10 Essential Bodyweight Exercises For Building Muscle And Strength

Essentials Featured

Bodyweight training is one of the most effective ways to build muscle and strength since it mainly incorporates compound movements and you can easily overload them with weight.

These are the two main reasons why people who train with bodyweight exercises gain muscle and strength quickly. 

Another big benefit is that you can train wherever and whenever you want. There’s no need to get a gym membership and wait for equipment to become available. All you need is yourself and gravity takes care of the rest.

So, what are the 10 essential bodyweight exercises for building muscle and strength without leaving the house? Let’s find out!

What Equipment Will I Need To Do These Exercises?

Before we dive into the best exercises you should do at home, let’s talk about equipment.

In theory, you can train your whole body at home without equipment, but it’ll be a hassle and you risk developing dangerous muscle imbalances.

So to make your life a little easier and safer, consider getting a few pieces of equipment. It’ll also make your workouts a lot more fun.

The first piece of equipment you’ll need is a pull-up bar.

A Pull-Up Bar

Man Doing Pull Ups

With a pull-up bar, you can do all your important pulling exercises like pull-ups, chin-ups, inverted rows, and bodyweight bicep curls.

Pull-up bars are also cheap and easy to install. You can get a quality pull-up bar off Amazon for under 40 bucks. These bars are reliable enough to hold your weight plus extra weight if you’re doing weighted pull-ups.

The pull-up bar is your lifesaver and if you’re taking bodyweight training seriously, a pull-up bar is a must-have.

A Dip Station

A dip station is an optional piece of equipment that you can do dips, planches, and ab work on.

You don’t have to get one when starting out since push-ups work all your pushing muscles like chest, shoulder, and triceps, and some pulling muscles like biceps and rear-delts.

The problem with push-ups is that you only lift 64% of your body weight. Once you can bang out 20 push-ups with proper form, you won’t be training for hypertrophy but muscular endurance instead.

Push-ups are also difficult and dangerous to overload with weight.

So if you’re just starting out and you can’t do 20 push-ups, you don’t have to get a dip station. But once you’ve passed that benchmark, consider getting a dip station since it prevents your pecs from lagging behind.

Parallettes

Rogue Parallette Bolt Together

Parallettes is another optional piece of equipment but it can make your progression on the handstand push-up much easier.

When I started out training with only my body weight, I hated handstand push-ups because it killed my wrists. After a few years of ignoring handstand push-ups, I decided to invest in a pair of parallettes and my shoulder width blew up.

If you’re someone with strong wrists, you probably won’t need parallettes. But if you experience wrist pain after completing a set of handstand push-ups, opt for a pair of parallettes. It’ll save you a lot of trouble.

I also don’t recommend ignoring handstand push-ups since your shoulder width will fall behind.

Now that we’ve covered which pieces of equipment you should consider getting, let’s dive into the 10 best bodyweight exercises.

1. Pull-Ups

Group Of People Doing Pull Ups

The pull-up is a staple for anyone who’s looking to get a v-taper. Pull-ups are the best exercise for developing a wide back and they can easily translate into sports.

If you’re an athlete, the pull-up should be one of your main exercises since it increases pulling strength which is a necessity if you’re throwing a ball or tackling someone.

Even if you are a regular guy or gal who’s looking to get an athletic physique, pull-ups can help you with that. It works muscles like;

  • Lats
  • Biceps
  • Traps
  • Shoulders
  • Core.

These are the muscles every bodybuilder wants to emphasize, and the pull-up works all these muscles without you having to buy a gym membership.

How To Do Pull-Ups

Pull-ups are also super easy to do and anyone can do them in 4 easy steps.

  1. You can grab the bar at any width but when starting out, stick to shoulder width.
  2. Hang from the bar with your arms straight and legs off the floor.
  3. Pull yourself until your chin is over the bar. Avoid kipping while pulling since it’s considered cheating.
  4. Lower yourself until your arms are straight again.

If you can’t do your first pull-up yet, start doing negative pull-ups. It’s similar to the process explained above, except you put a bench under the bar and jump into the top position. Lower yourself slowly and repeat.

This can build your back, arm, and core muscles if it’s weak and after a few training sessions, you’ll be able to do your first pull-up.

Quick Tip For Improving Your Pull-Ups

If you can’t feel your back muscles engaging when you’re performing a pull-up, it’s probably because you’re pulling with your arms.

Instead, use a thumbless or false grip when pulling and imagine yourself pulling your elbows into the floor. If you still can’t feel a mind-muscle connection, consider taking your pinky finger off the bar.

2. Push-Ups

Man doing push-up

When starting off, push-ups will be your primary pushing movement since they’re relatively easy to do and it doesn’t require any equipment.

The push-up builds all your pushing muscles like;

  • Chest
  • Shoulders
  • Triceps

It even works some of your pulling muscles like biceps and rear-delts. 

The most underrated benefit of push-ups that almost nobody talks about is it works your serratus anterior like no other exercise.

Your serratus anterior is a muscle that originates on the surface of your first and eighth ribs and it’s responsible for stabilizing your scapula which is essential for healthy shoulders.

If your serratus anterior is weak, you’ll likely run into a ton of shoulder injuries. Luckily, doing push-ups will bulletproof your shoulders by strengthening your serratus anterior. 

How To Do Push-Ups Properly

When performing a push-up, your form is crucial since you don’t want to injure your shoulder joints. But it boils down to 4 easy steps.

  1. Get on the ground with your hands slightly wider than shoulder-width.
  2. Position your feet so you’re comfortable and think of your body as a straight line.
  3. Lower yourself until your chest touches the ground and keep your elbows against your lats.
  4. Push yourself up until your arms are straight.

Voila! You’ve completed one push-up.

Quick Tip For Improving Your Push-Ups

You can target different muscle groups based on how you position your hands. A basic shoulder-width push-up will target your chest with some tricep and shoulder involvement.

If you bring your hands closer together in a diamond shape, you’ll mainly target your triceps. This is called diamond push-ups and it’s one of the best arm-building exercises, period.

Another variation is an underhand push-up. This is when you place your palms away from your body when doing your push-ups. This targets your biceps and lower pecs more than the other variations.

3. Inverted Rows

Man doing inverted row

Inverted rows is an effective secondary pulling exercise as it targets every pulling muscle. It’s similar to a pull-up, but inverted rows place more emphasis on your traps.

When performing pull-ups, most people don’t feel their traps as much as their lats and inverted rows can help you even out your back development.

If performed properly, inverted rows emphasize your traps and rear delts. It also works your biceps and lats since they’re secondary movers.

Most people think you need bands to perform inverted rows but this isn’t true. All you need is a pull-up bar. Simply lower your pull-up to around waist level and you’re good to go.

How To Do Inverted Rows Properly

  1. Position your bar around waist height and position yourself under the bar.
  2. Grab the bar at shoulder width with your palms facing away from you.
  3. Think of yourself as a straight line.
  4. Pull up until your chest touches the bar and lower yourself back down.

That’s it!

Quick Tip For Improving Your Inverted Rows

Just like with push-ups, you can change the muscles you’re targeting by simply changing your hand position. If you’re using an overhand grip, you’ll target more traps and if you’re using an underhand grip, you’ll target more lats.

You can also manipulate the amount of weight you’re lifting. If you bring your feet closer to the bar, it’ll be easier to complete the exercise.

4. Dips

Man Doing Dips

Dips is one of the best chest-building exercises and it’s even comparable to the mighty bench press when it comes to chest growth.

As soon as you’re past that early stage of calisthenics training and you can do 20 push-ups, start transitioning to dips.

Dips work all your pressing muscle and you can easily overload it with a weight belt. If you want to overload push-ups, you’ll need to have a partner load weight on your back and this can be a hassle.

How To Do Dips Properly

  1. Grip your dip station and jump straight up.
  2. Slowly lower your body by leaning forward and bending your elbows.
  3. Once your shoulders are parallel with your elbows, pause for a second.
  4. Straighten your arms and lockout your elbows on top.

By doing dips like this, you’ll maximize chest, shoulder, and tricep growth, and you save your shoulders from a lot of injuries.

Quick Tip For Improving Your Dips

Most people will tell you that if your shoulders aren’t below your elbows, you aren’t using a full range of motion. But these are the same people who’re constantly complaining about shoulder issues.

So when starting out, save your shoulders and stick to parallel. If you notice after some time that you can go below parallel without any issues, then go for it. 

5. Handstand Push-ups

Handstand Pushup with Parallette

When training with only your body weight, the handstand push-ups will be your primary shoulder exercise. This makes it crucial to not skip handstand push-ups since your shoulder growth will suffer.

Most people including myself, experienced wrist pain when first doing handstand push-ups. So to prevent that, consider getting a pair of parallettes. It makes progressing on the handstand push-up a lot easier.

How To Do Handstand Push-Ups Properly

The handstand push-up is by far the most technical exercises on this list. It’s also easy to mess up since it requires a ton of stabilizing upper body strength.

Before you do handstand push-ups, first get comfortable with being upside down. This means you should place your hands next to a wall and have someone hold your legs up.

After you feel comfortable with that, you can move onto holding yourself in that position without any help.

Once you have the stabilizing strength to hold yourself upside down for a few minutes, attempt your first handstand push-up.

  1. Bend down and place your hands 10 to 15 inches away from the wall.
  2. Bring yourself up and feel your heels touch the wall.
  3. Bend your elbows until you feel your head touch the floor.
  4. Push yourself up until your arms are straight.

This might sound impossible, but you’ll get used to it in no time. Other bodyweight exercises like push-ups, dips, and pull-ups can also greatly help your handstand push-up.

Quick Tip For Improving Your Handstand Push-Up

When you first do handstand push-ups, always have someone assist you because it’s unlikely you’ll succeed on the first attempt. So when you’re struggling, they can pull your ankles up which makes the exercise easier.

6. Pistol Squats

Man Doing Pistol Squat

The pistol squat is the calisthenics community’s version of the barbell back squat. It builds all your lower body muscles like your quads, hamstrings, glutes, and calves. It also takes a lot of stabilizing strength to complete but the benefits are out of this world.

Prepare yourself for bigger legs, more explosive power, and insane stabilizing strength.

How To Do Pistol Squats Properly

Pistol squats are similar to handstand push-ups because they’re both advanced exercises. Before you start attempting pistol squats, start doing bodyweight squats, single-leg isometric holds, and single-leg box squats.

These are all effective exercises to use when progressing to the pistol squat.

  1. Put your feet shoulder-width apart and keep your chest high.
  2. Bend one knee and hinge your hips.
  3. Continue to go lower until your glutes touch your hamstrings.
  4. Now push yourself up into your starting position.

Quick Tip For Improving Pistol Squats

When starting out, hold a small 5-pound weight in front of you. This might seem like you’re making the exercises harder, but the weight counters your body weight as you push your hips back. This makes it easier to balance.

7. Calf Raises

Calf Raises

Calves are a body part that most people including myself love to ignore. But it’s an important part of having a proportioned physique.

Calf raises are the best way of strengthening your calves and strong calf muscles increase stability and balance and decrease your risk for ankle injuries.

How To Do Calf Raises Properly

  1. Stand on the ball of your feet with your feet shoulder-width apart.
  2. Lower yourself slowly until your heels almost touch the floor.
  3. Push yourself back up and squeeze your calves.

Quick Tip For Improving Your Calf Raises

If you want to feel an extra stretch, stand on the edge of a step. This increases the range of motion and the amount of muscle growth.

8. Bridges

The bridge

Bridges are one of the best exercises for your posterior chain. It not only strengthens your glutes, lower back, core, hamstrings, and quads, but it decreases your chance of back injury.

If you’re suffering from back pain, then doing regular bridges can also help relieve some tension in your back. 

How To Do Bridges Properly

  1. Lie on your back with your arms next to you.
  2. Tighten your core and push your hips up.
  3. Your hips should create a straight line between your knees and shoulders.
  4. Hold for 10 to 20 seconds.
  5. Return to your original position.

Quick Tip To Improve Your Bridges

When it comes to bridges, quality beats quantity. Focus on the muscles you want to target and don’t rush through your reps. Slowly lift your body up, hold it there for a few seconds, and slowly lower yourself again.

9. Back Extensions

Back Extension

Bodyweight training is often criticized for not engaging the lower back enough. While this might be true, you can easily work your lower back with back extensions.

A stronger lower back directly translates into strength in the real world. Whether you’re moving things around the house or helping your friends move to a new house, your lower back can increase the amount of weight you can carry.

How To Do Back Extensions Properly

  1. Start by laying on a mat with your face down and hands behind your head.
  2. Keep your feet on the floor and engage your glutes and core.
  3. Feel all your back muscles along your spine and lift your shoulder and chest off the floor.
  4. Hold yourself on top for a second and lower yourself.

Quick Tip To Improve Your Back Extensions

Don’t rush through your back extension reps. Our back is prone to injuries and one wrong tweak can put you out for a few weeks. Instead, slowly raise and lower your shoulders as it’ll strengthen your back more and prevent injury.

10. Burpees

Woman Doing Burpees

Burpees work every muscle in your body. Some include;

  • Core
  • Chest
  • Arms
  • Legs

It’s also an amazing cardio workout. We all hate running on a treadmill since it’s boring but with burpees, your cardio workouts can be fun.

If you’ve been training with bodyweight calisthenics and you’re looking to burn some extra fat, burpees are the perfect exercise for you.

How To Do Burpees Properly

  1. With your feet shoulder-width apart, lower yourself into a push-up position
  2. Complete one push-up.
  3. Push yourself to your feet.
  4. Jump at high as you can.

Quick Tip To Improve Your Burpees

Burpees are all about explosion and speed. Everything should be done as fast as possible. 

When you push yourself up, engage your chest muscles and when you’re on your feet, jump as high and as fast and you can. Also, don’t pause between reps since it can affect your cardio workout.

Conclusion

Bodyweight exercises are an amazing way to build muscle and lose fat without leaving the house. There’s no need to buy a gym membership and travel to a gym. All you need is yourself and a few pieces of equipment.

By doing the 10 essential bodyweight exercises listed above, you’ll build a strong and well-balanced physique in no time.

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