A Lean Life

Bodyweight Exercise to Build Strength and Size

Bodyweight ExerciseBodyweight exercise is a great way to build mass and shape your body, without a gym membership.

When done correctly with enough explosive intensity, these exercises will help you build lean muscle.

The key is the intensity, as you have to really load your muscles for them to grow and harden.

Best of all…these exercises are convenient, and a great way to create some variety in your routine, which is key to keep motivation high and keep you in the hunt.

Below are the Top 8 Bodyweight Exercises to round out a great overall fitness plan.  They are also generally safe, as I have suffered enough workout injuries that I don’t take chances with extreme angles or crazy-awkward positions.  The bodyweight workouts below are also well-rounded, hitting all of the major muscle groups.

The goal is to create solid mass with a lean, hard, muscular build, without creating the overbuilt, muscle head look.  And to do it all on a tight schedule.

The workout routines within this site are tailored for the super-busy person who values fitness and an impressive, lean build.  The muscle head look is a mainly dated look.  Most men and women today agree that the most visually impressive physique is lean and sharp, with solid muscle, but not overdone.

Benefits of Bodyweight Exercise

Bodyweight SquatsThere are lots of benefits to this workout routine:

  • Does not require a gym – do it at home or in a hotel while traveling
  • Convenient – do it any time you have 20 minutes
  • Generally safer than gym equipment – no heavy weights, barbells, etc.
  • Great for adding a little spice to your overall routine – variety is good to keep things fresh
  • Building lean muscle – you will work your muscles at unique angles and intensities with bodyweight exercise, which will promote muscle growth.

Probably not as effective for strength and mass as your gym equipment, but you won’t always have access to your local gym…travel, holidays, young kids at home, tight budgets, tight schedules, etc.

TOP 8 Bodyweight Exercises

#1 Push-ups

Push-ups for StrengthPush-ups are great for building strength, as well as mass in your chest (pecs), triceps, and core.  Push-ups are no doubt one of the very best bodyweight exercises to build an impressive chest, and they are generally a very safe exercise.

You can do so many great variations of the standard push-up as well, working different angles and intensities to properly develop your pecs.  See link below for many push-up variations.

They can also be done anytime, anywhere, so they are a great bodyweight exercise.

Performing Push-ups:

  1. Assume a position on the floor with your chest facing the floor, palms on the floor slightly wider than shoulder width, your body straight, and on your toes.  This is your start position.
  2. Slowly bend your elbows, lowering your upper body until your chest slightly touches the floor, then push your body up to return to the start position, feeling the contraction in your chest.  Breathe in on the way down, and breathe out on the way up.

Click here for much more exercises and info on Push-up.

#2 Bodyweight Squats

Bodyweight SquatsBodyweight squats are a great bodyweight exercise.  They work your lower legs very well, and can be done anywhere.

Performing Bodyweight Squats:

  1. Stand straight with your feet slightly wider than shoulder width.  Try to keep your feet close to parallel, and you can “toe out” 20 to 30 degrees if you feel you need to.
  2. Slowly bend your knees while pushing your butt to the rear, and bend until your knees are completely bent – calves touching hamstrings (or close to it).  During this bending motion, make sure you inhale and maintain solid control of the motion.
  3. Then push your heels to the floor as you push your body up, returning to the start position.

Click here for more exercises and info on Bodyweight Squats

#3 Door Pull-ups

Door pull-ups are also a very convenient exercise to include in your bodyweight exercise routine.  They can be done anywhere in your home or office, as long as you have a sturdy door and a towel to protect your hands.  It may not be as ideal as a chin-up bar, but it will give you a solid workout.

Pull-ups are a great exercise to work your biceps and your lats.  They are the most effective exercise to create the “V” look, or width in your back.  This width in your back, or V, is what creates a really impressive physique.

MMA great Georges St. Pierre has a very impressive physique, and 80% of the reason that he has such an impressive build is his V-developed back.  He stands out from the crowd, but he is not overbuilt – just lean and hard.

Performing Door Pull-ups:

  1. Find the most solid, sturdy door in your home or office.  Make sure the hinges are nice and tight.
  2. Take a small towel, and double fold.  Place the towel on top of the door, in a location as comfortably close to the hinges as possible.  (The further you are from the hinges on the outer edge of the door, the greater the lever and force on the door when doing pull-ups, so tight to the hinges).
  3. Grab the top of the door with your hands on top of the towel, and make sure you have a solid grip.
  4. With your lower arms/forearms braced vertically against the door, pull your body up until your eyes are level with your hands at the top of the door.  Hold this position for 1 second, then lower your body back to the start position.

Click here for more exercises and info on Pull-ups

#4 Forward Lunge

Forward LungesForward lunges are great to work and tone your legs, especially your upper leg.  Longer lunges activate the glutes (butt), whereas shorter lunges activate the quadriceps (front of thigh).  Dumbbells can be added to the exercise to focus on lower reps and strength, whereas no dumbbells and higher reps focus on endurance.  It all depends on your goals as well as your current fitness level.

Performing Lunges:

  1. Stand upright with feet shoulder width apart and your hands on your hips for balance.
  2. Keeping your head up, step forward with your right foot and step out several feet (a comfortable distance for you).
  3. Ease your body down until your left knee nearly touches the floor.
  4. Recover by pushing with your right leg to return to the start position.
  5. Alternate to your left leg.

Caution:  Lunges will stress the knee joints, so maintain a smooth and controlled motion.

Variations of Lunges:

  • Lateral lunges
  • Reverse lunges
  • Walking lunges
  • Dumbbell lunges

#5 Tricep Dips

Tricep DipsTricep dips are a great bodyweight exercise to isolate, and really burn, the triceps.  They can be performed on a bench, low table, couch, chair, or anything stable that is a few feet off the ground.

Performing Tricep Dips:

  1. Position your body so you’re in a mainly horizontal position, your back to the bench (or couch), and your feet extended so you have a slight bend at the knees.
  2. Hold the bench slightly wider than should width with your elbows slightly bent.  Make sure your anchor point is very solid, and that you have a very good grip.
  3. Slowly lower your body by bending your elbows in a slow and controlled motion until your elbows are at a 90 deg angle.
  4. Push your upper body up to the start position to complete the rep.

Caution:  This exercise will slightly strain your shoulders and elbows, so keep the motion smooth and solid.  I have a weak left shoulder and weak left elbow from prior injuries, so I have to be very careful with this.  Still a great one though to incorporate into your bodyweight workouts.

I also incorporate this exercise into bi-sets in my gym routines – doing Rope Pulldowns followed immediately (without rest) by Tricep Dips – awesome tricep workout…more info on a lean muscle building Tricep Workout.

Click here for more info on Tricep Dips

#6 Crunches

Crunches are a good, solid bodyweight exercise to work your abdominal muscles (abs – the 6 pack look).  They are simple to perform, and you can achieve a vicious burn in your abs in much less time than sit-ups.

Performing Crunches:

  1. Lie flat on your back, with your arms crossed on your chest.
  2. Bend your knees at a 45 degree angle with your feet in the air.  Make sure your upper legs are vertical.
  3. Rotate and curl your upper body off the floor, while keeping your lower back on the floor.  Rotate up until you are looking straight at your legs.  Hold this position for 1 second, and you should feel the contraction in you abs.
  4. Return to the start position.

More info and exercises on Crunch Exercise

Another great ab workout is performing Sit-ups

#7 Jumping Jacks

Jumping jacks are one of the best bodyweight workouts you can perform, and this may surprise you.  There is a reason the US Military loves jumping jacks, and in my years as an Army Infantry officer, we did thousands upon thousands of jumping jacks during morning PT (physical training).

They are very convenient, and they have a number of other benefits as well:

  • Good cardiovascular exercise
  • One of the best plyometric exercises (plyometrics, also known as jump training)
  • Improves bone density by creating compression on your bones – may not seem like a lot, but it all counts
  • Good fat burning exercise – if you weigh 150 pounds, you will burn approximately 250 calories in 30 minutes
  • Good full body workout, working all of the major muscle groups
  • Don’t need equipment or a lot of space

Performing Jumping Jacks:

  1. Stand straight with feet approximately shoulder width, arms at your side.
  2. Jump into the air while spreading your legs approximately 3′ apart landing on the floor, and at the same time swing your arms over your head.  In the same motion, jump into the air returning your legs to the start position and swing your arms down to return to the start position.

#8 Bridge

Bodyweight BridgeThe Bridge is a great exercise to work the muscles of the lower back.  I injured my lower back a few years ago, and the ortho doc I went to recommended I do this exercise every day.  It is not only great for rehabilitation and recovery, but it is also great for prevention.  I recommend you do this as part of your lower back stretches.

Performing a Bridge:

  1. Lie flat on your back, with your knees bent at 45 degree angle, feet flat on the ground.  Your arms should be by your sides, with your palms face down on the floor.
  2. Lift your pelvic muscle straight up, keeping your arms on the floor, until your body forms a straight line.  Feel the contraction in your lower back.
  3. Hold this position for a count of 10 seconds.
  4. Return your upper body to the start position.

Routine for Bodyweight Exercise

Perform each exercise at the reps listed below, in quick succession with short rests – 10 sec between exercise.  This is considered 1 circuit.

Perform 3 to 5 circuits to complete your bodyweight workout.

  • Push-ups – 20-30 reps
  • Squats – 15-20 reps
  • Door Pull-ups – 5-10 reps
  • Forward Lunge – 10-15 reps
  • Tricep Dips – 10-15 reps
  • Crunches – 20-30 reps
  • Jumping Jacks – 20-30 reps
  • Bridge – 10 reps

NOTE: The rep range is a general guidance, as your actual rep ranges vary greatly depending on your physical conditioning, as well as your personal fitness goals.

These bodyweight exercises cover the spectrum, and will exercise all of your major muscle groups:

  • Chest
  • Upper Back
  • Lower Back
  • Biceps
  • Triceps
  • Abs
  • Upper Legs
  • Glutes

Body Weight Strength Training is also a great addition to your overall fitness plan.

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