Is Bodyweight Training Effective for Building Muscle?

Posted by Jason Ferruggia

Bodyweight training is incredibly effective for building muscle.

Some would even argue that it’s better than free weights.

Bodyweight exercises don’t beat up your joints as much as traditional weight training exercises do. They allow for a more natural range of motion and improve your overall athleticism quite effectively.

Advanced bodyweight exercises require unmatched levels of full body tension. This is what leads to incredible strength gains.

However, there are still those who  argue that bodyweight training isn’t as effective as weight lifting when it comes to building muscle.

That’s because it’s often associated with high reps, endurance and the military.

But if you look at the muscular upper body development of male gymnasts it kind of paints a different picture.

The problem is that most people don’t know or utilize proper bodyweight progressions. So they never really increase the resistance.

They just do basic variations of pushups or inverted rows and then think to themselves, “This is too easy to build muscle.”

And they’re right. Those two exercises, in their most basic form, would be too easy and wouldn’t provide enough tension or overload to build muscle.

Get jacked & ripped with nothing but your own bodyweight with this worksheet!

But what about if you worked up to one arm pushups?

Or one arm inverted rows?

Jungle Gym XT steep incline pushups?

Ultra wide grip inverted rows to the neck with the elbows flared and a 2-3 second hold at the top?

Then you get to the point where you’re adding chains or weighted vests to those exercises?

Now, technically that’s not strictly bodyweight training anymore. In that instance it becomes bodyweight plus resistance.

But it’s still a variation of bodyweight training and is still highly effective.

Bodyweight Training Requires Patience & Dedication

Another reason people think you can build muscle more effectively with weight training is because it’s a lot easier to grab a heavier dumbbell than it is to progress from a crow stand or frog stand all the way to a planche pushup over the course of 18-24 months.

That takes a LOT of patience and discipline. The other problem is that as you’re getting bigger and as you gain weight through proper nutrition, the bodyweight exercises become more difficult so then you can’t progress as quickly. Or you perceive a lack of progress and give up.

Most intelligent coaches would argue that a chin up is superior to a pulldown for building muscle. So why wouldn’t other bodyweight exercises be effective?

Why wouldn’t l-sit ring dips with a forward lean be more effective than a bench press?

Why wouldn’t glute ham raises be more effective than leg curls?

Why wouldn’t front levers be more effective than stiff arm pulldowns?

Why wouldn’t Power Wheel Rollouts be more effective than an ab machine?

I’d argue that they are.

The lack of knowledge regarding bodyweight training and its proper progressions is what prevents more people from getting the results they should from it.

Bodyweight exercises can build muscle rapidly, especially if you keep progressing to more difficult variations of each of them.

Simply doing tons of reps, as most people do, won’t help you build muscle at all.

What Builds Size and Strength?

To gain muscle and strength you need significant loading and tension. Ultra high rep work provides neither.

It does very little to activate the fast twitch fibers either, and those have the greatest potential for growth. So you need to keep that in mind and stick with reps in the 5-12 range, predominantly.

For lower body exercises you can go a bit higher. Twenty rep pistol squats, for example, will force some pretty good leg growth.

When you have those two factors covered you need to add in the appropriate volume and frequency needed to elicit muscle and strength gains.

I’ve put together the ultimate bodyweight only training program called Body Weight Body Building.


It’s perfect for guys who want to take 60-90 days off of heavy weights to let their joints heal up a bit, or for those of you who train at home with limited equipment.

I personally always run at least four months of pure bodyweight training each year and highly recommend it to all my clients.

Click HERE to grab this 90 day muscle building program.

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