As a skinny beginner, the idea of building muscle without weights may seem impossible. So can you really build muscle by doing only bodyweight exercises?
It is possible to gain muscle by just doing bodyweight workouts. Movements like the push-up, pull-up, and squat work the entire body. For best results, perform the exercises at a high intensity and progressive overload regularly.
Below, I’ll explain why bodyweight (calisthenics) exercises are effective and the downsides to consider. I’ll also share a 30-minute home workout you can try straight away!
- When performed at a sufficient intensity, bodyweight exercises can build muscle just like weights
- Bodyweight workouts are ideal for beginners to start gaining muscle and strength without a gym membership.
- For best results, train the full body and apply progressive overload by increasing reps.
- Combined with a good nutrition plan, you can expect to see visible muscle results in a few months
How Bodyweight Training Builds Muscle
When it comes to achieving a muscular transformation, many people believe the misconception that heavy weights and gym equipment are required.
However, it’s completely possible to build muscle through bodyweight exercises only.
To understand why, you need to understand the 3 factors that promote muscle growth (also called hypertrophy):
- Mechanical tension. Lifting heavy objects creates tension in your muscle. The heavier the object the greater the mechanical tension and the stronger the growth stimulus. This can be created by using free weights, machines, or simply body weight.
- Time under tension (TUT). This refers to the duration your muscle remains contracted. The greater the TUT the stronger the growth stimulus. TUT can be increased by working in higher rep ranges and deliberately slowing down each rep.
- Metabolic stress. This refers to the buildup of metabolic waste products like lactic acid in your muscles when you perform resistance training. Your body responds by increasing blood flow and releasing growth factors that promote muscle growth.
These 3 factors combined lead to muscle fiber damage. And the subsequent repair process triggers an increase in muscle fiber size and number.
When you combine high-intensity bodyweight training with a high-protein caloric surplus diet (also called bulking), your body has everything it needs to build muscle!
To learn how to maximize muscle growth, you may be interested in my complete guide on going from skinny to buff.
Advantages Of Bodyweight Training
Here are 3 reasons why bodyweight exercises are great for skinny guys to start building muscle:
1) Cheap and convenient
You may not have access to a good gym. Or you might simply not have time to go to the gym. But that doesn’t mean you can’t make improvements to your physique.
One of the biggest benefits of bodyweight training is that it can be done anywhere and it doesn’t require equipment for an effective workout.
In fact, bodyweight workouts are a great way for skinny guys to start building muscle at home due to their cost-effectiveness and convenience.
2) Compound lifts are great for building muscle
Ever noticed how gymnasts don’t lift weights but they can be so jacked?
The best bodyweight exercises are all compound by nature. This means they work multiple muscles in a single movement.
I’m talking about exercises like the press-up, pull-up, and squat which are all complex pushing or pulling movements.
These are some of the most effective lifts for skinny people to build full-body muscle and functional strength, and improve their physique.
3) Safest way to train
Fail on a barbell bench press and you got a steel bar crashing into your chest. But fail on a push-up and all you have to deal with is a half-foot drop onto the floor.
As a skinny beginner, lifting your own body weight is the safest way to start building muscle and developing a foundation of strength to progress onto lifting weights.
Bodyweight exercises are also a low-impact form of training. This means they load your joints with less mechanical stress compared to most weight-lifting exercises.
Lifting your body weight is therefore great for all training levels and it’s particularly suitable if you have weak joints (common in people who have never lifted weights before).
Disadvantages Of Bodyweight Training
Here are 3 drawbacks of bodyweight exercises for you to consider and why they may be unsuitable for skinny beginners:
1) Volume is required for high-intensity workouts
High-intensity resistance training is essential for optimal muscle growth. This is easily achieved using weights. All you have to do is lift heavy in a low rep range.
However, you are limited in the amount of weight you can lift with bodyweight exercises. The best way to compensate for this problem is to lift in a high rep range (typically 15+ reps per set) to take your muscle to failure.
But this style of high-volume training can be mentally demanding, especially for a newbie.
2) Difficult to progressive overload
Progressive overload involves increasing exercise intensity over time to keep your muscles challenged and growing. It’s easy to overload with free weights and machines- simply lift heavier weights as you get stronger.
This isn’t something you can do with bodyweight training.
Instead, you need to apply unconventional overload methods to make bodyweight exercises harder and keep your workouts at a sufficient intensity to promote continued muscle gains.
Examples include; working in higher rep ranges, tempo reps, paused reps, and explosive reps. Compared to increasing weight, these overload methods are technical and difficult for a beginner to implement correctly.
3) Easier to build muscle and strength using weights
The variety of bodyweight exercises available is much more limited compared to weight lifting exercises.
Additionally, it’s difficult to isolate specific muscles using bodyweight movements compared to weight lifting movements like the bicep curl and lateral raise.
Consequently, it can be easier and more fun for a beginner to build muscle using weights compared to bodyweight training.
5 Best Bodyweight Exercises To Build Muscle
Here are my 5 favorite bodyweight movements for a skinny beginner to build full-body muscle and strength:
In a single motion, a pull-up hits all of your back muscles including the; lats, rhomboids, traps, and posterior delts. It also engages the shoulders and abs for stabilization.
The pull-up is an essential bodyweight exercise for building a strong V-tapered body.
You may struggle to do consecutive reps (if any at all) if you’re a beginner. If this is the case, then don’t be afraid to use pull-up bands for assistance.
Once you can do 8 reps of assisted pull-ups, you can switch to progressively lighter bands until you’re able to do unassisted pull-ups.
You can also try the chin-up variation to emphasize your biceps.
The pecs can be one of the hardest muscles to build. And the push-up is a staple bodyweight exercise to grow your pecs.
The primary target muscles include your chest, shoulders, and arms. The core, back, and glutes are also engaged for stabilization.
You can also try push-up variations to emphasize different muscles:
|Push-up variation||Muscle Emphasized|
|Wide-hand pushup||Pectorals (chest)|
|Narrow-hand pushup||Triceps (arms)|
|Pike pushup||Deltoids (shoulders)|
If you have dip bars, then the chest dip is a fun way to replicate the push-up movement and target the lower chest.
There are a limited number of bodyweight exercises you can do to target the lower body, unlike in weight training where you have a plethora of machines and free weight movements available.
However, the squat targets all of your lower body muscles including the quads, hamstrings, calves, and glutes. The core is also engaged for stability and balance.
You can also try the following squat variations to emphasize different leg muscles:
|Squat variation||Muscle Emphasized|
|Bulgarian split squat or lunge||Hamstrings and glutes|
The squat is simply the best bodyweight exercise you can do to build bigger and stronger legs.
This is important because the legs are the largest muscles in your body. They’re important for functional strength and athletic performance.
Additionally, studies have also shown that high-intensity squats can promote the release of anabolic (muscle-building) hormones. And this can help you build full-body muscle.
The plank is one of the simplest and most effective bodyweight exercises to build core muscle (aka your abs!).
Although this exercise primarily engages the abs, it also recruits muscles in your entire body for stabilization. This includes the pecs, deltoids, back, glutes, and legs.
Additionally, it can be modified for all training levels.
Beginners can try the knee plank by using the knees to support body weight and make the exercise easier. Intermediates can try the star plank by spreading their legs and arms for a greater challenge.
The plank is also easy to overload. Simply increase duration.
I like to hold a plank to failure as a finishing exercise at the end of my bodyweight workout.
This is a full-body movement that combines the push-up and squat into one movement.
The intensity of this exercise makes it great not only for building muscle but also for burning fat. It’s a potent bodyweight exercise for building a ripped and muscular body.
To gain the biggest benefits from this exercise, make sure you reach full depth in the push-up before exploding upwards in the squat.
Bodyweight Workout For Beginners To Build Muscle
Here’s a quick and simple 30-minute bodyweight workout you can do to build full-body muscle as a skinny beginner.
The workout can be performed at home or at the gym.
|Pull-ups (use assistance if required)||3||8|
How to do it:
Complete the allotted sets and reps for each exercise in the order specified.
Rest for 1-3 minutes between sets. The ideal rest time will vary depending on your fitness level. Rest for as long as you need to feel ready for the next set.
The workout finishes with two sets of planks taken to failure. This means you should hold the position until you can no longer physically hold it!
You can also check out my other post for a complete guide on home bodyweight workouts. It includes tips and tricks to build maximum muscle with no equipment.
Expected Results From Only Doing Bodyweight Training
As a beginner, you can expect to gain noticeable muscle size and strength from doing only bodyweight exercises. Keeping a low body fat percentage can also help you to develop a ripped physique.
However, it’s important to remember to maintain a high intensity for the best results. If the above workout is too easy, you can overload and increase the intensity by doing more reps.
By following good training and nutrition practices, you can expect to see the first visible results in a few months.
It is completely possible to build muscle with only bodyweight exercises.
Ensure you work the full body using exercises like push-ups, squats, pull-ups, and planks. Train at a high intensity and progressive overload by increasing reps.
And don’t forget to follow a high-protein nutrition plan!
You may also be interested in the downloadable Kalibre Blueprint PDF which details exactly how I gained 40lbs of lean muscle (it’s 100% free!). It details the exact exercises and nutrition (with printables) I used to go from skinny to ripped!