Best Bodyweight Exercises to Build Muscle and Gain Strength
Weird, crazy, unpredictable times right now.
None of us could have anticipated something like this happening. There’s so much that’s left out of our control, that it’s becoming more and more important to focus on the things that we can control.
One of those things is our health.
We need movement, and we need it daily.
While there are certainly pressing items at hand right now, your body and your health should still remain high on your priority list.
Daily movement and daily exercise, in one form or another, is medicine. It’s therapy. It’s an escape. It’s something actionable you can do to immediately take you one step closer to a stronger, healthier, more resilient body.
In times like these, the importance of actively working toward improving your health is more apparent than ever.
Most of us don’t have access to a gym right now. While that may seem like a problem, let’s try thinking of it as an opportunity.
No one likes being pushed out of their comfort zone, but we’re all experiencing that right now. Instead of thinking of it as an issue, let’s think of it as a way to challenge ourselves in new ways.
While this situation obviously isn’t ideal, there’s no point in stressing on what could happen or should happen. An actionable approach would be to look at what we can control in our immediate environment, and make the absolute most of it.
There’s only three things you need to continue to see progress in your health and fitness. And I’m willing to bet you have all of them.
What do you need to develop an effective, results-driven bodyweight workout program?
- You need to have a body
- You need to have some floor space (move some chairs and make space if you need to)
- You need to have time (you definitely have that right now)
If you normally lift weights or go to a gym, the idea of working out at home can seem a little daunting. I’ve had several people reach out to me, asking if they’re going to lose all of their progress after not being able to lift weights.
Here’s the thing…let’s say you’ve been lifting weights for 2 years, and have seen some great progress within that time.
Did you see all of your current progress after just a couple months? No. It took you years to get to where you are.
So, are you going to lose all of your progress not touching any weights for the time being? Probably not.
In fact, you might even see noticeable progressions in your muscle mass, strength, and overall performance. Your muscles appreciate change, and by incorporating some change into your routine, you’ll be well on your way to actually progressing, rather than regressing.
So the question is, how do you maximize your bodyweight workouts in order to continue to see progress?
Before I offer some of my favourite exercises, here are a few things to consider first.
- There is no such thing as the best exercise. The ones you’re about to see are some of my favourite, but that doesn’t mean I think they’re “the best”. The best exercise, workout, or program is the one you do optimally and consistently.
- Compound exercises are great for strength and overall performance. If you’re thinking, “Wow…thanks Dan, never heard that one before”, hear me out for a second. Most of us associate compound movements with the main lifts. Barbell squats, deadlifts, presses, and so on. But it doesn’t mean that we need the barbell in order to get the most out of these movement patterns. We can still incorporate these exercises without the use of weights and still find ways to create tension in our muscles in order to produce an adaptive response.
- Isometrics cause greater time under tension. Pausing and holding positions is one of the best ways to make an exercise more challenging. You can do this to pretty much anything, not just planks. You can add pauses to push-ups, squats, you name it.
- Eccentrics cause greater time under tension and help us practice proper form. Eccentrics (the portion of an exercise where your muscles lengthen while under load; ex. lowering yourself into a squat) are an amazing tool to not only increase the difficulty of an exercise, it also gives us great feedback on our form. You can’t cheat your way through an exercise if you’re moving slow enough!
- Supersets cut your workout time down while maximizing efficiency. A superset is when you pair a couple of exercises back to back. By doing so, you’re keeping your heart rate up and are able to tackle more than one movement or muscle group at a time. Try pairing squats with push-ups, or pull-ups with lunges. Be creative with it.
SOME OF THE BEST BODYWEIGHT EXERCISES TO BUILD MUSCLE AND GAIN STRENGTH
A simple, but highly effective way to take one of the staple bodyweight exercises, and amplify the impact it has on your muscles. You will love this one.
A staple in my programming, ISO Y-W-T formations are one of my absolute favourite exercises to develop the small, often neglected muscles of the upper back.
Do you sit for most of your work day? Do you have back pain? Do this.
Again, another one of my favourites for the upper back. And there are a ton of variations you can use to keep things interesting.
See a few other handcuff variations below.
A classic. Try pausing at the bottom with your chest floating above the floor. You’ll stop yourself from cheating and using momentum to get back up. This will help you engage the muscles you actually want to be working in the first place, your pecs and triceps.
Borrowed from Joe DeFranco, this push-up variation packs a punch and will leave you feeling muscles you didn’t know existed. Watch the video and try for yourself. This is one of my absolute favourite push-up variations.
Here’s a hint: If you do these right, you won’t be able to do more than 10 reps 🙂
LOW CEILING LUNGES
Lunges already suck on their own. But when you create a low-ceiling effect and don’t allow your legs to fully lockout, you make lunges suck even more. In a great way (depending on how you look at it). It’s a love-hate relationship with this one.
ECCENTRIC BULGARIAN SPLIT SQUAT
Ah yes, Bulgarian split squats, you beautifully brutal SOB. You don’t need to hold dumbbells to make this exercise painfully impactful. Instead, slow things down and take your sweet time going down. Think about the weather, your favourite tv show, what your partner’s cooking for dinner…anything to take your mind off the sweet pain that is Bulgarian split squats.
- You won’t lose your progress not lifting weight
- You don’t need to lift weights to see amazing progress in your strength and muscle mass
- Isometric exercises (pauses) help create greater tension in your muscles
- Eccentric (slow lowering) exercises help create greater tension in your muscles and allow you to practice proper form by slowing things down
- Bulgarian split squats still suck (even without weights)
- We will get through this tough time together, stay strong
I’m offering a free ”Stay Strong at Home” bodyweight workout program starting Monday March 23rd. A new workout will be posted every day along with video instructions and tons of other material.