7 Bodyweight Exercises That Build Muscle

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Today I’d like to discuss bodyweight exercises that build muscle.

Many of us probably started out training with just bodyweight exercises, but as we got better and improved it only seemed natural to turn to lifting weights.

We assumed that weights would provide us with a greater challenge, more stimulus, and therefore it seemed “obvious” that this was the best way to build muscle.

Unfortunately, this may typically mean that bodyweight exercises would be banished into the background, perhaps never to be seen again.

However, this thought process saddens me, so I’d like to prove to you that you can actually build muscle through bodyweight exercises.

The General Rules to Building Muscle

As a general rule of thumb you should stick to a specific rep-scheme in order to abide by a certain training protocol.

In its most basic form this is as follows:A Muscular Man Tensing His Muscles and Laughing

  • Strength 1-5 reps
  • Muscle (Hypertrophy) 6-12 reps
  • Endurance 12+ reps

So, this means that if you are looking to build muscle then the exercises you are performing should typically be in the 6-12 rep range.

However, when performing certain bodyweight exercises it is fairly easy to progress far beyond these figures.

I would hazard a guess that the vast majority of people, even those very new to exercise, would be able to perform more than 12 reps of bodyweight squats in one set.

Okay, there are instances of people who may not be able to reach this initial goal, but that’s very few and far between.

Therefore, in terms of the basic bodyweight squat, once you are exceeding 12 reps in a set you have entered the realms of endurance training and have left muscle-building behind.

The way we overcome this with weight training is to add more weight to the bar, thus ensuring that our rep scheme remains within the muscle-building “range”.

This is known as progressive overload.

However, using this rep scheme you may not actually add weight until the 8th time you perform a certain exercise.

Here’s an example.

  • Workout 1 – Bench Press 225lbs for 6 reps
  • Workout 2 – Bench Press 225lbs for 7 reps
  • Workout 3 – Bench Press 225lbs for 8 reps
  • Workout 4 – Bench Press 225lbs for 9 reps
  • Workout 5 – Bench Press 225lbs for 10 reps
  • Workout 6 – Bench Press 225lbs for 11 reps
  • Workout 7 – Bench Press 225lbs for 12 reps
  • Workout 8 – Bench Press 245lbs for 6 reps

Admittedly, a very crude example, but hopefully you get my meaning.

The Bodyweight Training Rules (And 7 Exercises) to Build Muscle

I think one of the main reasons that many people turn to lifting weights and avoiding bodyweight exercises in order to build muscle is because they are unsure how to use progressive overload.A man and a woman performing one-handed push ups

I will say that I love training with both weights and with the weight of my own body weight, plus I typically hit all 3 training protocols (strength, hypertrophy, endurance) irrespective of what form of exercise I am using.

The basic movement patterns include, push and pull (horizontal and vertical), knee bend, hip hinge and twist and I strongly believe that you should include a lifting exercise and a bodyweight exercise for each of these movement patterns.

Additionally, I am an advocate of using the carry movement as well, e.g. farmer’s walk, goblet carry, overhead carry/walk, etc.

In fact, if you simply trained the above movement patterns, with both weights and your own bodyweight, ended each workout with a carry/walk, you’d be well on your way to producing a lean, strong, muscular and athletic body.

I’m going to give you the 7 major bodyweight exercises (as I see them), although I haven’t included a hip hinge or twisting move. This is because we are more concentrated on building muscle in this article, as opposed to there not being suitable exercises (of course there is).

The major bodyweight exercises that you will need to work on, especially if you’re looking to build muscle are:

  1. Squat
  2. Split squat or lunge
  3. Push up
  4. Handstand push up
  5. Pull up
  6. Inverted row
  7. Calf raise

How To Progress With The 7 Bodyweight Exercises

Okay, I’m going to throw the “cat amongst the pigeons” here, and say that you can perform higher than the standard 6-12 reps with bodyweight exercises and still build muscle.

Additionally, I often focus on slowing an exercise right down in order to increase time-under-tension, which is ideal when it comes to building muscle.

Furthermore, there are additional progressions that I’m not going to focus on today, and not forgetting muscle contractions (really squeezing the muscles worked), which all play a pivotal role in muscle development.

I’ll leave all of these factors for future articles.

Today, let’s just look at how you can progress through the 7 basic bodyweight exercises.

It’s also important to note that “bodyweight” doesn’t simply mean that you shouldn’t add resistance to any of these exercises.

In fact, you should and I actively encourage it once you find you are moving beyond your desired rep range. You can use weighted vests, a dip belt, medicine ball, sandbag, etc.

Squats

  • Standard bodyweight squat
  • Medicine ball goblet bodyweight squat
  • Weighted vest and medicine ball squat
  • One-leg squat
  • Variations of weighted one-leg squat

Split Squat

  • Standard bodyweight split squat
  • Walking lunges
  • Variations of weighted walking lunges
  • Bulgarian split squat
  • Variations of weighted Bulgarian split squat

Bodyweight Bulgarian Split Squat

 

Push Ups

  • Standard push up
  • Feet elevated push up
  • Extended range of motion (ROM) push ups (both feet and hands on a raised area and sinking as low as possible into the push up)
  • Feet higher than hands ROM push up
  • Variations of weighted standard push up
  • Variations of weighted feet elevated push up
  • Variations of weighted ROW feet elevated push up
  • (From here you can eventually move onto one-handed push ups)

Handstand Push Up

  • Wall-supported handstand push up with your body at 60 degree angle (from head to toe)
  • Wall-supported handstand push up with your body completely vertical (from head to toe)
  • Learn the “free-standing” (no wall assistance) Handstand Technique
  • Perform one rep
  • Keep adding reps until you get to your desired goal
  • Extended range of motion handstand push ups

RELATED====>Bodyweight Shoulder Workouts

Pull Ups

  • Assisted Pull Up
  • Standard Pull Up
  • Variations of weighted pull up
  • (Eventually one-handed pull ups)

Inverted Row

  • Incline inverted row (head higher than feet)
  • Horizontal inverted row (head and feet level)
  • Variations of weighted horizontal inverted row
  • (Eventually one-handed inverted row)

The Inverted Row Guide

 

Calf Raises

  • Calf raise with two legs
  • Tri-set calf raise with two legs (toes pointing inwards, then pointing outwards, then pointing straight ahead)
  • Variations of weighted tri-set calf raise
  • Single leg Calf raise
  • Tri-set single leg calf raise
  • Variations of weighted tri-set calf raise

RELATED====>Bodyweight Calf Exercises

How To Use The 7 Bodyweight Exercises

As I’ve mentioned, I much prefer training with a combination of weights and bodyweight.

However, I no longer strictly exercise to fit within a specific training protocol.

Don’t get me wrong, there are times that I wish to improve my strength, or to work on my endurance, and I will train accordingly.

Plus it is far better to have a specific training goal when you are exercising, which is why I have focused on building muscle in this article.

You could work this routine in a number of ways depending on how many days you have available to you.

The perfect number of days to use this type of routine would fall between four and six. My personal preference would be six days, but I exercise very regularly already anyway.

I would suggest using the routine for 4-6 weeks and then check your progress and make new goals.

Four-Day Split

  • Upper Body Day Vertical – Handstand Push Ups and pull ups
  • Lower Body Day – Squat, split squat and calf raises
  • Upper Body Day Horizontal – Push ups and inverted rows
  • Lower Body Day – As before

Five-Day SplitA man performing pull ups in a gym

Week 1

  • Upper Body Day Vertical – Handstand Push Ups and pull ups
  • Lower Body Day – Squat, split squat and calf raises
  • Upper Body Day Horizontal – Push ups and inverted rows
  • Lower Body Day – As before
  • Upper Body Day Mixed – One vertical and one horizontal exercise – one exercise should be a push and the other a pull

Week 2

  • Lower Body Day – Squat, split squat and calf raises
  • Upper Body Day Vertical – Handstand Push Ups and pull ups
  • Lower Body Day – Squat, split squat and calf raises
  • Upper Body Day Horizontal – Push ups and inverted rows
  • Lower Body Day – As before
  • Week 3 – 3 upper body days and 2 lower body days
  • Week 4 – 3 lower body days and 2 upper body days

Continue alternating week-to-week

Six-Day Split

Nice and simple here, just alternate between lower body and upper body, so 3 sessions of each per week.

Obviously one week you’ll be performing two sessions of horizontal push/pull and one session of vertical push/pull. Therefore, simply swap them round the following week, i.e. two sessions of vertical push/pull and one session of horizontal push/pull.

Sets

In terms of sets, let’s keep it nice and easy, and stick with the 4-6 theme that seems to be running through this bodyweight protocol.

I would suggest that the easier exercises, i.e. squat, push up, inverted row, calf raises, you can go up to 6 sets of each.

Whereas, the harder exercises, i.e. split squat, handstand push up, pull ups, stick with 4 sets of each.

Your progression will dramatically vary with certain exercises – at a guess you will whizz through the squat and push up variations, whereas anyone who can perform 12 free-standing handstand push ups deserves a medal (I’m guessing Olympic Gold).

RELATED====>Physique Zero Review – Can You Build Muscle & Strength in Just 8 Minutes?

Final Thoughts

So there you have my bodyweight exercises that build muscle.

There is actually a lot more to building muscle through bodyweight exercises, but these are the basics that you should learn to master and improve upon.

As I briefly touched on, there are a variety of ways in which to build muscle, typically by making these exercises harder through the speed at which you perform them, how much you contract the muscles, and you can even use a slighter higher rep range in some cases.

However, for now just concentrate on these 7 moves and their progressions.

Depending on your current strength and fitness levels these workouts may suffice as a full weekly training schedule.

But for some, you may wish to alternate between these and your other regular workouts on a weekly basis, or even add them onto the end of your current workout.

I leave the choice entirely up to you.

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