BODYWEIGHT EXERCISES THAT BUILD MUSCLE
Most bodyweight workout routines are nothing more than glorified aerobics that cost you lean muscle while doing them.
This doesn’t have to be the case.
If you choose the right exercises and combine multiple muscles in each move, bodyweight training can be just as effective at building muscle as any other workout!
With that in mind, I’ve chosen what I believe are the 8 best bodyweight exercises that allow you to hit all the major muscles in your body, and get the greatest benefit of bodyweight training.
They’re going to cover the gamut of both strength and conditioning, because training like an athlete means training for not just strength, but also for power, speed and agility.
Not only will I tell you WHICH exercises I chose, but also WHY they made my list!
Let’s get started with my 8 favorite home bodyweight exercises for beginners and advanced alike!
8 BEST BODYWEIGHT EXERCISES
With these 8 moves we’re going to cover your entire body, including your lungs!
Yes, this full body workout will take your breath away…. literally!
It is also a workout that builds strength, and you’ll see what I mean when you try the exercises!
The only piece of equipment you’re going to need for just a few of these bodyweight exercises is a $15 pullup bar. If you don’t have one yet, I highly recommend you get one. I promise it will have a great return on investment in terms of your ability to effectively train at home.
1.) PULLUP OR COMMANDO PULLUP
Whether you have access to a gym or not, the Classic Pullup is one of the best back exercises you can do for your upper body.
Start position is with arms straight overhead grabbing the bar with hands wider than shoulder width apart, palms facing away from you.
With core engaged begin to hang from the bar with knees bent and feet a couple inches off the floor. Pull yourself up until your chin clears the bar and then slowly lower your body back down to starting position.
If you feel you’re not getting enough out of the Classic Pullup, or you’re looking for a more advanced option, we can involve more muscles in the exercise by simply switching our grip.
The Commando Pullup is a great pullup progression for an even more intense back exercise with the added benefit of working your forearms and biceps as well.
You can see that the over under grip also forces you to involve your core to help you stay stable as you pull up toward each side of the bar.
This grip also gives us a bit of extra forearm and biceps involvement, which adds intensity and challenge to the exercise.
2.) CHINUP KNEE UP
This exercise hits the biceps and abs equally as hard, as it breaks down the chinup into two parts.
You’ll start standing below the bar and take an underhand grip with palms facing you, hands shoulder width apart. Begin to bend your arms to pull yourself into a chinup while you bring your legs forward and up into a knees up position.
The first part of this exercise is a normal chinup in which the underhand grip will give you an arm workout because of the biceps curls that are incorporated into the chinup movement.
We incorporate one of the best ab exercises by finishing it out with the knee up portion in the second part.
This is a great example to show that when we’re trying to get more out of a bodyweight exercise, we have to put more in to allow us to hit multiple muscles in one move.
3.) SLICK FLOOR BRIDGE CURL
This posterior chain exercise hammers your glutes and hamstrings, and is one of the most intense bodyweight leg exercises you can do for this area.
In fact, the Slick Floor Bridge Curl is as challenging as most weighted glute/ham exercises you’d have at your disposal if you were training in a gym!
No equipment at all with this one except a pair of socks!
You can do this on any slick surface such as a tile floor or a wood floor.
Start position is lying face up on the floor, thighs are parallel in a straight line extending in front of you, with shoulder blades and hands on the floor.
Begin by bending your knees and sliding your feet toward your body into the press up position of glute bridges. Slide your feet back out to return to the start with legs straight.
The great thing about the Slick Floor Bridge Curl is that you’re training your muscles to work the way they’re supposed to work.
The hamstrings SHOULD work with the help of the glutes, not in isolation. And your glutes will definitely be working hard as you try to hold the bridge up while you initiate the hamstring curl portion of this movement.
4.) LEVITATION SQUAT
We’ll be hitting the quads with this next bodyweight exercise.
The Levitation Squat is a great regression from the Pistol Squat, because it’s easier to perform this single leg movement with your leg behind your body, similar to a Bulgarian split squat, instead of in front where balance may be a limiting factor.
It’s not necessarily that you don’t have the single leg strength to execute the Pistol Squat, but you might not have the single leg strength combined with enough balance to be able to execute it. In this case the split squats stance with leg behind the body will be a bit easier.
Start with the left foot raised off the ground behind you with left knee bent and perform a bodyweight squat on the right leg. Be sure to take a deep squat touching your left knee to the ground. Perform all the reps on this side before you switch legs and repeat the same on the left leg.
Now, can you progress yourself from the Levitation Squat to a Pistol Squat?
By all means, yes!
And you can actually self-spot in the Pistol Squat by hanging on to a bar while you perform it, until you build the adequate strength and balance to do it without support.
However, I still love the Levitation Squat because it’s a bit more gentle on my knees which allows me to push a little bit more out of every single rep.
5.) DIVEBOMBER PUSHUP
You knew that no list of best bodyweight exercises could ever be complete without some variation of a pushup!
This Divebomber Pushup hits your chest, shoulders and triceps equally hard at different points in the range of motion.
You can add the one and a half rep style for an even more advanced challenge for either the triceps or the shoulders.
Start out in a pushup or low plank position with feet width apart on the floor and chest parallel to the floor. Push the chest forward into cobra position not allow your body to touch the floor, return to pushup position and repeat.
When you first start your descent, you’re working your shoulders more. At the bottom of the rep, you’re maximizing your chest, and as you come back up and out, you’re contracting the triceps the most as you get a little bit of extension back behind your body.
You can get more out of this exercise for triceps or shoulders by performing it in a one and a half rep style.
If you want to work your triceps more, you can perform an extra half rep at the bottom.
If you want to work your shoulders a bit more, perform an extra half rep at the top of the range of motion.
6.) MULE KICK
This is an awesome bodyweight conditioning exercise that also overloads your shoulders.
The Mule Kick is incredibly demanding, because your shoulders have to support your entire bodyweight while you push your legs up toward the ceiling.
Start on all four with hands and feet shoulder width apart. Next, raise your hips and jump your feet upwards by pushing through the glutes and thighs.
Every rep is basically a version of an explosive shoulder press with your shoulders still in contact with the ground. Instead of trying to push the dumbbells up and away from you, you’re trying to push your body up and away from the ground.
Do this for a minute straight and I’ll tell you, your heart will be pumping and you’ll likely be breaking a serious sweat!
7.) KICKTHROUGH BURPEE
There may be no more athletic version of the burpee than this one, and that is why I love it!
The Kickthrough Burpee will challenge your upper body, lower body and core while pelting away at your ability to breathe.
Start with arms and legs in high plank position, then kick the left leg toward the right side of your body as you lift your right arm, leg extending as far out to the side as possible.
Repeat on the other side, kicking the right leg toward the left side of the body as you lift your left arm. Perform a pushup, then stand up and jump before returning to plank position. This is one rep.
In this exercise we’re challenging ourselves not just in the sagittal plane but we are also involving some rotation. This move requires some coordination, but once you practice it a few times you’ll get the hang of it.
This exercise is a bitch, but I love it because it will get your lungs burning in no time!
8.) FRONT LEVER
For my final bodyweight exercise choice, I’m including a challenging but rewarding move for the upper body, the Front Lever.
This exercise demands that two muscle groups work together that aren’t accustomed to doing so, the upper back and the core.
The core will have to provide the stability to fight the force of gravity that’s trying to bend you in half every single time you lift yourself up.
And the only way you’re going to be able to lift yourself up is by having adequate strength in your upper back to perform what is basically a straight arm pushdown without weights to get your body up against that force of gravity.
This exercise is very difficult to do, and if you’re not ready for it you can modify by using a band to anchor your feet until you’ve built up the strength to be able to do the exercise without the band.
These 8 exercises prove that bodyweight training does not have to be inferior training. As you can see, with bodyweight workouts you often have the ability to change or modify the exercises to elicit all new responses from the movements.
- The typical beginner bodyweight workout is only conditioning-based and do little to build muscle. But this doesn’t have to be the case.
- If you choose the right exercises and ensure they’re working multiple muscles in one move, the benefits of bodyweight exercises include building strength and muscle.
- I’ve shown you what in my opinion are the 8 best bodyweight exercises to help you build muscle and provide a conditioning challenge.
- Many of these exercises contain progressions or regressions to allow you to perform them regardless of your fitness level.
- Some of the exercises like the Divebomber Pushup also provide us with opportunities to adapt them to preferentially hit specific muscle groups.
In this list of 8 exercises we’ve used only one piece of equipment, a pullup bar. But in our ATHLEAN XERO program we ditch that too, to offer you the best way to build ripped athletic muscle in just six weeks with zero equipment!