Can You Build muscle using only bodyweight EXERCISES?

It would be amazing and way less intimidating, if you could build an amazing physique at home. An when you look at people doing calisthenics or gymnastics they seem to have amazing physiques, but you rarely see them go to the gym and lift weights. 


This begs the question: “Can you build muscle doing bodyweight training only?”


The short answer is yes, you certainly can build muscle with bodyweight exercises alone! I started my own fitness journey by only doing workouts in my bedroom, and got great results from that. But it will be much more difficult over time, than just doing a few exercises on your mat in your living room floor. For me to explain properly you need to have an understanding of what it takes to build muscle first.

Let's begin.

Muscle Building 101

Let’s quickly cover what it takes to build muscle. Building muscle primarily comes down to 3 factors:

1. Mechanical Tension

This is primarily what happens when you lift heavy things. If you’ve ever tried lifting a heavy barbell off the ground that weighs more than you do, this is mechanical tension at work. You’re working your hardest to keep your shoulders packed, spine neutral, and core tight. When muscles are exposed to lots of mechanical tension, they respond by growing.

2. Metabolic Stress

This is the burning feeling that you get when muscles are fatigued. It’s also known as the “pump” in the bodybuilding world, as blood flows to your muscles and makes them look bigger.

3. Muscle Damage

This is the muscular soreness that you feel 24-48 hours after a workout. While you don’t need to feel soreness to build muscle, it is generally a good sign that your muscles are being repaired and getting stronger.

There’s more that goes into the science of muscle growth, but we’re going to leave it here for now. As long as you have significant mechanical tension and metabolic stress (muscle damage plays a smaller role), you will build muscle.

Can Bodyweight Training Build Muscle?

If you are new to exercise or have very limited exposure to resistance training, then YES, bodyweight training will definitely build muscle. But it's only gonna get you so far and you and your trainer will have to keep finding ways to progress in the various exercises with "progression overload" - that means making exercises more difficult over time.

However, if you're just looking to stay in shape, feel good, stay lean and get your heart rate up on the regular, by all means keep doing just bodyweight workouts. They're amazing!

If you want to grow your muscles or get stronger, you'll have to find new methods (like lifting weights).

Problems WITH Bodyweight Exercise for Muscle Growth

When training bodyweight it's important that you train your whole body as well as increase the challenge over time, making it harder and harder for yourself.

The problem with bodyweight exercises for muscle building is that it’s often very difficult to create enough mechanical tension, especially in the lower body, to stimulate those large muscles grow.

1. Targeting All Your Muscle Groups

Performing staple bodyweight exercises that hit all your muscle groups would be optimal. Here are the classic compound movements:

  • Pushups: Chest, Shoulders, Arms, Core

  • Squats + Lunge Variations + Step Ups: Legs

  • Glute bridges: Butt

  • Pull ups + Chin Ups: Back, Arms, Core

  • Plank & Ab Exercises


A problem here can be, that pull ups are hard to do at home unless you have a pull up bar. Try finding a nearby park and do your workout there. It's also hard to target your glutes (butt muscles) properly, simply because the quads are a bigger muscle group and will take over in exercises like squats and lunges when there isn't any added weight, therefore glute isolation exercises are necessary. Glute bridges simply won't be challenging enough for your glutes to grow.


2. Increasing The Challenge

Continually making exercises harder (which is necessary based on the principles of progressive overload) becomes challenging unless you add more and more reps. And even when you do add more reps, you’ll most likely end up improving your muscular endurance, in stead og strength and size.

In order to put on muscle using bodyweight exercises, you have to strategically make these staple exercises more difficult. Examples would be progressing to a one-legged squat (pistol squat) to build leg muscle, a one-arm push-up for chest and arm muscles, or a one-arm chin-up for back and bicep muscles.

You could also play around with the tempo of which you're doing the exercises. Try focussing on the eccentric (or lowering) part of the exercise. For example, the eccentric part of a push-up is when you lower yourself from the top of the push-up to the ground. For a squat, the downward motion as you sit down is the eccentric movement. Training the eccentric will lead to more muscle damage.

For most people, learning to master these new, advanced exercises takes time, a lot of failure, and an incredible level of dedication and precision.

In the context of what is most effective for building more muscle, I would make the argument that it’s much easier to simply add weight to the bar than to keep doing more and more reps and learning a new variation of the exercise.



Advantages of Bodyweight Training

While bodyweight exercises may not be optimal to build the most amount of muscle, it for sure is great, like I mentioned earlier! Here's some more reasons why:

1. No Equipment Necessary

You might not always have the access of the time to go to a gym. Because you can do bodyweight exercises anywhere and any time, it’s easier to be consistent with your workouts


2. Great Starting Place

If you’re new to strength training, bodyweight exercises are a terrific place to start. You will build muscle. You will get more comfortable in your own body. And you’ll develop a good foundation of strength that you can then apply to weight training, or any other training modality you choose.

3. Just To Stay In Shape And Stay  Healthy

Movement is important for our bodies and it's healthy, no matter how much muscle you have. If this is all you have time for or want to do, then that's great! Make sure you get a trainer to make an effective programme for you.

4. You Can add Your Own Elements

Simply buying a couple dumbbells, kettlebells or resistance bands will help you give that little extra umpf to your workouts at home, and make sure you break a sweat.

If you've ever considered stating at-home-training, go ahead! It's amazing and you will get a lot of healthy benefits from it. Like I said before, it was the start of my own fitness journey and actually where I first saw hints of my sixpack. 

I have helped loads of new moms, busy people who don't have time for the gym or who are intimidated by the gym still get the results they were after.


Do you want AN EFFECTIVE AT-HOME- or gym PROGRAMME? Let me guidE you through online coaching.

If you don't want to miss another article, follow me on instagram or sign up with your email AT THE BOttom of the page.

©2016 by Sarah Louise Training


United Kingdom

  • Instagram
  • Facebook
  • Email

Got any questions? Please don't hesitate to ask