how to build muscle with bodyweight exercises
3805
10

How to Build Muscle with Bodyweight Exercises in 22 Days: Top Strategies for Training at Home

If you are looking to build muscle through the use of bodyweight exercises, this post is for you!

Maybe you have watched some crazy fitness videos of Frank Medrano or another amazing calisthenics influencer online. Or maybe you don’t have access to a gym and all you can use at home is the floor and a pull-up bar.

Whatever your reasons for wanting to bulk up with bodyweight moves, I’ve got you covered!

In this article, I will provide an overview of how you can build muscle using only bodyweight exercises. 

At the end of this article, I’ll describe some of the best bodyweight moves that can be used by beginners and advanced exercisers to achieve the bodies of their dreams.

You’ll also like:

3 Strategies to Bulk Up with Bodyweight Moves

Best tips to build muscle and strength with bodyweight exercises

When it comes to bodyweight exercises, you don’t have the luxury of simply increasing or decreasing weight in order to progress. 

Therefore, in order to progress with bodyweight exercise, you need to change the angle with regards to gravity, change the tempo of the movement, or change the stability of the apparatus in question.

Let’s take a look at how to incorporate these three strategies into a bodyweight exercise routine. 

Use Gravity

If you’re an engineer or physicist, you’re probably intimately familiar with the concept of torque. For everyone else, torque probably means very little.

Suffice it to say, torque is the reason why certain bodyweight movements become easier or harder when we modify our position with regard to gravity.

For example, a pushup can be made more difficult by placing your feet on a bench. Conversely, pushups can be made easier by placing your hands on a bench and keeping your feet on the floor.

There are similar ways to modify every bodyweight exercise in order to make them harder or easier with respect to gravity.

Use Tempo

Beyond changing your body position when performing bodyweight exercises, these movements can be similarly modified by using different tempos.

Case in point, if you perform the “up phase” (concentric) of a pushup in three seconds, and the “down phase” (eccentric) of a pushup in 4 seconds, you can make the exercise much harder by increasing these time intervals. 

In the same way, you can modify* the pushup by decreasing the time in these movement intervals. (These concepts of eccentric and concentric movements will be further expounded upon below).

*I use “modify” here instead of “make easier” due to the fact that power and plyometric exercises can be quite difficult but have much less time under tension. Time Under Tension (TUT) is described below.

Time Under Tension

Time Under Tension is an important element of exercise progression. There are many ways to think about the concept of TUT, but very basically:

Time Under Tension is the period in which muscles are working during an exercise session. 

Maximizing TUT during a session will lead to more efficient exercise sessions and more significant progressions long-term.

Further complicating the concept of time under tension, are the three different types of exercises that can be utilized in a workout.

  1. Isotonic Exercise: The typical type of exercise which most people picture is technically known as isotonic exercise. Isotonic exercises are those that have an alternating eccentric and concentric movement involved. A typical pushup where you push up slowly, then slowly lower down and repeat the process for your desired number of reps illustrates this type of exercise nicely.
  2. Isometric Exercise: Isometric exercises can be thought of as “holds”. These movements are great for building strength within a certain range of motion and are an excellent addition to a bodyweight exercise program. Isometric pushups may involve you holding the lowest portion of the pushup movement for 10 seconds before returning to the top position.
  3. Isokinetic Exercise: This type of exercise involves controlling the speed of a movement by increasing and decreasing the resistance at certain points throughout the range of motion. It can be helpful for athletes and others but is difficult to implement without sophisticated equipment. Therefore, we will not spend too much time on this concept. You can read more about isokinetic exercise here.

Use Unstable Surfaces

There are a few other methods that can help to progress advanced calisthenics movements. However, for the purpose of this article, the last modification strategy I would like to highlight is the use of surfaces with varying levels of stability.

Performing pushups on the ground is a very safe way to increase strength and endurance in the involved muscles. 

On the other hand, pushups on the ground require very little in terms of accessory muscle stabilization. Therefore, decreasing the stability of a surface can lead to higher muscle activity in the stabilizer muscles during a movement.

For instance, performing pushups on gymnastics rings will force you to use many more muscles than are recruited during a standard pushup on the ground.

7 Bodyweight Exercises for Bigger Muscles

Bodyweight exercises to build muscle and strength

Now that we’ve reviewed some of the basic concepts surrounding bodyweight exercise, let’s take a look at a great bodyweight exercise program. These 7 moves can be incorporated into any training routine and can be easily modified for beginner, intermediate, and advanced exercisers. 

I recommend performing this routine 2-4 times a week, attempting to get about 48 hours of rest between sessions at a minimum. Exercises should be performed to fatigue every session. For our purposes, this means that you begin to lose form on the last rep of each set. 

Fatigue should hopefully set in between reps 10-15 of each set. If you are fatiguing before or after this rep range, I recommend you modify the exercise through the use of one of the three methods outlined in the previous section to make it harder or easier. 

1. Pushups

Pushups - build muscle with bodyweight exercises

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: pushups are one of the best, most essential exercises in existence. They can be modified in tons of different ways and are the perfect complement to any exercise routine.

Target Muscles: Pecs, various shoulder muscles, triceps, various stabilizer muscles throughout the core.

Parameters

Perform 3-5 sets of 10-15 repetitions per session, aiming for fatigue within this rep range. Rest for 30-60 seconds between sets and exercises.

How to Perform

  • Start with your hands and toes on the ground with your hands about shoulder-width apart, and your feet about hip-width apart.
  • Slowly lower yourself down toward the ground with the goal of lightly touching your chest to the floor.
  • Once you’ve reached the bottom of the rep, push yourself back up into the starting position and repeat until you’ve completed the desired number of reps.
  • Ensure that you maintain a flat back and tight core throughout the entirety of the exercise.

2. Pullups

Pullups

Pullups are generally considered a very hard movement to master. After all, you’re pulling the entirety of your bodyweight off of the ground using only a few muscles, so it should be hard! But once you get the hang of this exercise, it is phenomenal for strength building and athletic performance.

Target Muscles: Biceps; lats; various back, shoulder, and core muscles.

Parameters

Perform 3-5 sets of 10-15 repetitions per session, aiming for fatigue within this rep range. Rest for 30-60 seconds between sets and exercises.

How to Perform

  • Grasp the bar (or any safe surface from which you can hang) with both hands.
  • Keeping your back and shoulders stable, slowly pull yourself upward until your chin is above the bar.
  • Once you’ve reached the top of the movement, slowly lower yourself back down to the starting position and repeat for the desired number of repetitions for the set.
  • Use whichever hand position is most comfortable for you: overhand, underhand, or mixed when starting out. Each of these positions brings unique benefits.

3. Squats

Squats - bodyweight exercise

By all accounts, humans have been squatting for thousands of years. We use this movement to pick up objects from the ground and for many other purposes. 

Squatting has gotten a bad reputation in recent years as being “bad for the joints,” however, this is misguided information. Squats are an excellent exercise (when done correctly) and can be modified to fit the needs of almost any exerciser.

Target Muscles: Triple extensors (glutes, quads, calves), core muscles (for stability)

Parameters

Perform 3-5 sets of 10-15 repetitions per session, aiming for fatigue within this rep range. Rest for 30-60 seconds between sets and exercises.

How to Perform

  • With both feet flat on the ground and roughly hip-width apart, ensure that your toes are pointed forward or slightly turned outward.
  • Keeping your back from bending, slowly lower yourself down toward the ground, allowing your knees to bend (as if you are going to sit in a chair).
  • Once you’ve reached the bottom of your range of motion, stand back upward and repeat this alternating motion for the duration of the exercise.

4. Prone Snow Angels

Prone Snow Angels
Image Credit: Workoutlabs.com

Many of the exercises in this list emphasize some of the major muscles in the body. This exercise focuses on some of the more neglected, minor muscles of the back and shoulders. It is a great movement to increase shoulder mobility and stability.

Target Muscles: Low traps, mid traps, various rotator cuff and shoulder muscles, rhomboids

Parameters

Perform 3-5 sets of 10-15 repetitions per session, aiming for fatigue within this rep range. Rest for 30-60 seconds between sets and exercises.

How to Perform

  • Lying on your stomach, extend your arms down next to your pockets.
  • Lift both hands slightly toward the ceiling and then make an arcing motion above your head, as if you are making a snow angel.
  • Without lowering your arms, reverse the arcing motion and repeat this alternating “snow angel” pattern for the desired number of repetitions.

5. Isometric Lunges

Isometric Lunges

Lunges are a fantastic lower body strengthening exercise, but they differ from other exercises in that they also help to increase balance. 

Furthermore, lunges emphasize single-leg strength and stability, leading to fewer asymmetries across the lower body and a lower chance of falling or developing balance issues later in life.

Target Muscles: Triple extensors (glutes, quads, calves), various stabilizers throughout the body

Parameters

Perform 3-5 sets of 10-15 repetitions per session, aiming for fatigue within this rep range. Rest for 30-60 seconds between sets and exercises.

How to Perform

  • Place your right leg a few feet in front of your left.
  • Slowly lower your left knee down towards the ground by bending your right knee.
  • With your left knee hovering slightly above the ground, hold this position for 15 seconds before standing back up.
  • Repeat for the desired number of reps and then switch to the left leg.

6. Plyometric Incline Pushups

Especially for athletes, incorporating some plyometric movements is essential. Plyometrics exercises are those in which the exerciser “explodes” through the concentric phase of the movement such as happens when you jump off of the ground.

Target Muscles: Pecs, triceps, various shoulder and core muscles throughout the body.

Parameters

Perform 3-5 sets of 10-15 repetitions per session, aiming for fatigue within this rep range. Rest for 30-60 seconds between sets and exercises.

How to Perform

  • Perform a standard pushup as described in exercise 1, described above with the exception of having your hands on a slightly inclined surface.
  • During the concentric phase of the pushup, instead of moving slowly, you’ll want to aim to push yourself up hard enough that your hands leave the surface upon which you are supported.
  • Catch yourself by bending your elbows and allowing your muscles to slowly lower you back down to the starting position before completing the next repetition.

8. Bodyweight Rows

Much like pullups, bodyweight rows are often considered a very difficult exercise. This movement requires tons of shoulder and core stability. It will challenge you in many ways and there are various ways to progress the exercise as needed.

Target Muscles: Lats, rhomboids, biceps, various shoulder and core muscles for stability.

Parameters

Perform 3-5 sets of 10-15 repetitions per session, aiming for fatigue within this rep range. Rest for 30-60 seconds between sets and exercises.

How to Perform

  • Adjust your pullup bar, or select a spot where you can grasp the bar with both hands while lying on your back.
  • Pull yourself upward, aiming to contact your chest to the bar.
  • Slowly lower yourself back down to the starting position, hovering just a bit above the floor to maintain tension.
  • Repeat for the desired number of repetitions.

Summary

The above workout is a great way for anyone to get a killer exercise session at home with very little equipment. 

While some people are skeptical that bodyweight exercises can lead to significant strength gains, this is far from the truth. As long as you are adhering to tried and true principles related to exercise progression, you’ll see gains just like you would in the gym. 

Give these exercises a try and see what you think!

References

  1. Fujisawa, H., Suzuki, H., Murakami, K., Kawakami, S., & Suzuki, M. (2016). The role of interaction torque and muscle torque in the control of downward squatting. Journal of physical therapy science28(2), 613–620. https://doi.org/10.1589/jpts.28.613
  2. Wilk, M., Golas, A., Stastny, P., Nawrocka, M., Krzysztofik, M., & Zajac, A. (2018). Does Tempo of Resistance Exercise Impact Training Volume?. Journal of human kinetics62, 241–250. https://doi.org/10.2478/hukin-2018-0034
  3. Kim, M. K., Choi, J. H., Gim, M. A., Kim, Y. H., & Yoo, K. T. (2015). Effects of different types of exercise on muscle activity and balance control. Journal of physical therapy science27(6), 1875–1881. https://doi.org/10.1589/jpts.27.1875
  4. Ratamess, N. A., Beller, N. A., Gonzalez, A. M., Spatz, G. E., Hoffman, J. R., Ross, R. E., Faigenbaum, A. D., & Kang, J. (2016). The Effects of Multiple-Joint Isokinetic Resistance Training on Maximal Isokinetic and Dynamic Muscle Strength and Local Muscular Endurance. Journal of sports science & medicine15(1), 34–40.

About the Author

Similar Posts