A Call to Building Muscle and Strength with Bodyweight Exercises

Fitness magazines have evolved dramatically in the past few years. The popularity of Crossfit and “300” style workouts have forced magazines to make a change from only interviewing bodybuilders to interviewing athletes from all walks of life, as well as celebrities and their celebrity trainers.

You have average joes performing “The Spartacus Workout” and doing complex movements such as Bottoms Up Kettlebell Cleans and Turkish Get Ups. The strength and fitness levels of regular folk is quite impressive these days. However, just as the rich get richer and the poorer get poorer…the fit get fitter, and the fat get fatter.

The large majority of information found in fitness magazines is still not useful for the person who is just starting out…the person who has only the weekends to train…the person who just needs to drop a few pounds….has a stressful day job…or goes to school full time.

Shah Training grew at a time where not too many people were talking about simple bodyweight workouts for fitness. I sought to draw the gap between the information presented in fitness magazines, and average fitness enthusiasts. I now realize that there is still a need for this kind of information.

The Era of Full Body Workouts

Life goes in cycles. Bodybuilding became popular with full-body workouts. Bodybuilders of old such a Steve Reeves (the actor who played the first Hercules), used 3-days per week full body workouts to build their bodies.
Then the new bodybuilders of our day began popularizing split-training. You began to see newbie trainees in the gym, who never even had dreams of becoming professional bodybuilders, training their arms in the gym for hours on end.

It was a huge waste of time. Ebooks, youtube videos, and blogs began to prop up speaking against such regimens. Eventually, with the popularity of the “300” workout, the scene began to change, the pendulum shifted back to full-body workouts…sort of.

The new full body workouts looked drastically different than the old full body workouts. Old school bodybuilders used 8-12 exercises for their whole body, and performed majority straight sets. The new full body workouts were all circuit-based.

These workouts were not focused on building strength or muscle. It was all about burning calories, and trainees found that their clients could burn a lot of calories with these high intensity full body workouts using either light weights or bodyweight exercises only.

What are Full Body Bodyweight Workouts Good For?

I’m all for full body bodyweight workouts, but I have discovered that they do not provide the jack-of-all trades benefits I once thought they did.

Now, when I talk about full body bodyweight workouts, I’m talking about circuit style, balls to wall, finish the workout at any cost, type of programs. For further illustration, let’s examine two full-body workouts:

Workout A

  • Pullups 3×10 repetitions
  • Lunges 3×15 repetitions, each leg
  • Bodyweight squats 3×20 repetitions
  • Plyometric Pushups 3×10 repetitions
  • Dips 3×10 repetitions

Workout B

3 rounds of:

  • Jumping Jacks x 50 reps
  • Mountain Climbers x 20 reps each leg
  • Pushups x 20 reps
  • High Knees x 20 reps each leg
  • Burpees x 10 reps

Do you see the difference between these two workouts?

The first one is strength-focused, and the second one is all about burning calories. I would categorize the second workout as “bodyweight cardio.” You do this long enough, and you’ll get leaner, but you won’t be building any muscle or strength.

The first workout, on the other hand, if you consistently add repetitions, sets, and seek to make each exercise more difficult – you will certainly build more muscle and strength.

A Call to Building Strength and Muscle

Bodyweight cardio has its place. Even similar weight-bearing workouts – such as performing high intensity Kettlebell swings, snatches, and cleans – have their place with regards to losing fat.

However, there needs to be a point in your training program where you switch to a complete muscle-building and strength-building plan. There are a couple of benefits to this approach:

Weight Loss – we know that building muscle helps us lose fat. Athletes who have a lot of muscle on their body tend to find it easier to stay lean simply because their metabolic rates are higher. Muscle is more metabolically active than fat. So, even if you completely abandon your interval training, bodyweight cardio, high intensity kettlebell workouts, etc…you will still see a decent amount of fat loss, given you don’t eat too much food to account for the new increase in your metabolic rate.

Increased Muscular Endurance – If you stick to muscle building workouts for just one month, then go back to your usual bodyweight cardio workouts, you will find that the workouts that were once challenging, are now easier to get through! My good friend Dheeraj would always beat us when we performed backyard bodyweight challenges. I did not realize it at the time, but it was because he was more muscular and stronger than all of us. That was the first instance when I understood the importance of muscle and strength-focused workouts.

There are also numerous health and cardiovascular benefits associated with a focused muscle and strength building program. For example, muscle tissue helps protect your joints, tendons, and bones. In addition, strength training helps reduce the symptoms of arthritis, depression, diabetes, back pain, and osteoporosis.

Program Recommendation

There is one program that I recommend with regard to helping you build solid muscle and strength with bodyweight movements. It is called the Muscle Experiment. Click here to learn more.