Bodyweight Bodybuilding: what is it and how to do it?

Hi! I am the author and founder of Old School Calisthenics

Table of Contents

Bodyweight bodybuilding is similar to classic bodybuilding, except it relies majorly on compound bodyweight exercises. I say majorly because most of the guys actually do a sort of hybrid training, with the use of elastic rubber bands to increase tension in pushups or a weight vest to make Pull-Ups, Squats and Dips harder. Very few do pure bodyweight training, not because it doesn’t work for building muscles, but because they get bored eventually and need to spice up their workouts.

However, the key focus is on compound bodyweight movements such as Pull-ups, Dips on parallel bars or rings, basic Pushup variations, various Squats and One-Legged Squat variations, plenty of plyometrics, Sprints, and definitely full-body circuits in the form of high-intensity training for shredding.

Therefore, you do Pushups or Diamond Pushups instead of a conventional Bench Press. To make the exercise harder, you either ask a training partner to press on your shoulders with his hands, or you can support his entire body weight on your back, or you can add resistance bands if you train alone. If not, you can increase the time under tension and go fully bodyweight. This type of slow and controlled execution, along with some explosive pushups, will provide sufficient stimulus for your targeted muscles to respond and develop: definition, size, strength, and endurance. Then you replace Weighted Squats with One-Leg Squats or Pistol Squats. There are also easier variations of them, as shown in the video below. The list goes on and on like this.

The hardest part of bodyweight training is isolating the muscles. Bodyweight bodybuilders never work on apparatus. The only equipment used in calisthenics training is the pull-up bar, probably a dip station, and that’s pretty much all there is. The rest can be done in nature by improvising. I am training majorly outdoors, so I use what the environment provides. Because you can’t isolate muscles in bodyweight training, you always work the muscles functionally. That’s good because more fibers are engaged and work as a unit, providing stabilization and safety for joints. However, this also makes the exercise harder for higher reps and sets. It consumes more energy just because of that.

To fully understand the differences here, when you bench press, you don’t have an activation of the core and spinal muscles as you do with pushups. Now imagine if someone sits on your back to do weighted pushups. You will obviously tire up fast. In a way, the targeted muscles will work to their absolute best, but simultaneously, you will develop tremendous strength in the adjoining muscles. Without that extra muscle activation, there is no good form, execution, or range of motion.

What exercises do I need in bodyweight bodybuilding?

I assembled a list of the most used exercises in bodyweight bodybuilding; just watch the video below. You won’t need many more variations, just use this structure and start from here. The rest is consistent training and patience. Provided you eat properly and sustainably from an energetic point of view, then you’re all set.

Is bodyweight better than weights?

The comparison is futile, honestly. Some people don’t have access to weights or a gym or sufficient money to pay a monthly membership and prefer spending that amount on more and better food instead. Others live in a more isolated place and want to develop their muscles around the home without buying special bodybuilding equipment, except for those who improvise something. Some find calisthenics safer for joints, or they suffered some injuries from heavy lifting. Some guys don’t have sufficient time and need to train fast at home using the chairs and floor. The list goes on and on.

There are many reasons someone chooses bodyweight training over conventional lifting or the other way around. One is no better than the other. What the hell? If you like both, then do both. If you like the smell of the iron and love barbell squats and deadlifts, then lift that bar and be happy with it. I endorse all types of resistance training as long as it suits you.

You can do bodyweight bodybuilding and be successful. If you work hard, the muscles will develop, but no one knows to what extent and how your body will respond. There are indeed differences in how exactly the body will grow depending on the types of exercises. I discussed this matter in a different article that I invite you to read. Still, it is sufficient for you to understand that scientifically and practically, it is possible to build great aesthetics through basic calisthenics training.

Can you really build muscle with calisthenics?

How to Start Bodyweight Bodybuilding?

Don’t overthink it because it’s not so complicated and complex. Keep things simple and begin gradually. Experience will teach you what to change. Begin with the exercises I showed you and build a simple workout structure based on sets, reps, or circuits. It doesn’t really matter so much how you do those pull-ups as long as you do it near failure every time you train.

Therefore, do classic sets and reps, or do circuits and supersets: 7 chinups followed by 12 dips followed by 15 diamond pushups in case you want to train the arms. The benefit of calisthenics is that, even if you intend to train the arms, you will still simultaneously train the chest and back muscles quite effectively. A pull-up utilizes the back muscles, regardless of the utilized grip. A supinated grip like the Chinup focuses more on the biceps and forearms, so it makes sense to add Chinups when you train your arms. It also makes sense to do pronated Wide Pull-Ups when you want to train the lats. If you want a chest workout, then simply do various Dips (the wider the distance between the bars, the better), train pushups with a larger width between the hands and perhaps even some flies with rings or rubber bands. (Just watch the video I added, even if it’s long).

For legs, do sprints, hill sprints, various jumps and stair running. Suppose you can add these athletic exercises along with walking lunges, high-rep squats, and sometimes one-legged squats. In that case, you should get enough stimulus to develop leg muscles and strength.

Then use the floor for core training. Make sure to add lower-back exercises as much as you do ab-focused exercises. They are all effective, from leg raises on the pull-up bar or on the ground to crunches and torso twists. You have bridges and various variations, exercises like planks and where you combine isometric contractions along with movements as shown in the video before.

Not all the exercises should be difficult to do for a few reps. Some focus more on tonic fibers, like Planks, requiring high-rep or time. Pull-ups and dips will train the thick fibers, so it’s obvious why your torso eventually gets so wide and developed in comparison with your spine and core. It’s all about the anatomic structure of the muscle fibers. Wherever the area of the body, just train those fibers near to fatigue.

Training 4 times a week for 1 hour, warm-up included, should be enough. Add pull-up routines with pushups and dips, then add squats and sprints. Another workout totally dedicated to core training and mobility, perhaps.

Jump the rope, run a longer distance, ride the bike, swim, or do plenty of Burpees and Jumping Jacks along with other plyometrics and ab exercises. These exercises can offer an alternative to burn fat or to add variety in case you get bored.

Every exercise, even if easy, can develop the muscle fibers utilized in that movement. If the exercise is functional and can be transferred to real-life applications, that’s even better. Calisthenics, weight lifting and all these simple exercises are the foundation of every sport and fitness.

Bodyweight Bodybuilding Workout Routine

You can’t start bodyweight bodybuilding without trying out most of the essential exercises. It doesn’t matter how you structure the workout, just do the exercises and see where you stand. The most crucial aspect is to execute correctly and see how the muscles react. Then comes the planning and thought process for composing the weekly routine.

I offered some random examples below, from workouts with variety to workouts where you persist on a single exercise. I also enjoy monotonous singled-exercise training; it’s the moment I discover the true benefit of an exercise simply because I overdo it.

You will obviously need to find some good warm-up routines and a way to fit the whole workout within the time you have available for training. Don’t overthink; just select a few exercises and compose a workout routine based on what I added here. It’s a good way to start bodyweight bodybuilding or calisthenics training.

Then train as frequently as you can. Anywhere between 3 to 5 workouts a week should provide consistent improvements in muscle development: strength, endurance, definition etc.

Arms Workout
[5-10 Chinups -> 10-20 Diamond Pushups] x 4 cycles
[5-10 Close Chinups -> 8-20 Dips] x 4 cycles
[5-10 Commando Pull-Ups -> 8-15 Backward Pushups] x 4 cycles
[10 Body Rows -> 5-7 Skull Crushers] x 4 cycles
Back Workout
5-10 Wide Pull-Ups x 5 sets
7-12 Horizontal Pull-Ups on Rings x 5 sets
Superman Isometric Hold followed by arms retraction: Max Reps and Time x 4 sets
5-10 Back Bridges Pushups (or easier variations) x 4 sets
2-min. Plank x 3 sets
Leg Workout
10 Sprints of 100 meters/yards (flat or uphill)
12 Bulgarian Splits x 4 sets
10 One-Leg Side Squat x 4 sets
Crouch Walk: 100 steps
[5 Squats -> 5 Jump Squats -> 5 Squats -> 5 Jump Squats] x 4 cycles
Calf Raises, 4 sets
Core Workout
1-2 Min. Hollow Holds x 3 sets
V raises on a Dip Station or Pull-Up Bar: 4 sets x max. reps.
Back Bridges or progressions and alternatives: 5 sets
Floor Leg Raises: 4 sets x 20 reps
Plank: 4 sets of 2 minutes
Upper-Body Workout
5-10 Pull-Ups x 4 sets
5-10 Chinups x 4 sets
7-12 Horizontal Pull-Ups x 4 sets
8-20 Dips x 4 sets
Max. Reps. Clapping Pushups x 5 sets
8-20 Decline Pushups x 4 sets
[6-20 Diamond Pushups -> Max Reps Incline Pushups] x 3 cycles
Forearm Workout
2-5 Towel Pull-Ups x 6 sets
3-5 Fingertip Pushups x 6 sets
Max. Reps. Close Chinups x 3 sets
Hangs of a Pull-Up bar: Max. Time x 5 sets
Wrists stretching
Maximal Pulling Strength Workout
Assisted One-Arm Pull-Ups: 3-5 reps x 5 sets
Archer Pull-Ups: 5 sets x 3-5 reps
(Weighted/Bodyweight) Pull-Ups: 4 sets x Max. Reps.
One Single Exercise Workout
5-12 Wide Pull-Ups x 20 sets
Rest 60-90 seconds between the sets
Do the same with other exercises for other body parts

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