No gym? No problem. One of the common misconceptions about bodybuilding and resistance training is that you absolutely need free weights, such as barbells and dumbbells, to build serious muscle. What most people fail to mention is that there’s one source of resistance that’s very close to us: our bodyweight. More commonly known as calisthenics, bodyweight training is one of the most practiced disciplines in resistance training we have today. Keep on reading to find out the ten best mass-building bodyweight exercises you should include in your workouts.
Benefits of bodyweight exercises
The benefits of bodyweight exercises range from logistics to added advantages for your body in general.
- Convenience – The paramount benefit of bodyweight exercises is that more often than not, you can do them anytime and anywhere. Whether you’re at your home gym or having a break in the office, most of these exercises will only need you and your body to perform.
- Mobility and stability – Lifting with free weights can significantly improve your strength and lead to serious muscle mass gains in a much shorter time than other methods. However, some of the movements are pretty rigid and can limit your mobility. Movement in bodyweight exercises helps increase your mobility and stability by activating muscles in new ways.
- Lower Injury Risk – One risk involved with intense overload associated with free weights is that it increases your injury risk. Bodyweight training utilizes your own body weight, which can be significantly less than the free weights you’d work with. Most movements also put much less stress on your joints, preventing nagging aches and pains.
Can be as effective as traditional weight training – Research has shown that muscle growth can occur independently of an external load, provided that muscle fibers undergo mechanotransduction, which is the cells’ physiological response to mechanical loads.
10 Best Bodyweight Exercises
The first exercise is one of the most challenging and killer bodyweight exercises in the pull-up. The pull-up is a physically demanding exercise that recruits multiple muscles in your body, from your back to your arms and your shoulders. Unsurprisingly, not many people can boast that they can perform a pull-up. When done correctly, the pull-up primarily works the lats, traps, and rhomboids in the back as well as the biceps in the arms. The only thing you’ll need to perform this movement is a pull-up bar, and there are many you can install right in your door frame.
How to perform a pull-up:
- Jump up and grab the bar with a slightly wider than shoulder-width overhand grip (palms facing away from you).
- Hang with your arms fully extended, and fold your legs at the knee if your feet are touching the ground.
- Make sure your shoulders are sitting down and back, then pull yourself up until your chin meets the bar.
- Lower yourself slowly to the starting position with arms fully extended.
Australian Pull-ups/Inverted Rows
Also known as body rows or inverted rows, the Australian pull-up is fantastic at training the upper back. If you find yourself unable to perform pull-ups, Australian pull-ups will be crucial to strengthening your muscles just for that.
How to perform an Australian pull-up:
- Find a bar that is about chest height.
- Grab it with a grip that’s slightly wider than shoulder-width and get under the bar.
- Extend your legs so that your upper body and legs are in a straight line with your chest perpendicular to your arms. Use your feet for support.
- Pull your scapula back to engage them. Also, engage your core and glutes to keep your body in a nice solid line.
- Pull yourself towards the bar until your chest meets it, and squeeze your shoulder blades at the top to really get the most out of the exercise.
- Slowly lower yourself back down in a controlled manner to the starting position.
The pushup is one of the fundamental bodyweight exercises for building upper body and core strength, recruiting muscles in the chest, shoulders, and triceps, most especially. But besides those muscles, this exercise practically engages your whole body, so you’re sure to get a bang for your buck.
How to perform a pushup:
- Lay flat facing the ground, positioning your hands slightly wider than your chest.
- Extend your legs back so that you keep your balance on your hands and toes.
- Engage your core and glutes so that your body is again in a straight line.
- Push yourself up off the floor until your arms are fully extended.
- Lower yourself back to the ground slowly.
The pike pushup is a variation of the pushup that is fantastic for working your shoulders and traps.
How to perform a pike pushup:
- Assume the same starting position as a regular pushup.
- Lift your hips so as to form an inverted V with hands and feet supporting you. Ensure that you are engaging your core and have your arms and legs fully extended.
- Bend at the elbows and lower your upper body until your head almost touches the ground.
- Push yourself back up until your arms are straight in the starting position.
Besides pushups, dips are also one of the most challenging bodyweight exercises out there. However, instead of pulling yourself up, you’re pushing your body weight up. You won’t necessarily be able to do dips anywhere because traditional dips will require parallel bars to perform.
How to perform a dip:
- Grab the parallel bars and jump up until your arms are fully extended, supporting your body.
- Tilt your chest forward to about a 45-degree angle and pull your shoulders down and back. You may also bend at the knees if you find the dip bar too low with your feet touching the floor.
- Lower yourself down until your upper arms are parallel to the ground before pushing back up to the starting position.
My favorite joke regarding planks is the one that goes, “want to slow down time? Do a plank.” All jokes aside, planks are great for strengthening your core. A good, stable core will do wonders for you in performing various other exercises.
How to perform a plank:
- Lay flat on your stomach on the ground, fully extending your entire body
- Slide your elbows directly under your shoulders with your forearms rested on the ground as well.
- Place your feet hip-width apart
- Lift your body off the ground by using your forearms and your toes as your main supports.
- Fully engage your core and your glutes to ensure your body is in a straight line while keeping your neck in a neutral position.
Spiderman Plank Crunch
Another variation of the plank is the spiderman plank crunch. This is a great exercise to add to your workout for some variety, and it also helps improve hip mobility, unlike in a static plank.
How to perform a spiderman plank crunch:
- Start in the conventional forearm plank position.
- Keeping your hips as level as possible, bend your left leg, bringing it out to touch your left elbow.
- Pause and bring your leg back to the starting position.
- Repeat on the other side, alternating legs until your reps are complete.
You didn’t think this list would be complete without leg exercises, now did you? Air squats are great for building lower body strength and improving your athleticism.
How to do an air squat:
- Stand with your feet hip-width apart with toes pointed slightly outward.
- Keep your pumped and out. Be sure to maintain this throughout the entire movement.
- Engage your core muscles before bending your legs at the knees as if to sit on a chair.
- Make sure that your weight is concentrated on your heels and that your knees do not extend beyond your toes.
- As you lower your butt, try to make it parallel to the ground before pushing back up. Try your best to prevent your knees from collapsing inward when standing back up.
- Straighten your legs and squeeze your butt on the way up.
Bulgarian Split Squats
Bulgarian split squats, also known as rear-foot elevated split squats, are one variation of the squats that primarily work the legs’ anterior chain of muscles, especially the quads. This movement is a single-leg, unilateral one that will require a lot of stability and engagement from the rest of your body as well.
How to perform a Bulgarian split squat:
- Stand about two feet in front of an elevated platform or bench that’s knee-high at maximum. Your feet should be hip-width apart.
- Place one foot on the elevated platform with the instep pressed firmly against it.
- Keep your chest up, shoulders down and back, and your eyes pointing forward.
- Squat down until your rear knee nearly touches the ground.
- Drive your front foot down to stand back up.
- Repeat on the other side for the desired reps.
Bulgarian split squats primarily work in the legs’ anterior chain, but the glute bridges work oppositely on the posterior chain. This exercise is exceptional for building that butt that you’ve always wanted.
How to perform a glute bridge:
- Lie flat on the ground on your back
- Bend your knees so that your feet lay flat on the ground
- Place your arms out with palms down for support
- Lift your hips off the ground, contracting your hamstrings and glutes so that your legs form a straight line with your back. Pause at the top.
- Slowly lower yourself back down.