10 Best Bodyweight Exercises For Building Muscle

10 Best bodyweight exercises for building muscle

These are the absolute 10 best bodyweight exercises you can do to build muscle mass!

Contrary to popular belief, you don’t always need added resistance to build muscle mass. If you’re just starting to work out, you’d be better off starting with bodyweight exercises. Your bodyweight is enough to shape your muscles.

With the growing popularity of calisthenics, bodyweight exercises have become even more popular. Performing bodyweight exercises is way more convenient than using dumbbells and barbells. You can do bodyweight workouts in the convenience of your home.

Best Bodyweight Exercises

  • Pushups
  • Pull-ups
  • Squats
  • Dips
  • Walking Lunges
  • Step-ups
  • Donkey Kicks
  • Calf Raises
  • Handstand Pushups
  • Planks

Pushups

Pushups are one of the first exercises people learn to perform for building muscle mass. This exercise helps build size, strength, and definition in your chest. You can perform different variations like diamond, close-grip, and wide-grip pushups to target your chest from different angles.

Benefits

  • Pushups engage your chest, shoulders, and triceps.
  • They’ll help prepare you for big compound movements such as bench press (1).

How to Do

  1. Begin in a full plank position with your palms on the floor and arms extended (palms facing out 45 degrees to protect shoulders)
  2. Lower your body until your chest touches the ground (the chin should be just above touching the ground).
  3. Extend your arms up to press yourself back up.

*Note: You can target different areas of your chest by incorporating a bench. At an incline (palms on bench) you can target more of your upper chest. Decline pushups will target more of your lower chest. 

Pull-Ups

Pull-ups are the ultimate test of your upper body strength. If you are a beginner, it might be hard for you to perform bodyweight pull-ups. Ask someone for a spot, or use an assisted pull-up machine until you build strength in your arms.

Benefits 

  • It targets your back and biceps.
  • Pull-ups improve your shoulder mobility.
  • It’ll build superior upper body strength since it requires you to pull deadweight up from the ground.

How to Do 

  1. Find a bar and grip it with a pronated grip (palms facing away from you).
  2. While hanging with your feet elevated from the ground, pull yourself up until your chin is over the barbell.
  3. Extend your arms to return to the starting position.

Squats

Squats are one of the most important exercises. It’s a compound (multi-joint) exercise that targets multiple muscles. Squats help build overall strength and will make you stronger at other exercises.

Benefits

  • Bodyweight squats are easier on your spine and back than weighted squats.
  • This exercise increases core strength.
  • It’ll improve your balance.

How to Do

  1. Start by standing with your feet slightly wider than shoulder-width apart.
  2. Keep your torso upright and squat down until your thighs are parallel to the ground or slightly past that.
  3. Push through your heels to extend your legs and return to the beginning.

*Note: Ensure your knees don’t over your toes when squatting to protect them. 

Dips

You can perform the dips on parallel bars if you can access them at the park near your home or your gym. You could also use a chair at home or a gym bench to perform the dips. Dips target your chest and triceps.

Benefits

  • Dips will strengthen your chest, triceps, and shoulders.
  • They also engage your core since you must stabilize yourself during the movement.

How to Do 

  1. Stand in front of a dip bench or a set of parallel bars.
  2. Grasp the handles with a pronated grip and jump up to support your bodyweight with your arms extended and cross one ankle over the other for support.
  3. Lower your body down until your arms create a 90-degree angle or slightly below that.
  4. Press through your palms to push your bodyweight up for a rep.
  5. Repeat.

Walking Lunges

If you like going for walks, you might want to add walking lunges to your routine. Lunges target your lower body and help get your legs in shape. You could also perform standing lunges if you plan on performing them indoors.

Benefits 

  • This is a great lower body exercise that targets your glutes, quads, and hamstrings.
  • It’s a great unilateral (single-limb) movement that challenges the core, knee, and hip stability.

How to Do 

  1. Stand upright with your feet shoulder-width apart.
  2. Step one foot forward and lower the back knee towards the ground (without letting it touch). Your front leg should form a 90-degree angle.
  3. Push off the heel of your front leg to return to the starting position.
  4. Do the other side.

*Note: Ensure you maintain balance and stability, and don’t let your front knee go over your toes. 

Step-Ups

We’re not limiting ourselves to upper body exercises and are taking an overall approach to bodyweight exercises. Your legs are the foundation of your body. Step-ups help in developing your quads, hamstrings, and glutes.

Benefits 

  • Step-ups are a great lower body exercise for your glutes and quads.
  • They improve your stability and balance.

How to Do

  1. Stand in front of a bench.
  2. With one leg planted firmly on the ground, push through your heels and step onto a bench with your other leg.
  3. The leg on the ground should follow the other leg so that you’re standing upright on the box/bench with both legs.
  4. Bring one leg back down one at a time until you’re standing in front of the bench.

*Note: Ensure the bench/box isn’t too high for safety precautions. It should be around knee height or slightly below that. 

Donkey Kicks

Donkey kicks are the ultimate glute exercise. This exercise isn’t only for women, men can use some booty gains as well. Assume the starting position on all fours. Begin to lift your right leg, knee staying bent, foot staying flat, and hinging at the hip. Use your glute to press your foot directly toward the ceiling and squeeze at the top. Ensure your pelvis and working hip stay pointed toward the ground.

Benefits 

  • This movement isolates your glutes.
  • It’ll improve your strength on exercises that require glute strength, like barbell squats.

How to Do 

  1. Place your hands under your shoulders with your knees resting on a padded surface like a yoga mat.
  2. Raise one leg with your knee bent at a 90-degree angle and raise your heel as high as possible.
  3. Slowly lower your leg back until your knee touches the ground.
  4. Do the desired number of reps for that side, then switch sides.

Calf Raises

Calves are one of the most stubborn muscle groups. You don’t need to use added resistance to develop your calves. Mimic the motion of a ballerina, stand on your toes, and hold and squeeze your calves at the top of the movement for the best results.

Benefits 

  • This exercise targets your calve muscles (gastrocnemius and soleus).
  • It’ll improve your jumping abilities.

How to Do

  1. Place your feet closer than shoulder-width apart on an elevated surface.
  2. With your heels hanging off the end of the surface, press through the soles of your feet as high as possible.
  3. Squeeze and hold for a couple of seconds, then lower your heels below the bench’s surface.
  4. Repeat.

Handstand Pushups

Broad shoulders are the epitome of a chiseled physique. Only a few other exercises target the shoulders, like the handstand pushups. If you can’t perform a handstand pushup, use a wall for support or ask someone for a spot.

Benefits 

  • This is an excellent bodyweight movement for improving shoulder strength.
  • It’ll also improve your balance and stability.
  • It’ll build immense upper body strength.

How to Do

  1. Find a wall and kick your heels up against the wall and get into a handstand position.
  2. Lower your body until your head touches the ground, then press up to raise your body back up.

Planks

No physique can be deemed complete without a ripped midriff. Planks are the perfect exercise to target your core. A strong core can help you lift heavier weights as it stabilizes your body. Make sure you don’t let your crotch hang lower than your body or form a bridge while performing planks.

Benefits 

  • This exercise will strengthen your entire core.
  • They also engage your arms since they have to support your bodyweight.

How to Do

  1. On a padded surface, support your body in a straight line with your forearms and your feet planted firmly onto the ground.
  2. Keep your body stable and your hips parallel with the ground (don’t raise or lower them too much).
  3. Hold this position for as long as you can.

Benefits of Training With Your Bodyweight 

Training with your bodyweight comes with its benefits compared to training with weights. For one, you’ll be able to workout from anywhere. You can still get a full-body workout in your hotel, backyard, or park.

Secondly, bodyweight workouts are a great place to start for beginners since they’ll take the stress and load off of your joints and bones that free weights may bring. In addition, they’re safer to do and don’t require as much technique.

Moreover, bodyweight workouts are great to get good at because when you’re strong with your bodyweight, it’s a tale-tale sign that you have good relative strength (strength for your bodyweight), which is essential to have a well-developed physique.

Bodyweight exercises are also great for high-intensity interval training (HIIT) (2).

How to Train With Your Bodyweight

Since there are not as many options available to train with different bodyweight exercises as there are for weight training, it’s recommended that you do full-body workouts to get a good workout in.

Include a variety of bodyweight movements that target all the big muscle groups in your body (chest, back, legs, arms, and abs). For example, you can do bodyweight squats to target your lower body, pull-ups for your back and biceps, pushups to engage your chest, triceps, and shoulders, and planks to strengthen your core.

Another thing worth noting is that instead of aiming for several reps to complete as you would with weight training, it’s best to do the max number of reps you can for bodyweight movements. That’s because eventually, you’ll get to a point where the prescribed reps you were aiming for, let’s say 10 in this situation, is too easy for you. So it’ll be imperative to increase your reps to get stronger.

Rules to Follow 

Warm Up 

Before starting your bodyweight workout, it’s recommended that you treat it like any other muscle group and warm up. Go for a light run for 5-10 minutes to increase your muscle’s body temperature to increase performance and reduce your chances of injury.

Have Rest Days

Even though you’re only using your bodyweight, you should still implement rest days as you would with weight training because you’re still working your muscle groups. And they still need adequate rest for optimal growth and recovery.

Do Full Body Workouts

Although you can do split bodyweight workouts to target just your upper body or lower body, it’s best to do full-body workouts for more efficient and effective workouts since there are not as many bodyweight exercise options as there are for weights.

More Training Tips for Bodyweight 

These are the best bodyweight exercises you can do. But mixing up your workout routine for optimal results is still important. So we recommend you check out some of our other bodyweight workouts:


Which other bodyweight exercises should be on the list? Let us know in the comments below. Also, follow Generation Iron on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram!

References 

  1. Alizadeh, S., Rayner, M., Mahmoud, M. M. I., & Behm, D. G. (2020). Push-Ups vs. Bench Press Differences in Repetitions and Muscle Activation between Sexes. Journal of sports science & medicine19(2), 289–297.
  2. Martins, F. M., de Paula Souza, A., Nunes, P. R. P., Michelin, M. A., Murta, E. F. C., Resende, E. A. M. R., de Oliveira, E. P., & Orsatti, F. L. (2018). High-intensity body weight training is comparable to combined training in changes in muscle mass, physical performance, inflammatory markers and metabolic health in postmenopausal women at high risk for type 2 diabetes mellitus: A randomized controlled clinical trial. Experimental gerontology107, 108–115. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.exger.2018.02.016

Vidur is a fitness junky who likes staying up to date with the fitness industry and loves publishing his opinions for everyone to see. Subscribe to his YouTube Channel.