Busting Bodyweight Exercise Myths – The Truth about Building a Better Body with Bodyweight Workouts

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It’s always fun to take a sledge hammer to popular myths. We’ve done it before with 6 Female Strength Training Myths that Won’t Die.

Today, we’re gonna shatter some common bodyweight exercise and workout myths.

Loosen up your arm and let’s start swingin’!

Myth #1 – You Can’t Get Strong With Bodyweight Exercises

Yes, you can get crazy strong with bodyweight exercises. But please keep in mind the rule of specificity. There’s a difference between getting strong on the powerlifts (squat, bench press, and deadlift) and being able to perform advanced bodyweight exercises such as pistols and handstand push-ups. The term “strength” is relative and we must keep things in context.

Will you become a world record powerlifter using nothing but bodyweight exercises? No, of course not.

Can you constantly challenge yourself, increase your strength, and accomplish great physical feats with bodyweight exercises? Of course.

There’s no arguing that an individual who can perform L sit pull-ups, one arm push-ups, pistols, handstand push-ups, and other advanced bodyweight exercises is strong.

handstand pushup

I recommend moonwalking after completing a set of handstand push-ups, but the choice is yours

Building strength with bodyweight exercises is a huge plus for trainees who can’t perform heavy barbell lifts. Whether it’s due to a lack of equipment or, as was  my case for a long time, due to an injury. I tweaked my back over a year ago and I couldn’t squat, deadlift, or press a barbell without being in pain.

But, I still wanted to be strong.

My solution? Focus on what I COULD do — and that was bodyweight exercises.

I progressed my way to perform advanced bodyweight exercises like L-sit chin-ups, handstand push-ups, and one-and-a-half-rep pistols. So, I got to scratch my “strength itch” using a different form of training.

Bodyweight workouts allowed me to get strong, stay motivated (which is important), and even gave my physique and nice boost with some extra muscle and less fat. Win-win-win.

Myth #2 – You Can’t Sculpt Muscle with Bodyweight Exercises

“You can’t sculpt muscle with just bodyweight squats and push-ups.”

While a beginner can certainly make progress and build muscle with just bodyweight squats and push-ups, they will eventually stop making progress. After all, you can only perform so many squats and push-ups before you’re doing a ton of reps, or you give up from excruciating boredom.

That’s why you must focus on progression with bodyweight workouts. You must challenge yourself to perform more difficult variations and improve your performance. For example, if you can perform flawless sets of traditional push-ups, you must challenge yourself to perform a more difficult variation.

Or, let’s say you can’t do a traditional push-up just yet (and I stress yet). If you focus your workouts on getting stronger, improving your performance, and progressing towards more advanced push-up variations, you’ll get results like sculpting some sexy muscle and losing excess fat.

Here’s how your progression could look if you had to start with elevated push-ups (hands on a bench, table, etc).

Elevated push-ups => elevated push-ups from lower height => traditional push-ups => close grip push-ups => feet elevated push-ups, etc

As you work your way from elevated push-ups to feet elevated push-ups, you’ll sculpt some muscle and build a better body. Plus, you’ll get stronger and achieve physical feats you weren’t once capable of; total win!

Easy peezy.

Bottom line – progression and using advanced variations is how you can sculpt muscle with bodyweight exercises. Neglect this rule and you won’t get results.

Myth #3 – Bodyweight Workouts are too Easy and Don’t Provide a Physical or Mental Challenge

Again, if you never progress beyond the standard bodyweight exercises, you’ll get bored to tears and not make any progress with your physique or strength.

You need to follow a program with planned progressions so you stay motivated to workout and to keep challenging your body and mind.

This is where strength training techniques for busting plateaus like rest/pause, timed sets, tempo manipulation, and 1.5 reps come in handy.

Here’s a video where I demonstrate the 1.5 rep technique with inverted rows.

Using the 1.5 rep method instantly makes the exercise more challenging. Give it a shot and you’ll see for yourself.

Not only do techniques like 1.5 reps, rest/pause, and others provide much needed variety, they allow you to improve your performance and challenge yourself in unique ways. Plus, they’re fun.

That’s the solution: use different techniques to provide a challenge and change of pace.

Myth #4 – Bodyweight Workouts aren’t the Best Way to Build an Awesome Physique

“There’s no way you can build a great physique using only bodyweight exercises.”

I used to believe this myth many years ago. Then I had no choice but to use bodyweight only workouts.

First, let me get this out of the way: There’s no optimal tool or holy grail of building a better body.

I’m not going to sell you on the lie that “OMG, bodyweight workouts are the bestestestest (that’s totally a word) and ultimate way to build an amazing body!!!”

Bodyweight-only training is awesome and provides many unique benefits such as: you don’t need equipment, the ability to workout any time and anywhere, and it’s also a great way to overcome nagging aches and pains that develop from traditional weight lifting.

But, barbell exercises are awesome, too. So are dumbbells. And kettlebells. And sandbags.

You can build a great body with any of those tools and combinations thereof.

But, if you want a new challenge, the ability to workout any time and anywhere, to cut your dedicated workout time in half (since you can do bodyweight workouts anywhere), then I would say that bodyweight workouts are the ultimate No Excuses way to do so.

If all you need is your bodyweight, you don’t have any excuse not to workout because you can do them anywhere. (And you can check out some more bodyweight exercises here: 3 bodyweight exercises for glutes, legs, and shoulders).

*Sigh*

All of that to say “Yes, you can build an awesome body with bodyweight only workouts.”

And, if you’ve never challenged yourself to use primarily bodyweight exercises and focus on progressing towards more advanced variations, chances are you’ll reap some awesome physique changing rewards in the process. That’s what happened when I used bodyweight workouts.

BOOM!

Myths busted. Mission accomplished. At least, until next time when we’ll bust four other bodyweight workout myths.

If you want to give bodyweight workouts a shot (or simply want to incorporate them into your strength training program) then check out the Beautiful Badass Bodyweight Workout Guide. It’s got two awesome programs — the Get Strong! Program and the Total Beautiful Badass-ification — plus demonstration videos for every exercise.

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  • “I freaking LOVE this info! I'm determined to be a Beautiful Badass!” -Tina V
  • http://www.facebook.com/eliseamiller Elise Miller

    Hi Nia, This post is so inspiring and validating as I’m on a mission to gain strength and mass without joining a gym. I’ve been reading your blog and working my way through your bodyweight exercise and nutrition program. I love it, and am conquering handstand push-ups for the first time. I feel like such a badass! Thank you so much. Question for you: I really want to do tricep dips using the suspension handles and want to know what your thoughts are on this. I could use a chair but really want to simulate a parallel bar situation as best I can. Any chance you’d post a video demo on this exercise? Thank you again for all your wonderful teaching and expertise.

  • http://www.facebook.com/samantha.brennan Samantha Brennan

    Great post. Love body weight exercises. Handstand pushups are on my bucket list. Getting there….We’ve blogged a bit about this here. http://fitisafeministissue.wordpress.com/2013/02/07/body-weight-training-for-strength/

  • Cassye Delphy

    Excellent post as usual, and I’ll be using it today since my life has gotten in the way of my workout schedule. Thanks for being so accessible and always dealing it straight!

  • Isaac Dozier

    Great post! too many people over look the advantage of body weight workouts. not only are they challenging but they are free! and portable.

    I post customized body weight workouts on my blog, http://bodyfitnest.com/ , give one a try if you think body weight workouts aren’t difficult. It will change your mind for sure.

  • midimidi

    totally agree love this!

  • Brandon

    This is mostly all complete bull shi*. I have family and friends in the military and in have spent time in prison haven’t lifted a weight in years and all they do is bodyweight exercises. They continue to grow and are way stronger than anyone I’ve met who lift weights. Not only do these exercises build your muscle but also the surrounding joints and ligaments which give you superhuman strength. Bothers me more than anything when I read things online that aren’t true and misleading