Not all your serious muscle-building work needs to take place in the gym. Yes, you actually can build solid muscle and take your body to its limits at home.
It’s easy to forget that and think that your body needs load, load, and more load in order to make gains in muscle and strength. But it’s not the only way to train. Truth be told, some bodyweight workouts can spur serious growth. Especially when it comes to training your chest, you can get a no-to-minimal-equipment pump if you’re doing the right moves and attacking your training correctly. Just check out this nearly-all-bodyweight chest session I ripped through a few weeks ago.
This is especially important because of how most people think about bodyweight workouts. Very often, people think they can only get a quick sweat when it comes to no-equipment training, that they can’t build muscle. But that’s only because they’re not using all the tools at their disposal.
In this session, you’ll train your body from multiple angles, challenging yourself in ways you never thought possible while only using your bodyweight.
The Secret To Building Muscle With No Weights
The thing you lose when you train with only bodyweight is the ability to load your body aggressively. You can’t bench 225 pounds, or even 135 pounds if you don’t have, well, 135 pounds worth of extra weight lying around. And no, on a more advanced level, there’s no substitute for that lack of loading.
That means your focus must shift and you have to find other ways to create metabolic stress on your muscles. And even with no gear, you still have three key tools at your disposal:
Time Under Tension: You can continue to slow down your reps. Doing so will cause each rep to take longer, and it’ll give you a chance to lock in good form. Whenever you do return to loading more aggressively, you’ll take this new form and the ability to create total-body tension into your more advanced movements and be better for it. The key is appreciating time-under-tension, and daring to actively utilize it. If you’re doing, say a pushup with a 3-second eccentric contraction, don’t just lower down slowly, but squeeze abs and glutes hard as you’re doing so. Create full-body tension on every rep, instead of just surviving the tension on the “bodypart” you’re training.
Unilateral Ideas: You can only bilaterally load your body so much, but unilateral and offset bodyweight moves are a great way to make bodyweight go farther. They're going to tax your core that much more, and they'll also subtly load muscles on one side of the body more than the other. No, it's not a 225-pound bench press. But done correctly, it can push you to create serious muscular tension.
Dropsets: Technique dropsets are a great way to add challenge to any movement. In this situation, you’re shifting from a more challenging technique at the outset of a set to a simpler one when fatigue sets in. This works great with weights, of course, but it can be used with bodyweight too. It’s especially useful when training chest. If you’re advanced at training, the basic pushup is easy fare. But standard pushups can be challenging on the back end of a dropset if you’ve done, say, archer pushups or typewriters right before. The video below offers a nice breakdown of dropsets and how to do them.
There’s Value In De-Loading Your Body
If you hit the gym frequently to train heavy and you find yourself stuck at home, don’t grow discontent with your home training. Even if you are training less “intensely,” that may not be a bad thing. If your body’s been pounded by heavy resistance for months, a slightly less heavy workout may be exactly what your body needs.
Additionally, the coordination and core tension required for many bodyweight moves will push you more than you think. And when you master these things and then return to your standard weight training, you can bring them with you and they’ll make you that much more effective at moving heavy load with precision.
Directions: Do this workout 3 to 4 times a week. Start with warmup: Do 30 seconds each of jumping jacks, Superman holds, bodyweight alternating lunges, and planks; do 2 rounds. Do 3 or 4 sets of each exercise, resting 30 to 45 seconds in between sets. Rest 90 seconds between exercises. Focus on form and technique.
Post Pushup Dropset
Do 3 sets of this dropset per side, focusing on keeping your hips and shoulders square to the ground. This is as much about your chest and triceps (and it's a lot about your chest and triceps) as it is about a locked-down, focused core.
Bulgarian Split Squat Dropset
You'll need a chair or outdoor bench for this one — and expect it to catch you off-guard. In the video below, I'm doing this series weighted, but even without weight, it can present a challenge, as you'll discover here. Do 3 sets per leg.
Typewriter Terror Challenge
Back to an upper-body move. Do 3 sets of this pushup series.
Superman Hollow Rock Series
Finish with 2 sets of core work.
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