Five bodyweight exercises which build noticeable muscle

A few years ago a good friend came to me with a request to help him build muscle. He used to participate in many different sports which kept him relatively fit with ease. At this time he was in his late thirties and as life goes, business was taking up most of his time.

Golf was his only sport at this stage, but unfortunately the positive effects from playing golf, like walking and being outside was mostly undone by firstly, by not walking (golf carts!), and secondly, by having a few drinks during and after the round.

Obviously some lifestyle changes were needed to really see some changes. But I knew that asking him to stop socializing, start walking and eating healthier was not going to stick.

Exercise is the best place to start healthy lifestyle changes.

I know from years’ of experience that one of the most important factors  when it comes to sticking to a training program is getting results fast. You want to see and feel the difference within the first few sessions.

My friend, let’s call him John, came to me deeply concerned that he has lost all his muscle. He used to sport a six pack and had some athletic looking muscles in his legs and arms. Right now, in his own words,  he was turning into a chicken-legged,  old man with love handles and no biceps.

I have seen it many times. Especially with the more athletic-type men. It is as though their decline from youthful athletes to middle aged looking men just happens over night. It is not true off course, it happens gradually but because one seems to remember their athletic bodies the contrast when you see them again may seem huge, and instant.

In all fairness, John wasn’t looking that bad. He was just used to looking better. Normally, this would have been an easy assignment for me. I’ll get him back in shape in no time using a combination of weight training, bodyweight-positive-hormone-workouts as well as different forms of cardio of various intensity on different days of the week.

Feeling good after a workout is extremely important when you are just getting started.

You want to elevate the right hormones that makes you want to come back for more. This doesn’t mean the workout should not challenge you or you shouldn’t feel any pain. On the contrary, tough is good.

This is when the changes happen. Your body wakes up after a long slumber. You remind your body of how it felt like when you were a child when you moved a lot. You want more. Your body loves it. Your muscles may hurt slightly, but your body is getting primed for more. Changes occur inside your cells, your mitochondria colonies start to increase their numbers again and by doing this it literally makes you younger again.

In cases like John’s, I would usually focus on bodyweight type circuits while slowly introducing weight training for muscle and strength building. The bodyweight workouts will serve a double purpose- by priming your muscles for heavier stimulus (strength and endurance) and secondly for improving your cardio fitness without having to do less enjoyable workouts like running on a treadmill.

After the first few weeks, when the goal is to get some good looking muscle, the focus would shift to mostly weight training. I would still incorporate some training without weights to enhance joint and tendon health but also to improve posture.

Gaining muscle outside the gym

John had some specific ideas though. He wanted to gain muscle (i.e look good with and without a shirt), but he wanted to do this with bodyweight exercises and bodyweight exercise alone. No barbells, no dumbbells, no kettlebells . No gym.

This presented a challenge. Sure you can build some muscle with bodyweight training but it is lot more straight forward to do it with weights. The best rep ranges for building muscle are no secret. Their are many different strategies that can be used.

Up to this point, my use of bodyweight exercises was mostly to enhance strength in beginners, to improve strength-endurance and fitness as well as functionality of your body. Workouts that increase growth hormone production and let your body release chemicals called endorphins are easy with circuit style workouts when the focus is not really on hypertrophy.

John seemed to remember a very muscular version of himself in his twenties. I mentioned above that he used to have a good looking athletic body so yes, he did have some muscle. But he never trained in a gym and he never focused on building muscle. I didn’t tell him that no, his body never looked like the model on the cover of the Men’s Health mag he pointed to when we spoke about his program.

He wanted noticeable muscle, like “he used to have”. He wanted it without using weights.

It was a challenge that changed the way I looked at working out. I learned a lot. I didn’t nail it right from week one, although it worked good enough to keep him motivated. It was only after a few weeks that I finally found:

  1. The best bodyweight exercises to gain muscle.
  2. The best way to train to gain muscle with bodyweight exercises.

So without further adieu, here are the five best bodyweight exercises for hypertrophy:

  1. Push-ups
  2. Lunges
  3. Single leg lying hip extensions
  4. Pull-ups
  5. Dips

Now I know this list alone is not going to help you much. To see results, you need to know all the different variations of each exercise listed and when to do them. You also need to know the amount of reps and sets, the sequence, how often you need to train and some other  important points.

Significant hypertrophy with bodyweight training is possible, if you know what you are doing.

If you want free two week bodyweight training program that can be used successfully for building muscle, just sign up for my newsletter and I’ll send it to you.

The program is similar to what I used on John. I am proud to say that when I was done with him, he looked very much like the Men’s Health model he wanted to look like, barring the perfect tan and teeth!

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