It’s a common misconception that you need to lift weights in order to build muscle.
For most people bodyweight exercises are an excellent place to start on your bodybuilding journey.
It is certainly possible to out grow bodyweight exercises as your strength improves but you rarely see many people really challenging themselves by just using their own bodyweight.
In order to build muscle you need to create overload and also add density.
So not only will you need to perform exercises that challenge you but also you will need to repeat them 3-5 times with only a 1 – 2 minute rest between sets.
Your starting point with all the following exercises will be dependent on your current level of strength and stability.
I will presume that you are proficient at the basics like regular bodyweight: Lunges, Squats and have good Core Strength. If not, I highly recommend that you master these fundamental movements first.
# 1 – Bulgarian Lunge
This variation of the Lunge is an excellent introduction into single leg strength training.
Start in a static lunge position and raise the rear foot on a step or box at approximately 6 – 12 inches off the floor.
From this position lunge down allowing your back knee to get as close to the floor as possible.
Keep your chest up throughout the full movement and ensure you temporarily straighten the front leg with each repetition.
If you suffer with tight hip flexors then you will feel a pulling on the back thigh as you drop down into the lunge. Try 8 – 12 on each side.
# 2 – One Hand Raised Push Ups
Once you have out grown the regular Push Up you can make it more demanding by raising one hand on a block or push up bar.
Once you raise the one hand you put more demands on the other side of the body, especially the chest and triceps.
It is VERY important that you keep your body flat and in line with the floor, in other words you will not be straightening the arm that is raised on the block.
I would recommend that you start with a block of 3 inches off the floor and as you get stronger you can work up to 12 inches.
Try 8 – 12 on each side.
# 3 – Inverted Bodyweight Row
This exercise is highly underused and will not only help build muscle on the back of your body but add muscle to your forearms too!
You will need a parallel bar to lie underneath in order to perform this exercise.
I have seen the exercise performed under sturdy tables too!
Keep your body tight, and palms pointing away as you row up to your sternum.
To increase the intensity you can raise your feet off the floor and onto a bench or Swiss Ball. Shoot for 8 – 12 slow and controlled repetitions.
# 4 – Pistol Squat
Also known as a Single Leg Squat.
You will need good single leg strength, mobility and stability in order to master this exercise.
Holding one leg out in front of you lower yourself down into a deep squat, pause at the bottom and then drive back up to the top keeping your weight back and on your heal.
If you find this movement too difficult practice dropping down into a chair and then driving back up.
Alternatively use a band, TRX or chair to help keep your balance.
Again 8 – 12 reps on each leg.
# 5 – Pull Ups and Chin Ups
One exercise that most people never grow out of.
Excellent for developing the back, as well as the biceps.
You will find Chin Ups, palms facing you, much easier as the biceps and overall flexion of the body helps the movement.
Pull Ups are tougher especially as your grip gets wider apart.
If you struggle to perform either of these variations then you can use a band under one foot to help with the movement or put one or both feet on a chair.
Shoot for 8 – 12 clean repetitions.
# 6 – Side Lunge
Another Single Leg exercise that can be very demanding if performed correctly.
Step out to the side and push the hips backwards and keep your weight on your heel.
Drop down so your thigh reaches at least parallel with the floor before driving back up into the top position.
Keep your chest up throughout the whole movement.
If you want to really challenge this movement you can raise the non moving leg onto a step or box. 8 – 12 reps each side.
# 7 – Rope Assisted Inverted Bodyweight Row
Single arm bodyweight rows are very demanding.
If you are not at this level yet but find regular bodyweight rows are not challenging enough for you then this variation will help.
Set up as for a regular inverted bodyweight row except hold with one hand a 6 inch strap or belt attached to the bar.
Keep your body level as you perform the exercises as usual.
You will not be able to totally straighten the one arm. Again aim for 8 – 12 repetition per arm.
# 8 – Rope Assisted Pull Ups and Chin Ups
This is a way to make your Pull Ups and Chin Ups even harder and to get you well on your way to performing a single Arm Pull Up or Chin Up.
Just like with the Inverted Rows above you can use a 6 inch rope or strap to hold with the one hand.
Using this method overloads the one side and makes the exercise so much more challenging.
Ultimate goal is 8 – 12 on each side.
# 9 – Double Lunge
You can seriously overload your quads and buttocks by performing this exercise.
Imagine that your one foot is stuck to the floor then lunge forwards and backwards without putting your foot down between movements.
The movement should be smooth with nice clean transition from one lunge to the next.
Once you have completed one side immediately move onto the other for a real treat!
1 repetition counts as forwards and backwards. Try 8 – 12 on each side.
Why I didn’t include the Handstand Push Up
I love handstands.
There is nothing better for developing shoulder stability than handstands!
In fact, find a stretch of grass and you will struggle to stop me from practicing my handstands and walking on my hands.
The handstand push up is different.
The idea of pushing yourself to complete close to maximum repetitions with the possibility of breaking your neck if your arms give way just isn’t something I would recommend.
By all means practice your handstands but be wary of using handstand push ups to develop muscle.
Using Plyometric Exercises for Pre-Fatigue
There are many great Plyometric or Jumping based exercises that you can use to pre-fatigue the movement pattern before performing some of the above.
Here are a few examples:
- 12 x Jumping Squats > 8 Pistol Squats
- 12 x Jumping Bulgarian Lunges > 8 Bulgarian Lunges
- 12 x Clap Push Ups > 12 Regular or 8 One Hand Raised Push Ups
I would not recommend that you use Pre-Fatiguing for every workout because it will really beat your body up but once every week or 10 days will produce a nice shock to your system.
I hope you enjoyed this post and it has enlivened your passion for including Bodyweight Exercises back into your program.
What bodyweight exercises do you use? Let me know more below: