When people want to build muscle, they typically turn to weights. It makes sense — after all, resistance training can certainly pack on lean mass. But it’s not the only way to get the job done. That’s where bodyweight training comes in. It’s a tried-and-true (but oft-overlooked) method for building muscle.
“In order to increase our levels of strength, we must have variability in our training,” says Cristian Plascencia, senior durability coach at Onnit Academy in Austin, Texas.
“Training with the same resistance tools, like barbells and dumbbells, is awesome and does help increase levels of strength,” he says. “But when done monotonously and as the only method of training, then your potential for strength is not being expressed to its maximal capacity.”
So, while bodyweight training relies solely on gravity for resistance, mixing up your workouts by putting your body into different positions and planes of motion allows you to recruit more muscles, which teaches the nervous system to adapt. And that adaptation leads to increased muscle and strength.
Squats, deadlifts and bench presses will always be there for you. But Plascencia notes: “If we are constantly loading ourselves with weight and not allowing for appropriate recovery periods, then it is only a matter of time before injury and breakdown occur.” Bodyweight workouts, even as a supplement to your weight training, let you continue challenging yourself, but in a lower impact way that supports longevity of your tissues and joints.
Below, Plascencia recommends five of his favorite bodyweight exercises for building muscle. Employ them on their own, as a complement to your resistance-based program or as a full workout.
SAMPLE BODYWEIGHT WORKOUT
Perform 5 rounds for 45 seconds each. Rest for 10 seconds between exercises and 45 seconds between rounds.
LEG SLIDE PUSHUP
Begin in a pushup position. Sweep one foot up to the same side hand. From this mountain climber position, dig your toes into the ground and push that foot out to the side wall. Once you can’t slide it any farther, slide your foot back behind you into the starting position. Complete a pushup, and then repeat the move on your opposite side.
REVERSE LUNGE HOP
Begin with your feet about hip-width apart. Step back into a reverse lunge with the front foot staying flat under your bent knee and your back foot supported by your toes. Then return your back foot to the normal lunge position and jump. Switch legs.
Begin seated on the ground, with your knees bent and feet flat. Place your hands flat on the ground behind you, with your fingers facing behind you. Push into one hand, and press your hips up, reaching toward the ceiling with your non-planted hand. Return to the starting position, and then repeat the movement on the opposite side.
DOWN DOG TO ELBOW DROP
Start in child’s pose. Press your locked-out arms into the ground, and move into a downward dog position. From there, keep your hips and chest in the same orientation, and slowly pull your elbows and forearms down so they lie flat on the ground. Then press yourself back into the down dog position and return to child’s pose. That’s one repetition.
FRONT KICK THRU
Start in high plank. Pull your right leg forward and plant your right foot outside your right hand. Pick up your right hand, and move your left leg forward, kicking through. Bring your left leg back, return to high plank and switch sides.