How to Build Muscle with Bodyweight Exercises

Contrary to what many people believe, you don’t need to put your fitness goals on hold just because you can’t make it to the gym.


Your body is all you need to develop strength and build muscle. If you have access to pull up bars and dip bars in a park, or at home, that’s a bonus, but not a necessity.


In this article, we’ll discuss how you can challenge yourself with bodyweight exercises to build muscle.


We’ll list some of the best muscle building bodyweight exercises, but more importantly, how to use them to progress towards your fitness goals.


But first, let’s take a quick look at some of the benefits of bodyweight exercises over lifting weights at the gym.


Sportswoman in a starting position, ready to run


Benefits of bodyweight exercises to build muscles


While one is not necessarily better than the other, bodyweight exercises do have certain advantages over conventional gym workouts.


Less stress on the joints – You get the best of both worlds. You can still challenge your muscles to grow bigger and get stronger, but without putting too much stress on the joints, which will lower your risk of injury.


Better movement – When you learn to move your body correctly in a coordinated way, you’ll improve your stability. You’ll also increase functional strength, which translates better to athletic movements and everyday activities.


Develop “fast-twitch” muscle fibers – Movements like jumping and sprinting help you develop and maintain “fast-twitch” muscle fibers, which are an indicator of athleticism. Fast-twitch fibers tend to decline as we age.


Anytime, anywhere - Latest fitness statistics reveal that people are working out from home more than ever before, and bodyweight workouts are ideal for your garage, home office, or backyard. 


Best bodyweight exercises to build muscle


Here are some of the best bodyweight exercises that will help you build muscle.


Chances are, you’re already familiar with most of them. To get the most benefits out of these exercises, you must maintain proper form so you can target the right muscles during your workout.


If you aren’t sure about your form for any of these exercises, you will find plenty of high-quality tutorials on each of them with a quick search on YouTube.


Push-ups – Push-ups will help you develop a strong and chiseled chest. It will also recruit your triceps and shoulders, and help build core stability. You can also do advanced versions like diamond push-ups, wide push-ups, and more, to target your chest muscles differently.


Pull-ups / Body rows – Pull-ups will target your back muscles like no other. You will also work your biceps and core. You can buy a home pull-up bar online, or check and see if your local park has a pull-up bar. If you can’t access a bar, you can do bodyweight rows using the edge of a table.


Young athlete doing dips in an outdoor gym


Dips – Dips target your triceps and lower chest, as well as helping you build core stability. Again, look for a dip station in your neighborhood. If you can’t find one, you can use two sturdy chairs or the corner of an L-shaped kitchen counter. If you’re an advanced athlete, you can buy gymnastics rings and do ring-dips in your garage.


Athletic woman doing single leg split squat exercise with park equipment outdoors with high buildings in background.


Bulgarian split squats – Bulgarian split squats are one of the best exercises to develop lower body strength as well as core stability. It’s similar to a single-leg squat, but you place one leg behind you elevated off the ground. It targets your quads, hamstrings, glutes, and calves. Eventually, you may want to add resistance by holding a dumbbell or kettlebell.


Planks – Planks will help you develop a rock-solid core, which will allow you to do more reps of the muscle-building moves like pull-ups and push-ups. A strong core will also allow you to lift more weights and protect against injury when you do go back to the gym.


Step by step burpee instructions


Burpees – A burpee is a push-up, followed by a jump from the squat position. A burpee works almost your entire body, including your arms, chest, shoulders, legs, abs, hips, and glutes. Not to mention, it’s one of the best exercises for metabolic conditioning.


Yoga – Yoga is technically not a muscle-building exercise. But incorporating yoga into your routine once a week will improve your mobility, endurance, and range of motion, all of which will make a difference in your strength training.


How to build muscle with bodyweight workouts


Building muscle is about challenging your muscles to handle more load. So, the right bodyweight exercise routine to build muscle will depend on your current level of fitness.


Your goal should be to increase the number of pull-ups, push-ups, dips, etc. that you can do in one session. You want to increase the overall volume of reps that you’re doing each week, compared to the previous week.


So, if you can do 50 push-ups in one session right now, then shoot for 60 per session next week.


It might be helpful if you create a weekly schedule for yourself. For example, maybe you want to work your upper body a couple of times a week, and the other two days, you focus on your lower body and core. The rest of the days, you can go for a run, do yoga, or get rest.


Speaking of rest, make sure to take a day off each week to allow your body to recover adequately.


Bonus 15-minute burpee workout


If you’re in a hurry, but still want to get a workout in, try this 15-minute burpee workout to challenge your entire body, as well as your conditioning.


Do six burpees, every minute on the minute, for 15 minutes.


Set your timer for 15 minutes. When it starts, do six burpees. Then rest. When it gets to the 14-minute mark, do six more, and so on, till the timer reaches zero minutes. So, that’s 90 burpees total in 15 minutes.


If you’re like the vast, vast majority of people, this workout should leave you on the floor, gasping for air.


If it is too advanced for you, build your way up to it. Maybe start with two burpees, instead of 6, every minute, and then increase the number each week.


Whey protein shake


Refuel correctly to promote muscle growth


Training is only one essential aspect of muscle growth. The other one is nutrition.


When you perform strength training exercises, you temporarily break down muscle tissue, which stimulates the recovery process. When you refuel correctly with nutrients like protein, you support the recovery process, which is what ultimately results in muscle growth.


A smoothie with a lean whey protein powder like Naked Whey, which comes with 25 grams of protein and 5.9 grams of BCAAs, can be the ideal post-workout snack to promote recovery and increase lean muscle mass.


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