Can you build a lot of muscle without weights? Well, not really.
I’m not going to say it’s impossible, but I will say this – ‘It’s
Some people would have you believe that you can build new slabs of
muscle using only bodyweight exercises (or calisthenics). While a complete beginner might
make gains for a month or so performing endless press-ups, the rest of
us would be simply wasting our time.
Why? Because one of the core fundamentals of muscle building is not being applied:
Simply put, in order for your muscles to grow you must increase the load
you place on them over time. You must force the muscles to adapt to
increasing demands. Without this there is simply no reason for them to
I work out in the 8 – 12 rep range so when I can hit 12 reps on any
given exercise, I up the weight for the following workout. This forces my
muscles to continually adapt to the increasing stress I am placing them
under. How could I do this with bodyweight exercises?
Firstly, I would be performing way more than 8 – 12 reps which would
take me out of the optimum rep range for building muscle.
Secondly, the only progression there would be, would be an
ever-increasing number of reps; this is not conducive to building
muscle. Again I stress, you want to be increasing the weight lifted in
each exercise whilst staying within the 8 – 12 rep range.
Is There Any Value To Bodyweight Exercise?
Actually, yes there are situations where bodyweight exercises are useful. Muscles are like anything in life, they either
GROW or DIE. In life:
- Either your relationship GROWS or it starts to DIE
- Either your business GROWS or it starts to DIE
- Either a plant GROWS or it begins to DIE
Because bodyweight exercises would give a tiny bit or growth over a
number of years, you can use them to at least stave off muscle atrophy
(muscle loss) if you are away from home.
Imagine that your job requires that you be on the road for a couple of
weeks, staying in hotels. You can certainly use bodyweight exercises in
your hotel room to hold on to your hard-earned gains. This way, when you
get home, you can pick up where you left off. (Even better though, use
the hotel gym if they have one 😉 ).
- 1st set – Go for it! Blast out as many reps as possible. This will get you warmed up and
fatigued (this’ll be the only set where you can get 100 reps!) Each successive set will now consist of much lower reps.
- Less Rest – I take 2 mins rest between sets at the moment. If I were without
weights I would try 1 minute or less. If I was still performing too many reps I would take shorter and shorter breaks.
- Go Slow! Try and hit optimum rep range by taking each rep slower. Try twice as slow and adjust from there.
- Full range of motion – If you normally cheat – don’t! Full, complete
range of motion will allow you perform less reps.
- Improvise with weight – many moons ago when I didn’t have weights I
filled an empty 2 liter milk bottle with water and did my sit-ups with
my feet under a chest of drawers. It actually did help build some abdominal muscle as I was a complete beginner.
Some Examples of Bodyweight Exercises
- One-Arm Push-Ups
- Handstand Push-Ups – Do a handstand against a wall and then press your body up and down with your arms – think of an upside-down squat.
- One-Legged Squats – Put your arms out in front of you and one leg out in front. Now lower your body on the other leg until your thigh is parallel to the floor. Now get your ass back to the starting position.
So the conclusion is this, stick to the weights except in unavoidable situations. When forced to, perform bodyweight exercises to hold onto your gains but don’t expect any new muscle growth.