Illustration of a man doing a single-legged bodyweight pistol squat.

Bodyweight Bulking Guide: How to Build Muscle at Home Without Any Equipment

Most people build muscle with weight training, and that’s certainly an easy way to do it, but it’s also possible to bulk up with bodyweight workouts (aka calisthenics). If we put enough mechanical tension on our muscles, they will grow. That’s just as true with bodyweight training as it is with free weights.

The catch is that if we want to see good muscle growth, we still need to do dedicated hypertrophy training, and that can be confusing. After all, most calisthenics workouts are designed to help overweight people lose fat, improve their general fitness, and become healthier. The workouts may stimulate a bit of muscle growth as a byproduct, but it’s not enough to do a bonafide bulk. That won’t cut it for us skinny guys, ectomorphs, and hardgainers.

So in this article, we’ll go over how to do a bodyweight hypertrophy workout that’s designed specifically to help skinny guys build muscle, bulk up, and gain mass.

Before and after illustration of a skinny hardgainer ectomorph becoming muscular.

Can We Gain Muscle Mass With Bodyweight Routines?

The first question is whether we can build muscle with just bodyweight workouts. That depends. Not everyone can. An advanced lifter who’s near his genetic muscular potential might have trouble even just maintaining all of their muscle mass (especially in their legs and spinal erectors) with just calisthenics.

But a skinny beginner can absolutely gain muscle with bodyweight training, and the rate of progress will be almost identical to using free weights. The same holds true with most intermediate lifters. They can still make good progress with bodyweight training, it’s just that the workouts can quickly become more complicated and painful than weight training.

But I don’t mean to make it sound like bodyweight training is a lesser choice. After all, the push-up and chin-up are two of the very best muscle-building lifts of all time (study, study). Even people with access to free weights should include plenty of them in their bulking routines.

Bodyweight workouts can also be quite good for gaining general strength. Maybe not for an advanced powerlifter who measures their strength by how much they can squat, bench press, and deadlift, but for everyone else, there’s no reason to think that how many push-ups and chin-ups we can do is any less indicative of strength than how much we can deadlift.

Illustration of a doctor checking a skinny and muscular man to see if they're healthy.

Calisthenics are great for our general health, too. In fact, that’s what most calisthenics routines are designed for. Exercising is one of the most important things we can do to reduce our risk of sickness and death, but only 20% of people exercise, and only 10% exercise enough (study, study). Bodyweight training absolutely counts as exercise, as do cardio and lifting weights. In fact, even just walking for twenty minutes every day lowers our risk of blood sugar problems by 25%, and those benefits stack with added activity (study).

Calisthenics takes us far beyond that, though. By adding in resistance training 2–3 times per week, whether that’s weight training or bodyweight training, our all-cause mortality risk is reduced by a further 23% (study). The one caveat is that the health benefits continue to accumulate as our strength increases (study), and so eventually we might need free weights to continue growing stronger.

For aesthetics, bodyweight training can be surprisingly good. Horizontal and vertical push-ups are great for building a thick chest and broad shoulders, and chin-ups are amazing for building a wide upper back and strong biceps. It’s true that without biceps curls, triceps extensions, and lateral raises, it’s a bit harder to bulk up lanky arms, but it can be done. We’re scrappers. We can do this.

If you’re a skinny guy who wants to get bigger, stronger, healthier, and better looking, bodyweight training can be incredibly effective. In fact, especially when it comes to your chest, shoulders, upper back, and abs, you should be able to progress just as quickly as if you were training with a full barbell setup.

The Principles of Muscle Growth

The simplest way to explain muscle growth is with the story of Milo of Croton. Milo was the prototypical skinny guy who dreamt of being muscular, and so he had the idea to challenge his muscles by carrying around a calf. He was skinny (and calves can weigh as much as 500 pounds) so that was more than enough to challenge him, provoking muscle growth.

Illustration showing Milo of Croton gaining muscle and strength by lifting a calf as it grows into a bull.

After carrying the calf, he feasted, slept, and grew bigger. Then he went back to carry the calf again. Of course, as Milo grew bigger, so too did the calf, and so his bigger muscles were always challenged by the ever-heavier calf.

Now, I realize that you’re probably more interested in bulking up your chest and arms than you are in bulking up your calves, but the same principle holds true. We need to challenge our muscles enough to stimulate growth, then recover by eating enough calories and getting good sleep, and then challenge our muscles again—doing more than last time. This idea of always doing more is called progressive overload, and it’s at the heart of both strength and hypertrophy training (aka training for muscle size).

  • Lift.
  • Eat.
  • Rest.
  • Lift more than last time.

It’s easy to get caught up in the magic of the hypertrophy rep range, the advantages of certain lifts, or the benefits of certain techniques, but the most important thing is to simply challenge our muscles by bringing our sets close enough to failure (or even all the way to failure). If we’re always lifting close to failure and always striving to do more, then our muscles will be forced to grow bigger.

And then, of course, once we’ve stimulated muscle growth, we need to kick back, eat big, and get a good night’s sleep. That’s what allows us to actually build muscle. That’s how we can show up to our next workout bigger and stronger than our last workout.

Bodyweight Progressive Overload

The supposed problem with calisthenics is that we can’t progressively increase the amount of weight we’re lifting. That’s not quite right. We’ll be gaining weight, so the weight we’re lifting when doing bodyweight training will be gradually increasing. When I started doing chin-ups, I weighed 130 pounds. Now I weigh 190 pounds. The chin-ups gradually got much heavier.

Before/after photo of Shane Duquette starting skinny, bulking up, and building muscle.

Even so, adding a pound of muscle to our frames allows us to lift a disproportionate amount of weight. At 130 pounds, I could barely do a single chin-up. At 190 pounds, I can do chin-ups with 100 extra pounds around my waist. So although gaining weight helps, it won’t be enough. We need a more robust progression system.

Fortunately, we don’t need to add weight to our sets to stimulate muscle growth. Instead, we can focus on gradually adding reps to our sets. After all, we just need to make sure that our workouts are getting harder. Adding reps certainly makes our workouts harder.

The catch to adding reps to our sets is that we need to keep our sets within the oft-debated hypertrophy rep range. If our reps drift too low, our strength will improve but our muscles won’t grow very much. And if our reps fly too high, our endurance will improve, but again, our muscles won’t grow very much. So the idea is to keep our reps within that magical zone that stimulates maximal muscle growth.

  • A systematic review of fourteen studies found that our muscles grow best with anywhere from 6–20 reps.
  • Greg Nuckols, MA, did an informal review of an even wider array of research and found that sets anywhere from 4–40 reps are great for stimulating muscle growth, but recommends doing most lifts somewhere in the 5–15 rep range.
  • Dr James Krieger’s research shows that our muscles grow best when we do eight or more reps per set.
  • Mike Israetel, PhD, argues that sets ranging from 5–30 reps are ideal for building muscle, aiming at the low side for big compound lifts, the high side for smaller isolation lifts.

So although it’s unclear exactly where the cutoff is, anywhere from 8–20 reps is certainly within the magical zone, and I think that Greg is correct to blow that range even bigger. This gives us a lot of flexibility with our training. If you can only do four push-ups, you can stick with that same exercise variation until you hit forty reps, and every bit of that progress will translate perfectly to muscle growth. For most guys who are still fairly skinny, this makes bodyweight not just viable, but also pleasantly simple.

Personally, I let my reps drift between 4–40 reps when needed, but I try to keep most of my sets between 4–20 reps. The reason I prefer to cap my sets at twenty reps is that the higher the rep ranges get, the more tiring the sets become, the more pain we feel in our muscles, and the closer to failure we need to go (within a rep of failure, usually).

Because higher rep ranges demand that we push our sets close to failure, that means that for bodyweight training to work, we need to get very good at estimating how close to failure we are. The only way to do that is to practice. We need to experiment with taking some (or even all) of our sets to failure.

Illustration of a sweaty, tired man with disheveled hair.

This idea of always adding reps and always going close to failure makes bodyweight training effective but also hard. Hard enough that many of us will give up before our muscles have been challenged enough to stimulate muscle growth. So we need to get comfortable with being uncomfortable. Or, I suppose, you could blunt the pain by having a ton of caffeine thirty minutes before working out.

So with bodyweight training, instead of gradually adding weight to the barbell, we gradually add reps to our sets, fighting our way ever deeper into the pits of Hell. That gives us the steady progressive overload we need to consistently stimulate muscle growth.

Illustration of a skinny guy building muscle and becoming muscular (before/after).

Now, adding reps won’t always be smooth or easy. If you can only do four chin-ups, adding a fifth rep is roughly the equivalent of adding around ten pounds to the barbell—that’s a big jump. Plus, with every set that we do, we grow more tired, and so we tend to bleed reps from set to set. As a result, especially when working in lower rep ranges, our fight to add reps might look more like this:

  1. Workout One: 4 reps, 4 reps, 3 reps (11 total reps)
  2. Workout Two: 4 reps, 4 reps, 4 reps (12 total reps)
  3. Workout Three: 5 reps, 4 reps, 4 reps (13 total reps)
  4. Workout Four: 5 reps, 5 reps, 4 reps (14 total reps)

That way, even if we aren’t able to add reps to every single set, we’re still adding reps to every single workout. All we need to do is fight for progress. That’s enough to stimulate muscle growth.

Adding reps is our main method of progression, but there are other ways that we can increase the challenge from workout to workout, too:

  • Increase the number of sets. Another way to increase the challenge for our muscles is to add more total sets per workout. So instead of doing three sets of push-ups, we could do four, and then five. This not only increases the number of challenging sets we’re doing each workout, but it also increases the total number of reps we’re doing. This increases our training volume over time.
  • Shorten the rest times between sets. As we go from set to set, we’ll probably lose some reps. Maybe we get twenty in our first set, fifteen in our second, twelve in our third. Normally, that’s bad. But when we’re lifting in higher rep ranges, that can actually become a benefit. If we match the number of reps to our previous workout with shorter rest times, that’s a great way to increase the challenge on our muscles while making our workouts shorter. (Using advanced techniques like drop sets and cluster sets can work for this, too.)
  • Move to a more challenging variation. When you can do a few sets of 20–40 repetitions, it’s time to find a more challenging variation. For example, when you can do twenty split squats, maybe you want to switch to doing Bulgarian split squats. And when you can do twenty of those, maybe try pistol squats.

The trick to progressively overloading our muscles with bodyweight training is to eat enough to gain weight, always be striving for extra reps, and to use a periodized workout program that gradually adds sets over time. Then, whenever we can do more than 20–40 reps on a given exercise (depending on your preference and pain tolerance), we can advance to a more difficult variation, which we’ll discuss in the following section.

The Five Foundational Calisthenics Lifts

When I’m doing a bulking routine, I don’t just want to follow a bunch of exercises haphazardly strung together. That can stimulate muscle growth, sure, but it can get confusing, and people often find themselves wandering off the path to growth. I’d much rather have my routine organized into a hierarchy and laid out clearly so that I know what my priorities are, how everything fits together, and what I need to improve at every workout.

Illustration of a man doing a barbell front squat.

When training for muscle size, we like to organize our workouts around five main free-weight lifts. There are other good ways of doing this, but after coaching thousands of skinny guys over the past nine years, we’ve found that these five lifts are best for gaining size and strength, for ameliorating our general health, and for improving our appearance:

  1. The Front-loaded Squat: starting with goblet squats and working our way towards front squats.
  2. The Bench Press: starting with raised push-ups and working our way towards the dumbbell or barbell bench press.
  3. The Deadlift: starting with Romanian deadlifts and working our way to conventional deadlifts.
  4. The Overhead Press: starting with lateral raises and kneeling dumbbell presses and working our way towards standing overhead presses.
  5. The Chin-Up: starting with lowered chin-ups, lat pulldowns (or at-home alternative), or underhand rows and working our ways towards weighted chin-ups.

With those five lifts, we can stimulate all of the major muscle groups in our bodies with overlapping lifts. Our shoulders are worked by both the bench press and overhead press, our backs are worked by both the deadlift and the chin-up, and so on. As we grow stronger at these lifts, adding repetitions, and adding sets, and adding weight, we build muscle.

Illustration of a man doing a bodyweight air squat.

With bodyweight training, we want to find a similar set of main lifts that allow us to bulk up all of the muscles in our bodies. Except with bodyweight training, we’re adding repetitions, sets, and progressing to more difficult variations. That way, even if we aren’t adding weight to our lifts, we can still be adding weight to our muscles.

There a number of different lifts we could choose and many different ways to organize our training, but just as with free weights, we can work all of our major muscle groups with just a few compound movements:

  1. The Push-Up: the push-up is the foundation of bodyweight hypertrophy training, so we put it first. It’s responsible for bulking up our chests, but also our shoulders, triceps, and abs. We can start with easier variations (like raised push-ups) and work our way towards harder ones (such as deficit push-ups).
  2. The Vertical Push-Up: instead of the overhead press, we have the vertical push-up. It’s responsible for bulking up our shoulders and traps, but also our upper chests and upper backs (such as our traps). We can start with easy variations (like pike push-ups) and work our way towards harder ones (such as deficit handstand push-ups).
  3. The Bodyweight Squat: our quads and glutes are the two biggest muscles in our bodies. The squat, then, is the best lift for gaining lean mass and reaping the health benefits of resistance training. We can start with easy variations (like air squats) and work our way towards more challenging ones (such as pistol squats).
  4. The Chin-Up: unfortunately, even bodyweight routines require a bit of equipment. Without a chin-up bar or gymnastics rings, it’s extremely difficult to build a big upper back and big biceps. Even so, there’s nothing wrong with starting with inverted rows (using just a table) and working our way towards chin-ups.
  5. The Bodyweight Deadlift: by this point, we’ve stimulated most of the major muscle groups in our bodies. Our hamstrings could use a bit of extra stimulation, but the main thing is making sure that we’re giving our spines some heavy loading to bulk up our spinal erectors. That’s what will give us thicker, stronger torsos. That’s where lifts like the towel deadlift come in.

These five lifts aren’t a full routine. They could be, but they don’t have to be. Rather, they just give us the main lift to focus on for every major muscle group. To build a bigger chest, our main goal is to gradually improve at the push-up, but that doesn’t stop us from doing a variety of other chest exercises. In fact, adding in other chest exercises might be a great way to accelerate our push-up progress and chest growth. These lifts are a foundation to build on.

With these five lifts, though, our mission becomes clear—to improve at these five lifts. That gives every workout a precise goal—to do a little bit more than the last workout on some (or all) of these five lifts.

Illustration of a skinny guy building muscle and becoming muscular (before/after).

Instead of doing push-ups until we get tired, we’re doing 31+ push-ups this workout because the last workout we got 30. If we fight for progress on all five main lifts, then we’re fighting for growth in all the muscles throughout our bodies.

This system can also help us figure out what we need to adjust. If your push-up progress has stalled, is it because your chest is too fried or too fresh? We can then raise or lower the volume accordingly.

We can use a wide variety of bodyweight exercises while bulking, but we’re going to build our foundation on top of just five: the push-up, vertical push-up, squat, chin-up, and deadlift. These five lifts work every major muscle group in our bodies. If we can make progress on each of them, we can ensure overall muscle growth. Other lifts can then be stacked on top.

The Push-Up

Muscles Worked by the Push-Up

The lift that makes bodyweight training so good for improving our general strength and appearance is the classic push-up. In many ways, it’s comparable to the bench press. Both train the chest, shoulders, and triceps. But the push-up does a bit more than that:

Diagram showing the anatomy and muscles worked by the push-up.

To do a push-up, we need to hold our torsos in a rigid “plank” position, making it a good lift for bulking up our abs. Plus, because our shoulder blades aren’t pinned back, the push-up is also a good lift for bulking up our serratus anterior muscles.

The Push-Up Versus The Bench Press

What’s neat is that if we look at studies comparing muscle growth from doing push-ups versus the bench press, the differences are negligible. If we look at chest growth in this study, for instance, the difference is barely detectable (if it even exists at all):

Graph showing differences in chest muscle growth between the bench press and push-up.

The same is true when we look at triceps growth (although neither the push-up nor the bench press is particularly great for building bigger triceps).

Graph showing differences in triceps muscle growth between the bench press and push-up.

Now, you might look at these and note that the bench press has a slight advantage. It’s not necessarily an artifact of just this one study, either. We see this same slight disparity in earlier research. But then once we consider that the push-up is also working the serratus and abs, I’d wager on the push-up coming out ahead in terms of overall muscle growth. It’s less specific to the chest, perhaps, but it’s also more of a compound lift.

Push-ups have another interesting advantage, too. When the load on our muscles is matched, we’re able to do 62% more reps of push-ups than the bench press (study). So if the push-up is the equivalent of lifting 100 pounds, and you can bench press 100 pounds for 10 reps, then we’d expect you to be able to do 16 push-ups. Maybe that’s because having our hands in contact with the ground—a closed-chain exercise—makes us sturdier, who knows. But whatever the reason, when we’re doing push-ups, we’re doing more overall work per set. That can make push-ups more tiring than the bench press, but it also makes them great for building muscle and improving our cardiovascular fitness.

Push-ups have a few other key advantages over the bench press:

  • They require almost no setup time.
  • They’re fairly easy on our joints.
  • They don’t require much warming up.
  • They double as an ab exercise.
  • They’re great for our posture.

This means that push-ups aren’t just effective, they’re also efficient. And there’s nothing stopping us from doing extra sets per workout, or extra push-up workouts per week, raising our training volume higher. This makes push-ups great for building muscle in a hurry.

Min-Maxing the Push-Up for Muscle Mass

When doing push-ups for muscle growth, we want to put our hands slightly wider than your shoulders (to ensure good chest activation), with our fingers facing roughly forwards, and with our elbows tucked to around 45 degrees. There’s some flexibility here. You can go a little closer or wider, angle your hands a few degrees—no problem. But the idea is to mimic the position of a standard-grip bench press, like so:

Illustration showing hand positioning and width during the push-up.

By using this moderate grip, we’re putting fairly equal emphasis on the chest, upper chest, shoulders, and triceps. It’s a great compound lift that works a ton of different muscles at once. If we go much wider, it becomes more of a chest-isolation lift. Much closer, and it becomes more of a triceps isolation lift.

The next thing is to brace your core as if you’re doing a front plank. The idea is to keep your torso rigid and solid throughout the entire set. Never let your hips sag, even as you approach failure. This makes it much easier to stimulate your upper-body muscles, but it’s also good for stimulating your abs and improving your posture.

Finally, we need to standardize the range of motion. For a push-up rep to count, your chest—not your stomach or nose—need to touch the floor (or the bench, if you’re doing raised push-ups). You can tuck your chin and look down or raise your chin and look ahead—either is fine. Then, when you push back up, lock your arms out (for your triceps) and push your body all the way up, fully contracting your chest and serratus muscles. Unlike the bench press, you don’t keep your shoulder blades tucked. Push the ground as far away as you can.

On that note, it’s not a bad idea to keep constant tension on your muscles throughout the entire range of motion. You don’t need to pause at the top or rest any of your weight on the floor at the bottom. But we still recommend going through the entire range of motion. The full range of motion standardizes technique, makes the push-up better for building muscle, and best of all, it makes the push-up harder, reducing the number of reps you’ll be able to do before hitting failure.

How to Progressively Overload the Push-Up

The downside to the push-up is that it’s tiring in higher rep ranges. And because it’s hard to load with progressively heavier weights, it can be hard to escape those higher rep ranges. Some people solve that problem by shifting weight to one hand, gradually working their way towards one-handed push-ups. But one-handed push-ups aren’t a chest exercise—they’re a shoulder and oblique exercise. So what most people do is gradually raise their feet instead (study):

  • The Knee Push-Up: if we do push-ups from our knees instead of from our toes, we’re lifting around 49% of our body weight.
  • The Hands-Elevated Push-Up: if we raise our hands on a tall bench (60cm), the push-up loads us with around 40% of our body weight. If we use a shorter bench (30cm), the push-up loads us with 55% of our body weight.
  • The Regular Push-Up: if we have both our hands and feet on the floor, then the push-up loads us with around 65% of our body weight.
  • The Feet-Elevated Push-Up: if we raise our feet up on a short bench (30cm), the load is around 70% of our body weight. If we raise our feet higher (61cm), the load increases to 75% of our body weight.

This means that if we want to progressively increase the load, we could start by doing push-ups with our hands raised on a tall bench, gradually work our hands down to the floor, and then start gradually raising our feet higher. But that’s not how I’d do it.

As we change the angle of the push-up, we’re also changing the dynamics of the lift. When our hands are raised, our chest is prioritized, but the range of motion is fairly small. As we work our way down to the floor, the range of motion increases and our shoulders start to contribute more to the lift. That’s great. That’s exactly what we want.

But if we start raising our feet up, the range of motion starts to shrink again, our chest becomes less dominant, and our shoulders (and upper chest) start to take over. The lift is not only getting heavier, but it’s also engaging less muscle mass through a shorter range of motion. That can reduce the overall muscle growth stimulus.

Now consider that the hypertrophy rep range is really rather large. As we covered above, we can build muscle equally well with anywhere from 4–40 reps. Instead of raising our feet higher, it’s often wiser to raise our reps higher. At least until we’re able to do four sets of forty reps with our chests touching the floor.

The next thing to consider is that our muscles grow best when we challenge them in a stretched position. It’s not a minor detail, either. A meta-analysis looking at isometric lifts found that challenging our muscles in a stretched position stimulated nearly three times as much muscle growth as challenging our muscles in a more contracted position.

Graph showing the difference in muscle growth when training with long and short muscles lengths.

So instead of raising our feet up, which would reduce the stretch on our chests and shoulders, we could instead raise our hands with weight plates, push-up handles, or speculative fiction novels. That way our torsos can sink deeper, giving us a deeper stretch on our chests and shoulders:

Illustration of a man doing a deficit push-up.

Yes, elevating our hands shifts more of the load to our feet, but we only need to raise our hands by a few inches (say 6″), meaning that we shouldn’t lose more than a percent or two of the load. More importantly, we’re increasing the range of motion of the most important part of the lift, making it much better for stimulating muscle growth.

So if your goal is to build muscle, you may want to progress your push-ups like so:

  • Hands-Elevated Push-Ups: start with a high bench and stay there until you can confidently do 3–4 sets of twenty push-ups through a full range of motion. Then either gradually use shorter benches or switch to doing push-ups from the floor (if you can do 6+ reps).
  • Regular Push-Ups: keep doing regular push-ups until you can do 3–4 sets of twenty with your chest touching the floor.
  • Deficit Push-Ups (tutorial video): raise your hands up a few inches using handles, plates, or books to increase the stretch on your chest and shoulders, increasing the muscle growth stimulus. When you can do more than thirty reps, consider wearing a backpack and gradually adding speculative fiction novels to it.

The other nice thing is that if you’re bulking, then presumably you’re gaining a bit of weight every week. For every pound you gain on the scale, that’s another 0.65 pounds added to your push-ups. That’s another form of progressive overload.

By the time you can do forty deficit push-ups through a full range of motion while wearing a backpack with a few novels in it, you’ll have built a big, thick, and truly powerful chest. The push-up may seem humble compared to benching 200–300 pounds, but it’s one of the best bulking exercises of all time.

The Vertical Push-Up

Muscles Worked by the Vertical Push-Up

The next lift we want in our bulking routines is some sort of vertical push-up. The fronts of our shoulders (front delts) are worked quite hard by regular push-ups, which will certainly help us build bigger shoulders, but we want to make sure that we’re also working the sides of our shoulders (side delts) to build broader shoulders.

Diagram showing the anatomy and muscles worked by the handstand (or pike) push-up.

Perhaps even more importantly, though, we want to make sure that we’re working our upper traps. Not only are our upper traps important for our general strength, but they’re also one of the most important muscle groups for making us look strong. Barbell deadlifts are great for that, but since we aren’t doing barbell deadlifts, all the more reason to include a lift that bulks up our entire shoulder girdle. The vertical push-up is that lift.

Progressing the Vertical Push-Up

In the push-up section, we talked about how raising our feet higher shifts emphasis away from our chests to our shoulders while also shortening the range of motion. That makes vertical push-ups quite bad for bulking up the chest, yes, but it also makes them quite good for building bigger shoulders. That’s why we want to include both variations and progress them separately.

The most common vertical push-up is the “pike” push-up, which is done by bending at the waist and driving our butts up. That’s a perfectly fine place to start, but the real magic happens when we raise our feet up, making the lift more vertical, and thus shifting more of the load to our shoulders and traps, like so:

Illustration of a man doing a pike push-up with his feet raised.

The technique for these can vary. Some experts recommend using a wider grip and keeping the elbows wide, whereas others recommend keeping the grip narrower and tucking the elbows, like so:

Illustration of a man doing a pike push-up with his feet raised.

You can use whichever variation you prefer. Give them both a try, see which one feels better and works your shoulders harder. Both of them are correct, and both of them work our shoulders and traps through a nice range of motion.

When these pike push-ups become too easy, you can rest your feet against the wall instead, doing handstand push-ups. That puts your entire bodyweight on your hands and shifts even more weight towards the shoulders and traps.

Finally, as with regular push-ups, our muscles grow best if we challenge them at longer muscle lengths. That’s hard when training our shoulders and traps. The overhead press doesn’t even do that. But even so, if you can raise your hands on handles or blocks to increase the range of motion, all the better.

That gives us a progression that looks something like this:

  • The Pike Push-Up: if we start by keeping our feet on the ground, it makes the load quite a bit lighter on our shoulders, and it also requires quite a bit less shoulder mobility. If your shoulders aren’t stable and strong yet, this is a great place to start. You can do these until you can do sets of 20–30 reps.
  • The Feet-Elevated Pike Push-Up: by raising our feet up, we transfer more load to our shoulders, making the exercise quite a bit heavier. It also makes the push-up far more vertical, shifting more of the load to our side delts and traps, which is great. These are a good variation until you can do 20–30 reps.
  • Handstand Push-Ups: the final variation is handstand push-ups. When we go fully vertical, our entire body weight is resting on our hands. (It’s not a balance exercise, so make sure to rest your feet against a wall.) By the time you can do twenty handstand push-ups, especially if your hands are raised on handles, you’ll have massive shoulders.

The nice thing with vertical push-ups is that they naturally shift more of our weight onto our hands, and our powerful chest muscles aren’t contributing very much to the lift. This makes vertical push-ups quite heavy, and so we can often get away with lifting in lower rep ranges (which tends to hurt less).

The other good news is that since our shoulders and triceps are worked quite hard by both horizontal and vertical push-ups, this bodyweight bulking routine should help you build impressive shoulders and arms fairly quickly. (That’s a strength of bodyweight training in general—lots of shoulder and arm work.)

The Chin-Up (or Inverted Row)

The chin-up is another of the great bodyweight bulking lifts, working a ton of muscle mass through a huge range of motion. In fact, the chin-up is better than barbell and dumbbell rows and better than lat pulldowns. In fact, they’re the best exercise for bulking up our backs, bar none.

Illustration of a man doing a bodyweight chin-up through a full range of motion (dead hang and chest to bar).

Or, actually, maybe not bar none. You do need a bar. And that might be a problem. Chin-ups are the lift that separates the true bodyweight enthusiasts from the people who just don’t want to buy anything. If you’re serious about building muscle with bodyweight workouts, you can get a chin-up bar or gymnastics rings. That will allow you to do chin-ups, pull-ups, and dips, which is everything you need to build a thick back and big arms.

But if you really don’t want to buy anything, there are some creative rowing exercises that you can do with spare sheets. Or you can do inverted rows from the underside of a table:

Illustration of a man doing an inverted bodyweight row using a table.

These makeshift variations aren’t as good as bonafide chin-ups done from a chin-up bar or gymnastics rings. The range of motion isn’t as deep, reducing the amount of muscle growth we stimulate with each set. And the awkward grip can prevent us from lifting as heavy, reducing the amount of muscle we engage. But even so, they allow us to work our back and forearm muscles hard enough to stimulate muscle growth, and in a pinch, they will get the job done.

Still, I highly recommend getting a chin-up bar or gymnastics rings. (Those are affiliate links to Rogue Fitness, which is where I buy all of my own workout equipment.)

Muscles Worked by the Chin-Up

The chin-up (or inverted row) works most of the muscles in our upper backs (with the exception of our upper traps and spinal erectors). Chin-ups are also great for bulking up our biceps, part of our forearms, and improving our grip strength.

Illustration showing the anatomy of the muscles worked by the chin-up (and bodyweight inverted row).

Progressing the Bodyweight Chin-Up

If you have access to gymnastics rings or a chin-up bar, progressing the chin-up is quite easy. Most men aren’t able to do a single one, let alone ten, and let alone forty chin-ups. So it’s unlikely that you’ll ever grow too strong for them. And even if you prefer to train in lower rep ranges, you can just shift more weight to one side (archer chin-ups) to train one side at a time.

So the tricky part of chin-ups isn’t making them harder, it’s making them easier. Most beginners aren’t able to do four reps, which puts them underneath the ideal hypertrophy range. If that’s the case, I’d recommend putting a stool underneath the barbell and doing lowered chin-ups. You may even want to rest some of your weight on the stool and do partially-supported chin-ups.

Another trick to doing chin-ups is to get assistance from resistance bands, and that can certainly work—that’s how my wife learned how to do chin-ups—but just be warned that their strength curve isn’t very good. They make the bottom of the chin-up easier, but that’s already the easiest part. If you don’t already have resistance bands, you may wish to use a stool instead. And that’s fine. It may even be better.

Illustration showing the difference between chin-ups and pull-ups.

Now, once you’re strong enough to do a bunch of chin-ups, one way to make them harder is to switch from using an underhand grip to an overhand grip (pull-ups). What this does is it removes our biceps from the lift. This shifts proportionally more emphasis to our upper backs and forearms, but since our upper backs are already a limiting factor, it just serves to make pull-ups feel heavier. It reduces the range of motion, too. This makes pull-ups more of an isolation lift for our lats and lower traps, less of a big compound lift.

What we recommend is using chin-ups as your main bulking lift, but then if you want to add in some extra lat work or exercise variation, add in some pull-ups. Your biceps will thank you.

That gives us a chin-up progression system that looks like this:

  1. Lowered or supported chin-ups until you’re strong enough to do at least a couple of reps from a dead hang (hanging limp underneath the bar).
  2. Regular chin-ups until the rep range starts to get uncomfortably high (usually around twelve reps, but you can push them as high as forty).
  3. Archer chin-ups.

By the time you can do moderate-rep sets of archer pull-ups through a full range of motion, you’ll have a fearsomely muscular back that will rival that of the very best lifters (not counting upper traps and spinal erectors).

The Bodyweight Squat

Muscles Worked by Bodyweight Squats

Our quads, adductors, spinal erectors, and calves. These are by far the biggest muscles in our bodies:

  1. The Quads: 1800 cm³
  2. The Glutes: 1200 cm³
  3. The calves: 700 cm³
  4. Chest: 250 cm³
  5. Lats: 250 cm³

The sheer amount of muscle being worked by squats is insane. No wonder they have such a profound impact on our health … and no wonder they’re so tiring. If we aren’t careful, bodyweight squats will test our grit instead of our strength, and we can fail to challenge our quads enough to provoke muscle growth.

Diagram showing the muscle anatomy of the muscles worked by bodyweight squats (Bulgarian split squats, pistol squats, air squats).

Now, it’s true that having bigger legs won’t do that much to improve our appearance, but the squat is still one of the most important bulking lifts. Consider that our quads and glutes are the two biggest muscles in our bodies, and so of all the corollary health benefits that resistance training provides, squats may be the most important. They’re absolutely brilliant for improving our general strength, cardiovascular fitness, hormones, and nutrient partitioning.

That last point is worth looking at a little bit deeper. When we gain weight, our bodies need to decide whether to store that extra weight as body fat or invest it into muscle growth. This is called nutrient partitioning. What’s neat is that the muscles in our legs are so damn big that they soak up an absurd amount of calories and clear a ton of sugar out of our blood (study), helping us build more muscle and gain less fat while bulking. So squats not only make our lower bodies stronger and more athletic, but they also make us healthier, and they allow us to bulk up at a quicker pace with less risk of getting fat.

Progressing Bodyweight Squats

The first and easiest bodyweight squat progression is the air squat. Hold your hands in front of your body and sit down (not back). You can keep your hands close (as pictured below) or hold them out in front like a zombie—whatever helps you keep your balance.

Illustration of a man doing a bodyweight air squat.

The problem with air squats is that they quickly become too easy. Even for a total novice, you may already be able to do 20+ reps before hitting failure. And as we mentioned above, as the rep ranges climb higher, squats can become quite metabolically taxing. We need to make them harder.

One way to progress the air squat is to load up a bag with books and hold it in front of you. If you can read quickly enough, every week you can add a new speculative fiction novel to the backpack, making it gradually heavier. But even if you have a big backpack and read fairly heavy books, you’ll quickly grow too strong for them.

When air squats become too easy, you can make them harder by jumping—jump squats. Your muscles will need to work harder to launch you into the air, but the time under tension will go down, so there’s a bit of a trade-off there. If you aren’t concerned with totally maximizing quad growth, they’re a good option.

Illustration of a man doing bodyweight bulgarian (rear-foot-elevated) split squats.

When you grow too strong to train both legs at once, you can switch to doing split squats. Split squats are great because they don’t just drop the range lower, they also cut the amount of muscle mass we’re working in half, making the lift much easier on our cardiovascular system.

Most people start by doing split squats with both legs on the ground, but those are still fairly light, and so the rep ranges will remain quite high. You can make them more difficult by raising your back leg up, though—the Bulgarian split squat. It’s a bit harder to balance at first, but it’ll drop the rep ranges down quite a bit, making your sets quite a bit less painful.

As with air squats, if you want to drop the rep ranges even lower, feel free to load up a bag with books. Since each added book is being lifted by half as many legs, you’ll get much better mileage out of loading the Bulgarian split squat.

Illustration of a man doing a bodyweight pistol squat.

The pistol squat or, if you’re on the taller side of skinny, the rifle squat, is a true godsend. It puts all of our weight onto a single leg and works it through a massive range of motion, making it quite hard. This means that instead of killing ourselves with forty-rep sets of split squats, we can do, say, five-rep sets of pistol squats. Challenging variations like this make bodyweight training more bearable.

However, pistol squats can introduce some balance and mobility challenges. If you’re having trouble balancing, don’t be afraid to hold onto something for support. The point is to work your quads, not to win a balance competition.

That gives us a bodyweight squat progression that looks like this:

  1. Air squats until you can do 10–30 reps and need something that’s less painful and easier on your cardiovascular system. You can get some extra mileage out of these by loading up a bag with books and holding it in front of you. You can also do jump squats, trying to jump as high as you can with every rep.
  2. Bulgarian split squats until, again, the rep range starts to get uncomfortably high. As with air squats, you can hold a heavy bag in front of you to make them harder.
  3. Pistol squats are the final progression. Just remember that you can grab something for balance if you need to.

By the time you’ve gained 20+ pounds of bodyweight and progressed to doing 12-rep sets of pistol squats, your legs won’t be skinny anymore.

The Bodyweight Deadlift

Muscles Worked by Bodyweight Deadlifts

Finding good bodyweight alternatives to the deadlift is tricky because the whole point of the deadlift is to put a heavy load on our spines, traps, and spinal erectors. There are plenty of bodyweight deadlift variations that work our hips to some degree or another, but hardly any of them work the muscles in our posterior chains (such as our spinal erectors).

Before and after illustration of a man bulking up his posterior chain (spinal erectors) to improve his aesthetics.

If we were doing a barbell muscle-building program, our spinal erectors would get plenty of work from front squats, barbell rows, and a variety of other lfits. The problem is that with bodyweight training, we aren’t lifting any weights, let alone heavy ones, and so our spinal erectors don’t see much work. That’s where the towel deadlift comes in.

Illustration of a man doing a bodyweight towel deadlift isometric.

The towel deadlift is done by standing on a towel and pulling on it, just like we’d pull on a barbell. The difference is that this is an isometric lift—there’s no range of motion. No matter how hard you pull on the towel, it will not move. We’re locked in the bottom position. And that’s more or less okay.

Now, are isometrics ideal for building muscle? No. But that’s how most people bulk up their spinal erectors anyway. The barbell deadlift has plenty of movement in the hips, and that’s great, but the spinal erectors are kept at their natural resting length throughout. We’re not missing out by locking ourselves into this bottom position.

And for our hips, as we covered above, isometrics that challenge our muscles in a stretched position are actually quite good at stimulating muscle growth. The towel deadlift is done with a deep hip angle, challenging our glutes and hamstrings in a stretched position, and making it fairly good for building muscle. In fact, since we can grip the towel at any height, we can intentionally set up with a maximal stretch on our hamstrings (without letting our lower backs round). It’s an easy lift to customize to best suit our own bodies.

Diagram showing the muscles worked by the bodyweight towel deadlift.

The other great thing about the towel deadlift is that our entire posterior chain is engaged. As we pull on the towel, our spinal erectors and mid-back muscles need to work just as hard as if we were pulling on a too-heavy barbell. And because we need to grip the towel, our forearm muscles are worked, too. It’s a true full-body lift.

Progressing Towel Deadlifts

The nice thing about pulling against a stationary object is that the bigger and stronger you get, the harder you’ll be able to pull. If you give each set your all, then progressive overload is built right into the lift.

When doing towel deadlifts, we recommend using burst reps. Pull as hard as you can for a few seconds and then release the tension. That’s your first rep. Then pull as hard as you can for another few seconds. That’s your second rep. You can progress how many seconds you pull for, and you can adjust how many reps you do per set. For example:

  • Week One: 3 sets of 3 reps (3×3), and each rep lasts five seconds.
  • Week Two: 4 sets of 3 reps (4×3), and each rep lasts six seconds.
  • Week Three: 4 sets of 4 reps (4×4), and each reps lasts seven seconds.

Depending on your hip mobility, you can also try to grip the towel a little lower. The idea is to get a nice stretch on your hamstrings while keeping your lower back from rounding. You may find that you’re able to go deeper as you get stronger.

Adding in Hip Thrusts

The problem with the towel deadlift is that the range of motion is zero. And as a general rule, we want to gain strength through a large range of motion. That’s a crucial aspect of being generally strong, and it’s also the best way to build muscle. It doesn’t matter much with our spinal erectors since their purpose is to hold our backs rigid, but it does matter with our hips, which are designed to move. So in addition to doing deadlift isometrics, we also recommend including some other hip hinges, such as the hip thrust.

Illustration of a man doing a one-legged bodyweight hip thrust.

For the hip thrust, there are a few progressions:

  1. Glute Bridge: start with regular glute bridges until you can do at least twenty reps, but feel free to stick with it until you can get as many as forty.
  2. One-Legged Glute Bridge: once you can do 20–40 reps with both legs on the ground, switch to single-leg variations and work your way back up to 20–40 reps.
  3. Hip Thrust: when you can do 20–40 reps of one-legged glute bridges, switch to doing hip thrusts with your back on a bench. Feel free to put a backpack loaded with books in your lap to make the lift harder.
  4. One-Legged Hip Thrust: When you can do 20–40 reps, switch to using a single leg at a time, and work your way back up to forty reps.

Bodyweight Accessory & Isolation Lifts

After you’ve done a couple of the main movements, you can move to the smaller movements. With the main movements, we recommend training pretty seriously. With the accessory and isolation lifts, you can approach it much more casually. Pick a few exercises that interest you for the muscle groups you’re most eager to grow and try to improve at them a little bit every workout.

There are a ton of different accessory and isolation lifts that you can add to your bodyweight muscle-building routine. Here are some of our favourites.

Abs & Obliques

  • Hanging leg raises
  • Planks and side planks
  • Sit-ups and crunches
  • Offset push-ups
  • Dead bugs (I love these as a warm-up drill)

Biceps, Triceps & Shoulders

  • Dips using parallel bars or rings (chest, triceps, upper back)
  • Close-grip chin-ups (biceps & rear delts)
  • Bench dips (triceps)

Chest & Back

  • Wide-grip push-ups
  • Pull-ups
  • Muscle-ups (advanced)

Legs & Glutes

  • Single-legged Romanian deadlift
  • Hip thrusts (and single-leg hip thrusts)
  • Glute bridges (and single-leg glute bridges)
  • Straight-leg bridges
  • Sissy squats

A Sample Bodyweight Workout Routine (For Mass)

Okay, so we’ve gone over the Big Five bodyweight lifts for gaining muscle mass, and we’ve talked about how to progress them:

  • The push-up, starting with raised push-ups and working towards deficit push-ups.
  • The vertical push-up, starting with pike push-ups and working towards handstand push-ups.
  • The squat, starting with air squats and working towards pistol squats.
  • The chin-up, starting with lowered chin-ups (or table rows) and working towards full chin-ups, perhaps even emphasizing one arm at a time.
  • The deadlift, doing heavy towel deadlifts for progressively more time, and then maybe also working in some hip thrusts for hip development.

That gives us the foundation of our program, and if you’re a beginner, that may be all you need. You could simply do those five movements three times per week. You can do that with three full-body workouts per week, but you could also split it up as desired, perhaps doing lower-body lifts one day and upper-body lifts the next.

Three-Day Full-Body Routine

  • Monday: big five.
  • Tuesday: rest.
  • Wednesday: big five.
  • Thursday: rest.
  • Friday: big five.
  • Saturday: rest
  • Sunday: rest

Six-Day Upper/Lower Routine

  • Monday: push-ups, vertical push-ups, and chin-ups.
  • Tuesday: squats, towel deadlifts, and hip thrusts.
  • Wednesday: push-ups, vertical push-ups, and chin-ups.
  • Thursday: squats, towel deadlifts, and hip thrusts.
  • Friday: push-ups, vertical push-ups, and chin-ups.
  • Saturday: squats, towel deadlifts, and hip thrusts.
  • Sunday: rest.

I would start with a low volume and work your way up. Something like this:

  • Week One: two sets of each lift to ease into the routine (and prevent crippling muscle damage).
  • Week Two: three sets of each lift to step up the training volume.
  • Week Three: 3–4 sets of each lift, doing more sets for your favourite lifts.

From there, you can increase training volume as needed or desired. If you’re failing to make progress on your lifts, consider doing more total sets. Or if you’re struggling with crippling soreness or fatigue, consider doing less sets. Everyone responds best to slightly different training volumes.

As you gain more experience, feel free to experiment:

  • Add in assistance and accessory lifts.
  • Experiment with short rest times, circuits, and drop sets.
  • Raise the volume higher for the lifts you’re most eager to get better at.

And, of course, this is just a loose recommendation. Feel free to customize your routine as you see fit. As you get deeper into bodyweight training, you’ll be able to see which muscles are getting stimulated during your workouts, which muscles get sore afterwards, which lifts you get better at, and which muscles see the most growth.

Upgrading to Free Weights

Bodyweight training can be a bit finicky, and as you get stronger, the pain of doing compound lifts in higher rep ranges can make it downright brutal. As a result, at some point, most people realize that it’s worth it to invest in some free weights.

Illustration of a man doing a dumbbell biceps curl.

Lifting weights for 5–12 reps on the compound lifts and 8–20 reps on the isolation lifts is surprisingly enjoyable. It’s hard, absolutely, but in a pleasantly strenuous way. Plus, if you’re concerned about training in a way that’s more efficient, or if your arms are lagging behind from bodyweight training, or if you want even more profound general health benefits, then free weights can really help. They’re popular for a reason.

I started with a rickety dumbbell home gym and gained twenty pounds with it. Then I got a gym membership and bought some kettlebells to keep in my apartment. I loved the kettlebell training so much that I’d go months between gym visits sometimes. Then when I moved into my own home, I bought a simple barbell home gym and stopped going to the gym entirely.

The Barbell Home Gym

Building a barbell home gym is a good default option. Barbell training is the most efficient and enjoyable, and although there’s a bit of an upfront investment, it’s cheaper than having a gym membership for even just a couple of years. The only catch is that you need a few square feet of space.

Here’s our guide for how to build a barbell home.

Illustation of a simple barbell home gym

The Dumbbell Home Gym

If you don’t have much extra space, you’ll want to build a dumbbell home gym instead. To do that, all you need to do is buy a couple of heavy adjustable dumbbells.

Illustration showing the different types of adjustable dumbbell.

The quality varies based on price:

  • Fixed-weight dumbbells (left): most commercial gyms have an assortment of fixed-weight rubber dumbbells, which are incredibly sturdy, don’t rust, and can be tossed around without breaking. These are overkill.
  • Premium adjustable dumbbells (middle): brands like BowFlex and IronMaster made sturdy adjustable dumbbells with flat sides, making them quite convenient to use. These are expensive, yes, but they are indeed better.
  • Cheap adjustable dumbbells (right): a number of different brands make cheap adjustable dumbbells that can be loaded with little metal plates. These are fine. They’re a bit more awkward than the premium ones, sure, but they get the job done.

We often recommend that people get a pair of adjustable dumbbells that go up to at least sixty pounds, but to be honest, even a single light dumbbell can revolutionize bodyweight training. If you have a twenty-pound dumbbell, all of a sudden you can do biceps curls, triceps extensions, lateral raises, reverse flyes, and a myriad of other lifts that can be added into your bodyweight routine.

The Kettlebell Home Gym

Kettlebells aren’t as versatile as barbells or dumbbells, but good quality ones are quite affordable, they’re comfortable to hold, and they combine great with bodyweight training.

Illustration of man doing front squats with kettlebells.

Kettlebells allow you to do the lifts that bodyweight training is bad for: biceps drag curls, triceps extensions, lateral raises, loaded carries, goblet squats, and Romanian deadlifts. And because of how sturdy and easy to hold they are, they’re a blast to use.

If you get heavy kettlebells, they can also double as push-up handles. I have a pair of 50-pound kettlebells, and they’re great for doing deficit and handstand push-ups. I can then follow those push-ups with some rows, goblet squats, and Romanian deadlifts, making for a really easy and effective home workout. Just keep in mind that you won’t be able to gradually increase the weights that you’re using, as you would with dumbbell or barbell training.

Illustration of three kettlebells.

If you want to add some kettlebells to your bodyweight training, I’d recommend getting a light kettlebell (for curls, extensions, and lateral raises) a moderate kettlebell (for rows and overhead pressing), and a heavy kettlebell (for deadlifts, squats, and carries). Maybe 25, 50, and 75 pounds.


Bodyweight training can be painful, but if you don’t have access to free weights, you can absolutely bulk with just your bodyweight. Also keep in mind that some bodyweight lifts, such as the push-up and chin-up, easily rival the big free-weight lifts, making bodyweight training great for building a big chest and upper back.

Illustration of a skinny guy building muscle and becoming muscular (before/after).

We recommend splitting up your bodyweight training into five foundational movements:

  • The push-up, to train your chest, shoulders, triceps and abs. You can start with raised push-ups and work towards deficit push-ups.
  • The vertical push-up, to train your shoulders, upper traps, and triceps. You can start with pike push-ups and work towards handstand push-ups.
  • The squat, to train your quads and glutes, and to improve your general health. You can start with air squats and work towards pistol squats.
  • The chin-up, to train the upper back, biceps, and abs. You can start with lowered chin-ups (or table rows) and work towards full chin-ups.
  • The deadlift, to train the spinal erectors, upper traps, hips, and grip. You can combine heavy towel deadlifts with hip thrusts to develop both your posterior chain and hips.

There are a few ways that we can progressively overload these lifts:

  • Gaining weight: as you bulk up, you’ll be gradually gaining weight, which will make your bodyweight training heavier over time. This helps quite a bit, but the progression is too slow. Your growing strength will outpace your growing body.
  • Choosing more difficult variations: as you get better at the bodyweight lifts, you can gradually progress to more difficult variations. However, this doesn’t happen from workout to workout, it happens from month to month. This progression is too fast. We need something more gradual.
  • Adding reps: because we can’t gradually add weight to our lifts, the heart of bodyweight training is gradually adding reps from workout to workout. If you do 50 total push-ups one workout, your goal for the next workout is to get at least 51. This works incredibly well for stimulating muscle growth.
  • Adding sets: as you grow stronger and fitter, you’ll be able to tolerate more sets per workout. In your first week, two sets per exercise are plenty. In your second week, three sets per exercise are better. And from there you can progress to four, five, or even more sets per exercise per workout.

Our muscles grow best when we train them 2–4 times per week, so as a good default, we recommend doing each of the movements three times per week. You can do that with three full-body workouts per week, or you can split them up over more days. For example, you could just as easily do a six-day routine, doing the upper-body lifts one day, the lower-body lifts the next.

Feel free to customize the workouts as you see fit, including adding isolation and accessory exercises, adjusting your training volume, and adjusting your training frequency. This article is less about building a specific program, more about building a foundation for bodyweight hypertrophy training in general.

At a certain point, bodyweight training might become too brutally painful. It might become hard to continue making overall progress. You may notice that your arms start to lag behind. At that point, you might want to buy some weights. A barbell home gym is a great way to train at home, but even just a couple of adjustable dumbbells or kettlebells will do the trick.

Illustration showing the Bony to Beastly Bulking Program

If you want more muscle-building information, we have a free bulking newsletter for skinny guys. If you want a full bulking program, including a 5-month workout routine, diet guide, recipe book, and online coaching, check out our Bony to Beastly Bulking Program. Or, if you want an intermediate bulking routine, check out our Outlift Intermediate Bulking Program.

Shane Duquette is the co-founder and creative lead of Outlift, Bony to Beastly, and Bony to Bombshell, and has a degree in design from York University in Toronto, Canada. He's personally gained sixty pounds at 11% body fat and has nine years of experience helping over ten thousand skinny people bulk up.

Marco Walker-Ng is the co-founder and strength coach of Outlift, Bony to Beastly, and Bony to Bombshell, and is a certified trainer (PTS) with a Bachelor's degree in Health Sciences (BHSc) from the University of Ottawa. His specialty is helping people build muscle to improve their strength and general health, with clients including college, professional, and Olympic athletes.

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  1. VincentG on May 9, 2020 at 3:39 pm

    Such a great article, I love it!
    I’m living in self-isolation for eight weeks now and I’ve experienced great results from doing bodyweight training! I saw the self-isolation as an opportunity to go from maintaining mode to bulking mode again and I went from 155lbs to 165lbs (@5ft8) over the course of these eight weeks! This while I already had a decent physique after 4-5 years of lifting (I’ve also done B2B a few years back 😉 ).

    During your research, did you guys find anything about the effectiveness of one-arm push-ups and side-to-side (deficit) push-ups? I’ve learned these from Kinobody online and I was wondering if those were great options too. If not, I might as well substitute them with high-rep weighted deficit push-ups.

    Thanks in advance!

    • Shane Duquette on May 9, 2020 at 4:12 pm

      That’s awesome, Vincent! And thank you 🙂

      I checked out Kinobody’s stuff while writing this article and I think his approach to bodyweight training is pretty solid. He seems like one of those guys who’s always blended bodyweight training into his lifting, always doing chin-ups, one-arm push-ups, chin-ups, and so on. I think he’s become quite good at making the most of it.

      The trick with one-arm push-ups is that they’re good for building, sure, but they’re less of a chest exercise, more of a shoulder and oblique exercise. So if you’re trying to progressively overload your chest, it doesn’t make that much sense to be shifting your push-up weight around. Better to stick to deficit push-ups for as long as you can. You can do deficit push-ups with your feet raised to make them harder. I’ve seen that Omar Isuf has been making progress with those during the lockdown, and I think he benches like 400 pounds? And that’s without loading books into a backpack, either. Deficit push-ups can take you far!

      Do a few sets of deficit push-ups and see how your chest feels compared to when you do a few sets of one-arm push-ups, both in the moment and also a couple of days later. I think you’ll feel more of a burn and get more DOMS. Not that those are always the best indicators of muscle growth, but it’ll be obvious that your chest is getting the brunt of the load 🙂

      (Kinobody also recommends those side-to-side (archer) chin-ups and pull-ups, and I think that’s a neat idea. They wouldn’t have the same downsides as the one-arm push-ups. They’re still a back and biceps exercise. And again, I think his bodyweight content is really good overall.)

  2. NickA on May 9, 2020 at 3:48 pm

    Awesome article. This is perfect as I’m about to come back home with only resistance bands and some towels to mess with. After a 4 month cut, I’m dreading not having a gym!

    Miss the B2B team btw. I remember when I found your site in 2014 and it changed my life. Fell off the wagon 2 years ago and hopped back on and been reading your posts again. You guys are crushing it.

    • Shane Duquette on May 9, 2020 at 4:14 pm

      Thank you, Nick! Always great to hear from you, man 😀

  3. Andreas on May 9, 2020 at 4:00 pm

    Hi! Thank you for this very informative – and much needed in these times! – article. You have written that a push-up grip slightly wider than shoulder-width is best for hitting the chest. Have you seen this research paper that I have linked to below? It basically compares narrow grip with shoulder grip and wide grip and reaches the conclusion that the narrow grip is actually best for optimizing both triceps AND chest growth:

    Kind regards Andreas

    • Shane Duquette on May 9, 2020 at 4:23 pm

      Hey Andreas, that’s a good question.

      So, that’s a study looking at muscle activation using electromyography (EMG). With EMG research, muscle activation tends to register the highest when our muscles are in a contracted position. With a narrow-grip push-up, the pecs are working at shorter muscle lengths and getting a stronger contraction. It makes sense, then, that the narrow-grip push-up would have higher EMG ratings.

      However, higher EMG ratings don’t necessarily translate to more muscle growth. In fact, because our muscles grow best when challenged at long muscle lengths (as covered in the article), we want to do the exact opposite of that. We want to use deficit push-ups to really challenge our pecs in a stretched position. The muscle lengths are longer overall and the contraction at the top isn’t as intense, but it doesn’t matter because it’s the bottom part of the lift that’s stimulating most of the muscle growth 🙂

      • Andreas on May 9, 2020 at 7:35 pm

        Hey Shane, thanks for your reply, that makes sense! 🙂

        • Kanti on May 10, 2020 at 6:12 pm

          This is a great article with a very that is a complete beginners guide to bodyweight exercises
          I am 74 years old and use Gymnastic Rings and Paralettes as my equipment. Check outy IG @kanti.chiba

          • Shane Duquette on May 10, 2020 at 8:57 pm

            Thank you, Kanti! Gymnastics rings are awesome. It’s impressive what you can do at your age, too 🙂

  4. Farhan on May 10, 2020 at 12:04 pm

    Seeing as we’re all stuck in this lockdown I was hoping to begin home workouts and found your article. Let me first say, thank you for such a detailed article. I’m a 6ft tall guy but weigh only 66kg. I’ve tried going to the gym before but I start losing weight even though I’m eating a lot. I wanted to ask if you can give me a good diet for bulking? I don’t want to take supplements but if they’re really necessary, please talk about them as well. I just need guidance regarding what to to eat and portion control, and especially when to eat it. What to have before the workout and what to have after? I’m just really confused as there’s a lot of conflicting information out there. Thank you once again

  5. Hashim on May 10, 2020 at 9:01 pm

    I’ve been following this Men’s Health bodyweight workout here for a while now for 5 days on, 2 days off (3 chest, 1 arms, 1 legs).

    What do you think of those exercises/that routine in terms of effectiveness, and what exercises would you recommend to add if I have some adjustable dumbells at home? Thanks for any advice in advance.

    • Shane Duquette on May 10, 2020 at 10:03 pm

      Hey Hashim, if you’re liking the workout and it’s working well for you, I think that’s great, and you can definitely keep doing it.

      But I don’t think this workout makes a lot of sense. If I’m understanding it right, they recommend a wide slew of bodyweight exercises with arbitrary rep ranges and no progression over time. For example, 15 reps of wide-grip push-ups followed by 15 reps of one-arm push-ups. But if someone can do 15 one-arm push-ups, then doing 15 wide-grip push-ups would be far too easy. And then next week do the exact same thing? It doesn’t make any sense.

      The details are wrong, too. They’re recommending eighteen sets for the chest 2–3 times per week. Muscle growth is maximally stimulated with 3–8 sets per workout. Doing 18 sets is such overkill that the excessive muscle damage they cause may even impair growth.

      I know this sounds self-serving, but I’d recommend the approach explained in our article. Variations should be chosen based on your strength, you should do the number of reps that brings you within 0–3 reps of failure, 3–8 sets per muscle group per workout is enough, and there needs to be progressive overload from workout to workout.

      I hope that helps!

      • Hashim on May 19, 2020 at 6:30 pm

        Hi Shane, thanks for the quick reply and the insight. I like your science-first approach here, and hypertrophy training makes sense to me so far, but for me the problem with the workout described here is that I don’t have access to either pull-up bars or tables that I can use to do the rows.

        I do however have some dumbbells. Would I be able to use the dumbbells to replace the function of the chinups? For that matter, do you have an equivalent article to this for only training with dumbbells?

        • Shane Duquette on May 19, 2020 at 8:03 pm

          Hey Hashim, our whole approach—including our flagship Bony to Beastly Program—is doable with just dumbbells. We built the program for guys training with dumbbells, with a barbell home gym, or with a gym membership. For every exercise in the program, we teach a dumbbell alternative.

          You’re right that we don’t have a dumbbell-specific article up, though, and I want to do that. I was going to release it before this bodyweight article, but then I saw that everyone was stuck training at home and dumbbells had sold out at most retailers, so I decided to work on this article first.

          You can build muscle perfectly well with dumbbells, yeah. I’d consider that a fairly ideal bulking setup. In the longer term, I’d still recommend getting a pull-up bar, but in the meantime, you can focus on just rows. If you want to focus on your upper back, put a hand on a knee or bench for support. If you want to work your spinal erectors, too, then bend at the waist and use both dumbbells at once (a two-point dumbbell row). And then for an accessory lift, you can do dumbbell pullovers 🙂

          • Hashim on May 25, 2020 at 5:31 pm

            My bad, I never get the notifs for these comments, but I really appreciate your answers. One more question if you don’t mind me asking – I don’t much like the towel deadlift for how finicky it is, and on top of that my girl has a thing about me stretching the towels. What would you recommend as a way to replace it with dumbells?

          • Shane Duquette on May 25, 2020 at 8:59 pm

            Hey Hashim, if you’ve got dumbbells, things get super easy! You can do a regular weight training program with dumbbells (including ours). If your dumbbells don’t go that heavy, though, deadlifts can get tricky. In that case, I’d recommend a one-legged split-stance Romanian deadlift. You can see an illustration and an explanation of it here. Essentially, you’re doing a regular dumbbell Romanian deadlift but you’re emphasizing just one leg at a time (and using the other leg just for balance).

  6. Stewie on May 11, 2020 at 5:14 am

    What if I cant add reps? What if reps even go down? What if deloading doesn’t help? What if kcal surplus and good sleep don’t help?

    Article’s missing so much.

    • Shane Duquette on May 11, 2020 at 7:09 am

      I hear ya, Stewie. The article can’t cover everything. It took us an entire book to go through all the details and we STILL recommend that members post their assessments and progress in the coaching community so that we can help them through their bulks.

      For your specific question, it’s rare for all three of those things to happen at once. To solve it, we often need a deeper understanding of what going on with them, what their diet is like, how beat up or fresh their training is leaving them, how much weight they’re gaining, how close to failure they’re going, and so on. We’d also take a look at which lifts they’re struggling to gain strength with, which muscles are limiting their performance on those lifts.

      It’s not rocket science. People can often bulk up on their own. But it can really help to have help.

    • David on August 9, 2020 at 8:18 am

      For that you need a detailed program that includes progression as well as overcoming plateaus. As you advance you need help to diagnose of your issues.

  7. Dale Brown on May 11, 2020 at 10:45 am

    I also was 130 pounds and now around 143, bulking up for when heading off to navy boot camp in September. Ty for the article!

    • Shane Duquette on May 11, 2020 at 11:42 am

      My pleasure, Dale! Congrats on those thirteen pounds—that’s sweet 😀

      And best of luck serving in the Navy. Even speaking as a Canadian, I feel like we owe you quite a lot. Thank you.

  8. Vito on May 11, 2020 at 9:13 pm

    Hi I loved the article as always.

    I with your help in these articles I gained 40lbs over the course of a few months and I am very grateful. Despite only working out for six months, I seem to be approaching the ideal shoulder to waist ratio very quickly and will probably be there in less than 2 months at this rate. Do you think there’s a point where the shoulders become too broad? Especially as I am a shorter dude.

    • Shane Duquette on May 11, 2020 at 9:29 pm

      Congrats on gaining 40 pounds, man—that’s so cool! 😀

      Ah, I mean, it’s up to you. But in terms of attractiveness, at least if you’re bulking naturally, it seems like the stronger you look, the more attractive you’ll be. And in terms of general health and strength, again, no downsides to being more muscular. But again, entirely up to you 🙂

      • Vito on May 11, 2020 at 10:57 pm

        Thanks Shane,

        Another question I have is if I am happy with the size I am, can I continue to just get stronger while training for strength but look the same?

        • Shane Duquette on May 12, 2020 at 9:08 am

          A bigger muscle is a stronger one, so the best way to continue gaining general strength is to keep gaining muscle. But you can specialize your strength in various ways. For instance, if you practice deadlifting in very low rep ranges, you can get better at contracting all of your muscle fibres all at once, and your deadlift 1RM can go up even without gaining any extra muscle size. It’s not that you gained general strength in a general sense, necessarily, but you’ve specialized your general strength into a more specific strength.

          You can also improve your lifting technique, min-max your leverage, build denser bones, improve connective tissue strength, and all sorts of other adaptations that come along when training for strength.

  9. Carl on May 12, 2020 at 8:39 am

    Perfectly timed article!! Just a quick one to say thanks for the valuable information.

    • Shane Duquette on May 12, 2020 at 9:08 am

      Our pleasure, Carl! Really glad you dug it 😀

  10. Christophe N on May 14, 2020 at 10:28 am

    Awesome article. Just to congrats and support your work! Very complete, organized and interesting as usual.

    I already love the barbell program for us skinny guys. After 3 months I already get great results with the program before I had to stopped for 2 years (well… business trips + stress at work + winter = laziness pffff). Now I’ve quit this job so I’m gonna subscribe again soon and I hope I can be mentally strong enough to complete the program this time!

    But very interesting for me this bodyweight instructions! It means I can keep training even during a business trip now….? So that it’s not too hard to go back to the gym and continue the program afterwards….

    Thanks Shane! And big up to your team and work.

    • Shane Duquette on May 25, 2020 at 8:59 am

      Hey Christophe, thank you! And congratulations on your results—that’s awesome 🙂

      Any muscle you built in the past will come back rather quickly. Many of the changes we make when building muscle are permanent. Instead of having to build new muscle, you can reinflate the muscle you’ve already built, so to speak.

      Yeah, totally! You could lift weights when you’re home, do bodyweight training when you’re travelling for business—absolutely 🙂

  11. D on May 23, 2020 at 2:16 pm

    Shane, thanks much for this helpful guide. I’ve been doing this routine for three weeks during lockdown and have seen amazing progress in the number of reps I can put down.

    Like Christophe above, I’m normally a road warrior, living out of hotels that sometimes don’t have gyms. What substitutes for chin-ups/pull-ups do you recommend when a bar and free weights aren’t available?

    • Shane Duquette on May 25, 2020 at 9:04 am

      Woot, woot! That’s great 🙂

      If you don’t have a pull-up bar, you could always do rows from the underside of a table. There may also be a very sturdy door frame you could do pull-ups from, but that can be hard on the door frame. I wouldn’t necessarily recommend it.

      If you don’t have access to anything to pull against, back training can get pretty hard. You could travel with some resistance bands and do rows with them. You can also do towel deadlifts, and those work your back pretty hard. Now, is that ideal for building back muscle? No. But you’ll still be able to build muscle. Your back may lag behind your chest and shoulders a little bit, but that’s okay. You can always do extra back work during periods where you’re training back at home.

      • D on May 26, 2020 at 10:24 am

        Thanks again, Shane. I’ll plan on bringing some resistance bands on the road with me and giving my back some extra attention when I’m back (no pun intended) home.

  12. Raihan on May 27, 2020 at 5:36 pm

    Hi Shane! Im raihan, and i’m so interested in joining the program, however there are some things i’m not sure about whether this is the right program for me. I’m 5’11 ft and 182 pounds. I consider myself a skinny-fat because I basically don’t have any muscle, my muscle mass is so little and my body fat percentage is about 25%. And i’m not sure about this program because i’m not an ectomorph, i can easily gain weight, but my muscle mass is very hard to grow. And if I have access to buying some free weights, can I have a recommendation of what free weights I should get for my maximum growth on this program?
    But my main question is, is it the right program (dieting specially) for me as a skinny fat? Because i don’t have to hack my appetite and stuff. I wonder if there will be a diet plan on the program for skinny-fat like me.
    Thanks Shane!

    • Shane Duquette on May 27, 2020 at 6:18 pm

      Hey Raihan, yeah, absolutely! Our program is designed with skinny-fat guys in mind, too. When you go through the program, you’ll see that the recommendations change somewhat based on your starting point. If you want to see the approach that we recommend for skinny-fat guys, you can see our article here.

      If you want to get some dumbbells, BowFlex and IronMaster are the high-end options, but really any adjustable dumbbells will do. When I was training in a small apartment with dumbbells, I bought some cheap adjustable dumbbells from Amazon. If you want to build a barbell home gym, we have a guide for that here. I hope that helps, and let me know if you have more questions 🙂

      • Raihan on May 27, 2020 at 7:28 pm

        Hi Shane! Thanks for the answer, I read the article and it’s so enlightening for me. But i want to ask about the free weights, i’ve had so much research before about how to build muscle, and most of them really rely on free weights and gym equipment for isolation / compound workouts, so i assume that i can’t build muscle as much without the gym equipment, is it true? Or is building muscle with proper bodyweight exercises (with additional free weights) can get the same result as going to the gym and exercising with gym equipment?

        • Shane Duquette on May 27, 2020 at 8:09 pm

          Hey Raihan, you can build a muscular, lean, and healthy physique with just bodyweight training, but it’s harder, especially as you move beyond the beginner level. At that point, it can really help to get some free weights to add to your arsenal. Adjustable dumbbells are great for that, especially for upper-body training. Building a barbell home gym makes things even easier, especially for squats and deadlifts. Even kettlebells will help. Once you have free weights of any sort, it becomes easier to keep gradually building muscle.

          With that said, you don’t need dumbbells AND a barbell. You certainly don’t need a full gym membership. If you have one, great. But you can build muscle perfectly well with either dumbbells or a barbell. Also keep in mind that you can get these things gradually as you build muscle. You don’t need everything perfect right from the very beginning.

  13. José Ángel on June 26, 2020 at 6:03 am

    Hey, Shane!

    Thanks for this amazing article! You are awesome, man!
    I’ve been following this guide for a month, working out three times per week, using ‘the big five’ approach.
    Things are going great and the numbers on the scale are consistently going up from week to week!

    But, when it comes to the workout itself, things are getting pretty hard and exhausting.
    I’ve been trying to add more reps every workout, but it’s getting extremely difficult and time consuming, especially since I need to have long rests between sets ( + 3 mins) to get going.
    Worst of all, I’m not doing something like 50 push ups, but only 13 per workout in two sets.
    I don’t know what’s going on.

    So, I would like to know If instead of doing many reps, I can do less reps with a bag loaded with bags, increasing the weight but not exactly the reps.
    For example:

    Week1 : 3 books + my increased weight —– WO1 – 6 push ups , W02 — 7 push ups , WO3 – 8 push ups

    Week2 : 4 books + my increased weight—– WO1 – 6 push ups , W02 — 7 push ups , WO3 – 8 push ups

    Week3 : 5 books + my increased weight —– WO1 – 6 push ups , W02 — 7 push ups , WO3 – 8 push ups

    Good idea? Not great? Terrible idea?
    I would love to hear your opinion on this. Maybe it’s best to keep adding reps and sets overtime like you say. I don’t know.

    P.S . I have a chin up bar, but I can’t actually do one so far. I’ve been doing negative chin ups for two weeks.
    Is it best to add more reps or increase the time spent when going down?

    Thank you so much!
    Sorry for being so tiresome!

    Best regards,
    José Ángel

    • Shane Duquette on June 26, 2020 at 2:23 pm

      Hey José Ángel, that’s awesome, man. And my pleasure!

      Yes, adding weight is just as good as adding reps. And you’re right, it can be much less exhausting 🙂

      • David on August 9, 2020 at 8:34 am

        I have been doing calisthenics for six years now, started with Convict conditioning. I remember I had to add lots of reps before going to the next progression. But was exhausting and some progression jumps far too apart. At some point, I just could not do it. Adding weights and doing a better program helped me to improve. Now I can do one-arm push-ups, handstand push-ups, and muscle-ups

        • Shane Duquette on August 10, 2020 at 12:18 pm

          That’s awesome, David!

          Yeah, I hear ya, bodyweight training is much tougher than weight training.

          • David on August 13, 2020 at 8:53 am

            It was nice learning in your article that it’s this way for everybody. Used to think that I was the problem 🙂

          • Shane Duquette on August 15, 2020 at 8:57 am

            I hear ya, David. I used to think the same thing 🙂

  14. Fleischman on July 13, 2020 at 9:51 pm

    Shane, what is your opinion on using an adjustable weight vest as part of the progression for these five bodyweight compound lifts? Even the “towel deadlift” might become more challenging/effective if performed with a weighted vest on.

    Thank you,

    • Shane Duquette on July 14, 2020 at 8:19 am

      Hey Fleischman, yeah, I think a weight vest is a great way to add resistance to bodyweight exercises. Mind you, once you’re using external loading, they’re not exactly bodyweight exercises anymore. Once you’re buying weights to add to your bodyweight workout, might make sense to at least get dumbbells as well.

      I think a weighted vest would be better with movements like the push-up and chin-up, less useful for movements like the towel deadlift, but every little bit helps 🙂

  15. Ray on July 21, 2020 at 9:24 pm

    Hey, this is super helpful and informative, and timely, given the quarantine many of us are living in. I’m a skinny fat lad and a total beginner at all of this, and had some questions around the rep ranges.

    Your research suggests that total reps should generally be capped at 15 (although some say up to 40 is fine). In other words, if I’m able to do 3 sets of 5 push ups (total of 15), I shouldn’t try to do 3 sets of 6 push ups (18) the next time I perform that exercise, and 3 x 7, 3×8, etc.? Should I instead look at performing more difficult variations? Just trying to get a better sense of how progression and hypertrophy works best for beginners.


    • Shane Duquette on July 23, 2020 at 9:23 am

      Hey Ray,

      No, no, we’re talking about reps per set, not total reps. So 15 reps per set. But I’m not saying that we should cap our reps at 15, either, just that resistance training can get more painful as we dig into ever higher rep ranges. There’s nothing wrong with doing 3 sets of push-ups, 40 reps each set, for a total of 120 reps. That will stimulate muscle growth just fine. The only downside is that it will burn like an Australian wildfire. That’s why, if you can, you may prefer to start loading lifts heavier (or choosing more difficult variations) once you can do 15–20+ reps.

      I hope that clears it up, and I’m sorry if my writing wasn’t clear.

  16. Fleischman on July 23, 2020 at 6:32 pm

    Shane & Marco,
    You said
    “I let my reps drift between 4–40 reps when needed, but I try to keep most of my sets between 4–20 reps”.
    Wouldn’t it be more helpful if you went by set duration (and have set duration goals) instead of going by rep count (and having rep count goals)?
    Thank you.

    • Shane Duquette on July 24, 2020 at 9:49 am

      Hey Fleischman, I’m not sure I quite understand. Why would we use set duration instead of number of reps? The goal isn’t to lift slower, the goal is to lift more weight.

  17. Fleischman on July 25, 2020 at 2:27 am

    Assume two 10-repetition sets. In both you leave 2 reps in the tank by the end of the 10th rep. Set A takes 20 seconds, Set B takes 40 seconds.
    Are both sets equivalent in terms of hypertrophy trigger?

    In other words, just like there’s a “repetition count” range goal (4-20), is there also a “set duration” range goal?

    Thank you.

    • Shane Duquette on July 25, 2020 at 9:46 am

      If we’re doing 10-rep sets with a typical tempo, taking 20–30 seconds for the set, we’d expect ideal growth because we’ve got an explosive concentric and a steady eccentric, both of which stimulate muscle growth quite well, while still allowing us to lift quite heavy.

      If we compare that against a slower set where we’re spending a couple of seconds on the concentric and a few seconds on the eccentric, taking 40–60 seconds, then, yes, there’s a bit of extra time under tension, but we’d be forced to use lighter weights, and so the muscle stimulation probably wouldn’t be quite as good.

      It’s not that slow reps are always bad. If you’re lifting a heavy weight close to failure, the bar speed can get quite low, and that’s perfectly fine. Some of those reps can be real grinders. But we wouldn’t want to slow our sets down intentionally. That would force us to use lighter weights. We’d miss out on muscle stimulation.

      I wouldn’t track how long a set takes. I’d just use a heavy weight, try to accelerate it through the concentric, lower it under control, and let the set take however long it takes.

      • Fleischman on August 2, 2020 at 8:40 am

        Shane, thank you for explaining this.
        I asked because, while I had read your thoughts on Volume, Frequency, and Intensity, I had not seen anything by you on Repetition Tempo (and I now see you prefer 2 o 3 second per cycle). Thank you!

        • Shane Duquette on August 4, 2020 at 10:48 am

          My pleasure, Fleischman 🙂

          Just note that the speed of the bar will depend on how heavy you’re lifting and how close to failure you’re going. It might take 10 seconds to do your final rep on a heavy set of bench press or overhead press. You’ll need to lower the weight rather slowly to maintain control, and then you won’t have the strength to press it up quickly. You’ll need to grind it out.

          A better one-line summary of our recommendation is: life explosively and lower under control.

  18. Neil on August 10, 2020 at 3:57 pm

    Thank you so much for this article! I’m relatively new to working out, 169cm tall, and 130 lbs. I’ve been skinny my whole life no matter what I eat or my activity. I’m trying to dedicate the “extra time” I have during this quarantine to gaining mass. I’ve read multiple sites and I’m a little confused on what my macros should be. I understand that I should be at a calorie surplus of 500 to see any gains. However, I also read that bodyweight exercises won’t be enough strain, and instead I’d just be gaining fat. Now I’m worried because I have definitely been eating at a caloric surplus, a total of 2700-2950 calories daily, and my macros are 40% carbs, 28% fat, and 32% protein. I feel like I lost muscle mass in my arms and instead gained belly fat. Help! What am I doing wrong? I also have a pull-up bar at my disposal and have been trying to get access to weights or even a weighted vest, or ankle weights…would those help? Thanks in advance!

    • Shane Duquette on August 11, 2020 at 2:58 pm

      Hey Neil, unless you can do 30+ chin-ups, they will stimulate muscle growth just fine. The only downside is that they’ll get ever more painful as you climb into higher rep ranges. The same is true with push-ups and all of the other exercises.

      I doubt that if you’re gaining weight and fighting to improve at the exercises you’re doing, you’ll lose muscle size. You’re saying that your arms feel smaller. Have you measured them?

      You don’t have to eat a calorie surplus of exactly 500 calories per day. That’s just the calorie surplus required to gain around a pound per week. If you’re gaining fat, you could shrink the calorie surplus, gain weight more slowly, and hopefully gain it more leanly.

      I hope that helps!

  19. Fleischman on August 12, 2020 at 4:48 pm

    Say one outgrows the Deficit Push Up (because you can do 3–4 sets of 20 with chest touching floor, per what you said above), are Tuck Planche or Dip adequate body-weight progressions to move on to?
    Thank you.

    • Shane Duquette on August 13, 2020 at 8:29 am

      Yeah, anything that’s harder is better than not progressing. I’m not sure about tuck planches, but I could imagine them working. Dips are quite good. Perhaps even better if you can add some weight to the push-up via a backpack loaded with books or some such.

      • Fleischman on August 13, 2020 at 7:03 pm

        Thank you.

  20. Fleischman on August 23, 2020 at 11:45 am

    I used to do “isometric bicep curls” with an inelastic strap, upper arms by the sides of my torso and forearms horizontal.

    I understand now from these great articles of yours…
    Stretched Muscles Grow Faster
    Chin-ups Vs Curls for Biceps Growth
    The Sissy Biceps Curl

    …That a much better isometric version to do after Chin-ups is a “Corner Biceps Curl,” standing facing a corner, with face close to actual corner. Upper arms somewhat behind torso.Elbow joints locked out (close to lockout?). Palms of hands facing forward pressing forward against walls.


    Note: since this “corner isometric biceps curl” is a zero-equipment exercise, I thought this comment was best added under this article, but I debated entering instead under one of the other three articles I linked above.

    • Shane Duquette on September 8, 2020 at 9:15 am

      Hey Fleischman, that’s a really cool idea for doing bodyweight biceps curls! I haven’t tried it, but it sounds clever to me, and your logic is sound. If you do those corner bodyweight biceps curls, feel the tension in your biceps, bring the sets close to failure, get a good pump going, and get some biceps soreness a couple of days afterwards, that’s a great sign that you’ve found a good exercise for stimulating muscle growth.

  21. Fleischman on September 23, 2020 at 4:52 pm

    Regarding Deficit Vertical Push-ups.
    In your opinion, should one aim for such a deficit such that the bottom position resembles that of the Overhead Press (elbows at “ribs height”, hands at at around “neck height”)?

    Thank you,

    • Shane Duquette on September 24, 2020 at 9:06 am

      Hey Fleischman, yeah, that’d be a good way to do it if you can manage it. You’d need a fairly large deficit and you’d need a decent amount of upper-body strength. It’s okay if you can’t go that deep, but that’s a good goal to aim for 🙂

  22. Andreas on October 6, 2020 at 7:21 am

    Hello Shane,
    If I replace the deadlift towel with a deadlift with a barrel, do I need to do hip thrust again?
    And if I only use the barrel in the deadlift and other workouts it is still like the one in the article. Whether it can cause imbalance?


    • Shane Duquette on October 6, 2020 at 5:23 pm

      Hey Andreas,

      Deadlifting with a barrel? Just remember that you always need to be fighting to add weight or reps each workout. If you can do that (and if it feels fine on your back), that sounds sweet! 🙂

      I don’t see any problem with doing barrel deadlifts without the hip thrusts. And no, I don’t think you’ll wind up with imbalances. Imbalances are kind of in the eye of the beholder, anyway. If there’s a muscle group you notice is lagging behind and you want to bring it up, you can address it then.

      • Andreas on October 7, 2020 at 7:00 am

        Oops sorry before, what i mean is barbell. Typo there. So its all fine when i do a normal barbell deadlift right? Also thanks for your explanation

        • Shane Duquette on October 9, 2020 at 12:13 pm

          Oh, yes! Barbell deadlifts are awesome! We have an article on those. If you have a barbell, though, you don’t need to be doing bodyweight workouts. Why not use a barbell for the lifts where a barbell is better?

  23. Andreas on October 11, 2020 at 6:31 am

    Because i have only the stick and the barbells. I have no other equipment like the weight bench pad or place for put my stick barbell at the top if i do bench press. Beside that, my house’s free space is not large. So i can only do simple barbell lift like deadlift i think. But, after i saw the deadlift artcile you gave. Its recommended that don’t do that much right? just 1-2 set per week. So i think it is easier to maintain to do bodyweight workouts with the six upper/lower day schedule like this article explain? With doing towel deadlift in every lower day exercise. Because I can’t measure when to increase rep and weight when I combine bodyweight workout with weight workout.

    • Shane Duquette on October 11, 2020 at 9:49 am

      If you learn how to clean the barbell, you can do front squats and overhead presses. You can also do barbell curls, Romanian deadlifts, and barbell rows. The bench press is tough without a bench and safety bars, but the good news is that of all the bodyweight exercises, push-ups are probably the best. Combining push-ups with some barbell lifts will work great 🙂

  24. Louis on October 20, 2020 at 7:00 pm

    Hey Shane, love this article. We’ve just entered another full-blown lockdown where I am so it’s looking like a few weeks of bodyweight fun.

    Anyway, over summer I slacked off a bit and lost a bit of muscle (5kg ish). Do you think it’s possible to regain that mass, or a significant amount of it, with a bodyweight home workout and a bulking diet? I’m an intermediate lifter with a few years of training.


    • Shane Duquette on October 21, 2020 at 9:26 am

      Agh, shoot. This year has been a rough one. I hope you’re doing okay!

      Yeah, no worries. You can regain muscle with just bodyweight workouts and a good muscle-building diet. You can probably make a good amount of progress, too, especially in the muscles that are easier to train at home. Legs, arms, and the posterior chain are hard to train at home. But deficit push-ups are absolutely killer for building a big chest and front delts. Chin-ups are brilliant for building a bigger upper back and arms. And ab training is pretty easy at home. So you can probably finish your lockdown with some pretty good upper-body gains.

      Bodyweight training is tough, though. It’s painful. You’ve really got to push yourself. But you can do it 🙂

      If you haven’t seen it, here’s our bodyweight hypertrophy training article.

      • Louis on October 22, 2020 at 1:14 pm

        Thanks, Shane! I’m all good, hope the same with you.

        That’s good to hear! If I can even claw back just a few kilos I’ll be happy and it’ll make my eventual return to the gym a lot easier. I’ll put together a routine based on this post.

        Also, I think you linked to the post we’re commenting on 😉 but it’s a good one!

        • Shane Duquette on October 22, 2020 at 2:38 pm

          Oh, wow, yep, my mistake. I was answering a series of comments on a newer article and didn’t realize you were commenting on a different one. My bad! 😛

  25. Hareesh on February 6, 2021 at 8:42 am

    I’d add nordic curl instead of towel deadlift, its excellent for hamstring hypertrophy and general athleticism if you have no weights. Even a single kettlebell or dumbell can really help a lot with lower body training, you can do single leg RDLs and make shrimp/pistol squats more difficult(and add weight to chin up of course). If you have rings you’re solid for upper body development, you could progress just as fast as regular weight training especially if you’re inexperienced.

    • Shane Duquette on February 7, 2021 at 8:51 am

      Nordic curls are great, too! That’s a good idea. The reason we use the towel deadlift is that it also works the glutes and back. So if anything, I’d do both. But you’re right. Nordic curls are fantastic for bulking up the hamstrings.

  26. Fleischman on February 6, 2021 at 3:09 pm

    Hello Shane,

    Do you think Dynamic Deadlift (or Romanian Deadlift) with a high-resistance elastic band looped under one’s feet is significantly (if at all) superior to Static Towel Deadlift?


    • Shane Duquette on February 7, 2021 at 8:49 am

      Hey Fleischman, good question.

      We have an article reviewing resistance bands here. To make a long story short, our muscles grow best when we challenge them at long muscle lengths—in a stretched position. The problem with resistance bands is that the resistance is lowest when our muscles are stretched, gradually picks up the further you stretch them, and have the greatest resistance at the top when our muscles are contracted.

      With a static towel deadlift, we’re challenging our hamstrings and glutes at longer muscle lengths, and we’re giving our backs a greater overall challenge. The downside, of course, is that it’s an isometric lift. It’s also difficult to progressively overload, since it’s hard to tell exactly how hard you’re pulling each workout.

      So it could be that the towel deadlift is better for hypertrophy, but it’s hard to say for sure. I would go with your preference.

  27. Fleischman on March 12, 2021 at 4:16 am

    Hello Shane,
    Visualize this push up setup.
    8-inch-high pushup handles on floor.
    Hands on pushup handles.
    Feet elevated so body is around 45 degree to floor at bottom position.

    For someone preferring minimalism, would you find this “45-degree feet-up 8-inch-deficit push up” a reasonable replacement for both “horizontal pushups” and “handstand pushups” since it is halfway between them)?
    Would a different-from-45 angle pushup be a better “halfway” (or consolidation) move, in terms of pecs, triceps, shoulders, traps activation.
    Thank you.

    • Shane Duquette on March 13, 2021 at 10:16 am

      That’s probably pretty good, although it may hit your upper pecs and shoulders harder than your mid-chest, which is where most of your chest muscle is. Why don’t you try a set, take it to failure, and see which area gives out, which area gets a pump. If you can figure out what your limiting factor is, you’ll have a good idea of what area it’s working the hardest.

  28. EQ on April 16, 2021 at 6:25 pm

    Hey this article was really great and clarified a lot of things and questions I had so thank you for that. I do have a question about the days I would be working out though. I work at a warehouse Saturday, Sunday, and Monday and have Tuesday through Friday off. Could I do my workouts on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday without it being too detrimental to everything since I wouldn’t have any rest days in between? The reason I would like to do it this way is because I work loading trucks and so that leaves me too tired to even work out on those days.

    • Shane Duquette on April 17, 2021 at 7:51 pm

      Hey EQ, yeah, that will work great!

      Doing back-to-back workouts is perfectly fine, especially with these higher-rep bodyweight exercises that tend to be pretty easy on the joints.

  29. John on April 21, 2021 at 6:26 pm

    Could you give me a step by step explanation for the towel deadlifts please? I tried it and I feel it more in my upper body than my lower body.

    • Shane Duquette on April 27, 2021 at 4:23 pm

      Imagine doing a conventional barbell deadlift with a bar that’s much, much too heavy—so heavy that you can’t budge it. That’s how a towel deadlift should be.

      Will you feel it mainly in your upper body? Maybe! That’s very common with deadlifts. The spinal erectors are often the limiting factor. It doesn’t mean you’re doing anything wrong. I feel deadlifts mainly in my posterior chain.

  30. Louis on April 26, 2021 at 3:37 pm

    Is Bony to Beastly still active, because I saw somewhere that it was from 2013-2019.

    • Shane Duquette on April 27, 2021 at 4:15 pm

      Absolutely still active. We’re in this for the long haul, growing every year 🙂

  31. John on April 27, 2021 at 7:04 pm

    How would you recommend incorporating the other accessories along with the big five?

    • Shane Duquette on April 29, 2021 at 1:52 pm

      Hey John,

      You could swap out some of the big lifts for smaller ones that train similar muscle groups. So if you might swap out chin-ups (or some sets of chin-ups) for table rows or biceps curls in some of your workouts. But if you have the energy for it, a great approach is to add the smaller lifts onto the end of your workout. So do your chin-ups and then add in some biceps curls afterwards, after you’ve finished all your big lifts.

  32. Shayan Afc on July 26, 2021 at 11:04 pm

    What does 3-4 sets of 20 pushups means here?

    Total reps of 20 (set+set+set=20) or each sets of 20 reps (20+20+20)?

    Hope you reply☺

    • Shane Duquette on July 27, 2021 at 10:39 am

      Hey Shayan, we’re talking about 20 reps PER SET. So 3 sets of 20 reps is 20+20+20.

  33. Conor on November 12, 2021 at 11:16 am

    Awesome article! I really appreciate how well you explain everything and all of the examples you give backed by research. I am on my third week and just switched from doing a split routine to a full body one 😉

    I had a question about how to fit in other physical activities during this routine. I typically rock climb and do yoga a few times a week, should I be strategic about when I do these other physical activities or does it not really matter? For example, if I do a full body workout on Monday, should I avoid a 3 hour climbing session on Tuesday? Is it okay to climb and do a full body workout in the same day?

    Thanks again for the amazing writing!

    • Marco on November 13, 2021 at 3:04 pm

      Hey Conor! Marco from Bony to Beastly here!

      To answer your question, if your main goal is trying to build muscle and gain bodyweight, it will behove you to be strategic with your muscle building workouts to not have your efforts go to waste.

      If your goal is more about keeping your body strong to support your other activities, then it’s fine to train the days before or the same days as climbing.

      In general, to build significant mass that makes training worth your time, it’s good to devote at least 8-12 weeks to gain 4-15 lbs of muscle and then focus on something else. In this time, it’ll be helpful to bring your other activities to a “maintenance” quantity. Don’t worry, you won’t de-condition that much, but for rock climbing, you will want to ease back into your previous volume since you’ll be heavier.

      If you’re trying to build muscle here are some suggestions on how to organize your training to prioritize muscle growth:

      1. If you want to rock climb on the same days, keep your climbing sessions shorter, in the 30-60 minute range. Focus on shorter duration, more explosive climbing efforts with lots of rest. Keep your muscle-building workouts in a similar time frame, make sure you’re able to keep the intensity high. If you can’t, stop the workout. Having a workout drink with carbs and protein in between these workouts will be helpful. You can do yoga on your off-days as a nice recovery activity.

      2. If you want to do muscle-building on one day and climbing on the other, I would alter your programming a little bit. On non climbing days, focus on lower body and upper body pressing movements. This will give your upper body pulling muscles a break. On your climbing days, keep your climbing sessions under 60 minutes and finish off with your pulling volume or bicep exercises. In this setup, it’d be best to do yoga 1-2 days per week when you don’t have any other training or in 10-15 minute sessions more frequently as a cool down.

      The reason you’d lower the climbing is to allow your body to use more energy to build muscle. Muscle is built in the nights and days after workouts, so if you’re climbing for three hours the day after an upper body and especially upper back workout, that effort will dip into the energy needed to add mass.

      Good luck and let me know if you have any more questions!


      • Conor on November 17, 2021 at 7:05 am

        Thanks for the in depth answer! I will give it a shot and see how it goes. It will take some discipline.

        You guys rock!

        • Marco Walker-Ng on November 17, 2021 at 2:00 pm

          No, you rock… climb!

          I will retire to my chambers now…

          You’re welcome 😛

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