Many people are under a misconception that bodyweight exercises are most suited to use as finishers for a workout, or are only for muscle toning. “If you want to build muscle, you have to lift heavy weights and eat big!” is what these naysayers will tell you.
I used to think so too, until I was hobbling around every morning with aches and pains in some of the strangest areas, including my feet and hands. I also had the typical aches and pains in my shoulders, knees, ankles and lower back.
I decided to experiment with laying off the heavy weights entirely. And I switched my training to ALL bodyweight. I borrowed the methods of muscle building that I used from free weights and incorporated them into all my bodyweight workouts. And that’s what I want to share with you today.
Here are 3 ways you can use bodyweight exercises to build lean muscle mass — while doing so pain-free.
1) Choose challenging bodyweight exercises
NO secret here with any style of exercise. Workouts are supposed to be challenging, and most people shy away from the exercises that challenge them the most. Here is a short list of challenging bodyweight exercises that will shock your muscles into getting stronger AND growing.
– Handstand Training: Handstand Holds Against Wall and Handstand Push Ups Against Wall. This is one of the most powerful shoulder, triceps, upper back and abdominal exercises you can do.
– Pull Ups with Varied Hand Grips: Use a variety of hand grips and hand spacing while performing pull ups to work your muscles from different angles while never allowing your body to adapt to any one pull up style. Experiment with overhand, underhand, mixed grip (one hand over, one hand under) and neutral grip. You can also wrap a towel around the bar for thick grip pull ups.
– Squat Jumps: Bodyweight squats get pretty easy after a while, so instead of adding countless reps, try exploding off the ground for each rep. Land with soft knees, hips back and knees out. When landing, drop into a half squat or slightly above parallel, and then explode back up for the desired number of reps.
2) Bodyweight Ladders
Ladders involve performing a succession of reps and counting them as one set. You then repeat that progression for several rounds.
If we look at pull ups, for example, one ladder would look like this:
- 1 rep, then rest 30 seconds
- 2 reps, then rest 30 seconds
- 3 reps, then rest 30 seconds
- 4 reps, then rest 30 seconds
- 5 reps, then rest 30 seconds
Rest 2 minutes and then repeat the entire sequence 2 more times.
Ladders get very challenging very fast, and they allow you to work on adding more volume while also keeping your technique dialed in.
3) Density Training
At a recent fitness challenge, I was required to perform 100 pull ups as fast as possible. I had done 100 pull ups in a workout before, but I’d never done 100 reps in under 10 minutes. My lats were sore for 5 days afterwards!
We often think we’re challenging our body, but the truth is we’re capable of doing much more work in less time. And that’s the nature of Density Training. You’re raising the intensity of your workout by doing more work in less time.
If you want to give Density Training a try, set a timer for 10 minutes and choose 1 to 3 exercises. Perform as many reps as possible in that 10 minute time period.
Performing more work than you’re normally accustomed to — and in less time — hits new muscle fibers and forces them to grow.
Try these 3 bodyweight exercise strategies and let us know how they go for you!