It has to be the most commonly asked question about bodyweight training:
“Can You Get Ripped With Bodyweight Exercises?”
Let’s face facts, the main reason that many of us go to the gym is to produce that awesome, muscular, athletic physique that other guys are jealous of and that the ladies swoon over.
Well, you know what I mean.
However, for a lot of you I’m guessing you don’t have that much time in your day to devote to exercise, or you simply don’t enjoy going to the gym. Perhaps a gym membership isn’t all that affordable for you, or then again maybe you just hate working out with weights.
Whatever your reason, I’m sure you want to know whether you can get ripped with bodyweight exercises alone, and that is what I aim to answer for you in today’s article.
The Traditional Way To Get Strong & Ripped
I guess when I first got into exercise, especially going to the gym, I learned what is considered to be “common knowledge”.
If you want to get massive and strong you stick with very heavy weights and low reps of what I like to refer to as the “Old School” exercises.
This doesn’t mean that these exercises are outdated or that “newer” exercises are better, to me it just meant that these are your bread and butter exercises to get big, and the main exercises people have been using for years.
They are the Squat, Deadlift, Bench Press, Military Press, and Bent-Over Row.
I can guarantee that if you want to work out with weights and you perform these exercises 3-4 times a week, make sure you progress by going a little heavier each week, if you eat a well-balanced, nutritious diet at a calorie surplus, you’ll get big.
We are typically told that if we want to gain size we should stick to performing 1-5 reps per set and go as heavy as possible.
If you’re looking to build muscle, then your sets should be in the 8-12 rep range, and for endurance you want to be doing 15+ reps per set.
You complete all 3 types of rep schemes on a weekly basis, varying your weights, in principle you should have a well-rounded physique that is strong, muscular and athletic.
The whole point to training with weights is to break down the muscle fibres during training, which literally shocks the muscles to grow back bigger and stronger (usually while you are resting).
However, a common misconception is that you’ll never get ripped from bodyweight exercises because they are far too easy to be effective in building muscle and getting ripped.
The Biggest Mistake That People Make With Bodyweight Exercises
If you’re looking to get ripped, whether via weights or bodyweight exercises then you have to achieve progressive overload.
This typically means that you are making the exercises you perform harder and that you’re doing more work over time.
We generally achieve this by adding extra weight to the bar week in, week out.
However, when it comes to bodyweight training, the general consensus is to do more reps.
But, we already know that performing sets of 15+ reps will work the endurance muscle fibres rather than the strength and hypertrophy fibres.
With that said, I don’t totally agree with this concept – I know from personal experience that when I was able to crank out 20-25 straight pull ups or 50+ perfect form push ups that I had an extremely lean and muscular (pretty much ripped) upper body.
Unfortunately, the same could not be said for my legs even when I was performing 100+ bodyweight squats per set, or 300-500 walking lunges non-stop.
Nevertheless, by adding more and more reps over time you will be working endurance, as opposed to building strength and muscle.
This will give you a very lean looking body, but you won’t be ripped.
As I’ve mentioned, progressive overload is about making the actual exercise harder and not simply adding more reps.
An example will the most well-known bodyweight exercise, the push up, is as follows:
- Push ups on your knees
- Standard push ups
- One foot on top of the other push ups
- Decline push ups
- Decline one foot on top of the other push ups
- One arm push ups
- One arm and one foot on top of the other push ups
- Decline one arm push ups
- Decline one arm and one foot on top of the other push ups
And to be honest the list goes on, as we start to play around with different hand, feet, etc. positions.
However, I can guarantee that anyone who can perform 10 decline one arm with one foot on top of the other push ups will have a ripped set of pecs, delts and triceps.
Why Do Gymnasts Look So Ripped?
The Olympics rolls around every 4 years and one of the most awe-inspiring sights for any guy looking to get strong and muscular is the physiques and the male gymnasts.
It doesn’t matter how long and hard you train in the gym or how big, muscular and tough you are, you can’t help but be impressed by the superb toned, muscular and ripped physiques of the gymnasts.
I remember reading an article on T-Nation a number of years ago (here it is) when they interviewed gymnastic coach, Christopher Sommer to get an insight into the training routines of the male gymnasts.
I’m sure I wasn’t the only one to be ever so slightly shocked at the fact that their training regimes consist of almost entirely bodyweight exercises.
I mean these guys have some of the most impressive guns I have ever seen and not once do they pick up a barbell or dumbbell and perform a curl.
Anyway, after further research into the training regimes of gymnasts I discovered that these use the same principles as any gym bro/meathead/gym junkie and build muscle through resistance training, time under tension, and volume (but all with their own bodyweight).
When you hear the term “resistance training” your mind automatically goes to weights. Basically you pushing or pulling against some type of resistance.
However, when we look at resistance training in the form of bodyweight workouts, and especially the type of workouts that gymnasts perform, then we use our body as resistance.
A great example of this is a bicep curl vs. underhand chin ups
What’s the maximum weight you can barbell bicep curl with perfect form?
I’m not sure about others, but when I get to about 40kg or above my form and technique start to go out the window after a few reps.
However, I can still perform slow, perfect form underhand chin ups (which still work from the elbow joint, thus working the biceps, and let’s not forget the lats as well) for a far higher number of reps (and yes I weigh far more than 40kg).
Time Under Tension
I discuss this in more detail below, but let’s just say I’m completely sold on using slow tempo bodyweight exercises to get ripped.
In fact, gone are the days where I crank out multiple reps of any bodyweight exercise.
Also, going back to our gymnast friends, a lot of the exercises they perform require long static holds, as they transition between exercises. This is especially true when a gymnast is performing on the rings.
I don’t know about you, but I am often hypnotised and dazzled by how long these guys hold an iron cross before moving onto the next exercise in their routine.
The amount of volume a gymnast goes through over days, weeks and months, especially leading up to competition is unbelievable.
Okay, I wouldn’t suggest the following for us mere mortals, but Olympic gymnasts will typically train for 7 to 8 hours a day.
Additionally, we are told that the best way to train a muscle is to train it 2-3 times a week and ensure you get adequate rest.
An Olympic gymnast will usually go through their entire repertoire of exercises every single day when training for competition.
As I say, I would never recommend this type of training for regular gym goers and people who enjoy exercise, but that is some serious volume.
Olympic Gymnast Bodyweight Workout
Slow Down & Take Your Time
The one thing about these gymnasts and bodyweight exercises in general that has been impressed upon me most is time under tension.
I cannot recall where I originally read this (I’m guessing a copy of Men’s Health during the early 2000s), but you need to keep a muscle under constant tension for a specific period of time to stimulate hypertrophy (for some reason I want to say 45 seconds, but don’t quote me on that).
I’m guessing this is why most muscle building workouts with weights are in the 8-12 rep range.
However, I cannot tell you how horrified I am whenever I see someone performing push ups (or half push ups as I like to call them) at a rapid rate of knots and cranking out 50 reps in about 30 seconds.
Firstly, these “half reps” are not incorporating the full range of motion of the exercise, so in my mind they’re pretty useless.
And secondly, this is nothing more than a cardiovascular workout, which may help to drop some body fat (although I doubt it) and probably won’t do a lot to stimulate muscle growth and get you ripped.
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I’m sure the 30-second 50-rep push ups will also leave your shoulder and elbow joints feeling sore after just a few days, but potentially not much else.
I have discovered that by actually slowing down the exercise and really taking your time (and not overly worrying about reps) you have a far greater chance of producing some great gains.
Personally, I now spend 60-70 seconds performing 10 push ups and will typically get 5 pull ups within the same time period.
I’m not resting or stopping the exercise, but simply going through the entire range of motion at a snail’s pace.
This continuous time under tension has produced some gains that I had never seen before with bodyweight exercises.
Can You Get Ripped With Bodyweight Exercises in Just 8 Minutes?
This is a bodyweight training program that the creator, Alain Gonzalez, claims will get you strong and muscular in just 8 minutes a day.
Pretty bold claims if you ask me, so I had to investigate further.
The Physique Zero program makes use of 70-second sets (time under tension) and the workouts can be performed in under 10 minutes.
Alain uses a method known as hypoxic environment training which helps to stimulate the strength, hypertrophy and endurance muscle fibers of the body simultaneously to stimulate growth.
I will admit I’m not a fan of Alain’s sales page and his marketing ploy to prey on those looking for “the easy way out” when it comes to exercising.
However, the information, the exercises, and the method of training (which is also backed by scientific evidence) is a winner as far as I’m concerned.
If you want to be ripped from bodyweight exercises then Alain has got you covered.
You can read my full review of the Physique Zero Program here.
Can You Get Ripped From Bodyweight Exercises? – The Verdict
You can get ripped from performing bodyweight exercises alone.
However, this will involve sticking to certain rep schemes and rather than adding more and more reps, you create progressive overload by making the exercises harder.
A prime example is the male gymnasts we are used to seeing on TV who solely use their bodyweight to exercise, but work on the principles of resistance, time under tension and volume.
And as I’ve mentioned the Physique Zero Program works on the exact same principles and helps you get strong, muscular and ripped from bodyweight training.