Top 5 Muscle Building Exercises For Your Bodyweight Workout Routine

Apr 10, 2020

Contrary to popular belief, bodyweight training can be a great stimulus to build muscle.

The key to building muscle is that you need to train close to fatigue/failure. While research still argues the exact recommendation of how many reps shy of failure should be performed, a general recommendation would be to be within 5 reps shy of failure

The reason why going close to failure/fatigue is important is that as you approach failure you will recruit more muscle units. As the muscles fatigue, more motor units will be needed to complete the same task. Therefore, more muscle fibers are active close to fatigue.

The issue with bodyweight training, is that often the intensity is not challenging enough to get "close to fatigue". 

Have you ever seen someone go to fatigue on air squats?

Probably not.. If so it would have taken them a long time to get there (assuming they are healthy and already workout regularly).

Ideally, we can get "close to fatigue" while doing somewhere between 5-20 reps. Any less means the movement is too difficult. Any more than 20-25 just turns into cardio and working muscular endurance. 

If you can use challenging bodyweight exercises, you can get close to failure or fatigue within 5-20 reps! This article will go over our favorite bodyweight exercises for building muscle here at Effective Fitness. Enjoy!


1. Inverted Rows

Inverted rows are a great exercise to engage the middle back, upper back, and biceps.

This exercise can be made more difficult by elevating the feet (as shown in this video).

You don't need any fancy rings or equipment. In this video, you can see Dr. Nate is using a bedsheet. Instead, he tied a knot on one end of a bedsheet, threw it over the door frame and shut the door. Here is a video with that setup.

Perform 3-5 sets of 5-20 reps being within 5 reps shy of failure.

2. Alternating Jumping Lunges

Jumping lunges are a great way to work the quads and glutes. They can be TOUGH if done properly.

The goal with these is to JUMP AS HIGH AS POSSIBLE.

Fatigue for lower body exercise is not to the point at where you can't do anymore.. Instead, fatigue is the point at which you cannot jump as high.

If these are easy, grab a weight and keep going! These will burn..

Perform 3-5 sets of 10-25 jumps per side (20-50 total).

3. Plyometric Push-Ups

Push-up variations are great drills to build the chest and triceps.

Push-ups may be a perfectly challenging exercise for many people to start. If you can do more than 20-25 push-ups, it's time to make them harder.

The first way to make them harder is doing deficit push-ups. These can be done on textbooks or bumper plates. Allow your chest to go BELOW the books or plates to get a deeper range of motion.

After this.. our favorite exercise is plyometric push-ups. These are as hard as you make them. Again, like the alternating squats, the key here is jumping as HIGH as you can. When you can no longer jump as high, you have reached your fatigue point.

Perform 3-5 sets of 10-20 reps of plyometric push-ups in a workout.


4. Jump Squats

Squat variations are great to build the quads and glutes.

As mentioned above, if you were to just do air squats, it could take a LONG time (50+ reps) before getting anywhere near fatigue. So we have to increase the challenge of that movement. 

We have found that adding a jumping component can really make this exercise much more challenging. 

For this exercise,  it is suggested to hold some weight to your chest. Weight may not be needed for the jumping lunges, but the jump squats would greatly benefit from the increased load.

Perform 3-5 sets of 10-20 jump squats with a load if possible.


5. Pike Push-ups/Handstand Push-Ups

Last but certainly not least, we have the pike push-ups and handstand push-ups. 

These are great for building the shoulder as well as the triceps.

If you are a beginner, doing pike push-ups on the floor is a great starting point. As you build strength, move to have your feet elevated on a couch or chair.

When you have built enough strength, move to handstand push-ups against the wall. These are TOUGH! 

We are not huge fans of kipping handstand push-ups.. I would recommend sticking with pike push-ups and continuing to elevate the feet until you are able to perform handstand push-ups.

Perform 3-5 sets of 5-20 reps in one session.

Wrap Up:

Treat these movements as if they are weighted! Give yourself the same amount of time between sets you normally would with weights. 

Again to build muscle, you need to work close to fatigue multiple times a week.

The current research suggests performing between 10-20 sets close to fatigue for every muscle group you want to grow. We did a longer article covering that here.

Thanks for reading! 

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