When most people think of bodyweight training, they think of fat loss and conditioning.
Fair enough – for the first decade or so of my training career, that’s how I thought of bodyweight exercise too.
In my college and pro football days, we focused primarily on the big barbell lifts – squats, bench presses, power cleans, military presses – to gain strength and size … and the push ups, sit ups, etc were done during our “conditioning” sessions.
Now you certainly can use bodyweight exercise for fat loss, and to improve your overall conditioning levels … but if you know how to set up your workouts right, you can also use it for gaining size and strength.
I’ve been doing it myself and with my personal training clients for years, and we are experiencing some TREMENDOUS results … all while saving the joints, and in far less training time than you would think.
Now I’m going to give you a sample workout to help you gain size and strength with bodyweight only training, but before we get to that, here are three rules I’m going to follow – and I recommend you abide by these rules too when putting together your body weight workouts for the purpose of gaining size and strength:
1 – Do the “right” amount of volume
If you’re looking to gain muscle, you have to pound those muscles with some volume.
Now you don’t have to go old-school, “golden age” bodybuilder-style and do thirty sets for each body part … but you need to do enough sets and reps to give your muscles a good stimulus.
2 – Stick to the basics
Cool calisthenics moves and tricks like human flags, handstands, etc are AWESOME.
HOWEVER … when it comes to actually gaining STRENGTH and MUSCLE, these moves are not going to help a ton.
You need to be focusing on things like:
– push ups and advanced variations
– pull ups and advanced variations
– squats and advanced variations
To gain muscle and get strong with your own body weight.
3 – Higher reps for size, “medium” reps for strength
A lot of folks think these two things are one in the same … and while there is without a doubt a relationship between the two, training to get big is actually different than training to get strong.
8-12 reps of each exercise is generally best for that muscle size goal. If you’re going for STRENGTH, you want to move towards a little lower in the rep range, like 3-5 ish.
Okay – now that we know how to design our bodyweight workouts for gaining strength and size, here’s a sample workout for you that uses the prinicples we’ve talked about today:
20 Minute Bodyweight Workout for Size and Strength
Set your timer for 20 minutes. Resting as needed but as little as possible, complete as many rounds as possible of:
5 one leg squats / leg (elevated on box)
5 chin ups
Try that workout, and let me know how it goes!
And remember – focus on the basics, do the “right” amount of volume, and get in the right rep range for muscle growth … and you’ll be on your way to gaining size and strength with bodyweight only training.
About The Author
Forest holds a Master’s degree in Human Movement and personal training certifications through the American College of Sports Medicine and the National Academy of Sports Medicine. He is also a level II Russian Kettlebell Challenge Certified Instructor, Progressive Calisthenics Certified Instructor, Certified Corrective Exercise Specialist, Certified Performance Enhancement Specialist, and Certified Fitness Nutrition Coach.
Master of Science, Human Movement
Certified Progressive Calisthenics Instructor
Author, Body Weight Strong
Body Weight Strong is a 12 week body weight only training plan designed to help you gain size and strength – with just your own body weight! Instead of the typical high-rep, conditioning-based fat loss stuff, this program will help you get strong, lean, and work up to cool moves like the pistol squat, one arm push ups, handstand push ups, and more. Check it out HERE.