Fact checked by Hana Medvesek
What comes to mind when you see the words “building muscle?” If you’re like most people, you immediately think of weight training with free weights and machines.
But what about total body training without the use of weights? Can bodyweight exercises build muscle?
Let’s take a closer look at how muscle growth works, why total body training with bodyweight exercises can help you build muscle, and the best bodyweight exercises for muscle growth.
Table of contents:
What is Bodyweight Training?
Bodyweight training is a form of strength and conditioning exercise in which the primary resistance against gravity comes from one’s own body weight. This type of training uses exercises that don’t require any additional equipment or weights, making it an accessible option for anyone looking to get in shape.
Some of the most common bodyweight exercises that can be used for total body training include the following:
How Does Muscle Growth Work?
First things first, what the heck is muscle growth? Your muscles are made up of fibers that fire together to produce an action or move a load. The more that these muscle fibers work together, repeating the same movement, the more efficient they become at it.
But what happens when your muscle fibers are met with a load that is heavier or more intense than they are used to? This is when the process of muscle hypertrophy – muscle growth – takes place.
Muscle hypertrophy is the process of increasing muscle size. To achieve this, one must subject their muscles to a stimulus that encourages them to grow. This can be accomplished through an increase in weight, intensity, or repetitions. In other words, you want to overload the muscle fibers, pushing them past their comfort zone.
During your workouts, you will cause microtears to the fibers. Don’t worry, this is worse than it sounds. These microtears are essential for muscle growth. With the proper rest, nutrition, and workout recovery, the fibers rebuild themselves bigger and stronger than before, allowing you to gradually get used to the stimulus you’re using. 
Muscles are broken down in the gym and built in the kitchen. Nutrition is just as important as working out if you want to see consistent muscle building results.
Eventually, you’ll have to move on to another stimulus, something more challenging to encourage more growth.
Can You Build Muscle with Bodyweight?
While you can use additional weight such as dumbbells or kettlebells, the stimulus needed for muscle growth can be generated through bodyweight exercises during total body training. There are a few things to keep in mind:
The most important thing to remember is that you need to consistently push yourself just outside of what you know you’re capable of doing during a bodyweight workout. Usually, people who do bodyweight exercises stop seeing results because they don’t challenge themselves further.
Some of the best ways to make your bodyweight exercises more challenging so you can keep seeing results are to use slower tempos (e.g., count three seconds up, three seconds down) shorten your rest periods, and increase the number of overall reps and sets.
Master the Form
Just like with weighted strength training, form is everything. Bad form doesn’t just rob you of muscle growth gains, but it also puts you in danger. Make sure to take the time to learn and master proper form before increasing the intensity of your bodyweight exercises.
Change it Up
Finally, don’t stick with the same total body training workout for months. Be sure that you’re adding variety to your workout program. Aside from manipulating reps and sets, rest periods, and tempos, as we mentioned above, you can try out new exercises or progressed versions of the exercises you’re doing now.
How Long Does it Take to Build Muscle with Bodyweight Exercises?
The amount of time it takes to build muscle with bodyweight exercises can vary from person to person, and it depends on several key factors including:
- Gender: Men tend to gain muscle faster than women because of higher levels of testosterone.
- Age: Younger individuals tend to build muscle faster than older people.
- Genetics: Some people have an easier time building muscle than others.
- Level of Activity: People who are more active will see quicker results.
- Previous Fitness Experience: People who have a history of working out usually have an easier time getting back to where they were before – this is called muscle memory.
With all of that said, a realistic timeline for building muscle with bodyweight exercises is about 8 to 12 weeks. Of course, this will vary depending on the individual and their fitness level, but as long as you are pushing yourself and challenging your muscles in new ways during each session, then you can expect to start seeing results within that time frame.
One exception to the rule is beginner’s luck. If you’ve never worked out before, you will more than likely experience the gift of being a beginner when gains seem to come quickly, but as you train, you’ll notice your results will slow down. This is totally normal and requires you to adjust your workout program.
Is Bodyweight Training Better than Weights?
While one is not necessarily better than the other, one form of training might be better suited to different types of people.
For example, people who are brand new to fitness or going through rehab exercises tend to begin with bodyweight exercises and total body training.
One of the most unique things about bodyweight exercises is that they do more than tap into muscle growth. Bodyweight exercises also challenge your muscles by demanding coordination and balance.
For those who are new to fitness, bodyweight exercises and total body training are fantastic ways to build the neuromuscular connections you need to excel at foundational movement patterns like the hip hinge.
What Are the Disadvantages of Bodyweight Training?
While bodyweight training is a great way to build muscle, burn fat, and gain strength, there are some disadvantages as well.
For starters, you can only push your muscles so far with bodyweight exercises alone. That’s why many people turn to kettlebells and other weights in order to generate the stimulus needed for further muscle growth.
Also, it can be difficult to measure progress with bodyweight exercises. Weights allow you to easily track the amount of weight lifted, but for bodyweight exercises, it’s a bit harder. Progress can be tracked by measuring total reps and sets, as well as manipulating the variables like rest periods and tempos. But tracking overall intensity might prove to be tricky when it comes to making sure you’re pushing yourself just a bit more each workout.
Despite these disadvantages, bodyweight training is still an effective way to build muscle and gain strength. Just make sure that you’re challenging your muscles in new ways each time, and incorporate other equipment for extra stimulus.
What Are the Best Bodyweight Exercises for Muscle?
The best bodyweight exercises for muscle growth focus on targeting multiple muscle groups at the same time. These exercises are called compound movements. If you’ve ever performed a squat or bench press, you’ve done a compound exercise.
For example, with a squat, you are targeting your lower body – quadriceps, hamstrings, and glutes – as well as your core muscles.
By stimulating multiple muscle groups at once, you accomplish several things simultaneously:
- Strengthen neuromuscular connections – mind and body working together more efficiently
- Build strength while supporting lean muscle development
- Maximize your effort in a shorter amount of time
So, what are the best bodyweight exercises to help you get started? Here’s a list to consider starting with total body exercises then moving to lower body and finally upper body exercises.
Total Body Bodyweight Exercises
- Mountain Climbers
- Plank Jacks
Lower Body Bodyweight Exercises
- Jump Squats
- Calf Raises
Upper Body Bodyweight Exercises
- Shoulder taps
Bodyweight Workout for Muscle Growth
Let’s take the exercises from above and throw them into a program that you can use today to kick off your total body training.
How to Do the Workout
For the following bodyweight workout, you should complete all of the repetitions for one exercise before moving on to the next one. Once you’ve completed all of the repetitions for all exercises, take an extended break, and complete the list two or three more times.
If you also want to focus on fat burning as well as muscle growth, do not take breaks in between the exercises. Instead, save your break for the very end once you’ve completed the entire list once. Take a three-minute break then begin again. As before, save your breaks until the end. If your goal is to build muscle only, then you can incorporate short rest breaks in between exercises.
Total Body Training: Bodyweight Exercises Workout
Complete the following three exercises as a warm-up. These exercises do not count toward your working sets.
- Mountain Climbers: 1-2 sets of 15-20 reps (warm-up)
- Jumping Jacks: 1-2 sets of 15-20 reps (warm-up)
- Bear Crawl: 1-2 sets of 15-20 yards (warm-up)
Once you finish with your warm-up exercises, perform some dynamic stretching movements and then move into the following workout.
- Squats-to-Overhead-Reach: 15
- Pull-Ups: 10 (or as many as you can with good form)
- Side Lunges: 10
- Push-Ups: 10 (or as many as you can with good form)
- Crunches: 10
- Glute Bridge: 10
- Sit-Ups: 10
- Burpees: 5
Again, once you complete all of the repetitions, take an extended break, then begin from the top of the list. Repeat this list of exercises two or three times.
There’s no question that you can build muscle without equipment. Bodyweight exercises challenge your coordination, stability, and endurance while helping you build solid lean muscle tissue. Best of all, they can be done anywhere, anytime, without the need for fancy gym equipment.
Are you looking for a complete collection of bodyweight exercises for your next total body training workout? The adidas Training app offers a wide range of bodyweight exercises, training plans, and workout programs, making it easy to exercise at home or in the gym.