and legs on the ground. With your arms at your sides, raise your legs off the ground while keeping your legs as straight as possible. Repeat.
  • Muscles Worked: Core, Abdominimal muscles
  • Progression: 
    • Raise your chest off the ground and hold it while performing the movement
    • Hold your legs for 1-3 seconds at the bottom of the movement
  • Regression:
    • Place your hands under your bottom while performing the movement
    • Bend your knees through the movement

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