If the nation has learned anything about fitness during the pandemic, it’s that bodyweight exercises deserve a place in even the most dedicated bodybuilding training plan. We’d wager that if you didn’t appreciate the untapped potential of a no-weights workout before March 2020, you almost certainly do now.
Not only are bodyweight exercises convenient – shunt the coffee table to one side and you’re good to go – but they’re proof that you can pack on size and strength without a gym membership (or a pricey home set-up). You don’t need a spotter to dial up the intensity, and you’ll recruit a vast variety of stabilizing muscles, making for a more effective workout.
As a HIIT protocol, bodyweight exercises reign supreme. In a study by Kennesaw State University, thrashing out a 20-minute CrossFit bodyweight AMRAP – consisting of five pull-ups, 10 push-ups, and 15 squats – provided a “greater training stimulus” than running on a treadmill at 85 percent of your maximal heart rate for the same time period.
There’s no getting around it: bodyweight exercises are the foundation solid gains are built on. But not all workouts are created equal, which is precisely why we’ve pulled together this handy guide. Along with 28 of the best bodyweight exercises, you’ll find a pair of kit-free circuits at the end, so you can get straight to it. Any time, any place.
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The Benefits of Bodyweight Exercises
In need of a little convincing before you ditch your dumbbells for bodyweight exercises? We get it. Here, Bobby Windebank, personal trainer at Sweat It, runs through the many benefits of adding weights-free training to your routine:
1. Bodyweight Exercises are Accessible
“Bodyweight training can be modified for whatever fitness level you are,” says Windebank. “Whether you’re starting at zero and trying to do one press-up or you’re a seasoned athlete, bodyweight exercises can be incredibly challenging and beneficial. Progressing the exercises is also very straightforward, so you can keep challenging yourself and building strength.”
2. Bodyweight Exercises Will Increase Your Mobility and Stability
“We were born to move, and mobility and stability are an essential part of the way we move and life in general,” Windebank explains. “Weightlifting can have many positive effects on your body, but it can also limit your mobility. The movements involved in bodyweight exercises can help to increase that mobility and challenge the body’s ‘stabilizers’ by using complete movements. This can in turn, lead to strength gains in the gym.”
3. Bodyweight Exercises are Brilliant for Developing Technique
“Bodyweight exercises are a great way to really hone your technique and form,” says Windebank. “Weightlifting can take a serious toll on your body and in particular, your joints. With bodyweight training, the stress on your joints is lower, so you’re less likely to pick up an injury that could hamper your long-term training.”
4. Bodyweight Exercises Can Be Quick and Easy
“These days, everybody is time-poor, so finding quick, effective workouts is essential,” Windebank explains. “Fortunately, bodyweight exercises don’t require a dedicated gym, so you can fit in a workout whenever you have some spare time, wherever you are. Bodyweight workouts also allow you to combine cardio and strength training, meaning you can smash that workout in the most efficient way.”
Can Bodyweight Exercises Build Muscle?
As a Men’s Health reader, we know what you’re thinking. Those impressive benefits are all well and good, but if you can’t grow bursting-through-your-t-shirt muscle, what’s the point? Hold fire before you head to the squat rack because when it comes to muscle hypertrophy (i.e. getting stacked) science has shown bodyweight exercises to be as effective as weights. Genuinely.
Muscle growth “can occur independent of an external load,” research published in Physiology & Behaviour concluded, so long as you perform bodyweight exercises through their full range of motion. And in a study by the University of Valencia, press-ups were found to be as effective as bench presses for building strength. So, when it comes to building muscle, there’s really no need to keep adding more weight to your barbell.
The Best Bodyweight Exercises for Building Muscle
Providing they’re performed with immaculate technique, bodyweight exercises can be just as effective as traditional weight training methods. But which moves make the best workout? In this list, we’ve pulled 28 of the most effective muscle-building bodyweight exercises together in a handy crib sheet, so you can get to work creating your own bodyweight workouts.
Contrary to the popular belief, you don’t always need added resistance for building muscle mass. If you’re just starting to workout, you’d be better off starting with bodyweight exercises. Your own bodyweight is enough to shape your muscles.
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Here are the 10 Best Bodyweight Exercises:
With the growing popularity of calisthenics, bodyweight exercises have become even more popular. Performing bodyweight exercises are way more convenient than using dumbbells and barbells. You can do the bodyweight workouts in the convenience of your homes.
Pushups are one of the first exercises people learn to perform for building muscle mass. This exercise helps with building size, strength, and definition in your chest. You can perform different variations like diamond, close-grip, wide-grip pushups to target your chest from different angles.
Pull-ups are the ultimate test of your upper body strength. If you are a beginner, it might be hard for you to perform bodyweight pull-ups. Ask someone for a spot or use an assisted pull-up machine until you build strength in your arms.
Squats are one of the most important exercises. It is a compound (multi-joint) exercise which targets multiple muscles. Squats help in building overall strength and will make you stronger at other exercises as well.
You can perform the dips on parallel bars if you have an access to them at the park near your home or at your gym. You could also use a chair at your home or a bench in a gym to perform the dips. Dips target your chest and triceps.
5. Walking Lunges
If you like going for walks, you might want to add walking lunges to your routine. Lunges target your lower body and will help in getting your legs in shape. You could also perform standing lunges if you plan on performing them indoors.
We are not limiting ourselves to upper body exercises and are taking an overall approach to bodyweight exercises. Your legs are the foundation of your body. Step-ups help in developing your quads, hamstrings, and glutes.
7. Donkey Kicks
Donkey kicks are the ultimate glute exercise. This exercise isn’t only for women, men can use some booty gains as well. Assume the starting position on all fours. Begin to lift your right leg, knee staying bent, foot staying flat, and hinging at the hip. Use your glute to press your foot directly toward the ceiling and squeeze at the top. Ensure your pelvis and working hip stay pointed toward the ground.
8. Calf Raises
Calves are one of the most stubborn muscle groups. You don’t need to use added resistance for developing your calves. Mimic the motion of a ballerina, stand on your toes, hold and squeeze your calves at the top of the movement for the best results.
9. Handstand Pushups
Broad shoulders are the epitome of a chiseled physique. Only a few other exercises target the shoulders like the handstand pushups. If you can’t perform a handstand pushup, use a wall for support or ask someone for a spot.
No physique can be deemed complete without a ripped midriff. Planks are the perfect exercise to target your core. A strong core can help you lift heavier weights as it stabilizes your body. Make sure you don’t let your crotch hang lower than your body or form a bridge while performing planks.
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