If you want to know what are five of the best bodyweight exercises for building muscle and strength, then you want to read this article.
Most people think you need a lot of fancy equipment, complicated rep schemes, or endless exercise variations to build muscle, burn body fat, and increase strength.
That’s simply not true.
In fact, you don’t need a gym at all to help lose weight, get a great workout, and achieve a lean physique. You have everything you need with you at all times -- the human body.
Bodyweight exercises allow you to get in a phenomenal muscle-building, fat-shredding workout anytime, anywhere. Ahead, we’ve got five of our top bodyweight exercises for you to try next time you’re short on time but still need to crush a workout.
Before we get to discussing five of our favorite bodyweight exercises for building muscle and strength, let’s briefly recap the many benefits of bodyweight training.
5 Big Benefits of Bodyweight Training
Saves Time & Money
With bodyweight workouts, there’s no need to pay for a gym membership, get in your car, drive to the gym, change clothes, wait for a machine, shower, and then drive home. Bodyweight exercises allow you to save time and money. Your body is essentially a walking exercise machine.
You get to work out when you want to, how you want to, and whatever way you want to. You also don’t have to listen to the annoying teeny-bopper music that’s blaring on the speakers of most commercial gyms...unless that kind of music is your thing.
Bodyweight workouts also allow you to combine cardio and strength-training within the same workout (such as alternating sets 60 seconds of jumping jacks with sets of chin ups). This allows you to complete a high amount of work in less time, while at the same time creating a tremendous calorie burn.
Advanced progressions of bodyweight exercises, such as handstand push ups or front levels, require an immense amount of control and awareness of your body. Additionally, movements like pistol squats, jumping lunges, and skater jumps help improve balance as well as hip strength.
Balance is tremendously important if you want to remain strong, durable, and injury-free as you age.
Many people fear going to the gym due to a lack of understanding of how to perform conventional barbell exercises or for fear that they may be “too weak” to go train at a big-box gym.
The beauty of bodyweight training is that the exercises can be scaled to your ability and strength levels. Walking into a globo gym can be intimidating, especially if you haven’t really trained with barbells before.
At-home workouts with bodyweight exercises allow you to “work out the kinks” without having to feel self-conscious so that even if you mess up, the only one that knows is you!
Additionally, bodyweight exercises are incredibly scalable, meaning that if you aren’t strong enough to perform a certain progression of an exercise (say for instance a chin up), you can use a regression of the exercise (inverted row or jumping negatives) or an assistance (such as resistance band looped around the pull up bar).
On the flip side, bodyweight exercises can also be progressed to make the moves more challenging. For instance, the standard push up offers little challenge to people with a decent amount of training experience and strength, but that doesn’t mean you have to eliminate the push up entirely. You just need a harder progression, such as decline push ups, dive bomber push ups, or spiderman push ups.
We’ve all experiences sore, tight muscles and achy, inflexible joints following training sessions using heavy weights.
The beauty of bodyweight training is that it helps build strength and flexibility.
Performing bodyweight exercises through a full range of motion ensures your joints are moving freely as opposed to certain machine exercises where you’re locked into a fixed movement pattern. Bodyweight training supports healthy joints and improves flexibility, and there’s no better example of the flexibility-improving benefits of bodyweight training than yoga.
One of the biggest reasons people stop training is due to getting into a rut with their training program and losing motivation.
Bodyweight training allows you to inject some fun and creativity into your workouts. After all, there are only some many ways you can curl or press a dumbbell or barbell, but with calisthenics training, you’re only limited by your imagination.
Incorporating bodyweight exercises into your workout routine can help alleviate workout boredom and reignite your passion for training and fitness.
Top 5 Bodyweight Exercises
Nothing shows of upper body strength than repping out multiple sets of chin up and pull ups. The pullup hits every muscle of the body, including the shoulders, arms, and abdominals.
In addition to thoroughly working the back, the chin up also is one of the best exercises you can do to build bigger biceps. Ditch the curling in the squat rack and start working on your chinning strength. When you can do 4-5 sets of 10 reps of chin-ups with clean form, then we can talk about doing 18 different variations of bicep curls.
If regular chin ups and pull ups are too challenging for you currently, you can perform inverted rows (a.k.a. horizontal pull-ups or Australian pull ups) or band-assisted chin up.
The pushing counterpart to the pulling power of the chin up is the dip. It’s commonly thought of as a tricep exercise but easily qualifies as one of the best bodyweight exercises for hitting the chest and deltoids.
Another highly underrated aspect of the dip is that it helps develop true core strength. If you’ve never felt your chest working much during bench presses, give dips a try and see if that sparks new chest gains.
If you want to focus more on building your chest than your triceps, make sure to lean your upper body forward when performing the dip. This shifts more of the tension onto your pecs and less onto your triceps.
Handstand Push Up
No one is going to dispute the push up as one of the best bodyweight exercises of all time, but for most people, the standard push up loses its mass-building potential rather quickly once an individual starts to accrue a certain amount of strength.
Enter the handstand push up.
Handstand push ups are incredible for developing upper body pressing strength, particularly in the shoulders. And they also help strengthen your glutes and core.
The slight “drawback” to performing handstand push ups is not everyone has the balance, coordination, or core strength to achieve a handstand and then maintain the upside down upright posture while doing push ups.
Now, this doesn’t mean that you have to necessarily avoid performing handstand push ups, but you will need to perform a “training wheels” version of it until you build enough strength, balance, and coordination to pull freestanding handstand push ups.
Suitable regressions of the handstand pushup that you can use to build upper body strength include the pike push up and the wall-assisted handstand push up,
Bulgarian (Rear foot-elevated) Split Squat
Let’s face it, for all but the rank beginner, bodyweight squats offer little in the way of building bigger legs.
That’s where the Bulgarian (or rear-foot-elevated) split squat comes into play.
With the Bulgarian split squat, you’re essentially performing a one-legged squat that also works flexibility and mobilization of the hip flexor on the balance leg.
The Bulgarian split squat is also a great mass building exercise for those who suffer from low back or knee issues when performing barbell back squats. The reason for this is that the Bulgarian split squat allows you to keep your torso more upright, which reduces forward lean and stress on the low back. Plus, there’s also less stress on the hips, since the unique set up of the exercise allows for better rotation at the hip joint.
While bodyweight squats and lunges may be a cakewalk for most gym goers, jumping lunges are one bodyweight exercise that will humble even the strongest lifters at the gym.
Jumping lunges not only offer a great way to train all the muscles of the lower body, they also are a phenomenal alternative to steady-state cardio for exercising the cardiovascular system.
Strength, power, balance, stability, and coordination -- you get it all with the jumping lunge.
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