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The Body Weight Workout

The Bodyweight Workout: Best Bodyweight Exercises to Build Muscle at Home

When traveling, you may find yourself without access to a gym. Or maybe you’re just starting out on your fitness journey. If you haven’t yet decided whether you’re a gym person or a ‘workout’ at home person, you might be looking for a way to get a good workout without access to equipment.

Keeping in mind that building any appreciable amount of muscle from bodyweight alone is nigh impossible if you need to get a great workout and fitness level, Rocky IV style, here’s how.

Benefits of Bodyweight Exercises

At-home bodyweight exercises are exercises that use your own body weight as resistance, rather than using external gym equipment such as weights or machines.

These exercises are a great way to help you build strength, muscle, and endurance. You can perform these strength training exercises anywhere and at any time. That’s why they are a convenient and accessible option for fitness enthusiasts.

Cost-effective: Bodyweight exercises don’t require any equipment, so they are a cost-effective option for people who don’t have the budget for gym memberships.

Convenient: Bodyweight exercises can be done anywhere, at any time. This makes them a convenient option for people who have busy schedules or who travel frequently.

Full-body workout: Bodyweight exercises work for multiple muscle groups at the same time allowing you to get a full-body workout in a relatively short amount of time.

Improve core strength: Bodyweight exercises help to keep your body core tight.

Versatile: There are a wide variety of bodyweight exercises that can be done, from simple exercises like planks, push-ups, and squats to more advanced exercises like handstands and muscle-ups.

Muscle Building with Bodyweight Exercises

There’s no question that maintaining muscle with nothing but bodyweight training is a challenge. But, it can be done. Building muscle with only body weight can be achieved as well, but it’s very difficult. So, if you have access to weights, that’s a better route to follow.

To maintain or grow with only bodyweight, you’ll need to do higher reps than you would do if you had access to weights – sometimes much higher reps!

But as long as you put your muscles under sufficient strain, you can stimulate enough growth to at least maintain your muscle mass.

To really understand the process of muscle growth, read our previous post on Muscle Building: Physiology 101.

An Effective Bodyweight Workout to Build Muscles

If you’re traveling, unless you’re working far out in the field or stuck in some place so small the city limits signs are both on the same post, you likely have access to a gym.

Most gyms will allow walk-ins or even weekly/monthly memberships at a reasonable price. This means that with a few concessions for different equipment you can get the same workout you get at home.

But what if you are trapped in Hillbilly Hell and the nearest gym is a two-hour drive away? Here’s how to get an intense full-body workout with body weight alone.


If you haven’t read Muscle Building: Physiology 101 we recommend you do so now. It’s important to understand the chemical processes that cause muscle growth.

By knowing this, you’ll also understand how to maximize results from resistance training. A maximum pump is essential, but you’ve only got body weight to do it with. This will likely mean higher reps – possibly running to triple digits.

The Best Bodyweight Exercises

Now that you know the benefits of bodyweight exercises, let’s discuss some of the best bodyweight workouts to build muscle mass and improve strength. You should also check out Body Weight Training 2.0: Calisthenics

Bodyweight Training Upper Body (Push-ups, Pull-ups, & Dips)


There’s a reason push-ups are a (literally) ancient standby. They work the chest, arms and legs, and shoulders as primary muscles, as well as training the core, buttocks, and upper thighs.

Push-ups to failure will exhaust these muscle groups and depending upon how many you can do can even give you sufficient pump to stimulate muscle strength and growth.

handstand pushups

Handstand Push-ups

Do a handstand against a wall, so your heels are touching the wall for balance. Then lower it until your forehead is almost touching the ground. Straighten your arms, return to the starting position, and repeat as many times as you can.

While this exercise is no substitute for shoulder presses (also called military presses) due to the reduced range of motion, you’ll be surprised by how strenuous it is. Muscles worked are shoulders and triceps.

While this guy is doing his handstand push-ups facing the wall, you might find it easier to face away. Place your hands on the floor about 40 cm from the wall, then kick up into a handstand.

Your heels will rest against the wall as you do push-ups using your shoulders.

tricep dips

Tricep Dips

If you have access to parallel bars (try the local playground) these can be done with an emphasis on the triceps and pecs. If you don’t even have access to a playground you can still do dips with a chair or even the edge of a bed.

Provided you have access to parallel bars, hold your feet off the ground and lower your body as far as you can before straightening your arms again.

Using a chair or other support, extend your legs out in front of your body, rest your hands on the chair and lower your butt toward the floor as far as you can.

pull up

Chin-Ups and Pull Ups

This is another one for the playground so if you don’t have access to some kind of bar, you won’t be able to do this one. Do not attempt to do this on a door frame! They door may tear free, which could result in possible injury because they are not built for that.

The only difference between chin-ups and pull-ups is the grip. For a chin-up, use a narrow grip (hands no more than shoulder width apart) with your palms facing you. Pull up, using a full range of motion. Lower to a fully extended position and repeat as many times as you can. Muscles worked are primarily biceps with some emphasis on the lats.

For a pull-up, note his hand position. Place hands wider than shoulder-width apart with palms facing away from you. This will work your lats and biceps.

For a pull-up, use a wide grip with palms facing away from you. This will primarily work your lats with a secondary emphasis on the biceps.

Both forms also have some benefits for back muscles, especially if you observe very good form and squeeze your back muscles at the top of each rep.

Body Weight Strength Training – Lower Body (Squats, Lunges, & Leg Curl)

Reps will really be key here. Your legs are typically much stronger than your upper body. They carry you around all day. This means to get a good pump you’ll need to be patient and prepared to rep until you lose count.

Although, as you’re about to see there are ways to make bodyweight squats harder.

The Simple Squat

I won’t bore you with a description. Everyone knows how to squat. You can do these as part of a bodyweight workout but as already mentioned, you might need a good movie to watch while you wait for your legs to get tired.

Here are a couple of methods to make them harder and cut down on the number of reps you’ll need to do.

Squat Jumps

As the name suggests, add a jump at the top of the motion. You should be focusing on explosive strength and power, jumping as high as you can. This also adds an effective aerobic element to your workouts.

Shrimp Squats (or one-legged squats)

You’ll likely need to hold on to the back of a chair for this one. Balance on one leg and hold the other off the ground. Do your squats one-legged to failure, then switch legs.

pistol squat

Pistol Squats

These are more challenging. You can still balance with one hand on a chair if you have to, but they are more effective if you simply master the balance.

Squat on one leg, but rather than tucking the other leg up underneath you as with the shrimp squat, extend the free leg out in front of you, holding it straight. At the same time extend your arms in front of you for balance.

These squats are very effective and you might find you don’t need to do any more reps with these than you do with a traditional weightlifting squat.

Initially, you can use a chair or other support for balance, but you should work toward doing pistol squats with no support. Having to balance works the muscles harder.



Where squats train the glutes and thighs, lunges are more of a thigh/core exercise and the motion more closely mimics leg extensions done on a machine.

If you’re outdoors these can be done continuously, switching from one leg to the other as you ‘walk’ forward with each lunge. If you’re trapped in a hotel room, you can push back to your original position after each lunge, then switch legs.

Lunges are a simple yet effective thigh and glute toning exercise you can do anywhere.

Russian Leg Curl

Finding something heavy enough to hold your weight could be a challenge but if you can, these are fantastic hamstring exercises and very challenging. Try tucking your feet under the edge of the bed in a kneeling position with your body upright and straight from the knees up.

Slowly lower your body, using only your hamstrings and core until your chest is touching the ground. Now raise yourself back up the same way. These require so much body strength that you may not be able to do them.

However, if you can, you’ll get just as good a workout for your hamstrings as you would at the gym.

Bodyweight Workouts – Core (Planks, Crunch, & Sit-ups)

 Bicycle Crunch

Bicycle Crunch

Lay on your back on the ground and hold your hands behind your head. Lift your right leg straight, bend your knees, and bring it as close to your chest as you can get it. At the same time, raise your left shoulder off the ground and crunch as hard as you can.

Hold for a second or two at the top of the crunch. Lower and switch to the other side. If you’re not used to this exercise, it will guarantee sore abs.

Note her shoulder position. The purpose of the crunch is to work your upper abs, so lifting your shoulders and bringing your elbow as close to your knee as possible will make this exercise more effective.


Unless your lower body outweighs your upper body, you’ll need something to tuck your feet under. Most of us have the impression that sit-ups are the most basic of all exercises but many people do them wrong and miss out on the benefits.

Keep your back and body in a straight line and move from your hips. A proper sit-up works your lower abs. To work upper abs, see bicycle crunches above.


Now that you’re armed with a comprehensive bodyweight workout you can do almost anywhere, there are a few caveats you need to be aware of. If you’re training with the goal of building any appreciable amount of muscle, weight training is a far better option.

You simply can’t put your muscles under the same strain with a bodyweight-only workout that you can with weights.

In addition, some muscle groups really suffer from neglect in bodyweight workout: deadlifts, bench presses, and military presses are all exercises that can’t be done effectively with bodyweight, although these muscles can still be trained and maintained.

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Will Dove

Will is a lifelong fitness nut. He started exercising religiously at the age of 16. Now 52, he still works out 5 times per week and maintains a body fat percentage in the single digits. Will is passionate about helping others to achieve their fitness and body image goals, and believes that most people fail to achieve these goals, not through a lack of self-discipline, but through a simple lack of knowledge.