Building muscle is often associated with lifting heavy weights in the gym. Muscular people are often seen benching barbells and curling dumbbells, sweating under the artificial lights of the nearest commercial gym. However, you can build muscle at home and without any weights, using only your body as resistance. Better still, you only really need three bodyweight exercises to achieve full-body definition.
I often recommend dumbbells and especially adjustable dumbbells when people ask me which is the best home weight to build muscle and lose weight at home. I still stand by this statement; using small free weights is the most convenient way to progress in your muscle-building journey.
That said, you shouldn’t think that it’s impossible to build a definition using nothing but your bodyweight. In fact, there is a form of strength training consisting of a variety of movements that utilise your body as the primary and only source of resistance: callisthenics.
And while callisthenics is often associated with moves such as the human flag or muscle-ups, any strength exercise you can perform without external weights can be considered callisthenics. These include the three movements I’ll recommend today: push-ups, pull-ups and squats.
Doing just these three bodyweight exercises (and their variations) will build muscle over time, sometimes even faster than if you were using weights. Can these exercises provide a full-body workout? They can. Read on to find out how.
Three essential exercises to build muscle
In-depth: how to master squats
Rep range: 10-30
Muscles worked: buttocks, thighs, groin, hip flexors, core and calves
I often recommend deadlifts as the best and only exercise to do to build full-body strength, but the truth is, squats are equally – if not more – as efficient in building muscle and power.
Better still, squats work the biggest muscles in your body (buttocks and thighs) so doing squats burn heap-loads of calories – great for weight loss. Once you get comfortable doing regular squats, you can switch things up by doing split squats and pistol squats, when you load one leg only.
A couple of tips to keep in mind: keep your spine neutral by looking straight ahead and only go as deep as you comfortably can; otherwise, you’ll put too much strain on your knees. Make sure you plant your feet before starting the movement; wearing proper workout shoes can help with traction.
In-depth: how to master push-ups
Rep range: 8-20
Muscles worked: chest, shoulders, triceps, core
If I could only do one exercise for the rest of my life, I think I’d choose push-ups and their variations. The pull-up is the ultimate upper body exercise that builds definition in all the right areas, mainly the arms and the pecs.
But being an awesome exercise it is, push-ups also strengthen your core, your shoulders and even the smaller muscles on your back, just under the armpit. Basically, most muscles visible on your upper body from the front are worked by push-ups.
If you can’t do push-ups, focus on two areas: your triceps and your core. Triceps dips are a good place to start building strength in your upper arm, and planks are excellent for increasing core power.
3. Pull ups
In-depth: how to master pull-ups
Rep range: 4-12
Muscles worked: latissimus dorsi (largest upper back muscle), trapezius (muscles connecting your neck and shoulders), thoracic erector spinae (muscles supporting the top and middle section of the spine), biceps, core
We worked the lower body and the front of the upper body; it’s time to strengthen the back. And when it comes to bodyweight-only exercises for your back, nothing beats pull-ups, the ultimate back-building movement.
Pull-ups are not easy to perform, but they will help strengthen the back in all the right areas and even help build bigger arms. For those struggling to do pull-ups, I recommend watching the above video and working on the biceps and lats by doing inverted rows and resistance band pull-ups.