Best bodyweight exercises to build muscle

What is calisthenics?

To put it simply, it’s a group of exercises that are done with minimal equipment and include a range of pushing and pulling movements.

Why are bodyweight workouts good? Why do I do them?

What I like about bodyweight exercises is that they can be done from the comfort of your own home most of the time and can be done around a busy schedule. There may be some days where going to the gym just isn’t possible, so before skipping a workout and getting down about not being consistent, check out this article.
Here are the best bodyweight exercises to build muscle!

Push ups

If i am doing a chest day, with or without any weights, push ups will be a staple to that workout. They a great way to test your strength and an even better way to overload your chest.

There are several variations of push ups you can use to hit most parts of your upper body. The standard press up will hit the chest and shoulders well, whereas the close hand position push ups (closer than shoulder width) hit the triceps as good as most exercises.

Placing your hands in a diamond shape and doing a push up also engages your triceps, although this one is tricky and you may need to build up your strength first.

Personally I love one arm push ups as they seem to help me focus on my balance and driving force through my legs and back. This mind to muscle connection is useful for compound movements like deadlifts!

Dips

There are two main ways of performing dips, using a bench and using a dip station. For beginners, using a bench is easier as the ground is supporting your bodyweight so it is easier to focus on form.

On the other hand, dips using a dip station require you to support your own bodyweight as you lower yourself down. I’d advise trying bench dips first as they put less strain on the shoulders and require good strength and form to avoid injury. They target both your chest and triceps well so can be used in either workout.

Pull ups and Chin ups

Pull ups are a staple of your back development as they hit your lats perfectly. You’ll also build shoulder and arm strength in the process. Have you seen that classic v shape and want it? Then get on the bar and try some pull ups!

Chin ups are a great exercise that hit the biceps and brachialis (the muscle inbetween your biceps and triceps that makes your biceps look bigger).

You can perform both of these exercises with a static hold. This means doing only part of the full movement and holding in a place that puts challenge on the muscles. I tend to them at the end of the workout because they tire my muscles out without need too much range of motion and the need to focus on form, which can go out the window when you’re tired!

With that in mind, here’s a pull up bar review for you to check out.

Bodyweight squat

Squats strengthen your leg muscles as well as your glutes and lats. They are a compound movement so engage multiple muscle groups at once, so why wouldn’t you do them?

You could do these in the form of jump squats, which burn fat and improve mobility whilst building muscle and strength. If you’ve never done a squat before then they are good to start with! If you want to start more simple with a regular squat opposed to a jump squat then by all means do this.

Ensure you do controlled movements to start with to work on form (technique). Afterwards, you could focus on explosive movement to improve power and speed!

Six pack?

Almost everyone who starts training wants good set of abs! Someone once told me there’s no need to spend over 15 minutes isolating your ab training. This is because abs react best to short intense exercise and also that they are trained during many exercises, specifically those where you’re standing up straight. Keeping this in mind, I target my abs with a mixture of steady repetitions and explosive movements so I first stretch the muscles and then obtain a state of hypertrophy.

I begin my workout with russian twists. This exercise is done in a sitting position with legs raised off the ground and then you twist from side to side, reaching with your arm as far to the side as it takes to get a burning feeling! This exercise targets your obliques, which are span over the side of your rib cage to your waist.

Next I lie flat on my back and lift my legs up (whilst straight) to a 90 degree angle and then lower them again. If you are a beginner then try this with your hands pushing against the floor and if you are more experienced then do it with your hands off the ground (resting behind your neck or on your stomach). This exercise primarily targets your lower abdominals.

What area is left? It’s the upper abdominals, to do this I do the exericse commonly known as the crunch. However, in this case I hold my legs static in the air and only do the other half of the movement, which isolates the upper abdomen. This exercise can be good, however you must squeeze your muscles when you lift up and not just count reps, focus on a squeeze at the top and hold it if you like!

Remember that you can’t get abs by just isolating them in the ways I’ve just mentioned, these exercises help to shape your abs but do NOT burn fat in just that area. To get abs you need to eat a healthy and balanced diet as well as training.

I’ve listed some starter exercises above, however if you want something more then check out Athlean X’s ab workout here.

Conclusion

I’m not a frequent user of calisthenics but I do enjoy bodyweight exercises here and there to test how my strength is improving. If you are rushed for time then I’d recommend trying some of these exercises just to maintain a good level of fitness!

I often mention across all of my content, the importance of morning exercise, this fits well with a workout like the one I’ve mentioned here! If you don’t have time to go to the gym before the school run and work, then as soon as you get up, try a few of these exercises just to get your body up and give your brain something to focus on other than the stress of a busy day!

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14 thoughts on “Best bodyweight exercises to build muscle”

  1. I have tried both, bodyweight and weight workout. The results that I have got regarding full body control, endurance, mind control and strength, and muscle tonus with calisthenics have blown my mind away and ever since then I prefer it more than weight lifting. However, to keep things interesting I like to mix everything. Great post, and keep it coming. Ivan

    1. I like to do a mixture of the both too! As I mentioned above doing a bodyweight workout when rushed for time is effective! Even on rest days I’ll do some push ups and sit ups, active recovery is good recovery!

      1. That’s what I do too when I take a day off. The best way the kill the soreness is to do a few reps day after! I agree. I picked up some of your tips from the article about recovery and incorporated them into my routine. I like to do a morning stretching/yoga session and target the muscle group I’ve been working out the day before. A few bodyweight reps during the morning and the pain is gone, muscle is growing!

        1. That’s great to hear! You seem to have an effective routine! What else do you think makes a good morning routine?

  2. Hi Nick,

    Love your article, thanks for sharing.

    I have just recently started doing bodyweight exercises at home due to my schedule and the gym not being too close to me. In my opinion they are the best type of exercise because for me it hurts more.

    The only problem I have is motivation and accountability. I try to do the exercises every other night but sometimes I just leave it and watch tv or read a book because I get lazy.

    Do you have any advice on how to keep yourself motivated when it comes to exercising on your own?

    Thanks again and all the best,

    Tom

    1. I’m glad you asked this! I had the same problem. I solved it by going out of the house to do the exercise, whether that’s at the gym or jogging down the road. I did this until I got in a routine with it. It usually takes 20-30 days for your body to get into a routine so try leaving the house at first, then once you’re in your workout routine you may just get it done! Also music is so important! I listen to rock music, usually ACDC, when weightlifting or calisthenics and anything quick pace for running! Writing down my goals with my fitness also helps. I write small daily goals and find ticking them off satisfying! Finally, drinking lots of water can help energy levels to do things!

  3. Hey Nick,

    These are great tips but I have a couple questions, are all of these exercises also good for women? Of course we like to have a smaller waistline do you have any specific exercises that would give that result?
    Also I have bad knees is there a variation of a squat I can do that doesn’t cause so much pain?

    1. Yes of course! Waist slimming squats and hip thrusts are great, I see women doing them all the time! I have knee pain too so I do box squats. These help take the pressure off the knee and more effort has to be done by the hips, which is how it should be, try to focus on form!

  4. This is great information! Thanks for sharing it!
    I have a friend that just do body weight exercises and she is really ripped!
    I guess, this exercise is really for those that were doing weights already, i mean, you should be doing strength exercises already.
    For a beginner, do you think this is doable?

    1. Yes of course! I actually started by doing bodyweight training at home before any weightlifting. I couldn’t do many push ups so did them with my knees touching the ground, I did pull ups with a resistance band that helped me back up! Also to do dips I did them lower than usual, so as I lowered myself I would easily touch the floor, I don’t know how well this worked but I certainly felt it! To do squats I’d grab the closest or easiest thing to hold and squat with it in my hands, you’ll be surprised what can come in useful for training!

  5. Hello Nick,
    I enjoyed you article. I have very weak wrist so push ups are not really my thing, but instead I like doing plank exercises. They work great for strengthening my core and building endurance. You have mentioned several really good ideas. I’ve never heard of dips before, but the rest are very familiar to me and work great for assisting with building muscle.
    Do you know how I could strengthen my wrists? I appreciate you advice.
    Best wishes,
    Devara

    1. Hi Devara!
      I had weak wrists at first and one was worse because of a childhood injury! However, I did some research and found that “wrist curls” help strengthen your wrists. I’m sorry to say I haven’t got an article on here at the moment about strengthening your wrists, however here’s a link to help you out! https://www.wikihow.com/Strengthen-Your-Wrists

      Hope this works,
      Nick

      1. Great! Thanks for sharing this information. I will take a look at this link. It would certainly help if I could strengthen my wrist. It has been a big problem for me since I was diagnosed with Carpal Tunnel several years ago.
        In therapy, they had me do wrist curls with cans of soup. This helped me a lot then, but I stopped doing them when my wrist stopped hurting. I will have to get back to that, increasing the weight gradually.
        I appreciate you getting back to me so fast!
        Devara

        1. Painful! There are a few alternative options on that link if you don’t want to do wrist curls, just test them out and see which one works best for you! I hope they do!

          Nick

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