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Can You Build Muscle With Only Bodyweight Exercises

Can You Build Muscle With Only Bodyweight Exercises

  1. Are you curious as to whether you can build significant muscle by only training with bodyweight movements? 
  2. Are exercises such as push-ups and pull-ups enough to transform your muscle mass? 
  3. How far can bodyweight exercises take you in terms of your muscle gains? 

Push-ups and pull-ups are powerful bodyweight exercises. When it comes down to it you can definitely create a strong lean physique from doing push-ups and pull-ups several days a week. There is a very good reason these two movements are the staples for nearly every military, fight gym, and private box gym all over the globe!

Think about it. Look at the physiques of MMA and Muay Thai fighters! Look at the physique of a Navy SEAL, or a U.S. Marine. Look at the physique of many strength coaches that employ bodyweight strength and calisthenics on a regular basis.

The proof is in the pudding and the pudding says bodyweight strength movements will help you to build a lean strong muscular physique! If you don’t believe me then try to walk up and tell Herschel Walker that it doesn’t work!

Bodyweight exercises and the power of variation:

Remember when it comes to your training, like most everything in life, you can’t view it in terms of being a static model. Training is, or should be, dynamic in terms of your progression and variation. The whole point of training is that you’re continuously looking to challenge yourself and to raise the bar once you meet certain goals.

So when you talk about doing push-ups and pull-ups to increase strength and muscle you can perform the same style of standard push-ups and pull-ups all the time if you want.

There is no doubt that doing this will take you a long ways in terms of getting you results. However don’t forget there are almost endless variations of these movements that you can include into your physical training to continue to challenge and upgrade your physical body!

That’s right, you might be able to bang out 15 pull-ups in a row, but if you want to challenge yourself in a new way simply slow your descent down from the bar once you pull yourself into the up position. I promise this will be an immediate game changer for you.

Slowing your descent will immediately double the tension on your arms and lat muscles as this is the eccentric phase of the movement. This negative (or slow lengthening of your muscles) is the eccentric contraction of your forearms, biceps, and lat muscles during this movement.

You can also enhance the difficulty of these movements with some simple weight redistribution. You can do this by simply placing your hands and feet into different positions to make your push-ups more challenging.

For instance, you’ve mastered the standard push-up and can bang out 20 or 30 at a time set after set. Ok cool…now try doing that with your feet elevated up onto a bench! This simple variation just changed the entire dynamic of your push-ups!

Variation is powerful.

Bodyweight exercises and loading:

You can load these movements as well. That’s right, with the simple addition of a weighted vest you have now set the bar even higher for your current push-up and pull-up routine!

A simple 10 to 20 lb. weighted vest can drastically enhance the difficulty of these two movements pushing you even harder to accomplish half the volume of what you might normally be able to do.

Even if you adapt with the additional weight of the vest almost reaching our old numbers prior to loading with the vest then guess what comes next?

If you said variation you’d be right! Once again you can go back to varying the movements while doing them with the weighted vest and you’re back to challenging yourself in the movements all over again! The cycle just repeats!

This is how progressive overload is achieved. If you’re ready to load get a weighted vest!

Free weights and bodyweight exercises:

If you’re just curious about the results of performing only push-ups and pull-ups, but are also looking to incorporate free weights into your training then you can certainly program your workouts to include both of these types of movements.

By intelligently programming both free weighted resistance and push-ups and pull-ups into your training this is what I refer to as a sort of hybrid style of strength training.

You see free weights involve open kinetic chain movements while push-ups and pull-ups involve closed kinetic chain movements. So what does this mean?

Open kinetic chain: Are exercises that are performed where the hand or foot is free to move such as a dumbbell press.

Closed kinetic chain: Are physical exercises performed where the hand, or foot (for leg movement) is fixed in space and cannot move. The extremity remains in constant contact with the immobile surface such as with the ground or at the base of a machine.

There are different training benefits for incorporating both of these types of movements into your training program to build both strength and for creating stability at your joints when performing these movements.

If you’re programming push-ups and pull-ups only into your training then you’re going to be incorporating closed chain movements, but to create a more dynamic style of training you can combine these movements with free weighted movements to achieve optimal benefits.

The takeaway with bodyweight exercises: 

You can certainly build lean muscle performing push-ups and pull-ups only most days of the week, but it is a good idea to open up your training for more variation and to look to continue to progress your strength this way along with loading your body for greater intensity.

Are you currently using only bodyweight exercises in your strength program? 

How many days a week do you currently train? 

Are you looking to blend your bodyweight strength with free weights? 

Post up and share here in the comments below. 

Also make sure you step up your training with my 30 Introductory Bodyweight Workouts! 

30 Introductory Bodyweight Exercises here

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I'm a Certified Strength And Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) and author. I have had over 17 years experience in MMA fitness, strength and conditoning, and athletic performance for most every sport. As an author and specialist I've written close to a million words on fitness and strength. I'm also a Muay Thai practictioner and enjoy helping others to reach their peak potential through fitness and performance.

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