You’re traveling and your hotel doesn’t have a gym? You’re broke and can’t afford a gym membership? You want to be as independent as possible in your muscle building journey?
If you can move, you can build muscle. You don’t need any equipment to get bigger and stronger. Get rid of the notion that you need anything other than yourself to get in shape. You could be trapped in an elevator and still build the body of a Spartan warlord.
Excuses? You’re kidding, right? Now let’s get to it.
Focus on the fundamentals
Push-ups, pull-ups and squats are the only exercises you will ever need to get a fantastic body. It’s how you perform them, it’s how you train that will determine your results.
Your objective must be to progress in the low to moderate rep ranges (6-10). If you can do more than 20 clean push-ups or 12 pull-ups, doing more reps will provide very little benefit. You need to find ways to increase the difficulty, the complexity and the intensity. Work your way up the progressive calisthenics latter.
Use your surroundings
In order to reap the maximum benefits of bodyweight training you need to get a little creative. Use your surroundings to the utmost. Look around. What exercises can you do? What can you use as resistance? How can you position yourself to maximize exercise difficulty? How can you increase leverage (without slipping and breaking your neck)?
Irrespective of the exercise you do, position yourself in a way so that you put maximum tension on the targeted muscle. Find the right form, the right execution for your anatomy. Feel the tension in the muscle or the part of the muscle you’re trying to hit. Do a couple of sets with slow and controlled repetitions to get a feel for the exercise before moving on to your work sets. Focus on the muscle, not the number of repetitions (although you should track your numbers!). This will maximize muscle activation and the stimulus for growth.
Take your time!
Just because you see guys on social media perform incredible feats of strength and athleticism doesn’t mean you should try and emulate those moves after 2 weeks of training.
These people have put in the time. They started with the basics and slowly progressed week after week, month after month. Train intensely and consistently, but give your body the time to adapt. You will be more than pleased with your results.
If you’re already advanced or you’re ready to take it to the next level, use the following progression strategies. How do you know when you’re ready? If you can perform a particular exercise with 10+ perfect repetitions it’s time to increase the difficulty.
The progressive calisthenics ladder
– Unilateral work: one-arm push-up/ pull-up, pistol (aka one-legged) squat
– Plyometric (explosive) exercises: jump squats, clapping push/ pull-ups
– Weighted calisthenics: use a training partner, resistance bands or a weight vest to add resistance to your exercises. Weighted push-ups with a partner on your back are an incredible upper body builder (kills the bench press).
– Super-sets, rest-pause sets, isometric holds: experiment with additional means to modify intensity (more on these techniques here)
Start with the basic exercises and move towards more advanced variations as you get stronger. If you’re intrigued and want to delve deeper into the subject of progressive bodyweight training, I recommend Paul Wade’s book Convict Conditioning.
Rep after rep
“Do ’em until you can’t do no goddamn more.” – CT Fletcher
How many reps should you aim for in your work sets? Depends on what you’re trying to accomplish. If muscular size is your primary goal, then shoot for 6-12 repetitions. This is the most effective rep scheme for muscular hypertrophy (read).
If you want to increase strength more than anything, do multiple sets of 1-5 repetitions. Take longer breaks between sets (3-5 min) to be fully recovered before going into your next set. This strategy has shown to produce the greatest gains in strength (read, read).
There’s research showing that moderate rep training is superior to lower rep training for maximizing growth. But you’ll also find exercise studies pointing in the opposite direction and declaring low rep training the victor.
What should you make of this? Absolutely nothing.
Don’t rely on science to come up with your workout routine. Use the literature for guidance or inspiration, if you will. Don’t use it as an excuse to neglect your own experience and intuition. There are hundreds of potential reasons why science comes to different, often conflicting conclusions. That shouldn’t concern you in the least. When everything is said and done,
progressive overload still reigns supreme for muscle growth.
Get stronger in the low to moderate rep ranges and include higher rep sets to amplify the anabolic response to training. Eat and rest sufficiently and watch your body transform.
Go outside and tie a rope to a tree branch. Congratulations, you are now in possession of your own sling trainer. If I had to choose one, this would be my favorite training equipment (I use this one). You can literally train every muscle in your body with this low-tech device.
Also, if you don’t have access to a pull-up bar, make your way to your neighborhood park/ playground. You’ll find that many places have a variety of exercise equipment you can use. Yes, you can build muscle without any of this stuff, but it’s nice to have additional options, keeping your training challenging.
The grow muscle everywhere routine:
- Pick 3-5 exercises per session and get to work.
- Upper body training: Push-ups (all variations), dips (using a bench, chairs, dip bars), pull-ups (all variations), muscle-up
- Core training: L-sit, plank, crunches, leg raises, front/back levers
- Lower body training: Squats, lunges, bridges, sprints
Some of these exercises require additional equipment and space. If those are not available to you, focus on the basics. In one of my Videos (check out my YouTube channel), I said that I could build muscle curling a shampoo bottle. I was trying to make a point more than anything. It’s not about what you do in your routine, it’s how you do it. You could train at the highest quality facility using the best equipment in the world and still get lackluster results. Train with purpose, train intensely and the results will come.
Thank you for reading