You’re probably wondering about an alternative to lifting weights but still build muscle. You probably don’t like lifting weights because you think you’re kind of clumsy and you might hurt yourself, or simply because you don’t like it. Whatever the case may be, I’m here to tell you how to build muscle without lifting weights and how to do it right!
I’m certainly in that first category – I’m kind of clumsy – and knowing that I didn’t like the idea of going to the gym and lifting weights because I knew there is a risk of injury if you’re not performing the exercises correctly. But I still wanted to get strong and build muscle and that’s when I found an alternative to the traditional method of weight lifting and found bodyweight training/calisthenics style of training.
The guys I saw online doing this style of training were not only big and ripped to shreds but also had amazing control over their bodies and were doing impressive movements like handstand push-ups, muscle ups, etc… I was fascinated by it and that’s when I decided to take up this style of training and begun my bodyweight fitness journey.
Why Bodyweight Training Is A Good Way To Build Muscle
Bodyweight training is a very effective way not only to build muscle but also build an outright amazing physique because most of the exercises we’re doing are compound exercises in which multiple joints are involved and therefore more muscle groups are involved when performing the exercise thus resulting in more muscle gains. Some examples of compound bodyweight exercises are Pull Ups, Push Ups, Dips and Squats.
Bodyweight exercises, when done correctly, are also very intense and demanding on the body because they require a lot of full body tension, which is perfect for stimulating muscle growth as intensity is one the key factors in building muscle. If your workouts aren’t intense and you’re not challenging yourself with every training session, odds are you’re not going to be making good gains. On the other hand, if you’re always pushing the envelope and challenging yourself, you’ll see very good results.
Intensity is achieved by progressively overloading the stress put on the body, in other words, doing a harder exercise variation or more reps and sets over time. Intense exercises are those you can perform with good form for anywhere from 5 to 12 repetitions. For example, if Pull Ups get easy for you and you’re doing 12+ reps, you can move on to L-sit Pull-Ups or Archer Pull-Ups, or Weighted Pull Ups. You should be aiming to perform the exercises for 5-12 repetitions if your goal is to hypertrophy, that is building muscle mass because any more than that is more of endurance training.
This style of training is also more functional as well as safer as it is easier on the joints and allows a more natural range of motion than traditional weight lifting.
Do It Right!
Some people think bodyweight training isn’t as good for building muscle as lifting weights, and that’s simply because of either being misinformed or because they’re not training properly which makes them think bodyweight training isn’t very effective. But as with everything in life, if you want to see good results, it’s important to do things right.
Resistance is resistance at the end of the day, be it with external weights such as barbells and dumbbells or be it with your own bodyweight. So if you’re doing strength training and you’re doing it right, you will get bigger and stronger, with weights or simply just with your own body weight. But in my opinion, bodyweight training is far superior to weight training because you can achieve much higher levels of body control and ridiculous strength, resulting in a more athletic, injury free and better-performing physique and body.
Understanding Some Key Principles
In order to understand how to train properly using just your own body weight, it is important to understand some key principles such as progressive overload, time under tension, range of motion and manipulating the leverages of an exercise.
Progressive overload simply put, is the increase in the intensity of your workouts over time. I’ve written a whole article about progressive overload where I go more in depth on the topic, so I suggest you go read it if you haven’t already.
Time under tension, or the tempo in which you perform an exercise, as to do with the amount of time you are under tension which is very important as this is a key factor in inducing muscular damage, which is one of the key drivers of muscle growth. You can manipulate this to increase the challenge of a given exercise. So if Dips are too easy for you, try doing then very slowly and controlled, and the challenge will significantly be increased.
It’s also important to understand how to manipulate the leverage of a bodyweight exercise so you can adjust any given exercise to your current level of ability. This is the way, we in the bodyweight training world, adjust the level of difficulty of an exercise. So if Regular Push Ups get too easy for you and you rep out a lot 15+, you’ll be much better off moving to harder exercise progressions such as Archer Push Ups and eventually One Arm Push Ups.
This is because it’s much more effective to increase the difficulty of an exercise and perform it at an appropriate intensity for building muscle (5-12 rep range) than performing an exercise for very high repetitions.
Finally, the range of motion is an absolute KEY principle for anyone who’s serious about their training and wants to make solid gains and remain injury free. You MUST perform every exercise with a full range of motion! Use the largest range of motion you feel comfortable with. This is because when you do this, you’ll be working through the whole movement pattern and your muscles will get strong throughout the ENTIRE movement, which is key for being able to consistently get stronger and remain injury free.
Advantages & Disadvantages Of Bodyweight Training
So by now, you’ll have noticed that I’m very passionate about bodyweight training/calisthenics and that I believe it is the best way to develop a strong, athletic physique, but there are also downsides to it, like everything in life. However, the positives far outweigh the negatives, in my opinion.
- Functional strength that carries over to all aspects of life;
- High strength transferability to other styles of training;
- Very little equipment, if at all, necessary – train anywhere!
- A safer way to train (I say this because you’re mainly manipulating your bodyweight in space and not other heavy objects but anything, when done incorrectly or in a stupid manner, can be dangerous);
- Incredibly FUN – you’ll be moving your body around through cool movement patterns and learning cool and challenging skills like muscle ups, one arm push up, handstand push-ups, front and back levers, etc…
- Hard to isolate muscle groups;
- Can be hard to get started as a beginner especially if you’re not knowledgeable enough on how to increase exercise difficulties and so on…
Start Your Bodyweight Fitness Journey
I hope that after reading through this article you have learned that it is entirely possible to build muscle and strength just by using your own body weight alone and that lifting weights is not the only option you have if you want to build an amazing physique.
I hope I have provided you with enough valuable information for you to take action and start your bodyweight training journey!
Keep in mind to ALWAYS use clean form, full range of motion and make sure to always work at an intensity that is appropriate to your current level of fitness/strength.
I know this was a lot of information to take in if you are just getting into bodyweight fitness so if you have any questions feel free to leave a question in the comments and I will make sure to reply as soon as possible.
And as always, happy training guys!