3 Muscle Building Body Weight Workouts for Every Experience Level
Adding muscle and strength is a weighty endeavor (pun intended). Toiling away in the gym and utilizing an array of tools comes to mind when you want to pack on muscle mass. Barbells, dumbbells, cable machines and some selectorized pieces of equipment are just a few things most gym-goers migrate to when wanting to build an impressive physique.
But what if you are one among the growing numbers of individuals who are turning to bodyweight training? You enjoy manipulating your bodyweight and developing true, full-body strength. But the nagging question in the back of your mind continues to be: Can I really build a significant amount of muscle by performing a bodyweight training program?
The short answer is yes. Of course a few factors must be considered in order to make your bodyweight training work to your advantage when it comes to building muscle. For example, you will have to be more creative than simply performing floor push-ups to build an impressive chest.
What is true bodyweight training?
First, let’s answer the question of what constitutes a true bodyweight training program. By all intents and purposes bodyweight training involves manipulating your own bodyweight to provide resistance to reach your specific goal(s). Said goals may include increasing strength, muscle mass, power, muscular endurance, lower body fat levels or a combination of all.
The key is the absence of any outside resistance devices or tools to help add weight. This brings to mind exercises such as push-ups, pull-ups, dips, sit-ups, leg lifts, inverted rows, bodyweight squats, lunges and jumps among others.
So, where does this leave other “forms” of bodyweight training that can involve suspension trainers, resistance bands and other pieces of equipment that don’t involve directly added weight?
Levels of bodyweight training
I like to propose different levels of bodyweight training based on personal goals, equipment availability and skill level.
Level 1: This level includes the bare bones basics of bodyweight training. Little-to-no equipment and space required, level one is training that can be performed almost anywhere and is ideal for at-home trainers who are just beginning and want to add a little muscle and strength on their frame.
It’s also a great starting line for progressing in the future. It’s important to master the basics before moving on to more challenging moves. These include push-ups, sit-ups, dips, pull-ups (if available), bodyweight squats, lunges and calf raises, jumps, planks and other variations.
Level 2: This level includes all that level one offers but it introduces a progressive factor. This means that you will manipulate angles and integrate unilateral (single-limb) versions to your existing battery of exercises. The purpose is to make what you are currently doing harder.
Some examples may include feet-elevated push-ups, pull-ups with varying grips, single-leg squats, front foot-elevated reverse lunges and more challenging ab exercises such as dragon flags and side planks.
Level 3: This level includes some minor pieces of equipment that can easily be installed in the home and found in most gyms. Chin-up bars, suspension trainers, stability balls, medicine balls and bands just to name a few will be utilized along with the progressions form level two.
You may perform feet-elevated push-ups with your hands on two medicine balls or perform inverted rows on a suspension trainer with your feet places on a stability ball.
Basic bodyweight training exercises
Here is a list of the basic bodyweight exercises. These will also serve as a base for all bodyweight training to come and to build upon. Later, you will see how to progress each exercise for more challenging workouts. This isn’t an exhaustive list but it’s designed to establish a base and get you started.
- Diamond push-up
- Inverted row
- Bench/parallel bar dip
- Lunge (front, reverse, lateral)
- Calf raise
- Leg lift
How to level up your bodyweight training
Later, you will have developed more strength and skill so you will need more of a challenge to keep building muscle and strength. Below are a few techniques to make your base of exercises even tougher.
Push-up and diamond push-up: Feet-elevated on bench, hands placed on one or two medicine balls, feet-elevated on stability ball, feet elevated in suspension trainer. Band placed over shoulders and back and held down by each hand, plyometric push-up, paused in bottom position, slow eccentric motion, 1 ½ reps (all the way down, half way up, all the way down and then all the way up)
Pull-up/chin-up: Reverse grip, alternated grip, wide grip, close grip, 1 ½ reps (half way up, all the way down, all the way up and then all the way down), dead-hang, pause at the top, reduced rest between sets, chest to bar, single-arm, lever position, side-to-side.
Inverted row: Feet elevated on bench, feet elevated on stability ball, 1 ½ reps, pause at the top, side-to-side, pull to stomach, pull to chest, reverse grip, wide grip, decline (feet above grip).
Bench dip: Feet elevated, 1 ½ reps, crossed ankles.
Parallel bar dip: 1 ½ reps, lever position, paused reps, band resistance around feet, suspension trainer dip.
Squat: Bulgarian split squat, pistol squat (on bench and floor), jump squat, box jump (front and lateral), depth jump.
Lunge: Reverse, lateral, walking, jump lunge, front foot elevated, lunge/squat combo.
Calf raise: Single leg, jump calf pulse, squat calf raise, jump rope, sprints, bounds, tibialis raise.
Sit-up/crunch: Incline sit-up board, 3-way sit-up/crunch, bicycle crunch, medicine ball hold, on stability ball.
Leg lift: Lying, hanging, bent-leg, straight leg, bicycle, lift and hold/pause, toe-to-bar touches.
Plank: Side plank, 3-way plank, push-up to plank position.
3 sample bodyweight workout programs
Below are 3 bodyweight training programs: beginner, intermediate and advanced. Whichever you decide, just be sure you are starting in accordance with your own experience and strength levels. Master one level before advancing to the next.
Perform each workout 2 or 3 times per week with at least one day of rest between each training session. Add and delete exercises and techniques as you see fit regarding the progression list above.
Perform the following dynamic warm-up prior to each session. 2 to 3 rounds of 10 reps each.
- Bodyweight squat
- Lateral lunge
Beginner bodyweight workout program
Perform the following as a circuit (moving from one exercise to the next without rest). Do 3 to 5 circuits of 10 to 15 reps each. For planks shoot for 20 to 30 second holds for each round.
- Floor push-ups
- Floor crunch
- Inverted row or reverse-grip pull-up
- Lying leg lift
- Bench or parallel bar dip
- Bodyweight squat
Intermediate bodyweight workout program
Perform the following as a circuit (moving from one exercise to the next without rest). Do 3 to 5 circuits of 10 to 15 reps each. For planks shoot for 15 to 20 second holds for each round.
- Feet-elevated push-up
- Incline board sit-up or crunch
- Wide-grip pull-up
- Hanging leg lift
- Parallel bar dip (1 ½ reps)
- 3-way plank
- Jump squat/bodyweight squat combo
- Reverse lunge
Advanced bodyweight workout program
Perform the following as a circuit (moving from one exercise to the next without rest). Do 3 to 5 circuits of 10 to 15 reps each. For planks shoot for 30 second holds each round.
- Feet-elevated push-up, hands on medicine balls
- Bicycle crunch
- Inverted row with feet on stability ball
- 3-way hanging leg raise
- Diamond push-up with feet on stability ball
- Rear-foot elevated Bulgarian split squat
- Close-grip chin-up
- Box depth jump
- Plank with feet in suspension trainer
- Bodyweight squats (1 ½ reps)