Body Weight Strength Training to Increase Strength and Build Lean Muscle

Body Weight Strength Training

Is body weight strength training for you?  Well, whether you’re someone who’s just getting started, or you simply prefer working out at home and have minimal equipment available, body weight strength training is a great form of exercise to round out your fitness plan.

Some people believe that you must use gym equipment in order to see results, but this simply isn’t the case at all.

These exercises are generally very safe, and also very effective when performed with sufficient intensity.  Remember, to build strength you must stress the muscles, and you want to target lower reps.  More on that below.

Table of Contents

Main Takeaways

  • Bodyweight exercises can be done without going to the gym, and without equipment.

  • A key to body weight strength straining is to push your muscles to near failure. To build strength, you need to put your muscles under stress.

  • Always do a quick warm-up and do some dynamic stretching before doing these exercises to avoid injuries.

  • These exercises work all major muscle groups (back, chest, triceps, biceps, shoulders, legs, abs).

Benefits of Bodyweight Strength Training

There are many benefits to body weight strength training:

  • Improved muscular and bone strength
  • Increased cardiovascular fitness
  • Improved metabolic rate
  • Enhanced body composition (less fat, more lean muscle)
  • Improved balance and agility

Body Weight Strength Training for SeniorsEspecially as the aging process takes place, it becomes more and more important that you are constantly placing stress on the muscles to ensure that you don’t suffer from lean muscle mass loss.  After the age of 30, you will lose 3% to 5% of your lean muscle mass each decade unless you have an effective fitness plan that includes resistance training. Muscle loss with age is an important consideration to be aware of.

Effective resistance training is also essential to avoiding injury.

Structuring a body weight strength training program properly will be key to your success.  Let’s look at the main things that you need to know.

Creating An Effective Body Weight Strength Training Routine

When putting together your strength training workout routine, there are a few things to keep in mind:

  • Begin with a proper warm-up – take 2-3 minutes and move through some light cardio exercise (jumping jacks, jog in place) along with some dynamic stretching to fully prepare your body
  • Keep rest periods shorter – this will help to add cardiovascular benefits to your workout session
  • Always maintain good form – even though weights aren’t involved, you still should maintain good form at all times
  • Use slightly lower rep ranges than your typical bodyweight workouts, and increase the resistance using dumbbells (or some similar object)

Remember, to increase muscle size (mass) when resistance training, you want higher reps and lower resistance, performing each set to failure.  This is called sarcoplasmic hypertrophy. (1)

However, to increase strength and muscle density (hardness), you want lower reps and increased resistance.  This is called myofibrillar hypertrophy.  This is the reason when doing body weight strength training, you want to perform slightly lower reps at slightly increased resistance. (2)

The Exercise Line-Up for Body Weight Strength Training

Perform the following exercises as indicated until the circuit is complete.

Once you complete each circuit, rest for 1-2 minutes before completing a second time through.

Push-ups  – 10-15 reps

Push up for Strength TrainingWhen doing your push-ups, make sure to keep your abs firm to maintain proper alignment and go as close down to the floor as you possibly can before pressing up again. Never hyperextend the elbows at the top of the movement.

Push-ups for Bodyweight Strenth TrainingTo increase resistance: Elevate your feet on a table, couch, bench, or exercise ball.  This will increase the resistance of the push-up, which is ideal to increase strength. And as you work through multiple circuits, you should make your push-ups progressively easier. So start off with feet elevated, progress to traditional push-ups, and then finish off with counter push-ups.

Bodyweight squats – 10-15 reps

Bodyweight SquatsAs you perform your body weight squats, make sure the knees move directly over the toes as you lower yourself down as far to the ground as you can possibly go.  Keep the body in the upright position, never leaning too far forward.

To increase resistance: Hold a dumbbell in each hand.  They don’t have to be heavy dumbbells…5# dumbbells should be fine.

Once you build sufficient strength to easily perform bodyweight squats with two legs, then you can totally change the game by performing one-leg bodyweight squats, also called pistol squats (because you hold the other leg in front of you).  It’s a killer, so you need to be in great shape.

Pull-ups – 5-10 reps

Bodyweight Strength Training PullupThink of performing a pull-up by squeezing the back and arm muscles, not by using momentum to help carry you through this exercise. The legs should remain as motionless as possible.

You can use a door in your home or office, and just put a towel over the top to protect your hands, or you can purchase a pull-up bar (preferred). If you’re having difficulties with standard pull-ups, try a close grip pull-up and build your strength from there.

To increase resistance: Wear a weighted belt, or hold an object between your feet.

Lying leg raises – 10-15 reps

Leg Raises for Strength TrainingAt all times throughout this exercise, keep the back pressed firmly into the floor, never letting it arch upwards as this would put you at serious risk of lower back pain. Bring the legs down to the floor as close as possible, pause, and then reverse directions to complete the next rep.

To increase resistance: Hold a heavy book (or similar object) between your feet (as shown in photo).  Just be careful that it does not slip out and fall on you in the top position.

Walking lunges – 10-15 reps

Leg Lunges for Bodyweight StrengthWhen performing walking lunges, be sure that you never lean too far forward as you execute the movement, and step a comfortable distance in front of the body. The knee should follow the toes throughout each step that you take.

To increase resistance: Hold a dumbbell in each hand.  They don’t have to be heavy dumbbells…5# dumbbells should be fine.

Bodyweight Squats1-210-15
Lying Leg Raises1-210-15
Walking Lunges1-210-15

Why I Have These Exercises in My Wheelhouse

I like body weight exercises because they do two things:

  • Provide exercises when you can’t make it to the gym or have no equipment
  • Add some variation to your workout regimen

It’s always good to have some go-to bodyweight exercises, because there will be days when you just don’t have access to any equipment or a gym. And I find that when I do these exercises to near failure, I get nearly as good a burn (and workout) as working out in the gym, or using dumbbells.

How to Perform Bodyweight SquatsBut the key is to push your muscles to near failure. If you’re simply “going through the motions” then you won’t get the same effect.

And when you do that, it means sore muscles the next day, so I know the muscles are breaking down and rebuilding stronger and harder. For me, I am not looking for building mass as much as I am building strength and hardness, preserving bone density, and achieving a better overall physique.

Avoiding Injury

To help avoid injury throughout this workout:

  • Make sure you keep your breathing patterns regular so that you never feel light-headed or dizzy and always keep tabs on proper form.
  • If you feel as though you’re fatiguing, stop to rest for a few seconds before carrying on.
  • Never continue doing an exercise using improper form.
  • Make sure your muscles are properly warmed up prior to your workout.

If you can perform this workout session three times per week, you will be on your way to seeing noticeable strength gains.

Bridging the Gap

And if you’re looking for some great ways to increase muscle recovery, then you might consider a creatine supplement. Creatine is a great supplement to aid in muscle recovery, and there are best times to take it. Check our post on the best time to take creatine.

Click to see other bodyweight exercise or also additional workouts. Also check out our video library for bodyweight exercises.

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David Williams

A diet and fitness enthusiast, David is an ex-Army Airborne Ranger and Infantry soldier with decades of fitness and wellness experience. A West Point graduate with a degree in engineering, he focuses on technical research related to fitness, nutrition, and wellness. He loves the beach and working out, and spending time with his wife and daughters.

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  1. Roberts, M. D., Haun, C. T., Vann, C. G., Osburn, S. C., & Young, K. C. (2020, July 14). Sarcoplasmic hypertrophy in skeletal muscle: A scientific “Unicorn” or resistance training adaptation? Frontiers in physiology.
  2. MediLexicon International. (n.d.). Muscular hypertrophy: Definition, causes, and how to achieve it. Medical News Today.

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