It seems that calisthenics programs have taken the world by storm. They’re cheap and convenient but are they effective at building muscle? This post explains if bodyweight training is good for skinny guys.
Bodyweight exercises are effective for skinny guys. Compound calisthenics movements like the pull-up and dip are good for beginners to build a bigger and stronger physique. But it is essential to increase exercise intensity over time to ensure muscle gain.
Calisthenics bodyweight workouts featured heavily in my program as an ex-skinny guy myself.
I later transitioned into lifting free weights out of personal preference.
Below, I explain why bodyweight training can be good (and bad!) for skinny guys.
Reasons Why Bodyweight Exercises Are Good For Skinny Guys
Check out this calisthenics beginners guide by Adam Frater for skinny guys to build muscle at home!
Here are 7 of my favorite benefits of bodyweight training for skinny guys:
- Bodyweight calisthenics is cheap. You can’t beat bodyweight workouts for cost-effectiveness. Unlike gym membership, every skinny beginner can start doing bodyweight exercises completely free of charge!
- Calisthenics workouts are convenient. Save time by working out in your own home or backyard. Heck, try training at the beach or the local park if you like! Bodyweight workouts can be performed pretty much anywhere.
- Bodyweight movements are effective. Ever wondered how gymnasts are so ripped and muscular? Gaining muscle, losing fat, and general body toning can all be achieved through bodyweight training.
- Lifting your own body weight is safe. Fail on a barbell bench press and you got a fully-loaded steel bar crashing into your chest. Fail on a push-up and you gotta deal with a half-foot drop onto the floor. You can probably guess why calisthenics is the safer way for skinny guys to train…
- Build strength and cardio simultaneously. A bodyweight workout can be structured differently to achieve different results. Traditional straight sets
- Full-body muscle workouts. Ask the average person to name a bodyweight exercise, and most will answer push-up or pull-up. But calisthenics goes beyond these two well-known movements. I share my favorite bodyweight exercises below!
- Learn exercise balance and form. You might be intimidated by some of the popular free weight movements like the barbell squat or dumbbell bench press. Skinny beginners can learn the correct form, movement patterns, and balance required to perform these exercises safely in the future.
Are you frustrated by your scrawny and bony physique? You might be interested in my other post to find out why a skinny guy should work out!
How Bodyweight Exercises Can Help Skinny Guys Build Muscle
Skinny guys can gain muscle using bodyweight exercises only. Muscular growth happens when a muscle is challenged with high-intensity resistance. Therefore calisthenics can build muscle if a sufficient number of reps and sets are performed.
One important thing to remember is that your muscles respond to resistance.
It doesn’t matter what type of resistance you present it. As long as the resistance is intense enough to induce muscular fatigue then a growth (hypertrophy) stimulus will be presented.
And assuming your nutrition is also optimized for hypertrophy (you can go to my other post for skinny guy bulking tips), then the subsequent repair process results in bigger and stronger muscles.
Put simply- bodyweight calisthenics workouts are more than capable of driving muscle gains if you perform enough reps and sets to satisfy the required intensity.
Additionally, there’s another caveat to using bodyweight training to build muscle as a skinny guy.
Traditional weight lifting is generally suited to low reps using a heavy weight for maximum muscle growth (typically around 5-10 reps per set).
However, you’re severely limited in weight when it comes to calisthenics.
This means you need to use another way to make up for the fact that you can’t just pile on the weight as you can with a barbell or dumbbell.
Train in a slightly higher rep range of course!
I found that 10-20 reps per set are ideal for a skinny beginner.
Which Bodyweight Movements Are The Best?
Here are the bodyweight exercises I found to be most effective for skinny guys to build muscle fast:
- Pull-ups. Awesome compound movement for hitting all your back muscles as well as your biceps.
- Chin-ups. Similar benefits as the pull-up but with a greater emphasis on your biceps. Most people find chin-ups easier than pull-ups, but they work similar muscle groups.
- Chest dips. A great compound movement to hit your chest, triceps, and core. It’s an effective bench press alternative.
- Push-ups. Similar benefits to the chest dip without the need for dip bars or a dip station. Another effective bench press alternative. But you should find ways to increase intensity for best results (hint: resistance bands are a cheap way to do this as you’ll see later).
- Handstand push-ups. It’s difficult for a beginner to balance this movement. But it’s a great way to replicate vertical overhead pressing to build bigger, stronger, and broader shoulders. Try leaning against a wall to start.
- Crunches. Crunch movements are the most effective way for skinny guys to isolate the six-pack abdominals regardless of whether you’re training with or without weights!
- Leg raise. An alternative to the crunch if you’re looking to target the lower abdominals.
- Explosive bodyweight squats. Squats are a great all-around leg exercise. But bodyweight squats alone don’t provide much weight. Incorporate techniques like explosive plyometrics to make the exercise harder (more on this later).
Bodyweight training is a convenient way for skinny beginners to start building muscle and strength. But weights will make your muscle transformation MUCH quicker. If you have a gym membership, you can check out my other post for a full-body skinny to muscular workout program!
Why Bodyweight Workouts Can Sometimes Be Bad
Here are some reasons why bodyweight training can be bad for skinny guys:
- High volume is mentally challenging. Barbells and dumbbells allow you to lift low reps using heavy weights (low volume training). Most people find this mentally stimulating. Calisthenics is limited to your own body weight so you need to perform much higher reps (high volume training). And most people find this mentally exhausting.
- Weights generally build muscle faster. It’s much easier to progressive overload using free weights. Most skinny guys will find it easier to gain muscle and build strength using free weights compared to bodyweight calisthenics.
- Best bodyweight movements need equipment. Pull-ups and dips are two of the most potent muscle-builders. But they require a sturdy bar to perform. A good power tower like this Sports Royals (link for the cheapest price) serves as an all-in-one pull-up and dip station.
- Difficult for beginners to judge the correct intensity. It’s easy to lift free weights at a sufficient intensity; just load weight until you struggle! It’s much harder to judge intensity using bodyweight training since you need to increase reps and work to muscular failure. This is something most skinny guys have no experience in and therefore no point of reference to work towards).
- Unconventional progressive overload methods to build muscle. Unlike with free weights, skinny guys can’t just add more weight to build muscle using calisthenics. Unconventional methods are required to increase intensity over time (see below tips!).
If you’re new to hypertrophy (muscle-building) workouts, then you may be interested in my other post to find out why skinny people should lift heavy weights!
5 Ways Skinny Guys Can Make Bodyweight Exercises Harder
Increasing exercise intensity over time is the best way to avoid plateaus and continue gaining muscle.
Here are 5 tried-and-tested ways to progressive overload and increase body weight exercise intensity in a calisthenics program:
- Apply time under tension training. Also known as TUT. Do this by reducing rep tempo. Where a standard rep takes 2-3 seconds to complete, a TUT rep drags out to 6 seconds (3 seconds up and another 3 seconds down). Trust me you’ll feel the muscle burn!
- Paused Explosive reps. Introduce a 1-second pause at the bottom of each rep before pushing explosively back up. In a squat example; you’d squat down, pause, then initiate an explosive jump upwards. This makes the exercise much harder and more effective.
- Isometric holds. Pause halfway through a rep. Now hold that position before completing the rep. In a push-up example; you’d stop halfway down and hold this position for 5 seconds before resuming the push-up.
- Rest-pause training. This is a great muscle-building method for when you have limited weight (like in calisthenics). Work to failure on your first set. In other words, do as many reps as it takes for you to get to the point where you can’t physically squeeze out another rep! Now take a 5-second break before doing 3 reps on your next set. Take another 5-second break and repeat for all sets. This is a great way to reach muscular failure quickly (which is good for muscle growth).
- Use resistance bands. A good set of heavy-duty bands like these Undersuns (link for the cheapest price) are one of the most cost-effective ways to make a bodyweight exercise harder (you can go to my other post to find out why).
If you like, you can check out my other post for a full-body home workout for skinny guys to build muscle!
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I’ve explained why bodyweight calisthenics is good for skinny guys.
Generally speaking, it’s a cheap, convenient, and effective way for skinny people to build muscle and gain strength.
Bodyweight exercises like the push-up, dip, pull-up, and squat all replicate similar movement patterns to popular free weight exercises like the bench press, row, and barbell squat (respectively).
However, you should also be aware of the caveats to calisthenics; the main none being to ensure you’re working at a high enough intensity and applying progressive overload.
What do you think about bodyweight workouts as a skinny guy?
Let me know in the comments!
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 I used to go from skinny to ripped!
Thanks for reading guys!
(Biochemistry BSc, Biomedical Sciences MSc, Ex-Skinny Guy)