Muscle for life

The Ultimate Bodyweight Workout Routine

The Ultimate Bodyweight Workout Routine

If you want to “be your own gym” and build muscle and strength with bodyweight workouts, then this article is for you!

I get asked three questions fairly frequently:

  • “Are bodyweight workouts as effective as weightlifting?”
  • “Can you build a significant amount of muscle and strength with bodyweight exercises alone?”
  • “What are the best bodyweight exercises?”

Poke around on the Internet for answers and you’ll find all kinds of opinions.

Some people say that weightlifting is better for bodybuilding but not for building a “sleek,” “Hollywood” type of physique.

Others say that bodyweight exercises are better for fat loss because they burn more calories.

Others still say that bodyweight training the most “functional” way to train.

Well, in this article, we’re going to set the record straight on all these points and more.

By the end, you’re going to know the pros and cons of bodyweight exercises and whether they’re suitable to your goals or not, and I’m going to give you a highly effective bodyweight workout routine that you can start on right away.

So, let’s get started.

Are Bodyweight Workouts Good for Gaining Mass?

bodyweight workout for mass

There’s a big difference between “exercising” and “training.”

Anything that involves vigorous physical activity can qualify as exercise, but training connotes a more systematic approach toward a known goal.

Zumba is exercise. Bigger Leaner Stronger is training.

If your goal is to stay healthy and lean, exercise (and proper dieting) can get the job done. If you want to build a lean, strong, and muscular physique, though, you need to train.

Which brings me to bodyweight workouts.

There’s no question that they’re great exercise. Some of the best, actually, because they involve both cardiovascular and muscular conditioning.

Bodyweight workouts have several advantages over weightlifting as well, including:

  • Convenience and flexibility (you can do them at home, on the road, etc.).
  • Affordability (no gym membership or home gym needed).
  • Time efficiency (no driving to the gym, waiting for equipment, etc.).
  • Privacy (no pervy dudes or peacocking gymbros).

If you’re looking to “stay fit” (build some muscle and strength and stay lean), and you don’t like gyms or can’t get to one, bodyweight workouts might be perfect for you.

If you’re looking to build a large amount of muscle and strength as quickly as possible, though, they’re not the best choice.

This is because bodyweight workouts have limited value as a training method.

The main reason for this has to do with something called “progressive overload,” which is the primary mechanical driver of strength and muscle building.

Progressive overload refers to increasing tension levels in the muscle fibers over time.

The most effective way to do this is to progressively increase the amount of weight you’re lifting (add weight to the bar).

This is why strength is highly correlated with muscle size. You’d be hard pressed to find a guy with small legs that can squat double his body weight for reps, for example.

When viewed through this lens of progressive overload, we can clearly see a major drawback to bodyweight training:

It tends to focus on increasing repetitions but not weight (overload), and this is great for building muscle endurance, but not size and strength.

That is, working up to 100 pushups or 20 pullups in one go isn’t going to result in nearly as much muscle growth as working up to bench pressing 1.5 x your body weight or deadlifting 2 x your body weight for reps.

Researchers call this the “strength-endurance continuum,” which is a polysyllabic phrase for a rather simple concept: if you want to get big and strong, you need to prioritize resistance training with heavy loads.

Now, there are ways to incorporate progressive overload into your bodyweight workouts, which we’ll be talking more about soon, but they don’t fully offset this disadvantage.

Another handicap with bodyweight workouts is you miss out on several powerful muscle-building exercises.

Unfortunately, there are no bodyweight exercises that can fully reproduce the whole-body effects of heavy squats, deadlifts, bench and military presses.

The significance of these four exercises is they form the core of every great weightlifting and strength training program, and for a good reason:

They train many muscle groups at once and they allow for very heavy weights to be handled safely (maximum overload).

The bottom line is any resistance training program–bodyweight or otherwise–that’s missing any of these movements would benefit from including them.

You can make do with exercises that we’ll discuss soon, but anyone that says that you can duplicate the level of muscle activation from an 85% of 1RM deadlift with a bodyweight movement is lying.

Now, before we move on, I want to quickly address a doubt you might have about what I’m saying:

If bodyweight training isn’t ideal for building muscle and strength, why is this dude is so jacked?

For example…

Well, when you see stuff like this, you need to keep several things in mind:

  • How long has he been training for?

If someone has been doing bodyweight workouts diligently for 10+ years and knows how to diet, he’s going to have a good physique.

That doesn’t mean it was the most effective way to get there, though.

  • What is his training history like?

When someone with a killer physique does bodyweight workouts exclusively, it doesn’t mean that’s how he built his body to begin with.

I know many people that gained a large amount of muscle and strength with traditional weightlifting and then transitioned more into bodyweight training for various reasons (lifestyle changes, new challenges, etc.).

  • What are his genetics like?

Some people’s bodies respond incredibly well to resistance training of all forms and others respond quite poorly.

If you’re taking advice from a high-responder but are yourself a low- or even middling-responder, you’re not going to see anywhere near the gains.

  • How likely is it that steroids are involved?

Drugs are everywhere in the strength and muscle-building space, and they change everything. Learn to spot the obvious abusers.

The point is this:

If you want to get an accurate idea of how well a training or diet methodology works, you want to look at a broad cross section of results, not chase after outliers.

Use this workout and flexible dieting program to lose up to 10 pounds of fat and build muscle in just 30 days…without starving yourself or living in the gym.

The Best Bodyweight Exercises

bodyweight exercises

If you go searching for bodyweight exercises and routines, you’ll quickly be overwhelmed by the sheer volume of choices.

The good news, though, is out of the hundreds and hundreds of body weight exercises you could do, a small minority deliver the vast majority of potential benefits.

(Pareto principle strikes again.)

As you’ll see, your primary focus in bodyweight workouts is improving in a few basic areas: pushing, pulling, and squatting.

There are many variations of these movements and ways to make the more difficult, of course, but they are the foundation of all good bodyweight training.

So, let’s review the best of these types of bodyweight exercises and then look at how we can combine them into an effective and challenging workout routine.



No bodyweight workout is complete without some form of pushup.

It’s one of the simplest and most effective ways to train your chest, shoulders, and arms, and it doesn’t require any special equipment.

I’m going to recommend that you do several types of pushups in your bodyweight workouts.

The first is the vanilla pushup:

And if you can’t do a pushup yet, here’s how to build up to it:

Pike Pushup

The pike pushup is a pushup variation that is great for training the shoulders.

Dive Bomber Pushup

The Dive Bomber Pushup is a good progression from the pike pushup (meaning it’s an exercise you progress to once you’ve built considerable strength on the previous).

It’s a complete upper body exercise because it emphasizes your chest, shoulders, and triceps at different points in the movement.

Handstand Pushup

In terms of bodyweight shoulder exercises, it’s hard to beat the handstand pushup for sheer difficulty (and thus overload).


I want to shy away from exercises that require special equipment, but I need to mention the dip because it’s one of the absolute best upper body exercises you can do, bodyweight or otherwise.

(Dips are an important part of my weightlifting programs Bigger Leaner Stronger [men] and Thinner Leaner Stronger [women].)

There are two types of dips you can do: triceps (or bench) dips and chest dips.

Triceps (bench) dips are easier, and here’s how they work:

Here’s the chest dip, which is a progression from the triceps dip:

And here’s a simple dip stand for doing chest dips:

dip station

Chinup & Pullup


These are also exercise that can’t be done without equipment…but a pullup bar is cheap and, in my opinion, vital.

It’s vital because if you want to get the most out of your bodyweight training, you must be doing chinups and pullups.

They train every major muscle in your back and involve the biceps to a significant degree as well, and they do it in a way that just can’t be replicated otherwise (outside of the gym, that is).

There are many pullup variations you can do, of course, but you should build a foundation of strength with these two before progressing to more advanced types.

First, there’s the chinup:

If you can’t do a chinup yet, here’s a simple way to build the necessary strength:

Here’s the progression from the chinup–the more difficult pullup:

Here’s the bar I use and like:

iron gym pull-up bar-2

If your budget and workout space permits, you can go in for a Power Tower instead, which allows you to do your dips, pullups, and ab exercises (that we’ll be talking about soon).

Here’s the one I recommend:

weider power tower

Bodyweight Squat

Just about every popular resistance training program you can find involves some sort of squatting.

It’s the simplest and most effective leg-building exercise you can do.

This exercise is the bodyweight equivalent of the barbell back squat, and if you want to build strong legs, you’re going to do a lot of it.

Squat Jump

The squat jump is a progression from the basic bodyweight squat that adds a dynamic “explosive” element to your training.

Shrimp Squat

The Shrimp Squat is a good introduction to one-legged squatting (which is a good progression from two-legged variations).

Pistol Squat

The pistol squat is a difficult progression from the shrimp squat that requires a considerable amount of strength and balance.


The lunge is primarily a quadriceps exercise but all the major muscle groups of the lower body come into play.

Russian Leg Curl

The Russian leg curl is a fantastic exercise for isolating your hamstrings.


The burpee is a classic full-body exercise that also builds your cardiovascular capacity.

Hanging Leg Raise

The hanging leg raise is one of my favorite exercises for training the core (and the rectus abdominis in particular).

Bicycle Crunch

The bicycle crunch is a popular abs/core exercise that is particularly good for training the obliques.


The plank is often hailed as the ultimate core exercise, but research shows that’s a bit of an overstatement.

That said, it definitely valuable enough to include in your bodyweight workouts.

Remember–Progression Is the Key

That’s it for my exercise recommendations.

Before we talk bodyweight workouts, though, I want to make sure you understand a vitally important part of weightlifting in general:

The key isn’t just doing exercises–it’s progressing on them.

We recall that as a natural weightlifter, the most important type of progression is overload.

When you’re weightlifting, the easiest way to do this is to add weight to the bar.

When you’re training with your bodyweight, though, you have two options:

  1. Add weight to your body using a vest or, where possible, a dip belt.
  2. Progress to a more difficult exercise.

We’re going to focus on #2 in this article because it requires no additional equipment and, frankly, it works better in most cases.

So, push yourself to make progress in your workouts and eat enough food and your muscles will grow.

The Ultimate Bodyweight Workout Routine

bodyweight workout routine

Alright…it’s time to put some rubber on the road.

Let’s start your journey into bodyweight training with an assessment of your current fitness level.

Do one set of the following exercises to failure and record how many reps you get of each. Rest a few minutes in between each exercise.

Bodyweight Squat


Chinup (or pullup if you can)


After 8 weeks of the workout routine I lay out below, retest yourself to see how you’ve progressed.

And the workout routine itself:

Day 1

Upper Body & Abs

2 x (sets of) Pushup (or regression to build up to the standard pushup)

2 x Pike Pushup > Dive Bomber Pushup > Handstand Pushup

2 x Triceps Dip > Chest Dip

6 x Chinup (or regression) > Pullup

3 x Ab Circuits

Day 2

Lower Body & Cardio

2 x Bodyweight Squat

2 x Bodyweight Squat > Squat Jump > Shrimp Squat > Pistol Squat

2 x Lunge

2 x Russian Hamstring Curl

3 x Burpee

Day 3

Upper Body & Abs

(Same as day 1)

Day 4

Lower Body

(Same as day 2)

Let’s break down how all this works.

  • All sets are done to one or two reps short of failure.

You don’t have to go to absolute muscle failure every set to make progress, but you need to come close.

(You’ll learn to recognize this point as you work out more–it’s where you struggle to get a rep and are pretty sure you’re not going to get the next.)

  • Rest 1 to 2 minutes in between sets.

You want to rest enough in between sets for your heart rate and breathing to settle down but not so much that you lose your pump and workout intensity.

  • Once you can do 20 reps of a given exercise in one set, progress to the harder variation of the exercise.

Progressions are indicated by the > symbols.

So, for example, once you can do 20 pike pushups, you then start doing dive bomber pushups for that and all future workouts. Once you can do 20 dive bombers, you start doing handstand pushups instead.

In this way, your workouts will change over time.

And in the cases where there are no progressions (plain pushups and bodyweight squats, burpees, pullups, etc.), your goal is to simply increase the amount of total reps you can do each workout.

  • If you can’t do a pushup or chinup yet, start with a regression that you can do.

For example, if you can’t do one chinup yet, do chinup holds until you can do 20 and then progress to chinups.

  • The ab circuit consists of one set of hanging leg raises followed by one set of air bicycles followed by one set of planks.

Do these sets back-to-back without rest (3 sets is one circuit).

  • Do cardio separately.

Bodyweight workouts (and the lower body workout in particular) are pretty cardio intensive.

If you need or want to do more cardio, though, do it either several hours before your bodyweight workouts or sometime after (you want to be as fresh as possible for your resistance training).

If you’re not sure how much or what type of cardio you should do to reach your goals, check out this article.

  • One rep of a one-legged exercise consists of one rep for each leg.

Something you should know. 🙂

That’s all there is to it.

What About Supplements?

bodyweight workout plans

I saved this for last because, quite frankly, it’s far less important than proper diet and training.

You see, supplements don’t build great physiques–dedication to proper training and nutrition does.

Unfortunately, the workout supplement industry is plagued by pseudoscience, ridiculous hype, misleading advertising and endorsements, products full of junk ingredients, underdosing key ingredients, and many other shenanigans.

Most supplement companies produce cheap, junk products and try to dazzle you with ridiculous marketing claims, high-profile (and very expensive) endorsements, pseudo-scientific babble, fancy-sounding proprietary blends, and flashy packaging.

So, while workout supplements don’t play a vital role in building muscle and losing fat, and many are a complete waste of money…the right ones can help.

The truth of the matter is there are safe, natural substances that have been scientifically proven to deliver benefits such as increased strength, muscle endurance and growth, fat loss, and more.

As a part of my work, it’s been my job to know what these substances are, and find products with them that I can use myself and recommend to others.

Finding high-quality, effective, and fairly priced products has always been a struggle, though.

That’s why I took matters into my own hands and decided to create my own supplements. And not just another line of “me too” supplements–the exact formulations I myself have always wanted and wished others would create.

I won’t go into a whole spiel here though. If you want to learn more about my supplement line, check this out.

For the purpose of this article, let’s just quickly review the supplements that are going to help you get the most out of your bodyweight (and other) workouts.


Creatine is a substance found naturally in the body and in foods like red meat. It’s perhaps the most researched molecule in the world of sport supplements–the subject of hundreds of studies–and the consensus is very clear:

Supplementation with creatine helps…

You may have heard that creatine is bad for your kidneys, but these claims have been categorically and repeatedly disproven. In healthy subjects, creatine has been shown to have no harmful side effects, in both short- or long-term usage. People with kidney disease are not advised to supplement with creatine, however.

If you have healthy kidneys, I highly recommend that you supplement with creatine. It’s safe, cheap, and effective.

In terms of specific products, I use my own, of course, which is called RECHARGE.


RECHARGE is 100% naturally sweetened and flavored and each serving contains:

  • 5 grams of creatine monohydrate
  • 2100 milligrams of L-carnitine L-tartrate
  • 10.8 milligrams of corosolic acid

This gives you the proven strength, size, and recovery benefits of creatine monohydrate plus the muscle repair and insulin sensitivity benefits of L-carnitine L-tartrate and corosolic acid.

Protein Powder

You don’t need protein supplements to gain muscle, but, considering how much protein you need to eat every day to maximize muscle growth, getting all your protein from whole food can be impractical.

That’s the main reason I created (and use) a whey protein supplement. (There’s also evidence that whey protein is particularly good for your post-workout nutrition.)


WHEY+ is 100% naturally sweetened and flavored whey isolate that is made from milk sourced from small dairy farms in Ireland, which are known for their exceptionally high-quality dairy.

I can confidently say that this is the creamiest, tastiest, healthiest all-natural whey protein powder you can find.

Pre-Workout Drink

There’s no question that a pre-workout supplement can get you fired up to get to work in the gym. There are downsides and potential risks, however.

Many pre-workout drinks are stuffed full of ineffective ingredients and/or minuscule dosages of otherwise good ingredients, making them little more than a few cheap stimulants with some “pixie dust” sprinkled in to make for a pretty label and convincing ad copy.

Many others don’t even have stimulants going for them and are just complete duds.

Others still are downright dangerous, like USPLabs’ popular pre-workout “Jack3d,”which contained a powerful (and now banned) stimulant known as DMAA.

Even worse was the popular pre-workout supplement “Craze,” which contained a chemical similar to methamphetamine.

The reality is it’s very hard to find a pre-workout supplement that’s light on stimulants but heavy on natural, safe, performance-enhancing ingredients like beta-alanine, betaine, and citrulline.

And that’s why I made my own, and I called it PULSE.


What makes PULSE special, you ask?

  • Clinically effective dosages of 5 natural, performance-enhancing ingredients backed by peer-reviewed, well-designed, and well-executed research: caffeine, theanine, citrulline malate, beta-alanine, betaine, and ornithine.
  • No proprietary blends.
  • No other stimulants than caffeine.
  • No artificial sweeteners, flavors, or food dyes.
  • No unnecessary fillers, carbohydrate powders, or junk ingredients.

While everyone claims to have the best pre-workout supplement on the market, I can actually back up such claim with real science, and real numbers.

The Bottom Line on Bodyweight Workouts

body weight training

Bodyweight workouts have many advantages but aren’t necessarily for everyone.

They’re fantastic exercise and so-so strength and muscle builders, but they’re not as practical as weightlifting for maximizing muscle growth and sculpting a physique.

So, if you’re an experienced weightlifter looking for a new challenge, this could be for you. You can use bodyweight workouts to maintain your muscle and build muscle endurance.

If you’re new to working out and want to dramatically transform your body, though, bodyweight training is an acceptable place to start, but a good weightlifting program is going to get you there faster.

Want More Workouts?

The Ultimate Chest Workout

best chest workout

The Ultimate Arms Workout


The Ultimate Back Workout


The Ultimate Shoulder Workout


The Ultimate Abs Workout


The Ultimate Legs Workout

Arnold Schwarzenegger squatting deep.

The Ultimate Calves Workout


The Ultimate Butt Workout


The Ultimate Forearm Workout



What’s your take on bodyweight workouts? Have anything else to share? Let me know in the comments below!

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I'm Mike and I'm the creator of Muscle for Life and Legion Athletics, and I believe that EVERYONE can achieve the body of their dreams.

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  • The 7 biggest muscle building myths & mistakes that keep guys small, weak, and frustrated. (These BS lies are pushed by all the big magazines and even by many trainers.)
  • How to build meal plans that allow you to build muscle, lose fat, and get healthy with ease…eating foods you love (yes, including those deemed “unclean” by certain “gurus”)…and never feeling starved, deprived, or like you’re “on a diet.”
  • The 5 biggest fat loss myths & mistakes that keep women overweight, disappointed, and confused. (These BS lies are pushed by all the big magazines and even by many trainers.)
  • An all-in-one training system that delivers MAXIMUM results for your efforts…spending no more than 3 to 6 hours in the gym every week…doing workouts that energize you, not wipe you out.
  • A no-BS guide to supplements that will save you hundreds if not THOUSANDS of dollars each year that you would’ve wasted on products that are nothing more than bunk science and marketing hype.
  • And a whole lot more!

The bottom line is you CAN achieve that “Hollywood body" without having your life revolve around it. No long hours in the gym, no starving yourself, and no grueling cardio that turns your stomach.

My book will show you how. Get it today and let’s build a body you can be proud of.

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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.

          • Andres

            Hey Mike would doing weighted Hanging leg raises, ab-roller to failure, air bicycle can still end up giving you a overall good result (physique and strength) or putting this three together would over train the muscles?

          • Yeah absolutely. That’s a good routine.

  • 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? 😀

        • 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? 😛

  • 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!

    • 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?

    • 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?

        • 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 😀

    • 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.

    • Thanks!

      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?

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

  • Jim Walker

    Instead of the vest, I just put some harry potter books in a reusable shopping bag and hung them from my belt.

  • Vaidas M

    Hello Mike, I whant to ask your advise about creating a mixed training routine based on bodyweight exercises and weightlifting. I currently have a set of dumbbells (15 kg each), and thats the only thing I can train with at the moment. Its a headache to create effective training routine that would include some weightlifting like military dumbbell press, bench press and so on but also compensates exercises like deadlift, and squat. I suppose I should do push ups and pull ups to compensate the deadlift (at least part of it) and a whole leg day. Thanks in advance.

    • Hey hey!

      DB only makes it tough but you can make do with the exercises you CAN do plus bodyweight stuff…

      No direct replacement for deads really but squats have goblet squats.

  • MegaAnth8 .

    Hey Mike, I’ve been following this bodyweight workout routine for two months now — doing the exercises i can do, due to limited equipment)
    It’s also my first time doing workouts (I’m 16)
    I have a few questions/problems regarding the workouts:

    1) How many air bicycles does an average person usually do in one set? Because thus far I’ve been doing up to 300 reps for the first set
    and about 200 and 170 for the 2nd and 3rd set respectively. It looks like it’s too much reps and takes a long time to complete,
    far longer than any workout I’ve done. This it meant to be like this?

    2) I have trouble performing the hanging leg raise. When I do, i can only swing my legs up a little bit but not as high as shown in the video?
    How can i be able to do it properly?

    3) When doing lunges/squats, i struggle to add enough weight so i only do 6-10 reps. I use a bag
    to carry on my back and i add my weights and books in it (i only have a pair of 2kg dumbbells as weights) and make it as heavy as possible.
    However, i still happen to do over 10+ reps. Is it still okay to i perform these exercises over 10 reps and do them, say, in a 10-20 rep interval or 20-30?

    That’s about it. Thanks in advance!

    • Great!

      1. Wow really? After 6 sets of weighted leg raises??

      2. Form is very important here. You have to use your core muscles and back to stabilize you.

      3. Yeah do what you can. It sounds like you’re getting to the point where moving into a gym would make sense?

  • Jim Walker

    Hello Mike,
    What do you think of using plyometrics only for legs to maintain leg muscle while cutting? The reason I’m asking is because I want to lose about 10 pounds in the next 2 months, and know I can maintain my upper body with bodyweight exercises, but want to make sure as little as possible comes from muscle. Certainly some bodyweight guys get by without weighted squats. Btw I have never barbell squatted or deadlifted, just done calisthenics for a few months. I plan on moving to weight training ASAP, but it would suck if I end up having to lose more weight than I should to get lean.

    • Hmm I would probably do 3 sets of heavy squats per week to just maintain muscle. Not sure if bodyweight is going to be enough. Maybe a bunch of pistol squats?

  • Andres

    Hey Mike; great workout! Had a question regarding the dip. On the plan itself you state just do Dips; but the link for “how to do a proper dip” takes you to a Dip (Chest Version). Which are you suppose to do? I am assuming a regular dip since it triggers the triceps more?

    Also what do you think for shoulders instead of a side lateral raise you do a half hand-stand push up than progress to a hand stand push up Or would this overwork the triceps after doing dips?

    • Thanks! Yeah chest variation. I will clarify. 🙂

      That wouldn’t replace side lats. There’s really no other movement to hit the “middle delt” like side lats…

  • Andres

    Hey Mike;
    Is their a minimum height or maximum height where the decline push-up targets your upper chest the best?

    • Good question. I’d probably want my torso at a 30 to 45 degree angle.

  • david

    Mike, I recently bought your BLS book. I’m interested in the Ultimate Bodyweight routine, but have questions. I thought that there was an email address to get to directly with questions but haven’t found it. I have a few issues I’d like your recommendations on for this routine.

    • Thanks for getting my book! Cool on the bodyweight routine.

      I can answer your questions here or you can shoot me an email at [email protected]. 🙂

      Look forward to hearing from you!

  • Jim Walker

    Sorry, this is kind of long.
    This is the best body weight routine of all time. I have been following a version of it for four months. I added a shoulder day with 3 sets handstand push-ups followed by shoulder raises with dumbells I made to get them delts. Also I added an arms day with close grip chin-ups and regular triceps dips and close grip push-ups. Besides adding inverted shrugs for traps to back day, I do this same routine, pretty much a bodyweight version of BLS. I have been losing fat and gaining muscle the entire time on 2400-2500 calories a day. My waist has gotten a lot smaller, but when I was “fat” I weighed 180, people tell me I look like I weight at least 170 right now. I maybe have gained 10 pounds of muscle while losing 20 pounds of fat, I now maintain on close to 3000 calories/day and I’m not gaining weight but my strength is still going through the roof. I’m an 18 year old high school student, and today was our last day of classes so we went to the beach. I cannot tell you how many girls and guys alike commented on my “huge muscles” (their words not mine). I was called “jacked” and people told me I can’t have my guns out in a school zone, I couldn’t make that shit up. I was nervous to wear a sleeveless shirt considering I used to be fat, but the compliments gave me the ultimate ego boost. People even asked me for workout tips as there were some skinny fat guys as well as hardgainers.

    Tl;dr version:
    Mike, you’re the man, I won’t stop working out until the day I die. I look forward to doing full on BLS when I have access to a college gym.

    • Great to hear all the gains you made on the body weight routine brother. You’re killing it! It’s always nice when people notice. 🙂

      Thanks for the support brother. LMK how you like the BLS program when you start it!

      Definitely keep me posted on your progress and write anytime if you have any questions or run into any difficulties. I’m always happy to help.

      • Jim Walker

        Hello Mike,
        I now have access to proper dumbbells that go up to 100 lbs per hand to supplement the bodyweight routine. Should I do incline chest presses, one arm rows, and dumbbell shoulder presses, as well as curls? Would those exercises be best to supplement your bodyweight routine, or are there better ones? Thanks

        • Great! Yeah those are good choices. You can do goblet squats too.

  • serena fowler

    Hi Mike,
    I’m 154 pounds at 5 ft 3″ And I’m 20. I’ve struggled all of high school and now college to lose overall body weight, what’s the best things to do?

  • yusf nader

    Hi mike .. i need your help please .. i’ve been working out with madbarz app and i did lots and lots of workouts with lots of reps and when i read your amazing article i was impressed but i get confused between your bodyweight workout and my progress workout in madbarz .. which one could make me gain size and muscle mass .. and the attachment below is one of my muscle mass workouts .. does madbarz doing it right ??

    • Calisthenics are great but not optimal for gaining muscle and strength as quickly as possible. I’m not familiar with this app but it sounds cool!

  • Thanks for the training cues for each bodyweight exercise! They are definitely useful for women looking to add an effective bodyweight workout routine to their training. I find the pull ups most challenging and will be adding bands for assistance. 🙂 Thanks

  • I’ve been going at it like a madman for about 2, 2.5 months now, and I’ve noticed amazing amounts of progress, more than I ever achieved by going to gyms. Though I was quite young when I originally started hitting the gym, and during the year that I went actively, it’s quite likely that everything from my form to my routine just sucked. And after that, I never quite got into it as much, as it just felt like a waste of time.

    Regardless, I’m absolutely blown away by how effective BW exercises are. I did not gain a single gram of weight from about 15 years of age all the way up to the 26 I am now (not even when I hit the gym four times a week for a year; gained a lot of power though), but during these 2.5 months, I’ve gained five and a half kilograms. And let me tell you, it’s not because I’m leading a healthier life now, or eating better. More, certainly, but I also drink and smoke and take weeks off because I’m away at festivals or just on a drinking binge or whatever. Yet, none of the aforementioned five and a half kilos are fat. If anything, I’ve less fat than when I started, if that is even possible (I’ve always been very, very thin, and lighter than air basically).

    But I did have a question as well. As of now, my daily routine includes 30 declined push-ups, 30 sit-ups with my legs in the air, 15 of two different types of dips, and so on. So you see, contrary to what you advised in the article, I’m doing a lot of reps, and largely by design. I’m not looking to build large amounts of muscle, because from what I’ve witnessed out there in the wild, is that people with large amounts of muscle are absolutely terrible at sports. Football, ice hockey, badminton, floorball… you name it. People with big muscles seem to be slower than me, less agile than me, and they seem overall just very sluggish and clumsy. Muscles don’t seem to translate that well into sports that require agility and speed. This is not meant as an insult, but rather just an observation I’ve made.

    So while my intention is to maximize my effectiveness in sports (including, but not limited to the sports I mentioned), I’m also looking to gain a bit more weight. Five to ten kilograms would perhaps be the long term goal. And in order to achieve that, I will need to add some muscle. In the article you mentioned all sorts of gadgets that can help with building muscle, but failed to mention the hardest variations of regular BW exercises, such as pistol squats, handstand push-ups (I’m actually working towards the mythical one handed handstand push-up), one handed push-ups, one hand chin-ups, muscle-ups etc.

    And now the actual question: if you compare these extremely advanced BW exercises to the stuff you would do at gyms, what would you consider to be the benefits (excluding the ones you mentioned in the article) of BW exercises, and how would you rate their effectiveness when compared to weightlifting exercises? Simply put, are BW exercises going to help me mobility, agility, balance, coordination and flexibility, more so than lifting weights?

    I have no intention of ever going to a gym again, as thus far BW exercises just seem to serve my purposes better, but I’m curious. Do the “diminishing returns” actually exist, or is that just a myth that came to exist, because most people don’t consider the most advanced BW techniques viable, or even possible in some cases? I mean let’s face it, if you can do 30 one handed pull-ups, 30 pistol squats, or 30 handstand push-ups, you’re probably going to be in the kind of shape that gaining more muscle is just redundant.

    Added 5 handstand push-ups to my training regimen for the first time today, btw, with my aim being towards 30 reps. I can’t imagine a single heavily muscled gymbro pulling off even one, but maybe I’m wrong. And to each their own I suppose.

    Good article anyways, hoping to get an answer!

    • That’s awesome! I’m really glad to hear you’re doing well.

      If you look at professional sports you can find all kinds of muscular people that are fantastic. Muscle can be a tremendous asset if you train how to use it right.

      Yeah if you want to increase the difficulty then you’ll want to start doing the types of exercises you mentioned. You would gain the muscle faster in the gym but so long as you continue to overload your muscles by increasing the weight/difficulty, you will continue to make progress.

      This will help you too:


      Hope this helps! Talk soon!

      • Yes, you can, but if you look at footballers, ice hockey players, bastketball players or even many american football players, you’ll notice that none of them are really “gym-huge”, for a lack of a better word. Bulk, I guess. They’re ripped, sure, but none of them look like Schwarzenegger, circa 1970’s. A good example is the famous picture of Martin St. Louis (https://s-media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com/736x/60/d0/cc/60d0ccfc58d8a594996e8350cbd34081.jpg). Few people do look like Arnie, but to me, it seems like there’s a very clear distinction between people who train for strength & bulk, and those who train for sports.

        Logically thinking, you’re probably right about building muscle and size being easier at the gym, where the exercises aim to improve a relatively small group of muscles, whereas BW exercises tend to target a much larger area. I guess what I’m interested in knowing then is are the benefits of BW training I mentioned earlier real? I mean, if I do one armed pull-ups or push-ups, rather than train the same muscles with equipment at the gym, am I going to get some benefits as well? Logically, one would think this was the case.

        Thanks for taking the time to answer! I’m enjoying BW exercises more than I ever enjoyed training at gyms, and thus far, the results seem to speak for themselves. We’ll see if I run into this wall at some point, but taking into consideration all the extremely difficult exercises I’ve mentioned earlier, I’m not going to worry about that too much for now! I’ll report back when I can do 30 one armed pull-ups with both arms, 30 pistol squats with both legs and 30 handstand push-ups (and that one magical one handed handstand push-up with both hands). This should keep me busy for a while! 🙂

        • MSL is quite a bit bigger than you might think if you saw him in person.

          But no you of course don’t see guys like Arnie, who spent 20 years on steroids working on building his muscles as big as possible.

          You actually can train more of your body using lifts like the Deadlift, Squat, and Olympic movements than you can with bodyweight movements.

          I don’t know of any major benefits to doing just bodyweight movements. I think there’s a reason why just about every professional athlete does some type of weightlifting. Hell, even pro golfers are getting into it.

          My pleasure. 🙂 Do what you enjoy and if you hit a plateau with your bodyweight training, get in the gym. 🙂

  • Cameron C

    hey Mike, I want to incorporate a body weight program like this into my wendler 5/3/1 powerlifting routine. do you have any recommendations on how I might do this?

    thanks in advance

    • Yeah! I would just use this type of stuff for your assistance work instead of what JW recommends.

  • radiotrib

    I’m as weak as a kitten, old and stiff. One day I will be able to squat weights etc. but right now I can’t even get all the way down into a parallel squat. What do you suggest Mike ? … Squat as best I can and with no cheating or taking it easy, keep going week on week until I can get all the way down ?

    • No worries!

      To help get the form down on the squat, check this out:


      Other than that, just squatting with bodyweight. Get the form down and increase the amount of reps you’re getting. You’ll gain strength. 🙂

      • radiotrib

        Hey thanks for getting back Mike. I found that link this morning .. Posted it on my Facebook page to serve as a reminder. I’ve set Oct 1st as my start date for the weights, so I’m taking September to limber up with daily stretching to improve mobility, and unweighted lifting moves to check my form.

        • Sounds good. I’m excited for you to start lifting and see the results!

  • John

    Can i do the three part in one workout and do it twice a week?

  • Djeezy

    Hi i have some questions about this program. You say that we have to weight until we can do only 6 reps and the when we reach the 10 reps, we had more weights. Personaly, i prefer to go with for example 8 kg at push up and to do negatives series like 10-8-6 reps and when it become easier, i add more Weights. What do you think about that? Also i have the impression that some muscular groups are not workong at the same ontensity as the others, like biceps, calves and maybe triceps. I thought that i can do some isolations exercices on these muscle groups instead of the rest dau. Wht do you think? Thank you very much to posting this program and to take the time to answer the Questions( by the way sorry, my english sucks x) )

    • I recommend that you do the majority of your work in the 4 to 6 rep range, That means that once you hit 6 reps, you move up in weight.

      LMK if that makes sense.

  • Valery

    Hello, Mike!
    Before I read this article, I “mirrored’ BLS program to bodyweight workout by myself (cause I hate gyms) Now I do declined push-ups, chin- and pull-ups and dumbbell raisings for shoulders. So, the questions:
    1) I do exercises inside 4-6 interval for reps in set, 30-60 for reps in workout and rest for 120 seconds, but your recommendations for bodyweight differ from BLS. Should I change my routine?
    2) Is it ok to do 9-10 sets of declined push-ups, if I can’t do dips (cause of equipment) and regular push-ups (cause it takes too much time to increase weight to my vest for them)?
    3) If I’m right, you recommend to do biceps exercises in pull day and triceps – in push. I want to put these excercises to the rest periods between pull- and push-ups. Is it ok? But may be biceps between push-ups and triceps between pull-ups would be better (to not cause “difficulties” with the main excercises)?
    P.s> hope that your app for iPhone will support bodyweight routine also 😉

    • Hey!

      1. If you can add weight and progress over time that’s the key–not just the rep range.

      2. Yeah that’s okay.

      3. Only downside here is you’re going to be more fatigued for your bigger movements. You may want to do a big movement, rest 60 seconds, small muscle, rest 60, big, etc.

      Yup it will!

      • Valery

        Thank you, looking forward to buy the app than)

  • alistair

    hi mike’ i recently moved back to my parents to save for a mortgage, whilst saving i have cancelled my gym membership and am looking to work out at my parents house, i have a pull up bar, ab roller, and dip station. after reading the above workout i would like to try this but i have my own take on it? i was wondering if you could recommend me on this

    monday: workout a

    push up rings
    decline bar press ups
    handstand shoulder press on bars
    side lateral
    ab circuit

    tuesday: workout b

    pull up
    chin up
    inverted rows
    concentration bicep curls
    pistol squat
    weighted lunge

    wednesday : rest day

    thursday : workout a

    friday workout b

    also keeping the rep range between 6-10reps as listed on your page many thanks . ali

    • Hey Ali!

      This looks good. Give it a go and let me know how you do…

      • ali

        thanks for getting back to me bud, much appreciated, i shall work with this for a few months and get back to you, thanks for your knowledge mike , recommend your site and workouts to all my friends here in england 🙂

        • My pleasure! Happy to help.

          Thanks a ton for spreading the word. It means a lot!

  • Valery

    Hey, Mike! Thanks a lot for your work! I’m using your bodyweight routine for a couple of months now (cutting to 10%) and got two qestions:
    1) I prefer to be in 4-6 rep range as in your BLS program, cause I still have enough weight to add to my home equipment, and I feel better in low-rep. So, I’ve been thinking: is it still make sense to do one part two times a week (but not 1 time as in BLS)? wouldn’t in be too much?
    2) I’m using Skulpt Aim (several people compared it with DEXA scan and it’s accurate enough) to estimate my fat %. Now I have 10.5% on my abs and more than 12.5% on my thigh, so device tells me that the my whole body percent is around 11.5%. What do you thing, do I need to drop fat till I have 10% of whole body (and around 8% on abs), or I now can start reverse dieting right now? I’m asking because I stucked on about 12% mark for two weeks now (due to Aim) but my weight still dropping and waist is getting thinner. Also, I look too skinny now (my weight is 63kg, height 179cm). I’m just afraid of that I’m loosing my muscle now, but not fat…

    • Hey!

      1. It really depends on what your total weekly volume is. Check this out:


      2. Check this out:


      That said if you look to be around 10 to 11% per the pictures (you may want to pick up a caliper too so you have two ways to judge your %–Skulpt and caliper) then you can reverse diet into your bulk.

      • Valery

        1. I’m always in 30-60 range per week, so, I don’t need extra workouts? But strange thing: in this routine you advise to be in 6-10 rep range * 9 sets per muscle * 2 times per week = 108-180 reps per week. I don’t understand then..
        2. Don’t have caliper, unfortunately, but due to pictures I’m 11-12 now, so it looks like the Skulpt is right. This means that I’m loosing muscle now, not fat? (fat% is constant for a while, but weight decreasing)

        • 1. It depends on the load of the weight. Heavier weights means lower volume. Lighter weights means you can “get away” with more.

          2. Cool and no, you’re not losing muscle if you’re not losing strength.

          The device is probably just wrong.

  • Robert Torres

    Hi. I prefer to only do 3 exercises: Weighted Dips, Weighted Chinups, and Barbell Full Squats, each in the 4 to 6 rep range. Since I am only doing these 3 exercises, is the total volume still only 60 TOTAL reps per week per exercise (30 reps per exercise if using a twice per week frequency like Push, Pull, Legs, Rest, Repeat). Or do i need more volume since its only 3 exercises for the whole body?

    • That’s cool.

      Personally I would shoot for 40 to 60 heavy reps of each every week and I would probably split them into 3 workouts (15 to 20 heavy reps per workout).

      • Robert Torres

        Thanks! One last thing though, I’m the type that absolutely loves training to failure on every set to get the volume for all 3 weighted exercises (in the 4 to 6 rep range).

        So I wonder, does training to failure on every single set require a once per week frequency to recover from?

        And does training to failure for every single set require me to do less then 40 to 60 total weekly reps for those exercises even though they are only 3 exercises for the whole body?

        Since I train to failure on every set, I always rest a whole 5 minutes between sets.

        Note – I reduce the weight after every set by 2.5%. For example I weigh 150lbs and the first set of my chinups and my dips are done with 50lbs attached to my waist, which allows me to get 4 to 5 reps. The second set is always 45lbs on the dip belts, 3rd set is 40lbs, and thats the pattern.

        Afterwards, I reduce the weights by 5 lbs on every set to get my total volume and to stay in the 4 to 6 rep range while training to failure. So by my last set i’m either at bodyweight dips and chins or have 5 to 10lbs on my dip belt.

        In conclusion I need to know the minimum and maximum volume, and frequency for the case senario of wanting to train to failure on every set while stayining in the 4 to 6 rep range.

        • Good question.

          I don’t recommend going to absolute failure every set, every week. It’s unnecessary and places a LOT of strain on the body, especially when you’re doing a lot of heavy, compound lifting.

          Personally I end most sets about 1 rep short of failure, which is the point where I STRUGGLE to finish my rep but didn’t need help.

          Check this out:


  • JJ

    Hi Mike,

    Can you reccommend a routine that requires no equipment at all?
    I’m very keen to start but at the moment have no access to anything.


    • This bodyweight routine is your best bet.

      I do recommend some equipment for better results, but if that’s not possible, you can make adjustments to do the majority of the routine without any equipment.

  • Guillermo Vera

    Hi Mike,

    So if my goal is not to get huge but lose body fat, gain muscle, and eventually be of a lean muscular physique, I can stick with body-weight training, right? I had recently picked up the Bar Brothers (before I found your site) workout and I have the pull-up bar and dip station.

    • You will be able to build muscle with a body weight routine but you are limited. Eventually you won’t be able to continue to progressively overload and make progress.

      Instead I recommend you follow a proper weightlifting routine focused around the heavy, compound lifts. You’ll get results faster, and once you’re happy with the amount of muscle you have, you can move to a maintenance program. Check this out:



  • Jhon

    Hey Mike, why do you recommend working in the 6-10 rep range in the bodyweight routine but only 4-6 reps in your BLS program? I do pull-ups and dips as part of my BLS routine but but never go above 6 reps.

    • Because it’s hard to stick to 4 to 6 with bodyweight training. You can’t keep adding weight like you can with weightlifting.

      • Jhon

        So if I can only do 6 bodyweight pull-ups, should i work up to 10 reps before adding weight or do i add weight now?

  • This article is built on a false premise.

    Mike says you can’t add muscle with bodyweight exercises past a certain point, because bodyweight exercises are just too easy to master.

    That might be true IF you were to stick with super-basic BW stuff like two-legged air squats and pushups.

    But Mike completely glosses over the fact that ADVANCED bodyweight movements are so difficult that it takes YEARS to master them fully.

    “Before you know it, you’re banging out 20+ at a time!”

    Haha yeah okay.

    Mike, I’d like to see you (or anyone) ‘bang out’ 20 reps of One-armed handstand pushups or One-armed pull ups or One-legged squats after just a few months of training.

    Not gonna happen.

    Like I said, it takes years to get to that advanced level with calisthenics – and once you get there you’ll be jacked.

    Also, Mike displays a stunning ignorance about bodyweight training with this statement:

    “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.”

    Again, un-true – he’s failing to take advanced BW movements into account.

    There are equivalent bodyweight exercises for all of these movements (maybe deadlifts the exception, but hamstrings are worked with one-leg squats & hill sprints).

    Of course, all of my arguments don’t change fact that you’ll get bigger, faster, with lifting weights. That part is true, lifting is best for quick size gains if that’s your main goal.

    Learn the truth about advanced-level bodyweight here:


  • Ben Derrico

    Hi mike,
    I just ordered your book “Bigger, Leaner, Stronger” and I was wondering if you think it would be wise to start with this bodyweight routine before I begin your program from the book?
    I am pretty active and I have tried many programs before, but they always end up hurting my body, joints, and overall mobility.
    Any advice ?
    I was thinking maybe bodyweight would be a safer start before I start lifting, but I really don’t know.
    Hope to hear from you soon!

    • Hey Ben! Thanks for picking up my book!

      Sure, you can start with the bodyweight routine if you feel more comfortable doing that.

      You could also start with the BLS routine but start higher rep (8-10 reps) to get comfortable with the weights and get the form down and then move your way to the 4-6 rep range.


      • Ben Derrico

        Thanks for replying so quickly!
        My main goal is to transform my body completely, as I’m currently in a stubborn skinny fat stage that is quite difficult to change or get rid of.
        I’m just really not sure whether or not your program requires weight lifting experience or not, and if I should first do the “BLS” or Bodyweight program before I begin the “Bigger Leaner and Stronger” one as a better fundamental before the lifting.

  • GuiB

    Its interesting add Inverted rows for the horizontal portion of the back muscles? Or pull-ups ares just enougth?

  • GuiB

    Can I add somes sprints ( 5 to 10) before de leg workout?

    • Sure but it’s going to hamper your performance on your leg exercises.

  • GuiB

    Hey Mike I forget to say than i used the BLS program over a year and a half
    and i had amazing results, but rigth now my work schedule are very tight and i can only go to the gyw twice a week (tuesday and friday).

    I´m thinking to use the bodyweight program doind day 1 (monday and thursday) at home and day 2 (tuesday and friday) in the gym. i´m wondering about include heavy barbell squats and deadlifts on the day 2 routine when the bodyweigh leg workout are not being enougth. Can i use deadlifts in the day 2 even i doing pull-ups the day before????

  • Bushman

    Hi Mike, is it possible to do pullups and dips at home without equipment? If not, is there anything compact you recommend that be folded up and put in a closet? It seems with the body weight exercises, so much more can be accomplished with the ability to pullup and dip.
    Thanks for the advice!

    • I’m not familiar with any device in particular, but if you Google around, I’m sure you find something. 🙂

  • SatheesA

    Hi Mike, is it possible to short it down to 3 days instead of 4 days a week?

    • You can try it and see how it goes. Just add a little extra volume to Day 1 and 2 and then make Day 3 a split of the Day 1 and Day 2 workouts.

      LMK how it goes!

  • Maru Pablo

    Hi Mike! What bodyweight workout would you recommend just for the pump. Like for prior to taking the shirt off at the beach. 🙂

    • Hey Maru! Haha, I’d probably just do a bunch of pull-ups and push-ups. That’d hit the chest, biceps, triceps and shoulders. That’s all you need. 😉

      • Maru Pablo

        Haha! Thanks Mike! Appreciate it. 🙂

  • Khaled El-Iskandarani

    Dear mike, I love the info u give around and u truly want to help,which is great.however,due to lack of knowledge I presume,u think bodyweight lack progressive overload or enough amount of tension, which is untrue,since u can’t deny a one arm push-up ,just looking at it,looks like a move that causes a lot of tension. As for progressive overload,take the push-up for example,progress from wall pu(push-up) to incline pu to pushups to diamond pushups to uneven pushups to one arm pushups for progressive overload and slow down reps for time under tension,and if that gets easy, add weight or get your feet together on one arm pushups. please mike,I love your info and Ik u want to help so check out convict conditioning series or overcoming gravity or raising the bar or pushing to the limits,all great books for the science of bodyweight training/calisthenics 😉

    • Thanks!

      Yup you can definitely progress with bodyweight training but there IS a point where you have to just work for more and more reps. You simply can’t overload your chest with pushup variations like you can the bench press…

      • Khaled El-Iskandarani

        I decided to follow a gymnastics book which is “building the gymnastics body”…I found its perfect and believe me I found 13 steps of progression in pushups alone to reach the king of pushups, the planche pushups, where u push up holding your entire bodyweight on your hands with your feet in the air, no support whatsoever,and believe me it is better than any bench press that works your entire body as a cohesive unit. And for progressive overload on a planche pushups if it gets easy(doubt it ever will) add a weight vest and progressively overload on it. I’m truly sorry if I insulted you mike, u seem like a great guy, and please do pick up the book 😉

        • No offense taken! Thanks for sharing. Planche pushups are great for the reasons you describe, and progression can be made through weighted vests. Vests cannot create the kind of load a bench press has, however.

          • Khaled El-Iskandarani

            Dear mike,isn’t changing leverage from easier to harder over time using bodyweight movement variations also considered progressive overload as is adding weights to weighted movements???like making moves harder to progress from ye old push-up to one arm push-up or to planche pushup??isnt that considered progressive overload(since resistance is resistance after all,but changing leverage makes things harder,and this can be done over time)???wouldnt u be achieving the vital factor,progressive overload, for muscle gain given proper nutrition??(ofcourse bodyweight exercises achieve metabolic fatigue and muscle damage so they are no prob)

          • For sure, that’s definitely progression and will make one stronger.

  • Francisco Velasquez

    Hi! I am traveling for two weeks do you think I can do these to maintain my lean mass and continue to drop bodyfat on cut? I’m quite dissapointed as i’ve been gaining muscle (small amounts due to cutting, but with low BF any bit looks significant!) with the weights but life happens. I just want to keep dropping fat as it is my priority but i’m worried because I know the weights maintain and even grow my lean mass. Also, can I do these circuits fasted with forge following a leangains approach? Thanks!

  • aseem puri

    Hi Mike, I have just finished week-1 (phase-1) of your suggested 1 year workout routine. I have a question on day 5 exercises on Upper Body & Abs. There is just one exercise for triceps – seated triceps press. I wanted to know if it is sufficient to do just one exercise for triceps in a week.?

    • You’re doing multiple triceps exercises a week! Think about all the presses, and the close grip bench also is a strong triceps focus. It’s enough. If your tris are lagging, you can throw in 3 sets of 8-10 for lying triceps extensions (Skullcrushers)

  • Ezequiel Julian

    Mike What are your thoughs on Fat grip pull up bars? Are they better than the normal ones or not?

    • I wouldn’t say better, but they will help you develop your grip and forearms more.

  • Patrick License

    Hi Mike, I’m not an experienced gym goer but neither am I new to the gym, and reading this article has really broadened my arisen’s so, thanks for that. One point though, whether it’s because I’m new with your workouts or I’m just simply ignorant of the subject could you help me with how you go through a day, for example: do i do a set of pushups followed by a set of handst. pushups followed by dips or 2x pushups then 2x handst. because the six and three sets on pullups and abs really stops you from being able to do it round like the first example. Any feedback would be appreciated. 🙂

    • Sorry Patrick, what do you mean by “stops you from being able to do it round”?

      • Patrick License

        As in one set of one exercise followed by a set of another exercise because the numbers don’t add up with the six sets and three sets in there.

        • Ah gotcha. Do them one exercise at a time with 1min break in between sets. If you do the whole routine as a circuit, they will not add up.

  • Erin

    HI Mike! I’ve been following TLS for about a month and a half now! I’m loving it and have been able to progress rather quickly (yay newbie gains), However, I will be traveling for the next two weeks and will not have access to a gym. I am planning on doing these routines in order to maintain the strength I’ve built in the short time doing the program. However, I seriously doubt there will be pull up bars in the airbnb’s ill be staying at. Do you have recommendations for replacement exercises that might accomplish something close to what those do? Thanks!

    • That’s really great, Erin! Glad to hear it.

      Without a pull-up bar or dumbbells, you’re going to have to get creative. Find a tree branch to hang from or a heavy handheld object for pullups and rows. Inverted rows are an option too, if you can MacGyver a setup for it.

  • Sean

    Hey Mike. How do I break up the days? Is it 4 days in a row and then rest on day 5-7?

    • You can do 4 days in a row or break them up, finishing within the week.

  • Saba Sabaa

    Hello Mike.
    What about alcohol while training? for example beer or vodka?
    thanks 😉

    • Saba Sabaa

      and i want to know, if i can make “day 1” and “day 2” together, in one day? sounds like a full body workout in one day. thanks a lot mike

  • Maher

    Hi Mike,

    Thanks for this article. Been out of my fitness routine for too long and this seems like a great way to get back into it. Quick questions about the ab circuits. You said an ab circuit is a set of hanging leg raises, bicycle kicks, and then planks. What constitutes one set within the circuit, doing the exercise to failure? Wouldn’t my abs be too fatigued from the previous exercise to do the next exercise in the set?

    Looking forward to hearing back. Thanks again!

  • krissy

    Hi Mike, I just read your book,I am not new to lifting nor to fitness. Have been doing it for over 20 years and yet I can’t seem to reach the physic I want. I have done many programs and have kept track of my macros and honestly I never even made a dent in my physic to get to my goal. So I am truly hoping you can help me this time on my journey. After years of lifting and many injuries, in April I decided to do bodyweight exercises. I must admit this summer I slacked of on my workouts and did a lot of HIIT battle rope workouts and lots of bike riding, some monkey bars, and some TRX suspension workouts. But sad to say I have gone up in inches and gained a few pounds in weight. Diet included too much socialized drinking…so now I am back on track and still want to do the bodyweight workout. I read what you posted and retested myself. Some exercises I seem to have been doing improperly. So I am treating myself as if I was a beginner. I hope to see progress and results. I will keep you posted and I hope I can get your support with some questions that I will have. One is, is it okay to have a green smoothie for breakfast, (1 oz spinach, kale, 2
    30 grams protein, 1 tbsp brewers yeast, chia seeds/bee pollen, ground flax meal, psyllium husk and 2 oz of banana all mixed with water) and then go and workout after?
    Sorry that this is so long.

  • Ivan

    Hey mike. A “set of planks” means that you only have to do 1 plank and hold for as long as you can, or how does that work?

  • krissy

    Hi Mike,thank you for your previous reply and links. Now I have another question: can you please give me an example of a pre and pos workout meal? In your book you say the pre and pos meals are the most important in helping one transform their body. So this would be very helpful to me.

  • krissy

    Thanks Mike, I think I got that down figured out now! I have another question, this is about cable crunches. I have to say, I have watched many YouTube videos including Scotthermanfitness and what I am finding is when I do a cable crunch facing the machine, I feel like it’s pulling me forward and when I do it with my back to the machine it feels like the weight is on my back. I am really now feeling like I am doing this correctly. What am I doing wrong here? Also my gym has a Ab crunch Nautilus Machine and I feel like that might be a better fit for me. Can I swap that out for the cable crunch? I really appreciate you taking the time out and guiding me.

    • Welcome! I know what you’re talking about. I like doing it facing the machine, but you have to find the right weight. If it’s too light, you’ll tip forward, and if it’s too heavy, you won’t be able to crunch and touch your elbows to your knees.

      Try a few different weights out and see how it goes. I’m not really a fan of that machine, but if the cable crunch doesn’t end up working out, you can go ahead and try that.

      My pleasure. Hope this helps!

  • Tiarnan

    Hi, I just want to ask a quick question because I’m new to this site. My question is how many for example push ups is in a rep? And if this changes per exercise or not? Thank you for answering my question.

    • One rep for any exercise is performing the movement one time.

  • Hey Mike,

    I’m a big fan of bodyweight training but agree 100% on the idea that increasing reps just doesn’t get the job done with bodyweight exercises… you need progressions. One of the absolute best collection of bodyweight progression exercises I’ve found is from Steven Low’s book Overcoming Gravity. Steven is a former gymnast and lists out almost every bodyweight progression under the sun. Here’s a chart: https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1tjAcd0u7pTTTdSlke5_8rGCo7afuR3xh23HnrVqwfNI/edit#gid=0

    I personally use your BLS program as a template for my workouts, and then substitute in bodyweight exercises for 1-2 of the exercises per workout and do a hybrid type of workout. For example, I’ll still do my squats, deads, and bench. But instead of barbell rows I’ll sub in the front lever progression (horizontal pull). Instead of military press I might do handstand pushups or dips (vertical push).

    I’ve personally been having great success with this approach and it has also allowed me to switch up my workouts to keep from getting bored. I’m also learning a few new cool-looking skills in the process.

    A lot of times I think those only into weights sometimes discount bodyweight exercises without knowing the full extent of what’s possible. But I guarantee even the strongest of gym-goers will have trouble performing some of the more advanced exercises in Steven’s chart I posted above.

    Anyway, just wanted to share my experience!

    • Awesome. Thanks for sharing!

    • James Cigana

      Thanks for sharing that. I’ve been following BLS for a while and have had great results but am about to embark on a year long travel around the world. I have a few questions Mike if you could help me out.

      1) Is it recommended to maintain the same sets, rep ranges and split training days when doing bodyweight training?

      2) To keep myself between the 4-6 rep range, should I change all exercises to my level of progression with the bodyweight exercises?

      3) And lastly, should I also keep doing HIIT 2-3x a week on non-training days?

      Thankyou brother!

      P.S I’ll be hitchhiking a lot of the time and camping so the access to a gym isn’t going to be an option for most of the time.

      • Sets, sure you can keep the same, but definitely not the rep ranges. Go to failure with bodyweight. Even if you augment an exercise with a weight vest, you still take it to failure.

        You can do HIIT on any day, up to 5 a week to reach your goal whether it be cutting or maintaining.

        Have fun! Sounds like you’re going to have one epic adventure.

  • Jake Hendry

    I’ve love an exercise program on using just Barbells, dumbbells and an exercise bike. My Gym does not have half the equipment recommended in your Bigger Leaner Stronger :(. Also my TDEE and calorie intake seem off for bulking. Anyone know what I did wrong? For instance, I’m currently 154 pounds at about 14 percent body fat, so my LBM is calculated like this:

    1 – 0.14 = 0.86 x 154 = 132.44 lbs (LBM – LEAN BODY MASS) / 2.2 = 60.2 kg

    BMR = 370 + (21.6 x 60) = 1670.32 calories per day BMR

    TDEE [1296] x 1.5 [Activity variable] = 2505 – how many calories your body burns every day (your TDEE),

    • 154 grams of protein per day, – 616g
    • 308 grams of carbs per day, and = 1232g
    • 61.6 grams of fat per day = 554.4
    = 2402.4 cals
    This seems lower than the TDEE Shouldn’t bulking be higher?

    • Great!

      Your TDEE is actually 2254, assuming a 1.35 activity multiplier. That makes your bulking target 2479. At 14% BF, I recommend you cut down to 10% first before bulking. This is ideal for several reasons: it preserves insulin sensitivity and hormonal balance, it allows you to maintain a calorie surplus for many months before having to reduce body fat levels, and it saves you from long, grueling cuts.

      Your target would be
      P 184g
      C 177g
      F 40g

      • Jake Hendry

        Every 2 weeks should I reduce my amount of calories or when I get to 13% recalculate?

        • No need. When your fat loss plateaus, simply increase HIIT cardio and/or drop 25g from carbs (but never going below BMR). Recalculate TDEE once you’re done with the cut and are ready to reverse diet.

          • Jake Hendry

            Awesome. What about on Strength and Deloading/rest week, should I reduce it to maintanence? Also, do I need to take Whey Protein Powder or if I’m having 60 protein 3 meals a day is this necessary with 60 protein and carbs and 13 Fat per meal. So if I weight trained after breakfast or lunch and did 25 minutes HIIT exercise bike cardio after dinner would a protein shake be necessary? Maybe have some yoghurt before bed and that’s fine? Thanks

          • You can keep a deficit on both weeks, when cutting. When bulking, both a surplus and TDEE work.

            With 60g protein with each meal, you’re all set, but if you really want to maximize muscle building, take a look at this:


  • Jake Hendry

    Q1 How do you work out your 1RM? Is this the maximum weight lifting a barbell once or how many reps? E.g 4
    Q2 Secondly, what is a working set? And what does 9 of them mean and what are 3 additional for each exercise? It says in your book that after doing ‘9 sets’ you can do an additional 3 for each exercise? I’m confused by the below in the 9-12 rule.
    “5-day and 4-day plans will always contain 9 working sets but will also provide 3 additional optional sets that you can do if you’re feeling up to it. If you’re brand new to weightlifting and are pretty spent after 9 sets, don’t feel like you have to do the final 3. If you’re more experienced or just have plenty of energy at the end of 9 sets, feel free to do the 3 extras.”
    In your workout program is also says
    “Incline Barbell Bench Press
    Warm–up sets and then 3 working sets Incline Dumbbell Bench Press – 3 working sets”
    Q 4Lastly, is there a difference between working sets and 4-6 rep range sets and should you always rest for 3 to 4 minutes in between your working sets? So if you had done 3 sets of 4-6 reps of Barbell Bench Press, would you wait 3 minutes after each 4-6 reps? That seems excessive including warm up routine
    Barbell Deadlift – Warm–up sets and then 3 working sets Barbell Row – 3 working sets
    Wide-Grip Pull-up or Chin-up – 3 working sets (weighted if possible)
    Optional: Close–Grip Lat Pulldown – 3 working sets
    Optional: Barbell Shrug – 2 working sets
    Standing Calf Raise – 3 sets of 4 to 6 reps
    Seated Calf Raise – 3 sets of 4 to 6 reps
    Thanks in advance!

    • Hey Jake,

      1. It’s the heaviest weight you can lift for one and only one rep. Check this out:


      2. If there are three exercises each performed with 3 sets, that gives you 9 working sets. Adding a fourth exercise (3 more sets) gives you 12 total working sets.

      3. Yes, rest 3-4 minutes on the big barbell lifts. You can try shortening it to 2 minutes if you’d like. But, you will perform better if you take the 3 minute break.

  • Doug Thelion

    Hi Mike, I’m at 23.3% body fat according to calipers and weigh 70kg. Would my calorie intake be quite similar to Jake Hendry’s below -1803cals
    P 184g
    C 177g
    F 40g

  • Doug Thelion

    Hi Mike, thanks for answering my question. I have a few questions to ask but hopefully then I will be right as rain to start the weights training tomorrow.

    Are my Warm ups correct [Below]?

    Should 8-10 reps be done at approximately 70% of 1 RM e.g the Face Pull

    What is an ab circuit exactly? [Below]

    For 8-10 working sets – do you generally lift at 70% of your 1RM (1 maximum weight lifted), 10-12 is 70% and 85% 4-6? Obviously it’s easiest to calculate your 1RM individually on each exercise. A working set is always 85% of 1RM and at 4-6 reps? So strength week working sets are all 4-6 reps and then if you achieve more you rest for 3 minutes then do add 2.5 kgs and go for that new set.

    For this routine you do 3 weeks of the 3 day split, do a strength week, do 3 day split B then a strength week and then you have 2 weeks left 1 of deloading and another of resting. Would I have a maintenance diet for the deloading and resting weeks or would I continue with a cutting diet.

    Warm up [Is this correct?]

    12 Reps of 32.5kg [50% of max heaviest weight is 65kg].
    1 minute rest.
    4-6 85% [max heaviest weight – 55kg].
    1 minute rest.
    10 Reps quickly at 32.5kg [50% of max heaviest weight is 65kg].
    1 minute rest.
    4 reps of 45kg (70% if 65kg), reasonable pace.
    1 minute rest.
    1 rep of 57.5kg (90% of heavy).
    Rest 2-3 minutes.

    5-DAY SPLIT DAY 1 CHEST & ABS EXERCISES [Is this correct?]

    Incline Barbell Bench Press – 3 working sets – 4-6 reps at 55kgs (85% of 1RM or max lift – 65kg)
    3 to 4 min rest per set.
    When you can do 6, add 2.5 kilos, continue with 57.5 kilos if possible [New 85% of 1RM or max lift – 67.5kg]

    Incline Dumbbell Bench Press – 3 working sets (85% of 1RM or max lift for Dumbell’s is 30kg so 85% is 25kg each hand)
    3 to 4 min rest per set.
    When you can do 6, add 2.5 kilos, continue with 27.5 kilos if possible [New 85% of 1RM or max lift – 32.5kg]

    Flat Barbell Bench Press – 3 working sets [Same calculations As Barbell]

    Face Pull – 3 working sets of 8 to 10 reps per set
    1 to 2 min rest
    [70% of 1RM – 50kg = 35kg. Continue doing this and add weight. Generally as you go up 2.5 kg, your 1rm increases by 2.5 kilos.
    3 ab circuits [Unweighted. 10kg added weight max. 50% 1RM 5 kgs.

    [Is this an Ab circuit?]
    Exercise doing 10-12 reps if cable crunch unweighted to failure.
    Rest 1 minute
    Do Cable crunch or captain’s chair raise or hanging leg raise 10-12 reps. Rest 1 minute.
    Do air bicycles to failure. Rest 1 minute
    Do planks to failure.
    Rest 2-3 minutes.

    • Warm up looks like this for the muscle group you’re working on that day:
      12 reps at 50% set weight
      10 reps at 50% set weight
      4 reps at 70% set weight
      1 rep at 90% set weight
      Rest 1 min each set.

      Everything else looks good for the weights. On abs, do this:

      Exercise A, B, C, rest 2 min, Exercise A, B, C, rest, A, B, C, done!

  • Hafiz Muhammad Shoaib Ansari

    very nice and attractive post. Will definitely add these tips in my abs workout. But my favorite exercise you can find form here : http://bestromanchair.com/

  • Daniel Kei

    Hi Mike, about yoir bodyweight routine / exercise how does the 4 day split work?
    Day 1-work
    Day 2-rest
    Day 3-work
    Day 4-rest
    Day 5-work
    And so on….

    • Sure!

      • Daniel Kei

        Whats the best split you recommend?

  • Hi Mike 🙂

    I have question re working out with a TRX or similar thing. I’m going to be doing some long term travelling so won’t really have access to a gym unfortunately but I do have a TRX and ab roller to take with me.

    At this stage I’ve been following TLS for a while and am happy with my muscle gain so I’d be focusing on fat loss from here on out.
    Would I be able to build an effective routine similar to TLS using the TRX? And if so, should I stick to a rep range or do the TRX exercises to failure?


    • It won’t be similar, but you can still run the routine above and make it more challenging with a weight vest, weighed down (sturdy backpack), or any heavy objects you have handy. Go to failure!

  • Yusuf Karakaya

    Hi Mike,
    Do we need to have same protein intake in bodyweight routine and weightlifting routine, or is there any difference?

  • Dr. Drew

    A few questions if I may:

    1) Does that routine really specify 6 sets of up to 20 Chinups? Why so many, when pushups are only 2&2?
    2) When the routine says “Triceps Dip”, does that mean the bench version, or the parallel bars version?
    3) For an exercise that has no progression – such as regular pushups – if we can already perform the specified 2 sets of 20 reps (I can), should we increase the sets, or increase the target reps?



    • 1) Yeah, it’s 6 sets of chinups (work up to pullups over time). The routine has 6 “push” sets and 6 “pull” sets on the Upper day.
      2) It’s the bench dip version, but you work up to the chest dip
      3) I’d increase the reps. The idea is that a set is taken one to two reps shy of failure. Even better would be adding weight with a vest or dip belt if there’s no harder exercise to progress to. Really, the goal is just getting more total reps each workout, so focus on that.

      I hope this helps!

      • Dr. Drew

        Thanks Mike, that does help and make sense. Re. #2, I was unsure, because the schedule doesn’t indicate the progression starts with the Bench Dip.


        • No problem 🙂

        • Dr. Drew

          Please disregard. I was confused because the guy in the dips video talks about a “Triceps Dip” and “Chest Dip” from the parallel bars.

  • Sara

    Hi Mike!

    I’m on a super tight schedule and can only make time to work out 2 times a week. Could this bodyweight workout routine be adjusted to suit my schedule? Thanks for a great article!

    • I’m glad you liked it, Sara! You could just do the Upper and Lower once a week each if that’s all you have time for. Day 3 and 4 are the same as 1 and 2. I hope this helps!

      • Sara

        Thanks a lot 🙂 I think your site and your work really helps people out!

  • Dr. Drew

    Hi Mike

    Why does the leg day not include anything specifically for the calves, such as calf raises?


    • You will get some indirect calf work on the lower body day. Feel free to add some calf-specific exercises if that’s a focus of yours 🙂

      • Dr. Drew

        Yeah, I like the indirect calf work, but also like my calves :-). I’ve added calf raises to mine 🙂

  • jai vikrant
  • Patrick Wilson

    Hi Mike,

    I really liked the article and plan on doing this routine. I have a few questions though. I have a crazy schedule so would this schedule be ok?

    Monday: lower body
    Tuesday: upper body
    Wendsday: lower body
    Thursday: upper body
    Friday: off
    Saturday: upper body
    Sunday: off

    I’ve never done a body weight only routine so please let me know your opinion. Thanks.

    • Sure you can do that. The routine I outline in the article is actually only 4 days a week 🙂

      • Patrick Wilson

        What can I replace Russian hamstring curls with? Thanks.

        • Honestly, that’s your best bet for targeting the hamstrings without equipment. You can replace it with two more sets of lunges, though.

          • Patrick Wilson

            Ok, thanks. Also, do you really think it’s a bad idea to do cardio right after the upper body days? I don’t have a lot of time and if I want to run it has to be right after the upper body days, but only for 2-3 miles though. Lastly, by the time I get to Chin-ups I can only do two or three, should I just do the six sets doing as many as I can for should I do the flex arm hang untill I can do a few more? Thank again for answering all my questions, I really appreciate it.

          • You can do cardio after the workout – that’s totally fine. You can keep going with the chinups and adding reps when you can, or you can do chinup holds until you can do 20 seconds, and then move on to chinups. I hope this helps!

      • Keegan Williams

        Do you recommend three days off in a row? Or a day off after each workout? Or the aforementioned two days off with an extra workout?

        • Any of those can work, but I’d probably do Upper, Lower, Rest, Upper, Lower, Rest, Rest

  • Ryan Stark

    If we hit 20 for any excercise that doesn’t have further progressions (such as pushup, etc.) could we move onto harder exercises like some of those at startbodyweight.com? You said the lack of progression was the main problem for not being able to build a great physique as easily as weight lifting, so could just continuing to find harder progressions and go up to exhaustion/20 reps and then continue work?

  • Michael Hinojosa

    Is this only four days a week because I just finished the fourth yesterday, but it doesn’t specify If it’s for all week or just 4 days a week

  • Cameron Neil James

    Hey mike, I am trying this workout for 8 weeks. I’m wondering if I can cut out the russian hamstring curl, I do the other exercises plus calf raises and I run twice per week. Do you think that will be enough without the russian hamstring curl?

  • Cameron Neil James

    Hey Mike, I am following this workout for 8 weeks. Can I replace the russian hamstring curl with deadlifts and can I replace dips (triceps exercise) with the overhead dumbell triceps press?

    • Sure. With the deadlifts, I’d change around the order and do those first at the beginning of the workout.

  • TheUltimateSSJ

    Hi Mike,Can you tell me the best diet for this workout ?

  • Zsolt Kovacs

    Hi Mike,

    I admire your work, I purchased BLS and read stuff all across your website, you are my number one source of fitness information. Based on your guide to PPL routine, and this article, I created this plan, let me know what you think.

    – progressive bodyweight routine, 3 day split, 6 days a week, 20 minutes per workout, fasted, after waking up. Fits my schedule perfectly.

    – 1 main (push up, pull up, squat) exercise + 1 additional (calves and/or core)

    – the main exercises are done in the right progression (other than the listed above) to be able to perform 6-8 heavy reps

    – volume according to PPL article, push1, pull1, legs routine, but splitted to 6 workouts

    The short duration allows me to do the training completely fasted, I am not afraid of any major muscle breakdown under 20 minutes. I eat immediately after the workout.

    • Hey Zsolt, thanks for picking up the book!

      The plan sounds solid overall, but is there something that’s preventing you from doing barbell workouts? Overall, those are going to give you more bang for your buck.

      Honestly, you could also stretch your workout a little longer without worrying about muscle loss, too. But if you want to stick with only 20 minutes, you’ll still see results.

      One thing to consider, though, is that one exercise per workout isn’t very much volume, unless you’re doing lots of sets. Also certain exercises (like push ups, bodyweight squats) don’t really lend themselves to the 6 to 8 rep range and can be hard to overload once you get stronger.

      Honestly, if you want to do a bodyweight routine, I would just follow the one I laid out in this article.

      • Zsolt Kovacs

        Hey Mike,

        Thank you for your reply. As a young adult I found going to the gym is taking too much of my time, money and effort. I want to create a program for myself, that is:

        1. independent from what I do that day (hence the morning workouts, my afternoons and evenings are quite hectic)

        2. easy on planning (short, but frequent workouts almost every day)

        3. enough volume, frequency and intensity (4 sets of 6-8 reps for each exercise, 2x a week. Around 64 heavy reps for push and pull and legs each. It is not optimal but I believe enough to have results)

        I am totally aware that it is not equal to a well planned, all around barbell workout routine, but I am fine if I dont get the same results. My main exercises can be done in such a hard progression (one arm push up, pistol squat etc.), where 6-8 reps are quite heavy, and I have still room to progress.

        All in all I re-read the article and reconsider the routine, but once again thank you for taking the time to answer, it is quite exceptional at your level of success!

        • Gotcha! No worries – good luck with the routine 🙂

  • Farih Muhammad

    Could we still use push pull leg routines (while also training calisthenic skills)?

  • Farih Muhammad

    Which exercise could we do to hit our abductors (inner thighs)?

    • The inner thigh is actually the adductors. Squats, lunges, and step ups will all hit your inner thigh. Using a wider stance on your squats will put more emphasis on the adductors, as well.

  • Austin

    Hey mike! Im having trouble with the Russian hamstring curl. Is there an exercise I can do to progress up to it?

  • Austin

    Do we progress to the next variation when we can do 20 reps in one set or when we can do 20 reps in every set for that exercise? For example, do I progress to pull-ups when I can do 20 chin-ups in one set, or when I can do 6 sets of 20 chin-ups?

  • Cameron Neil James

    Hey Mike, would doing pushups, pull ups, running, rope climbing, etc one week and strength training the next week be a bad idea? (Consistently)

    • Hey Cameron! It’s not necessarily the best choice for optimum growth, but it’s not a bad idea at all if you enjoy it and want to get better at both bodyweight work and strength training.

      Another option is to follow a resistance training routine and incorporate some bodyweight movements towards the end of your workout each day.

      I hope this helps!

  • Mochammad Wicaksana

    Hi Mike,

    I live in a country where the US dollar is very strong, so I can’t afford a pull-up bar. Is there any no-equipment exercise that can work the same muscles as a pull-up?

    • Hmm, if you have the right type of door frame, that could work for pull-ups instead of a bar. Be careful, though.

      You could try inverted rows with a table and chair, or rows using a door knob and towel.

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