How to Build Muscle with Bodyweight Only

The question: Can you build muscle by only using your bodyweight?


The answer? Hell yes! 
But just like lifting weights to build muscle, it isn’t easy. It may even be too hard for a lot of people. After all, in order to destroy your muscles with bodyweight, you have to use leverage, push harder than you would with free weights to find failure, and learn to have complete control over your muscles in order to activate all the muscle you need when you need it.
What this all boils down to is this. In order to build muscle with just your bodyweight, you need to do three things:
  • Work to absolute failure
  • Continually progress 
  • Extend the time under tension
Work to Absolute Failure

Forget ‘leaving a rep or two in the bank,’ or avoiding the failure point to save energy for something else. The greater the destructive stimulus, the greater adaptation the body must make, and if you want to continue to build muscle in the long run, you will need to push to failure, fully recover, and repeat.
Absolute failure for bodyweight exercises can be hard to pinpoint. Let’s face it, after you’ve done a couple dozen pushups or squats, you start wondering if you’ll ever ‘truly’ fail. But you can, and eventually the muscles give out.

Using the bodyweight squat as an example, imagine you can perform 50 repetitions before it becomes difficult to stand up. This is when your set begins, and your mental fortitude is tested. When you cannot   stand back up (or you fall to the floor) you are done. 
But just to be sure, hold onto a chair or rail and perform slow eccentric (negative) repetitions. When you fail at those, then you can stop.
You can also reverse this process by pre-exhausting the muscles. Perform an exercise to failure or close to failure, followed by the target movement. Pushups followed by dips, or vice versa, for example. 
The same method can be used for pushups, pullups, etc. Perform a regular set to failure, then do an assisted version (pushups on your knees, pullups with a band or with feet supported) until you cannot perform another repetition. It takes guts to push to this point, and if you do it right, you will feel it the next day.
Continually Progress  


There are many ways to continue to stimulate your muscles to grow, but if weight is weight (your body, free weights,) then repetitions are repetitions. High repetition sets to failure will develop your muscular endurance, but only so much muscle.
As with free weights, you must continually challenge your muscles to grow. This means increasing the load somehow, as well as the overall amount of work done. Here are two ways to accomplish this:
  • Eliminate momentum
  • Increase the lever arm
  • Destabilize the base
Eliminating momentum is another way of saying ‘slow down.’ Instead of bouncing off the bottom of a pushup or dip, lower slowly, pause at the bottom and then push back up. This ensures complete control over the movement, helps prevent injury, and makes the muscles do all of the work. Use this same tactic with every one of your bodyweight workouts and see how long you last.
Increasing the lever arm means putting your body at a disadvantage to complete the exercise. So for instance, a pushup with your feet elevated is harder than one with the feet flat. Move the hands wider apart and it becomes more difficult still; move the hands further in front of you, and although it brings other muscles into play, it is still more difficult to complete a rep.
This is an easy concept to get if you like doing planks. Most folks can hold an elbow plank for a few seconds, but as you begin walking your hands ahead of your skull, the exercise gets significantly harder. 
Destabilizing your base forces the muscles to work harder to maintain proper form and execute the movement, while also bringing additional supporting muscles into play. 
Some good ways to do this include:
  • Performing pushups with your feet on an exercise ball 
  • Pushups with one foot elevated
  • Hack squats
  • Box squats
  • One leg squats
  • Planks with your hands/elbows on an exercise ball
  • Single leg deadlift
  • Side plank with extended arm and elevated leg
Extend the Time Under Tension

One of the easiest ways to extend a set and force the muscle to work a little longer is to keep them under tension a little longer. This may mean hanging with the shoulders, upper back, wrists and biceps activated for 10 seconds when you can’t perform another pullup or row. 
It can also be done by good old fashioned flexing. After failing at that last pushup, stand up and tense your chest, shoulders and triceps in an isometric contraction for 10 seconds. 
Additional time under tension means more work for your muscles.
It Works if you Work it
Bodyweight muscle building is no mystery, and it’s no myth. With the right workout and nutrition program, and enough mental toughness, you can push your body to limits you’d never imagined, and build muscle at the same time. 

Finding your Hidden Strength Reserves

It’s amazing really, so many indirect actions are perfect metaphors other areas of your life. Take exercise for instance. From my observations, your level of dedication to your workouts indicates:

-How disciplined you are in other daily or frequently recurring activities (uh, diet anyone?)
-How much effort you put into those activities, or barring that:
-How hard you push to complete or push those activities to the next level

Of course, regular workouts can also contribute to your well-being on a daily and ongoing basis, but I’m talking about the less frequently connected dots in life. For instance, little victories in life tend to lead to, or contribute to a belief that you can, accomplish small (and large) victories in other areas of life.

Take a look around the fabric of your week after a good workout or two. What did you accomplish in those workouts? What did you attempt? How did you challenge yourself?

Often, we find that the best victory (especially as you push past 40!) in a workout is finding out how much effort we could give. Realizing, ‘damn, I didn’t know I had it in me!’

Sometimes, it doesn’t matter that you didn’t reach the goal, or complete the WOD. What matters, and what is most exhilirating, is discovering a power within you that had been dormant or undiscovered. A power that surfaces through the expenditure of energy from a synergy of mind and body.

That is what lifts you up. That feeling is what drives you on. Empowerment makes you realize that you have barely tapped your own potential, and damn that feels good.

Here’s my empowering workout from today. I really didn’t know I had it in me, specifically that many pullups in one workout. I have been struggling with consistency and setting up the right combination of home gym equipment in my garage and backyard. Now, I can’t wait to load up another 50 lb. sandbag and add weight to my pullups!

Warm-up at track:

-Joint rotations (see instructions here. Just scroll past the first paragraph for the videos.)
-3 laps (jog/walk; sprint/walk; sprint/walk)
Coupled those with:

Finger-only pullups: 3 sets of 3-4 (on a fat steel beam, thus the fingers only)

At home:

5 supersets of:

-Kipping&strict pullups: x 3-4 (not to failure)
-Sandbag ‘hug’ lift from floor, 100# x 1-2 (not going for failure)
-Single arm ‘gas-mower starters’ with 80-120# power band x 5 each

So now it’s your turn. Go out and start exercising. Do what you do, Crossfitter, runner, triathlete, whatever. If you don’t do anything, just walk. Really push yourself. Reach deep. When you want to quit, keep going. After you ignore that quitter a few times you might just forget about it altogether.

Chances are, you will discover something about yourself that was long forgotten, or perhaps you never even knew about.

Cheers,
Mo

The Busy Man’s Full Body Workout

Trying to get it all done

I recently read an online article titled the Busy Man’s Workout. It consisted of a few dumbbell movements combined with bodyweight exercises in a 30 minute circuit. The workout listed no reps or sets, just a guideline to do 30 seconds of one exercise, rest 15 seconds and repeat on the next. Then repeat the whole circuit as many times as possible in 30 minutes.

Although the workout was solid and I like the idea of going for broke instead of counting reps and resting until you have comfortably caught your breath again, the exercises, with one exception, seemed like the same ‘ol same ‘ol. You know: Push press, front squat, dumbbell deadlift and so on. These are great exercises, but I had a better idea for a 30 minutes circuit. One that uses, say, less traditional implements, with one exception.

So here it is, call it the “full body garage workout” if you want. Try this 3 times in one week, resting one day in between. Just like the “Busy Man’s Workout,” do the exercises non-stop for 30 seconds, then rest 15 seconds before switching to the next exercise. You want to work up to 60 seconds by the way, but start off with what you can handle. Resting longer than 15 seconds defeats the purpose of this workout. That is, build functional muscle throughout the core, legs, shoulders, back and arms, while at the same time burning fat and conditioning your heart.

Train with Chains


foxypar4, http://www.flickr.com/photos/foxypar4/515783755/


Heavy chains are great for this but battling ropes work as well or better. I just like the clink of heavy metal when I use chains. Make sure the chain weight is not too light that it goes flying everywhere, but not so heavy that you can’t work them for 30-60 seconds at a time.

Grab one end of the chains in either hand. Cast the loop out in front of you (you can wrap them around a post if you prefer.) Now, with your legs slightly bent, alternately swing your arms out in front of you using a slight hip rotation to power the movement. The whole body should be engaged to take the load off of the shoulders. (But you will still feel this in your shoulders.)

If this exercise gets tired, try doing both arms at the same time. Imagine you are doing a snatch with the chains and whip them with both arms and body extended.

Heavy Bag Lifting



http://www.flickr.com/photos/robertvega/4487687337/



*If you do not have a heavy bag, or don’t feel like taking one down, use sandbags instead.

Lay the heavy bag down verticall pointed in front of you. Straddle one end and assume a deep squat position. Get a grip on the bag, use the whole body to bring it up and onto one shoulder. To do this, extend through the ankles, knees and hips as though you were doing a snatch, then drop under it and squat up. Hold this position for 10 seconds, bring it down and lift it onto the opposite shoulder. Keep going for 30-60 seconds.

Dumbbell or Kettlebell Turkish Get-Up



http://www.flickr.com/photos/klfitness/2771492413/in/photostream/


This is a great exercise for engaging the whole body. It’s not bad for improving focus, either.

Using a dumbbell or kettlebell, lay on the ground with the same leg as the weight-side bent. Hold the weight against the floor as though you were going to bench press it. Now drive it up straight while twisting to the opposite elbow at the same time.

Push up with the free hand, driving the weight straight up. Keep your eyes on the weight throughout the movement.

Get over the bent leg while sliding the free leg behind you. Now push up as in a lunge. Reverse the process to lay back down, and you have done one rep. Wash, rinse, repeat.

*This exercise can be done with a sandbag if dumbbells or kettlebells are not available.

Pullups


Pullups work more than your lats, although they are great for developing those. They affect your biceps, forearms, trapezius and even the pectorals to some extent. You may even engage the posterior deltoids. Do as many as you can in good form in 30 seconds. If you are stuck on a rep, just hang with your shoulders pulled down and in.

So that’s it. A simpe “Full Body Garage Workout for Busy People” using basic implements. Remember to keep the pace up to get the most out of this workout and warm up before you start. Have fun!