Is Bodyweight Training Effective For Muscle and Strength Gain?

Prevailing wisdom suggests that bodyweight training is no good.

Supposedly, it can be beneficial for beginners, but it often becomes too easy for us, and we can’t get noticeably strong or muscular with it.

But is that truly the case, or have we been misled?

Today, we’ll find out.

Bodyweight Training – Why The Bad Rap?

Take, for example, the classic push-up:

It’s one of the best-known exercises, and no person can deny that it does a fantastic job of training our chest, triceps, shoulders, and serratus anterior.

Yet, most people today choose ‘superior’ chest-builders like the bench press, dip, and fly. 

So, why is that?

One word: difficulty. 

You see, as we gain some training experience, most bodyweight exercises become easy for us, and we find that we need to do upward of twenty repetitions on each set to challenge ourselves enough. So, in that case, most people decide that “Bodyweight training is no good.”

But, is that truly the case?

What Causes Muscle Growth and Strength Gain – An Oversimplified View

Building muscle and getting stronger are both nuanced endeavors – there are many things to consider and numerous mechanisms behind each.

But, in an oversimplified way, both depend on physical stress, tension, and repetitions.

For example, one of the most important factors for muscle growth is training volume – the amount of work we do within a given workout or training week. The more work we do, the more muscle we can build – up to a point, of course.

Strength gain mostly depends on lifting heavier weights for fewer repetitions and doing so more frequently throughout the week.

Nothing is to say that you need to do a specific combination of gym exercises to achieve either.

So, Is Bodyweight Training a Viable Strategy?

Of course, it is—bodyweight training checks of all the possible marks for muscle and strength. If you primarily care about gaining muscle, then you need to do enough volume in the face of sets and repetitions. You also need to do most of your sets in the adequate intensity range – from 50 to 80 percent of your one-repetition-maximum.

So, that would mean anywhere from 5 to 30 reps per set.

If you mostly care about getting stronger, then you should do more challenging bodyweight exercises, aim for fewer repetitions, and do the movements more frequently throughout the week. You can also use external equipment like a weight vest to make things more challenging.

For example, if the classic push-up is too easy, you can do more challenging versions such as:

  • Single-arm push-ups
  • Uneven push-ups
  • Weighted push-ups
  • Decline push-ups
  • Plyometric push-ups