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The Ultimate Bodyweight Workout Routine

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The Ultimate Bodyweight Workout Routine

The ultimate bodyweight workout routine is a cost- and time-effective way to lose fat and build muscle and strength.


There are three questions I often get asked when it comes to bodyweight workout routines:

  • Is bodyweight training as effective as weightlifting?
  • Can you build muscle and strength with bodyweight exercises alone?
  • Should you combine bodyweight exercises with your weightlifting?

Well, in this article I want to address these points, as well as share with you what I feel is the “ultimate” bodyweight workout routine.

Bodyweight Workouts vs. Weightlifting:
Which is Best For Building Muscle Size and Strength?

Bodyweight workouts have big pluses:

  • You can do them at home, in your hotel room, at work, etc.
  • You save money on a gym membership and on expensive home gym equipment.
  • You save time that would normally be spent driving to the gym, waiting for equipment, etc.
  • You don’t have to deal with pervy guys staring you down (ladies), gymbros sizing you up (fellas), or worse.

There’s no doubt about it: bodyweight workouts are an affordable, effective way to get fit.  A good bodyweight routine will help you build muscle and strength and lose fat.

BUT…bodyweight workouts have their limitations.

The first limitation is related to how much muscle and strength you can build. In this regard, a proper weightlifting routine is far more effective.


Because of something researchers call the “strength-endurance continuum,” which is a fancy-sounding phrase for a simple concept:

  • By lifting heavy weights for fewer repetitions, you force your muscle cells to adapt to what is known as “overload.” The primary method of adapting to overload is to grow larger muscle fibers.
  • By lifting lighter weights for many repetitions, you force your muscle cells to adapt to fatigue. The primary method of adapting to fatigue is to improve various metabolic functions, but not to grow larger muscle fibers.

This is why there are guys that can do a bajillion push-ups, but have small chests. And why guys can bench 300+ pounds but fail to impress in the push-up showdowns.

This is also why people find that bodyweight workouts provide diminishing returns. From my experience, they’ll usually notice gradual improvements in their bodies for the first several months, and then everything seems to grind to a halt. No more muscle growth, and minimal improvements in strength.

What’s happening is when they start such a program, most bodyweight exercises actually function as high-weight, low-repetition training. Do you remember how hard it was to do just 10 chin-ups when you first started? By having to work in that lower repetition range (4-6 for most people), you were overloading your muscles and they were responding by growing larger and stronger.

But then, as you do more workouts, and the chin-ups get easier and easier. Before you know it, you’re banging out 20+ at a time. Well, you’ve now left the “strength” part of the continuum and are training in the “endurance” end of the spectrum. That is, the stimulus no longer qualifies as “overload,” and the response changes to improved aerobic power and time-to-exhaustion, but not growth in size.

To kickstart the muscle growth you would have to bring your training back into the “strength” area. That is, you would need to increase the overload on the muscles–the sheer amount of weight that they have to move.

You can accomplish this with bodyweight workouts, which I will address soon, but for now just know that this aspect of “progressive overload” is absolutely crucial in all resistance training. It’s what causes muscles to grow.

And this is why weightlifting beats bodyweight workouts in the long run when it comes to building maximum strength and size: it’s just easier to overload all the muscles in your body with a proper weightlifting routine.

There just aren’t true bodyweight equivalent of lifts like the Squat, Deadlift, Bench Press, Barbell Row, and Military Press, and you simply can’t recreate the experience of moving hundreds of pounds of metal against gravity with a bodyweight exercise.

That said, you can build larger and stronger muscles with bodyweight training, and the routine I share below will do this. But you should know that if you’re looking to gain size and strength as quickly as possible, a bodyweight workout routine really isn’t the best way to get there.

Combining Weightlifting and Bodyweight Exercises

Many guys looking to build size and strength ask about this, and the answer is simple:

Adding bodyweight exercises to your weightlifting routine is worth it if the exercises allow for proper overload of the muscles.

That is, I don’t really see any point in finishing my chest workout with burnout sets of 100+ push-ups, but I do end most of my back workouts with weighted wide-grip pull-ups, which I perform in the 4-6 rep range (I use enough weight to allow for at least 4, but not more than 6, repetitions).

This approach naturally narrows the bodyweight exercises that would be worth adding to your weightlifting routine, but it doesn’t rule all of them out. Look over my routine below and if you want to give any of the exercises a go, do it

The Ultimate Bodyweight Workout Equpiment

As you’ll see, the primary goal of the bodyweight workout routine I’m going to share is to enable you to continually overload your muscles. It’s not your typical routine of set after set of high-repetition work, and it’s suitable for both men and women.

To do this effectively, you will need some equipment. Fortunately, you won’t have to spend more than a few hundred bucks, and this is all you will ever need to make great gains on the workout routine itself.

Let’s go over each piece that you’ll need and why.

Weighted Workout Vest

This vest allows you to add up to 40 lbs to your body, which allows you to get more “miles” out of the workouts due to the progressive overload theory talked about earlier.

For instance, you will work on your wide-grip pull-ups until you can do 8-10, and then you will add 10-15 lbs using this vest, which will bump you back down to the 5-rep range, and you will continue from there.

I recommend that both men and women get this before they begin the program. Men will use it for push, pull, and legs training right off the bat, and women will use it for leg training.

The following vest from ZFO Sports allows you to add up to 60 lbs to your body.

ZFO Sports Adjustable Weighted Vest

Push-Up Bars

The bulk of a weighted vest restricts your push-up form. To get around this, you can use kettlebells (listed below) as in the featured image of this post, or use push-up bars.

push up bar

Dip Belt and Kettlebells

Eventually the weighted vest won’t be enough for dips and pull-ups, and at this point, I recommend you add a dip belt.


You’ll also need some weights to go with the belt. I prefer kettlebells because you can hang them off the belt and also use them for arms and shoulder training.

I recommend that both men and women get kettlebells before they begin the program. Get a 20 lb one, 35 lb one, and another 35lb or two 50 lb ones for squatting and lunging.


Power Tower or Pull-Up Bar and Dip Station

A good bodyweight workout program includes pull-ups and dips, and a “Power Tower” kills both birds with one stone. It also allows you to do hanging and Captain’s Chair leg raises, which are great ab exercises.

It’s kind of expensive ($200), but well worth it. If you can afford it, I recommend both men and women get this before they begin the program.

weider power tower

If that’s too expensive right now, then I recommend both men and women start with a pull-up bar, and add a dip station when they have a little extra cash.

iron gym pull-up bar-2

dip station

Ab Wheel

The ab wheel is a simple, effective way to train your abs, and it’s cheap.

I recommend both men and women get this before starting the program.

Valeo Ab Wheel

Weighted Workout Ball

Weighted ab training is an important part of building a great core, and a weighted workout ball is a good tool for this.

Two of my favorite ab exercises are hanging and Captain’s Chair leg raises, and you can turn them into weighted exercises by snatching a medicine ball in between your feet.

This is an optional item, but a nice addition for both men and women. I recommend getting the heaviest one available (12 lbs on Amazon.com, 9 kg on Amazon.co.uk).

workout ball

Workout Mat

I recommend putting down some foam matting in your workout area. It’s cheap, and if you’re setting everything up inside, it will protect your floor from scuffs and dents. If you’re setting up everything in a garage, it’s nice for doing push-ups and on-the-floor ab work.

workout mat

Battle Rope or Workout Bar

These are optional items, but nice additions because they allow you to do a great version of a row exercise for your back. The bar can also be used to add a little weight to your squats.

Choose one or the other, unless you really want both (the rope for the rows, and the bar for adding weight to your squats).

battle rope

workout bar

Workout Bands

Workout bands have various uses, as you know, but the primary use of them in this program will be to assist with your pull-ups and dips.

That said, this is an optional item. If you don’t want to buy it, you can build up your pull-up and dip strength without it.

workout bands

The Ultimate Bodyweight Workout Routine

Okay, now that you know the equipment you’ll need, let’s get to the program itself!

There are two, very simple ground rules for the program:

  • You’re shooting to work in the 6-10 rep range for everything but abs (which I will explain below). That means that you want to weight the exercises so you can get at least 6 reps, but no more than 10.Whenever you can do more than 10 reps in a given set, you add weight to your next set. I will explain how to do this as we go.
  • You will need to keep a workout journal to record your progress. This way you know what you did each week, and can strive to do more each following week.
  • Eventually you will run out of methods to increase the “overload” effect of certain exercises (weight and positional variations). When this occurs, you simply work with maximum resistance until failure for those sets.

And if you reach this point and really want to build more strength and muscle, I highly recommend you switch to a traditional weightlifting routine, such as my Thinner Leaner Stronger or Bigger Leaner Stronger programs. You can even do them at home by adding a bit of equipment.

  • You rest 1-2 minutes in between each set. This is to allow you to regain your strength. This is not circuit training where you superset everything.
  • You train 5 days per week, and rest 2. You’ll see how to stagger your training and rest days.
  • If you want to include cardio, I recommend doing high-intensity interval training, and doing it completely separate to your resistance training. If that’s not possible, do it after your resistance training, not before.

That’s it. Your goal every week is to do more reps with the same weights as the week prior, and to eventually hit 10 reps so you can add more weight.

Day 1

3 Sets of Regular Push-Ups

The regular push-up is one of the staples of your push routine.

Click here to watch a video on how to do the push-up properly


If you can do more than 10 unweighted push-ups, strap on your weighted vest and add enough weight to limit yourself to 6 reps, and you will work with this over the following weeks until you can do 10 reps, and then you will add more weight.


If you can’t do at least 6 proper push-ups, start on your knees. If you can’t get 6 knee push-ups, do what you can and you will build your strength as time goes on (a spotter can help here too). Eventually you will be doing proper push-ups, and actually weighting them.

3 Sets of Decline Push-Ups

Unlike the decline bench press, which targets your lower chest and which I’m not a fan of, the decline push-up targets your upper chest.

Here’s how to do it:

(Obviously you don’t need the step-up bench–just grab anything lying around.)


If you can do more than 10 unweighted decline push-ups, strap on your weighted vest and add enough weight to limit yourself to 6 reps, and you will work with this over the following weeks until you can do 10 reps, and then you will add more weight.


If you can’t do at least 4 proper decline push-ups, do 3 more sets of regular knee push-ups. Once you can do at least 4 decline push-ups, start doing them instead.

3 Sets of Dips

The dip is an extremely effective chest exercise used by bodybuilders and bodyweight lifters alike.

Click here to watch a video on how to do the dip properly


If you can do more than 10 unweighted dips, strap on your weighted vest and add enough weight to limit yourself to 6 reps, and you will work with this over the following weeks until you can do 10 reps, and then you will add more weight.

Eventually you will need more weight than your vest can provide, and that’s where the dip belt and kettlebells come into play.


If you can’t do at least 4  dips, use bands to assist you. Here’s how:

Eventually you will be able to “wean off” the bands and do full, unassisted dips, and even add weight!

3 Sets of Side Lateral Raises

This exercise requires that you have kettlebells.

While push-ups and dips target the front muscle in your shoulders, lateral raises are a great exercise for developing the sides. While these aren’t techincally bodyweight exercises, they’re effective and important as the side deltoids are quite hard to train and develop.

Click here to watch a video on how to do the side lateral raise properly

Ab Training

You’re going to end your workout with some ab training. What you do will depend on what equipment you have.

  • The training protocol for abs is to start with 3 sets of weighted work, if possible, which is then followed by 6 sets of unweighted work. All weighted work is kept in the 8-10 rep range, and all unweighted work is done until failure.
  • You do all the exercises back-to-back (do them all as a “circuit”), and you rest for 90 seconds in between each circuit.

If you have a Power Station, do the following:

Here’s how you do these exercises:

1 set of Captain’s Chair Leg Raises, immediately into 1 set of Hanging Leg Raises, immediately into 1 set of Air Bicycles. You then rest 90 seconds, and do it all again. You do 3 of these “circuits.”

If you don’t have a Power Station, do the following:

  • 3 sets of weighted (if possible) Hanging Leg Raises.
  • 3 sets of Air Bicycles.

Do them in the same way as explained above

Day 2

3 Sets of Pull-Ups

The pull-up builds a great back, and should be a part of everyone’s routine.

Click here to watch a video on how to do the pull-up properly


If you can’t do at least 4 unweighted pull-ups, use bands for assistance (if you have them), or a spotter (someone to hold your knees and help you up).

Here’s how to use your workout bands for this:

If you don’t have bands or a spotter, start with 3 sets of chin-ups instead (and then do 3 more as your next exercise).

If you can do at least 4 unweighted pull-ups, start with these. If you can do more than 10, throw on your weighted vest and add weight until you can do 6 reps and work from there.


Unless you’re already incredibly strong, you’re going to start with chin-ups, and you will probably need to start with some assistance (bands or a spotter to hold your knees and help you up).

3 Sets of Chin-Ups

The chin-up targets both the back and the biceps, with additional emphasis on the biceps.

Click here to watch a video on how to do the chin-up properly

3 Sets of Inverted Rows

The inverted row is a great exercise for training your back. There are a couple different ways to do it, depending on what equipment you have.

Here’s how to do it if you have a workout bar. (You simply elevate the bar using chairs so you can hang from it.)

Palms in is easier than palms out, and feet on the ground is easier than feet elevated.

Here’s how to do it with battle ropes:

Again, feet on the floor is easier than feet elevated.


Start with your palms out (if you’re using a bar), and feet on the floor.

If you can do more than 10 reps with your feet on the floor, elevate your feet. If you can do more than 10 reps of these, don your weighted vest and add weight until you can only do 6 reps and work from there, adding weight to the vest as needed.


Start with your palms in (if you’re using a bar), and feet on the floor.

If you can do 10 reps of these, switch to palms out. From here, elevate your feed to make it more difficult. Once you can do 10 reps with your feet elevated, don your weighted vest and add weight until you can only do 6 reps and work from there, adding weight to the vest as needed.

Day 3

6 Sets of Full Squats

The squat is the core of every leg routine, bodyweight or otherwise. It works your entire leg (and hamstring in particular) as well as your butt.

Click here to watch a video on how to do the bodyweight squat properly

I want you to do a variation of the above, though, which is known as the Full Squat. The Full Squat has you squat as deep as you can go, until your butt almost touches your calves.


If you can do more than 10 reps, don your weighted vest and add weight until you can only do 6 reps. If you need more weight, grab your kettlebells or weighted workout bar.

When it comes time to use kettlebells to add weight, start with one and do Goblet Squats.

Click here to learn how to do the Goblet Squat properly

Once you outgrow this, simply hold two kettlebells in the Goblet Squat position and squat.


If you can do more than 10 reps, don your weighted vest and add weight until you can only do 6 reps. If you need more weight, grab your kettlebells or weighted workout bar.

When it comes time to use kettlebells to add weight, start with one and do Goblet Squats. Once you outgrow this, simply hold two kettlebells in the Goblet Squat position and squat.

3 Sets of Lunges

The lunge is another great legs exercise. It targets the quadriceps a bit more than the squats, and is great for your butt.

Click here to watch a video on how to do the lunge properly


If you can do more than 10 reps, don your weighted vest and add weight until you can only do 6 reps. If you need more weight, grab your kettlebells or weighted workout bar.


If you can do more than 10 reps, don your weighted vest and add weight until you can only do 6 reps. If you need more weight, grab your kettlebells or weighted workout bar.

Ab Training

You repeat your first day’s ab workout again.

Day 4

No exercise at all on this day. Rest is very important!


Days 5, 6, and 7

You now repeat the same routine again, pushing yourself to do more reps than the week before, and raising weight/resistance whenever possible.

If you want to train 4 or 5 days per week and not 6, you use your 4th and 5th training days to focus on the parts of your physique that need the most improvement. 

Most guys will want to train push and/or pull again, and most women will want to train legs again, and can alternate each week between an additional push and pull day (push, legs, rest one week; pull, legs, rest the next; and so forth).

What do you think of this workout routine? Have anything you think I should add? Let me know in the comments below!

How to get lean and build serious muscle and strength, faster than you ever thought possible…

If you want a "paint-by-numbers," step-by-step blueprint for building a muscular, lean, strong body...faster than you ever thought possible...then you want to check out my books.

You see, depending on how you eat, train, rest, and supplement, building muscle and losing fat can be incredibly simple or seemingly impossible. I've learned this the hard way, making every mistake you can imagine.

I've also learned a lot about what DOES work, and I wrote Bigger Leaner Stronger and Thinner Leaner Stronger to teach you EVERYTHING you need to know to build the body you've always wanted.

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Leave a Comment!
  • Rachel Reeves-Olis

    Great info! Will be working these into my routine, especially since I don’t have gym membership! Thanks!

    • Michael Matthews

      Thanks Rachel! Lemme know how it goes!

  • Brian Zimmer

    Awesome, thanks for posting this man! Lots of good advice and some things I can incorporate into my routine.

    I’m using the ZFO weighted vest as well to keep the overload going, but I’ve found that the 60lb vest delivers the most bang for the buck as far as lbs/$ goes.

    Also, I’ve found that the extra bulk of the vest makes it harder to get full range of motion in push ups, so push up bars are great for compensating for that.

    I’m equally interested in training gymnastic isos as well (handstand, planche, l-sit/v-sit/manna). I’ve heard you can add these skill based exercises on at the beginning of a workout. Thoughts? Also, once you are in the maintaining phase, do you think these isos are enough? Or should I keep doing the routine you’ve outlined?

    • Michael Matthews

      Thanks Brian! Ah great tip on the vest–I didn’t see the 60 lber. I added it along with the push-up bars.

      Yeah gymnastic isos can be worked in. I left them out because most people don’t want to have to learn to handstand so they can do handstand push-ups and such, but you can if you want.

      Regarding maintenance, it depends how much muscle and strength you gain really. Isos can be used to maintain a certain level for a certain period of time, but the reality is as the “overload” effect diminishes, so does the strength and size that was built up to deal with it…

    • Jonathon

      I’ve added handstands and handstand push ups in my training and they are a beast. As regards the difficulty in getting full range of motion with a weighted vest, I’d consider changing the exercise, try for close grip push ups, one-arm push ups, or push ups with some minor elevation (too steep and it is next to pointless due to restricted range of motion).

      Hope that is of some help.

      • Michael Matthews

        Yeah they’re good. Just kind of “advanced.”

        You can definitely do push-up variations, but eventually you’ll outgrow those as well and will need to start adding weight.

  • Timothy Paul Mcmurtry-Hauptman

    Good stuff but not true “body weight.” For a home gym, Mike, this IS golden. If you disagree, fine, but I am certainly NOT hating on this info, I just disagree on the context/title an what readers may expect when reading it.

    • Michael Matthews

      Thanks Tim!

      I understand what you’re saying, but this is the ULTIMATE way to perform bodyweight exercises. :) You can perform all the exercises without added weight, but you will plateau very quickly…

  • Bill

    Mind adding the products listed here to recommended for bodyweight exercise equipment?

    • Michael Matthews

      Ah yeah, good idea!

  • Ashley Newcomb

    This seems more like a modified home gym workout to me.. while I have a power cage setup with Olympic barbell and weights, if I’m ever away from it I stick to yoga to provide a full body workout. Not only does it improve strength, balance, and flexibility, but it also makes me feel great! It only comes second in my love for lifting! xo

    • Michael Matthews

      Thanks for the comment Ashley! I think of a home gym workout as one requiring a bit more equipment like what you have, but I totally know where you’re coming from.

      I also much prefer lifting. Yoga is great for flexibility and just an overall sense of well-being. Keep it up!

  • Willy

    Great article. What do you think of suspension trainers like the TRX and similar? Could you provide some tips or maybe a routines for the ones that have a suspension trainer and use it when travelling?

    • Michael Matthews

      Thanks! I like the TRX. It would require a post unto itself though because it has its own routine, you know?

  • Jonathon

    Another great article Mike and I was thinking about this subject recently so hope you don’t mind me sharing my thoughts?

    In my limited experience, I have found progressive overload with body-weight exercises is easy, perhaps as easy as weightlifting. Much of the problem I feel comes down to this popular belief that push ups, pull ups, squats etc only come in one form (or one way of doing it). Yet, there are so many harder variations that can be used before you begin adding extra weight through kettle bells and vests. Many do not realize the harder variations can maintain the ideal training state of ‘high weight, low rep’.

    Take push ups for example; we all know the classic push up. Like you say Mike, you can add a weighted vest and that is something that a few guys I train with practicing Parkour do and there are good results (in terms of strength gains and muscle growth). But, why not consider close-grip push ups and one-arm push ups? Handstand push ups (which you mentioned in another comment)? One-arm handstand push ups? Then consider adding additional weight using a weighted vest if needs be.

    The other point worth mentioning about the exercises above is that, aside from handstand push ups (I’d argue), they all maintain a full range of motion which is essential whether you are using body-weight or hitting the gym.

    Hitting the weights at the gym does appear easier when it comes to progressive overload and I believe this is down to the fact that you have just a few ideal exercises (Squats, Deadlifts, Military Press, etc) and progressive overload is attained by simply adding more weight (which come in a small set of available sizes), none of which requires a change in exercise?

    Look forward to getting everyone’s thoughts on this.

    • Michael Matthews

      Thanks Jon! Glad you liked the article.

      I totally agree on variations. They can be very useful, but you’ll likely out-grow even those fairly quickly and generally speaking, the more reps you’re doing, the more you’re training for muscle endurance alone. The size and strength gains disappear.

      Absolutely on the range of motion. Full ROM is very important.

      And yup, the big benefits of weightlifting come from the heavy compound lifting, not from using a bunch of fancy machines or isolation movements.

      Thanks for the comment!

  • Alan Hughes

    Hi Mike, i’ve got your book BLS and think its great but i’m a novice to exercise really and don’t have access to a decent gym, so i was wondering if the diet plan you set out in your book is applicable to this bodyweight routine, or would it need modifying as its technically not heavy weight trainging?

    • Michael Matthews

      Thanks Alan!

      Yes, the diet plan is fine for body weight training as well. Ultimately you adjust it based on how your body actually responds, so you can’t go wrong really, you know?

  • Michael

    so each workout is twice a week ? according to my preferences of course.

    • Michael Matthews

      Yup, you got it.

  • Mike

    Thanks for the equipment links Mike..very helpful..I have a home routine I can go to on any given day. I like the variety in training at home and in the gym..sometimes I do them in the park…I look forward to different environments and ways to do things.

    What’s your opinion on knuckle push ups ?..I have done them when I don’t have push up bars around to keep the pressure off my wrists and add intensity..combined with a 2 sec up, 2 sec down approach in the exercise and weighted vest, its pretty intense.

    • Michael Matthews

      Thanks Mike! Glad you liked it.

      That’s cool. Keep doing what you like and what works for your body.

      Nothing wrong with knuckle push-ups. And yea weighted push-ups are great.

  • Mick

    Great workout but am I missing something? Where does the ab wheel and weighted ball come in?
    Can’t wait to get started!

    • Michael Matthews

      Thanks Mick! It’s in there under ab training.

      • Jaime

        I was wondering about the same thing, I don’t see any exercise with the ab wheel , which is a shame because it’s cheap and has “muscle overload” written all over :)

        • Michael Matthews

          It’s in there Jaime, under ab training. Yeah the wheel is good. :)

          • Jaime

            Maybe you see the site as an admin — or with different privileges in general ? What I see is leg raises and air bicycles. I’m following this workout btw, until I can follow the full BLS one. Thank you for the great work, it’s very inspiring.

          • Michael Matthews

            Ah that was it! Good call. It’s fixed now. :)

            Glad to hear you’re doing well. Thanks for the support!

  • Mick

    Oh! I found the weighted ball section, sorry, need sleep

    • Michael Matthews

      Haha no worries. :)

  • Devan

    Mike this is an EXCELLENT article. I myself am a personal trainer, though not as qualified as yourself. It amazes me how many people don’t understand that doing pushups and crunches all day won’t get them huge. Now i have an article I can link my clients to when I’m not around to help them out. Thanks ma man!

    • Michael Matthews

      Thanks Devan! I really appreciate it!

      • Devan

        No problem! Just by the way, what is your opinion on beta alanine? How much should be taken per day, and at what times?

        • Michael Matthews

          BA is great. I talk about it here:

          https://www.muscleforlife.com /the-hunt-for-the-best-pre-workout-supplement/

          • Devan

            Thanks ma man, you’re a stud. Always stay full of integrity like you are

          • Michael Matthews

            Thanks Devan. :)

  • António Alves

    Hey Mike,

    I think I will only be able to go to the gym 3 times a week, and I was thinking it might be good to do some bodyweight routines for 2 other days. Is it a good thing, what routine would I use and would I need to treat like a weightlifting session?(pre and post workout?)

    • Michael Matthews

      That’s totally fine. I would do BLS 3-day and supplement with this routine, working my weak points.

      Yes, you would do pre- and post-workout nutrition as this type of bodyweight training still is effective resistance training.

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  • Stephen

    When/where would you recommend adding jogging? I ask because I have had knee surgery and jogging was recommended to me by the Physical Therapist for keeping the “Teardrop” muscles of the knee tight as well as the hamstring.

    • Michael Matthews

      That’s interesting that jogging would be recommend for knee rehab, as running is hard on the knees (over time).

      That said, I would start with 3x per week for about 30 minutes. Personally I much prefer HIIT:

      https://www.muscleforlife.com /high-intensity-interval-training-and-weight-loss/

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  • Fahmi

    Your program requires buying oneself a gym. Whats the point? lol

    • Michael Matthews

      Haha hardly! A few hundred dollars of stuff and you’re good to go. Or you can buy less and work with what you have…

    • cameron bonner

      Find a park. Mine has all of this except the vest.

  • Jonas

    Hey Mike,

    why is it that you recommend to do 4-6 reps with weights, but 6-10 reps bodyweight? – resistance is resistance, theres no difference…

    • Michael Matthews

      Just so you can get more life out of your equipment. It’s hard to remain in the 4-6 rep range using this setup.

  • Chris

    I noticed u said to do the ab training as a circuit. Are we to do the same with everything else? For instance on day 1, should I do one set of push ups then one set of decline push ups and so forth and then start second set of push ups and so forth all the way to 3 total sets? Or should I do 3 sets of push ups then 3 sets of decline push up and so forth?

    • Michael Matthews

      Nope, don’t circuit everything. Rest 60-90 seconds in between your strength training sets and do them once exercise at a time. Hope this helps!

      • Chris

        It does! Thanks

        • Michael Matthews


      • Shreshth Mohan

        I am a little confused about ab training. I don’t have a power station. You mention 3 weighted and 6 unweighted circuits for abs. So I gotta do 3 weighted (upto 10 reps) and 6 unweighted (until failure) hanging leg raises and *9* reps of airbicycles, is that right? Thanks in advance. Liking the routine very much.

        • Michael Matthews

          Well you could do weighted hanging leg raises, then unweighted to failure, then air bikes. Then rest. Repeat.

  • John

    Hey Michael! Thanks for all your efforts in making us strong! ;-) I’ve been training on and off for a year or 2 and tried a few different programs, but didn’t like them. I’ve always liked bodyweight exercises (pure or with extra weights) and started doing yours. I really like it, but I have a few questions:
    You said when you reach 10 reps, you have to add weight or resistance to overload your muscles. I get that. But do you mean reaching 10 the first set of 3? Or do you have to be able to get 10 reps for all 3 sets in order to add weight? This isn’t clear to me.
    And how does this bodyweight workout compare to your ‘Bigger Leaner Stronger’ workoutplan? You probably won’t get as big or big as fast as with this bodyweight workout as it is missing the big lifts, but I’d like to know if this worth doing if I can also do most of the exercises from your workoutplan from the book. At home I have a bench, weights, dipstation, pullupbar, barbells, dumbbells etc.
    I hope you can shine some light on this for me..
    Thanks a lot!

    • Michael Matthews

      My pleasure John!

      Really glad you’re liking the program.

      When you reach the top of your rep range for ONE set, I recommend you move up and work with that weight until you can get ONE set of 10 with it, then move up, etc.

      I talk about the body weight stuff here:

      https://www.muscleforlife.com /the-ultimate-bodyweight-workout-routine/

      • John

        Thanks man! I appreciate you coming back to me! Awesome!

        I’ve read the article again and found the answers to my questions and doubts. Probably missed them the first time.. And big thanks for clearing up when to add weight to an exercise!

        I’ll look into your main program as I want to build a great body of which I’m proud of in the most effective way (who doesn’t? ;-))

        Oh, and btw: you did a great job on your website! It looks good and works supersmooth! (I was a webdeveloper..)
        Thanks for your support, Mike!

        • Michael Matthews

          My pleasure! No worries I’m glad to hear it.

          Cool on the BLS program. Lemme know what you think. And thanks on the website! My designer/coder rocks:


  • csno1

    Why can’t someone write a simple bodyweight routine from beginners to advanced without writing reams of text.

    • Michael Matthews


  • Iain

    The list of variations for body weight exercises are endless. Even for building size AND especially strength. Look at male gymnasts. Some of those guys are absolutely huge as a result of working through years of progressions in body weight exercises to the point where they are considered elite.

    • Michael Matthews

      Very true!

  • Lea

    Mike, questions regarding the woman version of this:
    1.Is it enough to train every part of the body once per week, and add the fourth day as a mixed day where this could be done : (1. Hip Thrust, 2. rear delt raises, 3. inverted row?) -> general weak point training!

    2. with the pull day, whats the first exercise for woman if, as you described, i cant do pullups? or should i do 6 sets of chinups and then 3 sets of inverted rows?

    3. do they all have to be in a row, those days? or could it be like this (would this bring results? ->) Monday: PULL, Wednesday: Push, Friday: LEGS, Saturday: the above described weakness training? Would that bring results?

    • Michael Matthews

      1. Yes, this is totally fine and exactly what I do.

      2. Deadlifts!

      3. That’s totally fine.

      • Lea

        Deadlits? Mike, i thought this was a bodyweight routine? are you serious, haha? :D

        • Michael Matthews

          Ah shit sorry, I didn’t realize it was the bodyweight article, hahah.

          You can use the bands to do assisted pullups!

  • Jonas

    how to warm up for that program?

    • Michael Matthews

      Use body weight to warm up and do 2-3 sets but not to failure. You’re just looking to get blood in the muscles.

  • Johnny.P.

    But what is the difference btw. the Captain Chair Leg Raise and the Hanging Leg Raise in terms of muscle recruitment?why the first weighted and then the other unweighted, but once in that captain chair and then hanging?

    and why are you recommending 3 circuits here ( weighted captain chair leg raise, then hanging leg raise, then air bycicle x 3 ) while you recommend doing 6-9 of them in your “weighted” BLS program?

    thanks in advance,

    johnny petersen from norway :)

    • Michael Matthews

      They’re very similar. The weighted work is necessary to add some bulk to abs so they clearly show when you get leaner.

      3 is a start. You can then work up to 6 to 9. :)

  • Jonas

    what about calves here?

    • Michael Matthews

      Who needs calves? :P

  • Teenager

    I do bodyweight exercises and cardio, and eat right to maintain muscle and burn fats. I lift heavy while trying to build muscle mass and strenth. am i on the right track for fitness?

  • Shreshth

    Hey Mike, what about warp-up/stretching before and after a workout? I don’t want my body to be all stiff. Also, what about arms? You haven’t suggest any workout for arms. I have very thin wrists, should I do any extra exercises for them?

  • Teen

    Hey mike,, great workout. Just a question, i am a 14 year old male looking to Gain muscle mass, will this workout help me?

    • Michael Matthews

      Thanks! Yes, definitely.

  • Marie-Hélène

    I already train at a kids park near my place so I don’t have to buy a pull up bar and a dip station. I also have olympic rings and rubber bands for pull ups and rows. I might have to buy new kettlebells because I already do my HIIT alternating between various exercises from swings(25lbs)/v sits and box jumps to snatch/clean and press to goblet squats etc…  

    I was wondering if I should stick with my HIIT routine of KB exercices after the bodyweight or will it be too much? (I never do more than 15 minutes amrap because it’s really demanding!!)
    And also finish with a light jog to recover.

    Looking forward to start your program this week!

    • Michael Matthews

      That’s great! You can do all kinds of stuff then.

      That should be fine for what you’re doing. If you were also lifting heavy weights in the gym it might be too much though…

  • Ethan

    Mike, I’m on the second day of the program and just finished the pull workout. Is it alright if it only lasts about 20 minutes to complete the workout (w/out stretching)? I assume there’s no ab training on pull days, as I didn’t see anything explicitly stated. 20 minutes seems short, doesn’t it? I just want to make sure I’m doing this correctly and not cutting any corners.

    • Michael Matthews

      Great! I would recommend you increase the rest times to 90-120 seconds in between each set. That should bump the time up to 30-40 min.

  • Andy M

    Hi Mike, Thanks for another great article. Been reading your articles for a while and they’ve really helped me out, so I would like to say thank you. I currently workout 5-6 days a week. Unfortunately due to work commitments I now have to cut that down to 2-3 days every second week. I was thinking about doing full bodyweight workouts instead of using weights for those 2-3 days. Would you recommend this or would I just be wasting my time? I was thinking the change in routine may help me progress even more. Then again I may be talking rubbish haha. Keep up the good work and thanks again.

    • Andy M

      Just re-read the post I have left and figure it doesn’t make sense. Just to make it clear. I can still do weekly workouts with 5-6 workouts one week but can only do 2-3 the next week.

    • Michael Matthews

      Thanks man! Hmm I would do the 2-day in this article:


      And if 3, would either do chest/tris, back/bis, legs/shoulders or push/pull/legs.

      Hope this helps! Talk soon!

  • John P.

    I disagree with your affirmation that weights beats bodyweight training in the long run. Anyone can build muscle on their upper bodies with bodyweight training alone just as much and as effectively as with weights, as long as progression is there. Whether be by adding external resistance or changing the exercises to make them more difficult. What is so special about a piece of metal like a barbell or dumbbell anyway? Muscle doesn’t know where resistance is coming from. Are you saying someone can’t overload their muscle with a weighted dip as opposed to a bench press? C’mon now.

    Now when it comes to the lower body, that is a different story. I agree that in the case of the legs, there is no comparison from weights vs bodyweight.

    • Michael Matthews

      You simply can’t overload your muscles with bodyweight training like you can with barbells and dumbbells.

      Try to recreate a 315-pound bench press with vests…

      • Brutus

        Weighted vest, one-handed elevated push-ups can get close.

        • Michael Matthews

          Haha that’s creative.

  • Raymond Tawil

    Mike great article! I am at a point where I use 2 plates of 45 lb each to do simple chin ups of 4-6 reps. The one thing I realized as I was rereading this article is that you said you do this type of exercise (the pull ups) towards the end of your workout. I do mine right when I start my work out. is that a problem?

    • Michael Matthews

      Thanks! That’s strong! I recommend you start your back workouts with Deadlifts. It’s the most important lift and requires the most energy.

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  • Diegocar24

    What exercise could I do instead of the Inverted Rows? Assuming I don’t have a workout bar or battle rope.

    • Michael Matthews

      I would recommend getting a pullup bar.

      • Diegocar24

        Alright.. So there is absolutely no exercise one could do to replace the IRs? Or are you suggesting one should do another 3 sets of pull-ups?

        • Michael Matthews

          Yeah just pullups really. Back is tough when you don’t have a BB or DBs.

          • Diegocar24

            Cool, thanks.

          • Michael Matthews


  • Anna

    Why do you recommend doing more reps for abs? Don’t you need progressive overload for abs, too?

    • Michael Matthews

      Yeah but I’ve found that low-rep, high-weight training for abs can be quite uncomfortable on the lower back. You can develop a great core with higher reps though.

  • Jeff Barger

    This article almost seems like an add for a bunch of workout equipment. I searched google for “bodyweight work out routines” and got this. I mean it all sounds great if you can spend money on the kind of equipment that adds too bodyweight exercises. But that’s not what I wanted. I’ve worked out at a gym for 7 years with weights, but in 1 month I am moving to Africa for the Peace Corps and will not have access to any gym or any of the stuff advertised in this article. I will have to make do with bodyweight exercises and whatever stuff lying around I can use (like tree branches for pull-ups, etc). In that regard this article didn’t help, because needed accessories for a work out routine was exactly what I wasn’t looking for. What I really need is a list of exercises and routines that are bodyweight, and also include TRX, since that is the only real equipment I can bring since its just straps and a hand grip.

    • Michael Matthews

      Thanks for the comment Jeff. Head over to Bodybuilding.com and you’ll find a list of exercises.

      My purpose with this article was to give a routine that will actually produce results, not just give a list of exercises, you know?

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  • Madison

    Hi Mike,

    Im a student in college and i cant seem to get my body out of its plateau no matter how much i switch it up. I want to cut inches from my thighs and my mid section and build my chest. What workout would you suggest for a broke college kid?

    Thank you,

  • Hadge

    Hay, thanks for the article.
    I’m into callisthenics/street work out. Body weight exercises. You really dont need any of the equipment you have listed except the pull up bar. Not even the vest. Yes, you can still get gains if you take muscle tension time under pressure into account; for example get into push up position, take 10 seconds to lower yourself, hold 10 seconds, take 10 seconds to rise, hold ten seconds then repeat. When that gets easy? Try archer push ups, Russian push ups. Same with pull ups. Dips. The variations on these exercises is unlimited except by imagination.
    You can make amazing gains just using bodyweight…even on legs with explosive jump squats, lunge walks etc.
    In my opinion the gains and massive strength you get from using body weight alone is amazing.
    For readers just look for Callisthenic Kings, Bar Bro’s, Bar-barians, Frank Medrano and tell me those guys arnt ripped with a much more superior/practicle/useful muscle than that gained from weights.

    • Michael Matthews

      Sure, you can make gains, but you’ll only get so far in terms of strength and muscle growth if you don’t start adding weight to movements…

  • Garrett

    Hey Mike,
    Love the routine. I did have a quick question though. In your Bigger,Leaner, Stronger book you mention a quick warm up routine to do before each day’s workout. What would be the best way to warm up before this routine?

    • Michael Matthews

      Thanks! Good question. Personally I would just a couple sets without the weighted as my warm-up.

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  • SophusLJ

    Is this program even doing anything on muscle growth? I mean, is it possible to get a six pack or toned abs out of this program? All the talk about not being the right program to get big guns, and abs scares me a bit

  • Michael Matthews

    Thanks for stopping by and checking out my article! I hope you enjoyed it.

    Feel free to comment below if you have any questions. I do my best to check and reply to every comment left on my blog, so don’t be shy!

    Oh and if you like what I have to say, you should sign up for my free weekly newsletter! You’ll get awesome, science-based health and fitness tips, delicious “guilt-free” recipes, articles to keep you motivated, and much more!

    You can sign up here:


    Your information is safe with me too. I don’t share, sell, or rent my lists. Pinky swear!

  • Aaron H

    Hey mike love the articles that you put out. And actually bought your TLS book for my girlfriend to use. I personally am a body weight lover. Specifically gymnastics. Your assesment is true if we are to base it solely in the realm of size increase. But to the strength portion. Which I should say is measured best in Ratio is up for debate. What is strength, really becomes the question. I believe you’d have a great conversation with Coach Sommers of Gymnasticbodies. As you are a researcher and seem to love amassing knowledge. Let me know. I believe weights have there place in proper progressions after the body has been mastered more fully. Oh and ordered your protein powder! Love the no fluff, no fillers solution. Can’t wait to start using it! Thanks!

    • http://www.muscleforlife.com/ Michael Matthews

      Thanks so much! I appreciate the support.

      I can totally see where you’re coming from and it really just depends on your goals, I think. I’ll check out Coach Sommers.

      Thanks! Let me know how you like it!

  • Christian Holley

    What is the best way to incorporate bodyweight training such as you recommend above with actual weight training? Can you do both at the same time or would you recommend just picking a single workout regime?

    • http://www.muscleforlife.com/ Michael Matthews

      You can do both. What many people like to do is end their lifting workouts with 3 sets of bodyweight work. Thoughts?

      • Christian Holley

        I think I will do just that, maybe weights in morning, bodywork in evening or vice versa type thing. Starting my transformation Monday! So, as far as weight vest goes would you recommend getting say, a 100lb adjustable vest? Reasoning being in time I may work myself up to that weight (already have experience in the 20-30lb range from military though it was years ago) or stick to a 50 and wear a backpack for more? Besides exercises lifted above could see it being very useful for climbs/hikes. Price difference isn’t that much of an issue for me. For an advanced lifter like yourself what weight do you use?

        • http://www.muscleforlife.com/ Michael Matthews

          Yup that can work! Let me know how it goes.

          Personally I would go with the weighted vest because it’s the least unwieldy solution.

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  • Joe

    You say to rest on day 4…does going for a 5k run count as rest? Or can I do that any day? Thx :D

    • http://www.muscleforlife.com/ Michael Matthews

      Haha personally I try to take one day per week and do little to no strenuous physical activity. Depends on your body really.

  • Juan Ignacio

    Hi mike, i really like this article and i will definitely try this routine. I just want to ask you a few questions

    1- Is it posible to replace the weighted vest with a backpack without producing any type of injuries? I imagine that its important to have a uniform distribution of the weigth

    and maybe this can be achieved with a small backpack very tight to the body. What you think about that?.

    2- When you recommend to do the cardio (or hiit) separeted from the bodyweight workout did you mean that we should do it on the two rest day?.

    3- Is it posible to replace the regular dips with diamond grip push ups or bench dips?

    I appreciate any information about it. Keep up the good work.

    • http://www.muscleforlife.com/ Michael Matthews


      1. Yeah should be fine.

      2. Not necessarily. Just at a separate time. Can be on the same day as resistance training.

      3. Yes but working up to dips would be ideal.

  • Jim Walker

    Hello Mike great article,
    If someone were to put on some muscle with this routine, but then need to cut fat afterwards, what would happen? I mean, if they were unable to make the exercises difficult enough to stay in the low rep range, wouldn’t the exercises not provide enough resistance to maintain muscle during weight loss?

    • http://www.muscleforlife.com/ Michael Matthews

      You can continue training heavy while in a calorie deficit. Sure, you’ll lose a little strength but nothing major.

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