There’s absolutely no reason why your home workout can’t be as good (potentially better) as anything you can do in a gym. In this article, I’ve put together a list of 19 beginner exercises to do at home.
These beginner exercises have been chosen deliberately and with two main criteria in mind…
- They can be done without a huge investment in a lot of complex equipment
- They’re progressive – basic enough to pick up quickly, with enough progression to last you throughout your fitness journey
In my 20 years as a personal trainer and gym owner, I’ve learned that even the most basic exercises can be tweaked and adjusted to make them more challenging. That means this list is beginner-friendly, certainly – but it’s also the solid base from which a lot of seriously challenging workouts can be built.
For each exercise, I’ll share:
- A technique image and a short video demonstration
- The muscles worked
- Progressions for the exercise
The list is ordered from the lower body and works its way up to the upper body.
There’s no need for a huge investment for these exercises, just some basic equipment to get you started such as:
- Weight bench
- Resistance bands
- Suspension trainer
- 4 Beginner exercises for legs
- 3 Beginner exercises for back pain
- Beginner exercises for abs
- 2 Beginner full-body exercises
- 2 Beginner exercises for arms
- 2 Beginner exercises for chest
- 3 Beginner exercises for back
- 2 Beginner exercises for shoulders
- Beginner exercises to do at home – the bottom line
4 Beginner exercises for legs
These are some of the best exercises for beginners to do at home.
There is little equipment required and the technique is simple enough for all of these movements.
1. Double kettlebell front squats
Initially, you may be thinking that a double kettlebell front squat sounds like an advanced exercise, so what is it doing in a ‘beginner exercises you can do at home’ list? I can justify – I promise!
First of all, it’s not a complex exercise.
Unlike the barbell front squat which requires a solid rack position, the kettlebell version is much easier to do. The front rack position with kettlebells doesn’t require much in the way of mobility or technique.
Double kettlebell front squats muscles worked
Additionally, the front squat is a way to increase upper body strength – the muscles of the upper and lower back, plus the shoulders are engaged throughout the front squat movement, so it offers more than just leg training benefits.
- Bodyweight squats- heels raised (on a squat wedge or weight plates)
- Bodyweight box squat
- Bodyweight squat
- Goblet squat
- Double kettlebell front squat
- Back barbell squat
- Zercher squat
- Barbell front squat
- Overhead squat
- Split squat
- Pistol squat
The back squat, overhead squat, and Zercher squat are just a few. This is a crucial movement pattern for anyone that wants to become fitter, lose weight or gain muscle.
Check out our front squat alternatives article for more variations.
If you’re still not convinced of the beauty that squats are, check out our article on benefits of squats.
2. Dumbbell box step ups
The dumbbell box step up is a fantastic functional leg exercise. It’s not a common exercise, but it’s utterly fantastic and really, really effective. It mimics a movement we do every day (walking upstairs or an incline) so translates into everyday movement really well.
It’s very simple to learn, doesn’t require much in the way of equipment, and offers a huge bang for your buck in terms of strength and fitness improvement in relation to effort and complexity.
Step-ups muscles worked
The dumbbell box step-up is perfect for legs, core and glute training. It can also be a really effective exercise for improving your cardio. Just lift light weights and do lots of step-ups!
- Bodyweight step-ups
- Explosive steps-ups
- Dumbbell step-ups
- Slow negative step-ups
- Goblet step-ups
- Lateral step-ups
- High box step-ups
- Barbell step-ups
- Single leg squats off the box
If you want more leg exercises you can find them in our hack squat alternative article.
A bodyweight lunge is another one of those simple but very effective exercises. You don’t need any equipment – you don’t even really need any space!
You just need to practice the technique and execute it well.
The beauty of lunges is they’re a unilateral exercise, so each side has to work hard – you can’t have your stronger leg do more of the work, so it helps to balance the strength between both sides.
This helps to prevent injuries.
Lunges muscles worked
Although lunges are primarily seen as a quad exercise, research shows how effectively they engage the glutes and hamstrings, making them an excellent overall leg exercise that is fantastic for knee and hip stability. They’re also great at training balance.
- Split squat
- Reverse lunge
- Lunge and push back to start position
- Walking lunge
- Bulgarian split squat
- Front foot elevated reverse lunge
- Forward to reverse lunge
- Plyometric lunges
You can progress each of these stages by adding weight, either with dumbbells, kettlebells, or a barbell and plates. Lunges are another simple but very effective exercise.
There are so many variations to lunges. You can find a lot more in our alternatives to lunges article.
4. Swiss ball hamstring curls
Outside professional athletics and bodybuilding, the hamstrings are one of the forgotten about muscles.
They’re not especially important for the vainer amongst us, and they’re not very exciting to train – you won’t win any bragging rights about what you can hamstring curl!
But they are super important to prevent injuries and helping your overall strength.
Hamstring curls muscles worked
Hamstring curls mainly target the hamstrings. This is the muscle group that is responsible for flexion at the knee. Think of them as your biceps for your legs!
They’re a really important muscle for knee stability and back health. When studied, the evidence shows that stiffer, stronger hamstrings help to increase knee stability and prevent injury.
Furthermore stiff, inactive hamstrings are linked to issues in the lumbar spine. Exercise helps to correct this, so by engaging the hamstrings in regular exercise you make them stronger and more active. As mentioned earlier in this article as well, instability has excellent neural training effects, increasing exercise effectiveness.
If you want more ideas to develop and strengthen your hamstrings – check out our article on hamstring exercises.
Hamstring curl progressions
- Standing leg curl
- Standing leg curl with resistance band
- Swiss ball hamstring curl
- TRX hamstring curl
- Nordic hamstring curl
- Single leg deadlift
- Stiff legged deadlift
If you’re looking to focus even more on your leg muscles, check out our leg curl alternative article for even more variations, or our specifically designed leg workout and dumbbell leg workout.
3 Beginner exercises for back pain
5. Glute bridges
It’s really only in the last decade or so that glute bridges have moved from the athletic world to the general population world.
They’ve been utilized by personal trainers and strength and conditioning coaches for years, but now the secret is out more and more people are using them in their training.
Glute bridge muscles worked
Glute bridges are an excellent exercise that helps to strengthen the lower back, the glutes, and the hamstrings – all important muscles that help to improve performance and reduce your risk of injury.
Glute bridge progressions
- Glute bridge
- Single leg glute bridge
- Glute bridge sliding one foot (use a plastic coaster on carpet)
- Glute bridge with feet on a bench
- Glute bridge with feet on an exercise ball
- Single leg glute bridge with foot on an exercise ball
- Weighted glute bridge (back on a bench, feet on the floor)
- Glute bridge ‘pulses’ – reduce the range of movement to keep the muscles under tension for longer
Glute bridges are an easy set up, don’t require much technique to be learned and finally, they’re easy to progress and regress, so can be used by people of all levels of fitness.
You can add weight to any of the progressions above to make it more challenging. Simply place a weight plate on your mid section.
Looking to level up your glutes? Check out our glute exercises trademark technique program.
6. Dorsal raises
Dorsal raises are a really simple way to train the back and the glutes.
They require very little in the way of technique and pretty much no equipment, so you can perform them anywhere and benefit straight away.
Dorsal raise muscles worked
The dorsal raise is an excellent way to train the erector muscles of the back, but they also strengthen the glutes. This has a couple of benefits…
- It makes you more injury resistant
- It benefits you athletically – strong glutes help with force development
Dorsal raise progressions
- Arms supported dorsal raise
- Arms by your side dorsal raise
- Dart- arms by your side but raising your arms parallel to the floor
- Dorsal raise (hands behind your head)
- Alternating sides dorsal raise
- Superman- raise your legs and upper body off the floor
- Dorsal raise on an exercise ball
- Glute Ham Developer (GHD) raise
- Adding weight – put a plate on your upper back and lift that too
Never confuse simple exercise with ineffective exercise. The dorsal raise is a simple exercise, but it’s also a very effective one. No need to make things complicated when the simple ones work just fine!
7. Kettlebell swing
The kettlebell swing is an excellent example of a class hinge movement.
The hinge is a movement where the upper and lower body work together, with the hips being the point at which the major movement is done.
Kettlebell swing muscles worked
In a kettlebell swing, you train the ‘posterior chain’ – the group of muscles that run up the back of the body. These muscles are responsible for power generation and force production. They also protect against back and hip issues.
Kettlebell swing progressions
- 2 handed kettlebell swing
- 1 handed kettlebell swing
- Kettlebell deadlift
- Kettlebell high pulls
- Kettlebell snatch
When you master the kettlebell swing, it leads you on to improve your deadlift form. It also improves your squat form and ultimately allows you to progress onto the most complex lifts of all… the Olympic lifts.
You can progress the above movements eventually with a barbell.
If you want some more similar exercises then check out our deadlift alternatives article or check out our lower body workout article, where the kettlebell swing is combined with 16 other exercises aimed at strengthening your lower muscles.
Beginner exercises for abs
The plank is up there with the most well-known of all the abdominal exercises – probably in part from all of the ‘30 day challenges’ you see on the internet that pop up nowadays! In all honesty, though, the plank remains a very useful and effective exercise.
Because the plank is a static (isometric) contraction and doesn’t require any spinal flexion or extension, it’s pretty back-safe. Even if you’ve had back issues in the past, a plank is often one of the exercises you can cope with.
Plank muscles worked
The plank targets your whole body. It mainly works major upper body muscle groups such as the trapezius, rhomboids, lats, pectorals, and deltoids. But it also works the core muscle groups of abs, hip flexors, lower back, hamstrings, and quads.
- Kneeling plank
- Kneeling side plank
- Side plank
- Decline plank
- Lift a foot off the floor (single leg plank)
- Arm and leg lift plank
- Arm and leg lift side plank
- Wall plank
- Plank on a Swiss ball or BOSU ball
- Thread the needle
There’s very little in terms of technique to learn and there’s a lot of scope for progression and regression, so it’s suitable for most. Even if you can only manage a 5-second plank at first, it’s a starting point!
2 Beginner full-body exercises
9. Dumbbell thrusters
Whilst the dumbbell thrusters have the potential to be an elite level exercise in terms of their effectiveness and energy requirements, they’re actually a couple of very simple movements combined into a single one.
They’re a squat into an overhead press, so they require good movement control as well as a level of strength and coordination. You can adjust the weights to make them easier for beginners.
Dumbbell thruster muscles worked
Dumbbell thrusters train pretty much every single muscle in the body. They work the glutes, hamstrings, quadriceps, shoulders, trapezius, triceps, and abdominals.
- Heavy dumbbell front squat
- Dumbbell overhead press
- Heavy Dumbbell push press (knees bend to provide momentum)
- Dumbbell thruster
- Barbell thruster
- Alternating dumbbell snatch
I personally use thrusters with my clients at higher rep ranges.
I think they’re a perfect exercise for HIIT workouts and general strength endurance workouts. The combination of full bodyweight training and high-intensity exercise is an absolute winner for a lot of people. It’s part of the reason thrusters are used so extensively in the CrossFit world.
Learn more about the benefits of HIIT here.
Burpees are loved and hated in equal measure! They’re not a typical ‘beginner’ exercise in that they’re physically quite demanding, but they’ve made this list because they’re not that technical, they’re really effective for conditioning and they can be done at home.
Burpees tick that box of ‘any time, any place’ exercises so are perfect for the home exerciser. All you need is a bit of space to get them done!
Burpees muscles worked
Burpees are a full body exercise. The main muscles worked are the glutes, quads, calves, abs, pectorals, triceps, and shoulders.
- Hands-on-a-chair burpees
- Burpees without a jump
- Burpees with a push up
- Burpees with a push up and tuck jump
- Burpees into pull ups
- Single leg burpees
Whilst burpees are perfectly sound as a bodyweight exercise, they can be tweaked to be made easier or harder really quickly. You can adjust technique, make them single-leg, add weights or even combine them with other exercises to make them generally tougher!
Want to focus on strengthening your quads? Be sure to check out our article on quad exercises.
2 Beginner exercises for arms
11. Dumbbell bicep curls
Curls are perhaps the most famous exercise of all – I bet if you asked a thousand people on the street to name 3 exercises, curls would certainly be one of the three. They tick a number of boxes – they’re easy to do, they give you bigger arms (who doesn’t want that?!) and they don’t need much equipment.
There are all kinds of variations of curls, but in this list of beginner exercises you can do at home we’re going to stick with the dumbbell curl. It’s unilateral (and anyone who has read a few of my articles knows how much I love that!) and can be performed anywhere.
Bicep curls muscles worked
Bicep curls target the biceps brachii, brachialis and brachioradialis at the front of your upper arm.
Bicep curl variations
- One arm at a time bicep curl
- Both arms at the same time bicep curls
- Concentration curl
- Bicep curl on a 30-degree angle bench
- Hammer curl
- Barbell curl
- EZ bar reverse curl
- High pulley cable curl
With unlimited upside (add more weight), adjustable tempo, sets, and rep ranges plus an easy technique, they’re an excellent exercise for people at all ends points on the fitness spectrum. They’re not just a vanity exercise either – they help to improve elbow health and function too.
This preacher curl alternatives article shows you more variations and progressions.
12. Bench dips
The reason I like any exercise that stretches the chest is that modern life sees many of us suffer from tight pectoral muscles and shoulders, mostly because we spend too much time sitting hunched over computers.
Anything to relieve that is a big benefit.
Tricep dips muscles worked
The bench dip is a super basic exercise that offers a couple of major benefits – it’s a good tricep exercise and it’s also a really effective way of stretching out your chest and shoulders.
Tricep dip progressions
- Bent knee bench dip
- Straight leg bench dip
- One leg elevated bench dip
- Elevated legs (on another bench or chair) bench dip
- Legs supported dips
- Jumping eccentric dips
- Legs forward dips
- Russian dips
- Weighted dips
The bench dip needs almost no equipment, barely any technique and can be done easily. All of those points make for a useful beginner exercise you can do at home.
If you want more dip variations then check out this alternative to dips article.
2 Beginner exercises for chest
13. Push ups
The humble push-up is a hugely under-appreciated exercise, which is a shame because it’s suitable for anyone and offers huge health and fitness benefits.
They require no equipment, can be done any time, any place, and can be made easier or harder to suit all fitness levels.
Push ups muscles worked
Push ups improve chest, shoulder, and tricep strength, they can be used to stretch the chest muscles (important for people who work at a desk or drive a lot) and help to build scapular (shoulder blade) stability.
Push ups progressions
If you struggle to do a full push up you can progress to them with wall push ups, box push ups, or ¾ push ups. But here’s how you can make them more challenging:
- Push up
- Elbows in push ups
- Diamond push ups
- Leaned forwards push ups
- Hand-elevated push ups
- Plyometric push ups
- One arm push ups
If you need any more progressions, you can use rings, handles, adjust your hand/foot position, etc. There are so many variations and it can even lead to handstand push ups if you’re interested in calisthenics.
If there’s one thing that’s certain, push up benefits will last you for life!
If you want to learn about the dumbell push up variation, check out our 7 tricep exercises with dumbbells, barbell and cables. If you want to focus more on your triceps, check out our 6 best dumbbell tricep exercises article.
14. Incline dumbbell bench press
The bench press is a common and very popular exercise.
But in my opinion, the incline dumbbell bench press is the best version. The incline offers a little more protection to the shoulders and the dumbbells make it unilateral, training both sides effectively.
A bench press performed with dumbbells is especially effective at increasing the range of movement, helping the chest to stretch and the shoulders to open right up. This helps to prevent shoulder and neck issues.
Bench press muscles worked
The bench press is an excellent chest, shoulder and arm builder, so it’ll help you look great and show off your hard work! At an incline, the focus is more on the upper pectoral muscles.
As nice as it is to be fit and strong, it’s also pretty cool to look it as well!
Bench press progressions
- Push up
- Floor press
- Incline feet up bench press
- Incline alternating bench press
- Incline single arm bench press
- Super slow tempo bench press
If you want even more inspiration for your upper body muscles, check out our Mass in Minutes upper body workout.
3 Beginner exercises for back
15. TRX rows
The TRX row is the perfect back exercise to do at home. For a lot of people (especially beginners), a pull up or chin up is too advanced. They also need a pull up station to perform the movement.
TRX or suspension trainer can be used in a lot of places around the house (doors, anchors to studs in the wall or ceiling, stair banisters, etc.)
TRX rows muscles worked
The TRX row works the lats rhomboids, traps, shoulders, and core. It pretty much hits all the major muscles in the back.
There’s evidence that the unstable nature of this kind of exercise has additional benefits to the lifter as well. The neuromuscular element of the exercise improves the skill level of the athlete, helping them to lift with more control and increases muscle engagement.
TRX rows progressions
- Start in a more vertical/ upright position
- Overhand grip
- Underhand grip
- Add isometric holds at the top
- Elevate your feet to create a longer range of movement
- Wear a weight vest/ backpack
- One arm rows
- Slow down the tempo – use negatives in the movement
- Increase reps
A row movement can be adjusted easily to make the exercise easier or harder, so it’s suitable for all kinds of levels. It’s also an opportunity for both sides to work equally as well, so it works as a good overall back exercise.
If you want more variations of rows, then you can find more in this t-bar row alternative post.
16. Gorilla rows
The gorilla row is a dynamic and effective variation on row exercises. Again (recurring theme here) it’s a unilateral exercise, making each side work hard. In addition it’s an exercise that engages the core and lower back as well, making it more than ‘just’ a row.
The gorilla row doesn’t take much learning to do, so you can get started straight from the get-go. All you need is a pair of kettlebells and you can get straight to work, strengthening your back and improving your upper body conditioning.
Gorilla row muscles worked
The gorilla row works the middle and upper back, lats and shoulders while also improving core stability. They will also improve grip strength which is important for progressing your workouts.
Gorilla row progressions
- Dumbbell bent over row off a bench or squat rack spotter arms
- Gorilla rows
- Underhand bent over row
- T bar bent over row
- Barbell bent over row
- Single arm rows
The gorilla row is an excellent way to add new variety into your workouts as well. It’s a nice change from the usual row variations.
If you want more exercises to strengthen your back, check out our article on back exercises or our reverse pec deck alternatives.
17. Face pulls
This is the ultimate in shoulder rehab – any kind of exercise where there’s a retraction of the shoulder blade is fantastic at protecting the shoulder and preventing muscle imbalances around the joint.
A face pull is another really simple exercise – all you need is a band and an anchor point for it. The technique can be learned in a matter of seconds and it’s an exercise that will be a vital part of your fitness regime, whether you’re a complete beginner or a seasoned pro.
In terms of importance, this is a small exercise with a huge reward. Never underestimate the importance of face pulls! They’ll give you bulletproof shoulders.
Face pulls muscles worked
Face pulls mainly work the rear deltoids (shoulders), mid and lower traps, rhomboids, and the external rotators. These are some of the least worked muscles when people start working out. This is one of the main causes of injuries once you progress to using heavier weights for the bench press and overhead press.
Face pulls progressions
- Banded face pulls
- Cable face pulls
- Reverse flies
Don’t have the proper equipment for face pulls? Check out our article on face pull alternatives.
2 Beginner exercises for shoulders
18. Dumbbell overhead presses
An overhead press is both a functional and an aesthetic movement. It helps to build real strength in the shoulders, upper back, and core. It also adds a lot of muscle to the upper body so it looks great too.
Overhead press muscles worked
The overhead press works the deltoids (shoulders), triceps, trapezius, and pectorals. A standing overhead press also engages the abdominals and lower back.
Shoulders are the joints with the greatest range of movement in the entire body, so it’s important that you look after them. There is a lot of strong evidence showing that strength training helps joint health, so looking after your shoulders is vital.
Overhead press progressions
- Seated dumbbell overhead press
- Seated single arm overhead press
- Half kneeling dumbbell overhead press (one arm at a time)
- Kneeling dumbbell overhead press
- Standing dumbbell overhead press
- Standing barbell overhead press
- Super slow reps
- Drop sets – keep reducing the weight each time you reach fatigue until you can’t do any more
There are lots of athletic benefits from shoulder presses as well, because they help to improve overhead strength, pushing power and contribute to a good throwing action. It’s a complete win!
You can find more overhead press alternatives here.
19. Lat raises
Following on from my point earlier about shoulder training being important, the lat raise is another exercise that helps to maintain and improve shoulder health and function. It’s a very simple exercise that can be learned in a few seconds, yet helps shoulder health enormously.
There are lots of variations of the lat raises in terms of the movement pattern, range of movement etc, but the one in this video is the basic, simple version that everyone should start with before progressing onto more advanced versions of the exercise.
Lateral raise muscles worked
The lateral raise works the lateral (middle) anterior (front) and posterior (back) deltoid. It also engages the trapezius and serratus anterior (muscles under the armpit along the ribs).
Lat raise progressions
- Lateral raise
- Lateral raise and hold
- Single arm dumbbell front raise
- Cable lateral raise
- Seated rear delt row (with external rotation)
- ‘Lu Raises’
Like all exercises it can be made easier or harder by adjusting the weights used, the sets and reps you perform and the tempo you use.
Check out our lat exercises if you’re looking for more variety on strengthening your lats.
Beginner exercises to do at home – the bottom line
There’s no need to run before you can walk, so start by using these exercises in your training.
Every exercise in this list sticks to the original brief I mentioned at the start of the article in that they don’t need expensive equipment and they’re progressive. It doesn’t matter if you’re brand new to training or you’ve been doing it for years.
There’s a big focus on “unilateral” movements to make sure your body is developing at equal rates to avoid strength imbalances. This is crucial for progressing into other movements as you become more experienced.
If you’re unsure of what equipment you’ll need in your home gym for these exercises, take the time to look at the ultimate guide on how to build a home gym. We’ve spent countless hours researching and testing the equipment. We also explain the buying guide process so you can make an informed decision about what’s best for you!
If you need more convincing on why it pays off to be active and exercise regularly, be sure to check out our article on benefits of exercise.
Also, check out our popular 12 week beginner weight lifting routine to use many of these exercises in a more structured way.