Mastering Bodyweight Exercises

Let’s be honest: bodyweight exercises look pretty bad*ss. The first time I saw Bruce Lee do a human flag my mouth just about dropped to the floor. I thought, man, I want to be able to do that! And so this is what this article’s about: mastering some of the most difficult bodyweight exercises, and doing the ones that are going to give you the most bang for your buck (that is, build the most muscle). The main problem with bodyweight exercises is that it’s much more difficult to apply progressive overload to your muscles to continue gaining strength and size… and while bodyweight exercises aren’t the most efficient or best way to build an amazing physique, it can be done… so let’s do it.


#1 The Human Flag


The first exercise, obviously, is the human flag. What I would highly recommend here is side planks, and progressions with the variations of it. For instance, start with your basic side plank on your elbow, and when you’ve got that down, start doing side planks with your arm straight. About 60 seconds will do. From here you can work towards an inclined side plank, and then I want you to move on to the pullup bar. From here, I want for you to hang from the bar and move your legs out to the side and hold it. I would also recommend doing strict chin ups and pull ups, as strong lats are necessary to be able to do this movement. You’re also going to want strong shoulders… which we’ll get to soon, so handstand pike pushups will do wonderfully. The next step is to attempt the human flag after you’ve gotten strong enough to do all of this… with these progressions, you will most likely be able to do your first human flag.

push up variations

#2 Push Ups (Progression To One Arm)


Simplicity works. High-volume push ups are a great way to build the chest, triceps, and even abdominals (this is especially true when you progress to one arm pushups). Here are the steps I would recommend to progressing to one arm pushups with feet elevated on a bench.

  1. Normal push up for about 30 reps
  2. Elbows tucked push of for 30 reps
  3. Use basketball for assisted one arm push up (Roughly 10 reps)
  4. One arm pushup, but with your other arm on a bench for support.
  5. One arm pushup – you can do these with your feet up on a bench for a better workout as well 🙂


Tips and Tricks: Keep your feet a little wider at first. Don’t lean to one side, and don’t put your butt up in the air like you’re doing a downward dog. And if your elbows are out to the sides, it simply means you have weak triceps – get stronger. Stick with these progressions, and you’ll be doing one armed pushups in no time.


#3 Chin Ups


Okay, so technically this wouldn’t be bodyweight… but trust me on this one. Do weighted chin ups. When someone comes to me for advice on building a bigger back, I simply ask them this question: “how many weighted chin ups can you do… with two 45 pound plates strapped to a belt?” and they often just look at me like I just told them Santa Claus isn’t real. The truth is, get stronger on weighted chins, and your back will be a wall, I can guarantee it. As far as progression goes, as soon as you can’t add any more weight, switch to weighted pull ups instead, or vise versa. Also, try this: just add 2.5 lbs each workout to the belt. This may not seem like much, but if you’re doing this once a week, that’s ten pounds in a month, and it’s MUCH easier to progress than adding 5 to 10 pounds each workout. Rep ranges?

protein shakes

#4 Pistol Squats


Say it with me: don’t skip leg day. Just because you’re working on bodyweight exercises doesn’t mean you have to skip leg day. Pistol squats are basically normal squats, except much harder. They’re one-legged squats, and you can actually add weight by holding dumbbells in your hands (again, not “bodyweight,” but gotta progress somehow!). The most challenging part is actually learning how to do a pistol squat. The best way to learn, in my opinion, is either by holding onto a desk or suspended band while doing it and allowing yourself some support until you can do it by yourself. Then, try to hold dumbbells… and progress on that. Pistol squats aren’t easy, but with some hard work and patience, you’ll be able to do what most people can’t: a one legged squat.


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The Takeaway


If you’re unable to make it to the gym, a great physique can be built simply out of bodyweight exercises. These are some of the best ones you can do, but others I would recommend are front lever pulls, leg raises, pike pushups, dips, and muscle-ups (if you have wonky wrists… don’t do a muscle up). Try some of these out and even incorporate them into your strength training. They all have their own benefits! As always, stay strong.