The Power of Bodyweight Exercises

One thing I've never gotten away from are bodyweight exercises. No matter how big I've gotten or how many lbs I've added to my frame, bodyweight exercises have always been a staple. If you weigh 250 lbs and cannot perform a set of pull-ups then your 250 lbs is shit weight.

Think about it for a second, why would you build a big and powerful physique if it cannot even move your own bodyweight? It makes no fucking sense! Also, I think there is something to be said about the way the body functions to move itself. There is no better way for the mind/muscle connection than your body moving itself. You're not going to perform a push-up or a pull-up that you don't feel in the right muscle groups, however you can perform bench presses and lateral pull-downs where the shoulders and joints and biceps take the brunt of the work and not the back or chest. There is just something to be said for bodyweight exercises.

When most people think of conventional bodybuilding, they don't think that a push-up or pull-up will build you. They tend to think of these exercises as “toning”. Listen, any time you're pushing your muscles to failure you're going to get results. The push-up and pull-up is a fantastic way to build your body. You're not going to go from 10 push-ups to 20, to 40, to 80 in a row, without getting bigger and stronger. You're not going to do a bunch of dips or weighted dips, without building bigger triceps.

Now here is the trick. It's how you perform the bodyweight exercises that is key. If you go into it like a CrossFitter and just use a shitload of momentum to do these movements, you're only shortchanging yourself. If you go into it nice and slow and feel the muscles working, you're gonna get huge.

Eventually you will need more resistance to get bigger, but what if you could add resistance while still performing basic bodyweight function exercises? It's the functionality and leverage principles of the movements that builds results, not just the bodyweight. It's the arms, chest, and back moving in the natural plane that builds the results. Now take that natural plane and add resistance and you're going to get even bigger. Listen, if your muscles are pushing to failure then they are getting worked enough. It doesn't matter whether it came from a bench press or a push-up, all the muscle knows is it was challenged and stressed, and it responds.

Here is a 4 week program that will do a couple things for even an advanced trainee:

#1 – It will help build joint strength and allow the body to recover from heavy resistance training with weights.

#2 – It will help with mind muscle connection and controlling the muscles.

Take a 4 week phase where you train with bodyweight exercises only! Now, it's OK to add weight in these movements, but the basic bodyweight exercise doesn't change. For example, having a partner put a couple 45's on your back is fine if you're doing push-ups.

Every other day you will hit this:

4 sets of push-ups or weighted push-ups with plates on your back (15-20 reps/set)

3-4 sets of dips or weighted dips with a belt with chain, OR bench dips with plates in your lap, 15-20 reps

50 reps of pull-ups, any variation, weighted if you can. Do as many as you can per set until you hit 50 reps

Decline sit-ups- 4-5 sets of 25 reps

That's it, nothing more!

If it gets easy then add more weight, but make sure you stick with these bodyweight function exercises. When you go back to hitting dumbbells and barbells, you may be surprised at the strength gains! Not to mention, your joints might feel new again!


24 thoughts on “The Power of Bodyweight Exercises”

  1. I agree Joe. If you cannot move your mass around then you are basically nothing. The body builders from the golden era included thing like handstand push ups, dips, push ups and chin ups along with body weight squats. I weight 255 and I do all of those along with my bodybuilding training. Really good post.

    By the way, you are really in great shape. Keep on going friend.

  2. Great article, I’ve always known the importance of body weight exercises and try to do them when I can.

    Quick question you might be able to help me with. I’ve joined 3 online bodybuilding contests and I already workout 6 days a week. My diet and recovery is excellent and I have done Victor’s 30 days of discipline and I know he says to add 100 pushups, squats and situps everyday on top of hitting the weights at the gym. Currently I am doing the Big Beyond Belief program and it is very structured to different rest times, reps, training intensity. Not sure if you’ve heard of this program before but it is consists of 3 weeks of ramping up the intensity followed by 3 weeks of cutting the intensity in half to let your muscles recover. So I have the energy and desire to add 100 pushups, squats and abs everyday on top of my program but I feel it might hurt my recovery and possibly limit my gains. Do you have any experience with combining a heavy weights program with body weight exercises?

    • Vic’s 30 day program is very good, but what you have to understand about much of his routine is the mental discipline as well as the physical. I think the 100 pushups everyday is just as much of a mental workout as is a physical one. His routine is basically a transformation of mind, body, and soul. It’s a wake up/slap in the face, to get your ass in gear for life, not just muscles. From what I’ve read, he advocates a classic Greek like physique and seems to go against much of the “overtraining hype.” My stand on his routine is that it has it’s time and place. I dont think it’s a bad routine at all, but it’s not something I’d do year round myself. I’m not sure if Vic would either, after all it is called 30 days of discipline. My advice is to stick to his 30 days of discipline and see it out before trying to combine another routine with it. I’m not familiar with big beyond belief, but I would take my training further than 3 weeks before backing off. I never cut down on intensity, NEVER!! Only volume. The way I’d approach it is 3-4 weeks of heavier weights, next 3-4 weeks of moderate weights and more sets, next few weeks of lighter weights and more volume, then CUT VOLUME back and next few weeks back to heavy weights and very minimal sets, then possibly a week off the gym altogether. Everyone is different though, but one thing I’ve found with the gym is if your challenging yourself and pushing hard your going to get results no matter what(provided nutrition and rest is in check). The deciding factor of how much you progress after the first few years is drugs. I hate to say it like that, but its performance enhancers, period.

      • Big beyond belief is the best program I have ever seen and it has been working very well for me. It is definitely worth the read and you can get it online. Sorry I meant to say the program lowers volume, not intensity. The last 3 weeks I’ve hit back, chest, thighs, calves everyday 6 days a week with bicep and tricep being rotated every other day. Now for 3 weeks it goes back to a more normal setup with each muscle groop every other day and increasing the rest periods.

        Thanks for the advice. I think I am going to add in 50 pushups, body squats and abs every other day because I am recovering so well.

        I’ve never used ephedrine hcl before so I’m looking forward to adding that to my pre workout and killin it in the gym even more.

  3. John,

    I just started looking at your website today! What great work you do! I can’t wait to read your new book. In regards to bodyweight exercises, I make dips, pushups, and pullups a staple in my routine . . . .I’m wondering how to get stronger, bigger, legs without having to constanty do heavy squats and deadlifts or are weighted squats and deads the only way to accomplish this goal efficiently?? Thanks again! Joel

    • You could do things like walking lunges and bodyweight squats to build your legs up to SOME DEGREE, but eventually more resistance will be needed. It all depends on the type of build you’re going for. Your legs are used to carrying your body around all day long, so you can use bodyweight movements to build them up a little more by focusing on strictly lifting the upper body with the legs as opposed to just walking around, but there will come a point when added resistance will be the answer to go beyond that. Personally, I like muscular legs but not overly muscular. I still like to fit in jeans and look aesthetic.

      • Thanks! That answers my question. Once again, I am really enjoying your website. There is truly a wealth of knowledge here! Can’t wait to read the book.


  4. Progressive calisthenics are the shit. I see no point in training if you can’t be a master of your own body. I’m 5’11” and a lean 190 pounds from a body weight routine alone. Gymnasts are fucking ripped as hell, and while I am not a gymnast, this just goes to show focus on weights is simply preference, I don’t think either is necessarily better. Body weight exercises can make most people as big or strong as they will ever need to be.

    • Yes, also building muscles around good joint and tendon strength is key as well. I don’t know if bodyweight exercises alone would get me as big as I wanted to be, but the strength in all aspects of building muscle to what the joints and tendons can comfortably handle is the perfect ratio with one another

      • Thanks for getting back to me.
        I have always tried to use added resistance (weighted plates/vests) to keep me in relatively low rep ranges for fear that by just doing more reps I would be training for endurance rather than gaining size and strength. As long as your nutrition is good, with a small caloric surplus and all, can you pack on mass by just adding reps in a particular exercise (For example, you mention pushups in your article)? I guess this just comes down to whether low weight high reps works for building mass.

  5. Hey John

    I’m natrual and need advice on bulking up. I’m kinda skinny and have a gut sticking out. Should I lose weight and get a six pack then gain weight by eating alot

    or get bigger by eating everything on sight then losing the fat and get a six pack

    Thank you and have a awesome week.

  6. Hey,

    I completely agree, bodyweight exercises like dips, push ups and pull ups are fantastic muscle builders. When I go on holiday I don’t really have access to a gym, so I just commit to doing these instead. It maintains my muscle mass and I gain quite a bit of endurance.

    What do you think about inverted rows? are they as good as pull ups?


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