Bodyweight Exercise Bodyweight Workouts Strength

Bodyweight Training And Muscle Mass – Building The Functional Physique

Written by shapeshifter

Right or wrong, good or bad, lots of guys are preoccupied with building muscle (this post may be skewed slightly towards male readers…). So it’s not surprising that we frequently receive questions which vary on the theme of, “can I build muscle with bodyweight exercise.” My answer? Yes! But

When it comes to packing on lean muscle mass, there’s a bit of nuance that needs to be addressed. And it all starts with the question, “what are you looking to grow muscle FOR?” Is it to be more functional in a sport, activity or movement. Is it to look better on the beach? Is it for reasons of health, vitality and virility. Or is it perhaps to just be plain old hyoooge?

If your answer is the latter, you won’t get there on bodyweight training alone. It would still make an important addition to your training with respect to maintaining the maximum possible movement potential and mobility though!

The kind of mass you can pack on with bodyweight exercise is what I call muscle where muscle is due. My favorite term for this is the Functional Physique. By engaging your body in functionally useful and transferable movements, your body will be forced to lay down muscle mass wherever necessary to support that movement.

This is such a foreign concept for most trainers, who are caught up in the idea of training to get bigger so you can perform better. Few understand that by training to move better you’ll get bigger–but only where you need it. That was a big revelation for me when I discovered Circular Strength Training®. And it’s why I feel better now than when I was constantly pushing myself in two dimensions to get bigger and stronger. The funny thing is, I can push more weight in most of the conventional weight training movements than I could back then!

Functional Physique Role Models

Let’s take a look at a male gymnast or a break dancer for a good illustration of these principles. These guys sport sleek muscularity. And they built it primarily by manipulating their own bodyweight in space. So if we look at the movements they have to do, it can give us a little hint about how we can tweak our own bodyweight training to build more functional muscle mass.

If you’ve ever watched a bit of male gymnastics on TV, you’ll surely have noticed that they have to hold a static positions periodically. This is called an isometric contraction–and they have to do some doozies! Moving your body in space is challenging, but supporting most of your weight in a static hold can be seriously tough.

Using the secret weapon of the gymnast

And we can use this to our advantage in bodyweight training. Here’s an example that has challenged even the strongest of my trainees. Get yourself set for a push-up and lower yourself to about the halfway point, just before your upper arms reach parallel with the ground. Then hold that position for 40 to 60 seconds without moving. Right afterward, do 5 push ups in a “cluster set” (do one push up, rest ten seconds, do another, etc). When you’re ready to add more sophistication and even more growth potential, replace the clustered push ups with 5-10 continuous  Quad Hops. Rest a minute between sets and start over, completing anywhere from 3 to 6 sets.

With a little imagination you can apply the same principle to any number of exercises to get a complete full-body hypertrophy (muscle growth) workout without ever stepping foot in the gym!

What other exercises do you think would work well with this method? Let us know in the comments!

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  • You guys sure have a unque approach to looking good and being healthy. i think the problem with guys that are preoccupied with getting really huge is that they use it as a psychological device – a sort opf way to make up for what they are lacking in personality. What they fail to see is that it’s really all about looking good/healthy.

  • Hey Muscle Man,
    I was stuck in that mentality for years, until I discovered Circular Strength Training. Actually, I was moving away from it somewhat already-exploring various resources in the “functional training” stream. But nothing made total sense until I found CST.

    Thanks for the comment!


  • My comment wouldn’t appear earlier, so it is now. I hope it doesn’t end up being published twice.

    As a strength and conditioning coach working with many athletes I feel it is important to stress to the general public the difference between functional/performance related strength training and aesthetic value. What many people don’t realise is that training for function ironically provides a better, less manufactured looking body than training specifically as a bodybuilder would.

    Anyhow, a few ideas out of my 500+ bodyweight exercise library…

    Pistols/single leg squats, pull-ups, L-pull-ups, burpees, clap push-ups, single arm push-ups, two point push-ups, handstand push-ups, planche, reverse planche, L-sit, elevated L-sit, dips, L-dips, gymnastics rings dips, spiderman push-ups, tuck push-ups, and one of my new favourites…elbow bridge. This involves lying on your back with elbows tucked to your sides resting on the floor. Now push your elbows into the floor as hard as possible while trying to elevate your upper body off the floor. To make it easier have your knees bent and your feet flat on the floor.
    .-= Chris´s last blog -> Apr 3, Personal Strength and Conditioning Coach =-.

  • Hey coach steer, I really love this idea of isometric contractions. If I were to hold the contraction at the bottom of the pushup instead of halfway down, would it cause a more intense contraction in my muscles?

    Also, I know a lot of type 1 and type 2 fibre stuff gets brandished about. So, are your fast twitch fibres being recruited in
    a) high-rep pushups for endurance and
    b) static holds?

    Thanks in advance!

    • Hi Clement,

      I often have my clients hold their isos in several different positions along the range of motion. The strength carry over is about 15° so that way you hit more functional strength…

      Fast twitch fibers are going to be more dominant in explosive and / or very heavy lifting…


  • Hello coach Steer , I also love the idea of these exercises. Sounds like it could be very useful. Do they help in building muscle mass like a gymnast? Gymnasts have very big muscular bodies, so do these exercsises help in achieving good amounts of muscular growth?

      • Hey so this sounds real interesting. You listed some variables to play around with would you mind expounding on that? Do you feel increasing volume and training near failure would be beneficial? Also Would doing push ups or whatever exercise slowly help in engaging more muscle fibers after the static holds? I’m real interested in giving this a go if I could get a more detailed structure if you don’t mind, of how to integrate this or use as a stand alone technique for a period of time. Note: I have TacFit commando and have achieved commando level though I think it would be useful to plug and play with something like this in my routine when I want just specific focus. I wouldn’t train near failure or with a lot of fatigue for strength (which I’m sure this can be tweaked to benefit as well). I also have no desire to get hyoooge or anything I’m 18 and like where I’m at, low bf levels, etc. but just having a better understanding of this principle and then being able to apply it can be very useful. Think of it as a hypothetical situation, where I lost mass for whatever reason or had some crazy desire to focus just on putting on some extra functional mass and not do my metabollic conditioning.
        Sorry for the long winded explanation, but I feel that to get a point a across, details help



  • Guess it’s all right, I perfectly agree with those statements above. It’s nice to read some articles relating to this maybe I should continue to read more from your site. Thanks for sharing such a wonderful post online. Bring the Functional Physique on!!!

  • Thought I would just share a little bit of my experience with only bodyweight workouts. In short, I’d say they’re the most incredible workouts ever! Build Muscle? A big yes! And the side effects? A bigger muscle which is as strong as it looks! Functional and bigger muscles, of course!

    Before I was an all out gym goer myself, and just believed in these conventional methods that were the only way to build muscle. Bodyweight exercises were only something I used as warm-ups to get into my weight training routines. Until I came upon bodyweight only workouts from some bodyweight gurus on the website, I decided to give them a shot. Oh boy! Was I surprised! After just a few days on the program, I literally felt my body changing! It didn’t show much on the physical part at first, but it was the most incredible feeling I ever felt that weights could never deliver! In fact, training with weights (conventional bodybuilding methods) all those years gave me a lot of joint and bodily complications that interfered with most of my daily,simple chores. But I clearly remembered the day I made that switch to bodyweight and calisthenics, I decided never to look back again. Ever since then, I became obsessed with them. I relentlessly looked for the best bodyweight training protocols and bought as much as I could find them on the internet. Heck, I got a whole library of them sitting on book shelves right now. And that’s not even including the programs that are in digital formats! But it was all worth it.

    But among all, I would the one that gave me almost superhuman abilities, and I really mean when I say is, is BER. That’s right! Bodyweight Exercise Revolution program by Coach Steer and Coach Murdock that I bought almost a year ago. This is not some kind of marketing promotion for these guys as I am not an affiliate of this program nor am I in any associated with these guys. Maybe in near future I guess, but it’s just that this program is so effective and delivers what it’s suppose to deliver (maybe even more), I couldn’t help but mention about it here. Not only I got leaner and more muscular, but it also enhanced and boosted my athleticism as well as my other bodily functionality . Can you imagine that I was already fit from previously doing my other bodyweight programs? Well, you could say that BER takes it to the next level.

    Hey, I think I’ve said enough here. Probably I should send my full testimonial or reviews via email to you guys,right? But I just want to say that it’s really a great program, and thank you for coming up with it.

    Cheers guys

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