I think a lot of people are skeptical about bodyweight exercises. Can you really build muscle and a better physique using just your own body weight?
To answer that question, you need only look at some of the athletes that train using mostly bodyweight exercises. Gymnasts are among the strongest pound for pound athletes in the world. Few "strong" guys in the gym can rep out ring dips, muscle ups or handstand push ups.
Herschel Walker, the famous NFL Player, is known for his insane bodyweight workouts and claims to have never lifted weights in the traditional sense. His story is worth a read.
It appears that when it comes to building muscle, getting stronger and building a better body, those things can all be achieved with bodyweight training. It's just a matter of challenging your body and using more advanced bodyweight exercises as you progress.
Benefits of Bodyweight Training
To be clear, I'm not writing this to discourage resistance training. There are plenty of benefits unique to lifting weights, and it will always the the optimal way to put on pure size and raw strength.
But that doesn't mean it's the only way.
There are plenty of studies showing that bodyweight exercises and programs can:
- Improve strength and power
- Build Muscle
- Improve VO2 Max (aerobic power)
- Improve athleticism: agility, speed, endurance, etc.
More Muscle Activation
Bodyweight exercises generally activate more total muscle. This is because bodyweight movements are generally more functional, forcing the whole body to work as a single unit, vs. isolating body parts.
Think of a push up vs. a bench press. During a push up, you have to stabilize your core and upper body throughout the movement. During a bench press, your body is resting on a bench, taking away this element.
You can argue that a push up is a lot easier than a heavy bench press. However, as you use more challenging variations of push ups, you might find that this is not the case at all.
Improved Body Awareness
Forcing the body to work as a single unit with bodyweight exercises has been shown to improve kinesthetic sense, or your awareness of the position of your body through space. This is an important attribute to possess as an athlete. This is what is meant by bodyweight training being "functional."
Bodyweight Training for Strength and Power
Studies have shown that bodyweight exercises done in the form of plyometrics can improve lower body power at the same rate as other forms of training (like resistance training).
Plyometrics are explosive bodyweight exercises like depth jumps, explosive push ups and any other movement that uses the stretch shortening cycle.
The stretch shortening cycle means that a muscle is stretched and then immediately exerts force, as in when you jump, absorb your landing then immediately jump back up again.
Bodyweight Exercises that Build Muscle and Strength.
Taking all of this into consideration, I've got a list of bodyweight exercises that use zero equipment and can target the entire body effectively. You can incorporate these into your home workout routines.
Note: I am not a doctor, so check with your doctor before performing any type of exercise, including the ones listed here.
Bodyweight Back Exercises:
Hitting your back muscles with bodyweight exercises and no equipment can be a challenge. But it is certainly possible. Try these bodyweight back exercises out.
Slideboard Pushups: Chest and Back
Slideboard pushups force you to work your back and chest/triceps at the same time. One arm basically performs a straight arm pulldown, one of the best ways to target the lats. The other pushes the body back up. It's a challenging movement for sure.
Use a hand towel or a tshirt, anything that can slide on the floor.
Sliding Pulldowns: Bodyweight Back Exercise
Lay on a towel, extend your arms in front of you and "pull" your body forward. The movement mimics a lat pulldown. I raise my upper body to get a deep squeeze of the upper back.
Slideboard Pulldowns: Bodyweight back exercise
These are a little different than the last one. Again using two hand towels, extend your arms out in front of you. Pull your arms back towards the body, focusing on pulling through the elbows and getting a good deep squeeze of the upper back.
Bodyweight Chest, Triceps and Shoulders
Everyone knows how to do a push up. I'm not trying to give you copy and paste exercises that 100 other sites are repeating. That's too easy.
Try some of these out to mix things up.
Tempo Push ups
Changing the tempo of an exercise can change things dramatically. Doing slower reps forces the body to recruit more and more muscle as the muscle fibers fatigue. This can lead to additional muscle growth.
Try 2 seconds up and 2 seconds down for each rep and go to failure. You can introduce tempo reps into other bodyweight exercises as well to make them more challenging.
Table Skull Crushers: Triceps
Using a table, bench or any other stable object, you can perform relatively challenging triceps extensions that mimic the same movement pattern as skull crushers. The lower the table, the more difficult it will be.
Sphinx Push ups: Triceps
Sphinx push ups are a more challenging bodyweight triceps exercise. Start in the plank position on your forearms, then raise your body back up by extending the elbows.
Other Push up Variations That Can Build Muscle
Here's a video I made of 20 Push up variations you can incorporate into your workouts to build muscle and strength. You'll recognize a few that we've talked about already.
Bodyweight Leg Exercises
Studies have shown that using lower body plyometric exercises can result in strength and power gains at the same rate as using resistance training.
Perform plyometric exericses like jumping lunges and depth jumps before moving on to more traditional bodyweight squats and lunges.
Jumping lunges are an excellent lower body exercise. In this one movement, you can target the quads, hamstrings, hip flexors, glutes and calves.
Don't try to go too fast. Stay under control. Use your energy coming back into the ground to spring you back up into each rep.
Single Leg Squats
Unilateral (one leg) squats are challenging. There's an element of balance involved. In this example, I'm using a low bench to sit onto. When you feel comfortable enough, you can perform these unassisted.
Depth jumps are a relatively advanced lower body plyometric exercise. Only perform these if you're already comfortable with box jumps and have a decent base of strength. Raising the height of either or both boxes increases the intensity of the exercise.
Other Lower Body Bodyweight Exercises.
There are a lot of good lower body exercises to incorporate into your bodyweight home workouts. Here's a small list you can use for reference.
- Jump Squats
- Walking Lunges
- Reverse and lateral lunges
- Hip Bridges
Equipment that can Boost Your Bodyweight Workouts
There are a few, affordable pieces of equipment that can dramatically boost your bodyweight workouts and make them more productive.
BFR Bands and Resistance bands are two items that I'd recommend anyone have in their home bodyweight workout arsenal.
Blood Flow Restriction Bands (BFR)
BFR bands allow you to perform occlusion training. By using the bands on the upper arms or legs, you restrict blood flow into the working muscle.
When used with high rep bodyweight exercises, this limited blood and oxygen supply to the muscles will force the body to recruit more fast-twitch type II muscle fibers.
The result of this, according to research, is increased muscle mass and strength without using heavy weights.
Resistance bands offer incredible versatility to your home workouts. You can perform just about any gym exercise using nothing but your bodyweight and a set of resistance bands.
Check out my video below for 16 bodybuilding gym exercises done using resistance bands.
You can get really incredible results using nothing but your own body weight. The trick is in challenging the body using exercise variations mixed with some plyometric exercises, tempo reps and explosive movements.
I'd recommend checking out the push up variations video to get yourself some solid upper body exercises to do.
I'd also strongly encourage you to invest in some BFR Bands and resistance bands so you can be more versatile in your approach to building muscle and getting stronger with your own body weight.
I hope you found this useful. Feel free to leave a comment and let me know. As always, I hope this helps you somehow get a little bit closer to that best version of you.
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