How to build muscle, gym membership prices are soaring as fitness and bodybuilding continue to trend, especially in big cities. The good news is if you can’t afford a gym membership or don’t have gym locations convenient to you, you can still get a good workout in at home or outside using no special equipment. You can effectively resistance train by doing bodyweight exercises to build muscle using your own weight as the resistance.
Weights are popular because anyone can use them, but there was a time before gyms and barbells existed and people were still able to stay fit and build muscle. The best part about creating a bodyweight regimen is that the training options are endless, so get creative and have fun. The key to building muscle is exercising the muscle tissue to exhaustion. Resting your muscles is also critical to the muscle-building process so never work a muscle group to exhaustion two days in a row.
Even for some bodybuilders who always workout by weight training in a gym, they find that adding bodyweight exercises to their gym routine is an effective way to build muscle and lose fat. You can make bodyweight workouts difficult by only resting 30-45 seconds in between sets which is just as taxing as a workout done with added weights. You can get a full body workout in your own home or at a local park by doing pull-ups and rows on a bar to work the back and biceps; doing push-ups and dips on playground equipment to cover the chest, shoulders, and triceps; and doing squats, lunges, and box jumps to strengthen the legs.
One problem with bodyweight training is that your own weight is either too much or not enough. You can adjust to either scenario by shifting the angle of your body so that you’re lifting less of your weight when a workout feels too heavy, and when it feels too light try slowing your reps down to improve your endurance and stability. Bodyweight workouts usually don’t work your muscles quite as intensely as weights or weight machines so it is important to adjust your workout intensity accordingly. Try challenging your muscles during a bodyweight workout by doing more than the typical 10-12 reps you would do in the gym, and do 15-20 instead. You can also increase the number of sets or decrease your rest time between sets to keep the intensity up.
What Makes Bodyweight Workouts Just as Effective as Weight Training in a Gym?
Most bodyweight workouts use circuits to train. There are plenty of online resources for finding new circuits to try or you can get creative and make up your own. Circuits involve doing one exercise right after another without stopping then taking a 1-2 minute break before repeating or starting a new circuit. Most people don’t realize that cardio is actually one of the least efficient methods for burning calories to lose weight. You can actually get a lot done in a little bit of time by circuit training to build muscle while also getting a great cardiovascular workout.
A major benefit of circuit training is that every move in the circuit uses multiple muscle groups to get your heart rate up and burn lots of calories. Most weight training exercises in the gym workout just one muscle group at a time but it is more effective to get a quick full body workout in to torch calories and build muscle. Steady state cardio still has its benefits for weight loss and building endurance, but it shouldn’t be the only workout you’re doing. Circuit training burns more calories and builds more muscle while promoting weight loss.
Best Bodyweight Exercises for Beginners
If you are new to bodyweight training there a few basic moves you can learn to get you started. Before you begin a workout circuit, always take the time to warm up to get your muscles ready, heart rate pumping, and prevent injury during your workout. For an effective warm up try five minutes of running in place, jump roping, or a few push-ups. After your workout is completed you should also take the time to stretch your muscles out to help with recovery and prevent muscle stiffness. When you’re ready to begin your workout, start by learning these basic moves that will work for multiple muscle groups at a time to give you a full body workout.
Proper push-ups are difficult to perform so start with just a couple at a time if you are struggling to support your body weight and focus on form over how many you can do. To do a proper push-up, align the gap between your thumb and index finger with the increase in your armpit to set your arms at the right distance apart. Stand on your toes, squeezing your legs together and engaging the quads, glutes, and abs to avoid sagging in the hips. Start with arms fully extended then slowly lower the shoulders until your elbows are almost touching the ground, and return to start. Push-ups can also be easily modified if you can’t support your body weight yet. To modify this move for an easier push-up, reduce your weight by placing your knees on the ground instead of your toes and complete the same arm movement. Do as many regular push-ups as you can, then drop to your knees and keep going until you’ve done 10 push-ups.
Pull-Ups and Bodyweight Rows
Pull-ups are also a difficult exercise for beginner bodyweight trainers, but they are highly effective in altering body composition. A good move for beginners is bodyweight rows, also called Australian pull-ups. These pull-ups use your feet to take some of the weight and resistance off your upper body and give you more leverage. Bodyweight rows are also a full body movement so don’t let your hips drop. You can do this move by lowering yourself under a hip height bar, using an overhand grip on the bar, and placing hands shoulder-width apart. Extend the legs straight out in front of you, find a balance using your heels, squeeze the abs and glutes to keep your spine straight, then finally pull yourself up to the bar. Consider it a full rep when you pull your chest all the way to the bar or break 90 degrees in your elbows when you’re first starting out. Try to do as many as you can, aiming for 2 sets of 10 reps as you get stronger.
Dips are good for toning the arms, especially the triceps. Start out with bench dips by placing hands behind your body on the seat of the bench with fingers pointing towards the body and legs straight out in front of you with feet together. Keep control in the shoulders, don’t let the elbows bow out, and lower yourself toward the ground until the arms are at 90 degrees then push yourself back to start. Start by doing as many reps as possible, and keep a goal of 15-20 for the future.
This is the best exercise you can do to workout the legs and butt. It’s a fundamental total-body move that works the entire lower body as well as the abs, back, hips, and knees. This is also a great move for improving posture and building stabilization for the spine which supports the entire body. To start set the feet hip distance apart and turn the toes out slightly. Slowly lower yourself to the bottom position as if you are sitting back on to a chair, pushing the knees out and sinking down between your legs. Keep your spine straight throughout the move by tightening and engaging the abs. Help yourself stay balanced by extending your arms straight out in front of you if you need then bring them back to your sides and return to a standing position. There are a lot of squat variations you can try as you start doing more advanced bodyweight workouts but start with this standard squat until you can complete 20 controlled reps.
Glute bridges are very effective for an exercise and workout the entire posterior of the body including the spine, hamstrings, and adductors, but it also works out the anterior, especially in your abs. To complete a glute bridge, start by laying on your back, keeping arms at your sides with palms facing down. Start with your knees bent and feet flat on the ground with heels close to the butt. Press all of your body weight into the hands and feet, then squeeze the glutes as you press the hips upward to make a straight line with your body from head to knees. Lower the hips back to the ground and repeat for about 10 reps.
Lying Knee Tucks
This is a great move for working your whole abdominal section. This is an easy but difficult move requiring you to start by lying on the back with knees tucked into your chest and arms down at your sides. Lie without an arch in the lower back by rolling the pelvis back until it touches the ground and keep it there throughout the move. Engage your abs as you push the legs straight out then bring them back into the chest. Do as many of these as you can, aiming for 2-3 sets of 15.
Bodyweight Training for Weight Loss
If you’re trying to lose weight, bodyweight exercises can still be highly effective without using a gym. Steady state cardio is important for weight loss but you should be combining it with interval cardio training and bodyweight resistance training. If you can’t afford a gym membership to help with your fitness routine, lace up your sneakers and head outside for a run. Try interval training by alternating between a two-minute jog and one-minute sprint for 20-30 minutes, three times a week. Add bodyweight workouts onto your cardio regimen 2-3 times a week with circuit training. For a beginning weight loss workout, try a circuit of the above beginner moves, doing all 6 moves in a row without breaking for one circuit. Take a two-minute rest in between then do a full circuit of all the moves again. Repeat a third time if you’re able to, if not then keep working up to it until you’re able.
Bodyweight Training for Weight Gain and Muscle Building
For anyone who can’t afford a gym but wants to learn how to build muscle by bodyweight training, you can still start with beginner moves if you aren’t used to bodyweight resistance or you can start practicing more advanced moves and doing slower reps while increasing the number of reps. Bodyweight training is also highly effective for the bodybuilder who has reached a plateau and isn’t seeing muscle gain. Either way, the key to fitness and weight gain for bodybuilders is changing things up often.
Anyone looking to gain weight by building muscle should also be doing harder variations of beginner moves. Add planks to your routine, do chin-ups along with pull-ups, lunges along with squats, etc. You can also try clap push-ups, burpees, mountain climbers, jump squats, and pistol squats for bodyweight workouts that engage every muscle group, burn fat, and put on muscle fast. The possibilities are endless for new and challenging bodyweight moves. Just remember to keep switching up your routine, adding reps, and slowing down reps when moves become too easy or you aren’t seeing results.
For clients whose primary goal is building muscle mass, many professional trainers recommend standard bodybuilding routines that involve variations of bodyweight exercises that start to fatigue you after 10-15 reps, then keep going to complete 3-4 sets of each move. For an ideal full body workout do two pushing moves, two pulling moves, and two squatting moves in every workout. It’s also important to keep in mind that you need to get the right amount of sleep every night and eat enough throughout the day. When trying to gain weight, don’t just eat junk to get the extra calories, stick to a clean diet high in protein.