Bodyweight workouts can build you a solid base of muscular strength and size. And the sky’s the limit when it comes to improving muscular endurance (being able to perform bouts of exercise for extended periods of time) and cardiovascular conditioning. Weight loss? Fat loss? Yep, that too. However, at some point, you’ll max out on the amount of muscular strength and size that it’s possible to build with bodyweight alone.
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For example, if you’re very, very new to exercise, then your body isn’t used to training. Something as straightforward as a set of 5 push-ups, 10 squats, and 20 sit-ups could have you sweating, leave you sore the next day, and build your base of muscle. However, as you progress along (which you will very quickly as a beginner), eventually there comes a point where your body will adapt to that training and no longer be able to increase strength. As you start performing 10, then 15, then 20+ reps at a clip with ease, you’ll be starting to build more muscular endurance, not strength, and if you continue progressing from there, it could even start to become much more like a cardiovascular workout. Now, this doesn’t mean that bodyweight exercise is useless or ineffective because you’ve built your strength to a certain point, but if you want to start actually building more muscle mass or muscular size, you’ll want to push it further. There’s a concept called progressive overload. Basically this means in order to progress (e.g. more muscular strength or more muscular size), you’ll need to gradually increase the amount of stress (or, weight/resistance) you place on the body. Bodyweight exercise, because it’s only your bodyweight, has a cap to it.
If building bigger muscles or super strong muscles isn’t much of a priority, then by all means, stick to the bodyweight stuff. You can still build that base of strength, increase the endurance of those muscles, and if you work in fast-paced circuits, build up serious cardiovascular condition.
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But, if you’re really looking for a bit more mass, then you’ll want to start hitting the weights and/or machines and gradually increase the amount of work you’re doing. For muscular size, the general rule of thumb is to use resistance (in which you nearly reach failure) for 10-12 repetitions. For endurance, it’s usually 15+, and for explosive power, under 5. For general more strength, somewhere around 6, 8, 10. What’s important to note here is going to failure or near failure. Doing a doing a set of push-ups for 5 repetitions isn’t going to increase strength, especially if you could potentially do 10 or 20. Also, there are no hard rules, you’ll most likely want to experiment with a variety of rep ranges. Time under tension is another factor. If you’re ripping through 10 reps in 10 seconds, that’s not nearly enough time under tension. But all of that is a whole other nut to crack.
In summary, there’s a lot you can do with your bodyweight alone, but if you want muscle, don’t be afraid to lift some weights. And remember, how and what you eat is what really brings on the changes, check our our article on intuitive eating for lean muscle.
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