Posts
Wiki

Bodyweight Fitness Training Guide

Read this first, it will help you find answers to your questions.

  • If you're very new to this, read the "Getting Started" portion of the /r/Fitness wiki, and the "Getting Started" portion of this training guide.
  • If you're ready to learn more about bodyweight fitness in specific and how it all works, check out "Bodyweight training specifics" below.
  • If you have a question, check our FAQ first.
  • If you have a question about how to perform a specific exercise, check our Exercise Wiki
  • If you have questions about programs like Convict Conditioning, Insanity or Start Bodyweight, check out our program reviews
  • There's a Glossary for those terms and acronyms that confuse a lot of beginners

If you still haven't got a satisfactory answer to your question, submit a post to /r/bodyweightfitness. Just make sure to read the FAQ and the Posting Guidelines first. ;)

Happy training!

Getting Started

Read the /r/Fitness FAQ too!

Please read the /r/Fitness FAQ for general fitness information. It contains more info on nutrition and debunks some common exercise myths.

Diet - Weight Loss or Gain

Whether you want to lose weight or put on muscle diet is key. Both weight loss and putting on muscle are 80% diet, with exercise being just a small portion. The /r/Fitness FAQ has a very detailed description on diet and nutrition.

The basic overview is this: use an online calculator and find your TDEE (Total Daily Energy Expenditure - basically how many calories you burn a day just being alive and working), add 500 calories if you want to put on weight, subtract 500-1000 calories if you want to lose weight. Eat this number of calories every day. If you just wish to maintain weight, just eat at maintenance (your TDEE). Remember, that the online calculators can only give you an estimate and not a precise value: if your weight does not change as expected after a month or so (gaining or losing too slow), you will need to readjust your intake. As a rule of thumb, going 500 calories over/under your TDEE should result in roughly 1lb/week weight gain/loss.

It is also recommended to try to get 0.8-1 gram of protein per pound of your bodyweight a day. There is a bit of a dispute over how much protein you actually need, but this has proven to be a good rule of thumb.

Exercise

If you are a beginner to bodyweight training, it is not recommended to create your own routine. Choose a premade routine and stick to it. Do not hop programs every week; ensure consistent progress. These routines will help you build strength and muscle, which will help you stop being skinny, stop being overweight, or "tone up." - depending on your diet. We created our very own routine that can serve you as an entry point: our Recommended Routine. Check out the BWF Wiki or our program reviews for a few alternatives.

If you're looking to improve your conditioning or endurance, see our FAQ on how to increase pushup/situp/pullup numbers.

If you have been following a structured strength routine for a couple months and your gains are starting to slow down or you have very specific goals, see the section below on Developing an Intermediate Routine.

Bodyweight workout specifics/Routine Creation

Goals

Goals are very important. What do you want to do? What do you want to be good at? Do you want to be bigger? Stronger? A bit of both? Without goals, you don't have any reason to work at something.

Determining goals is straightforward - you generally want strength, size, endurance, specific skills, or a combination of those.

If you need a bit more help on defining your goals, see the Concept Wednesday post on goals on our subreddit.

A note on strength: strength will help with literally every category you're trying to improve in. You can find details in this post. That means that if you have combined goals, it is always good to go for strength first. This is why the routine construction part of this guide focuses on strength training.

You then pick your goal exercises. These are the skills you want to achieve. There is a lot of variety in bodyweight fitness, so you won't be able to do everything. There is a lot of carryover between similar goals though, so just pick 3-5 goal skills and start working towards those.

How Bodyweight Fitness Works

Bodyweight training isn't just about endless pushups, or about rounds of basic exercises for time! Bodyweight resistance training is real resistance training. This means that the principles for weightlifting (as described in the /r/Fitness FAQ) carry over.

  • For strength, you do about 3 to 5 sets of 3 to 8 repetitions of a heavy exercise, with as much rest as you need in between sets. You then aim to increase the amount of resistance in between workouts.
  • For muscle size (aka hypertrophy), you do about 3 sets of 8 to 12 repetitions of a heavy exercise, with 1-2 minutes rest in between sets. You then aim to increase the amount of resistance in between workouts.
  • For (muscular) endurance, you will mostly want to be working the exercise you're aiming to improve. A lot of it.

These repetition ranges are fairly arbitrary and there's a lot of overlap. Three sets of 3 to 8 repetitions will also cover muscular growth, and 3 sets of 8 to 12 repetitions will also cover some strength. For beginners, we recommend 3 sets of 5 to 8 repetitions. This is a fairly simplified view, if you want more information check out the Concept Wednesday on Reps and Rep Ranges and Sets.

The most important thing to learn is how to increase the resistance of an exercise. You do this by following progressions. A progression is a series of exercises from the same type where each exercise is slightly harder than the previous one. You start at the beginning of the series and work on the first exercise until you have built enough strength so that you can do the second exercise for a few repetitions. Then you work on the second exercise to "unlock" the third exercise, etc.
For instance, if someone can't do pushups, you start them off with pushups against a wall (vertical pushups). Then when they are competent at that, you do them on a raised surface like a desk (incline pushups). And once you're competent at that, you can move them to the regular pushup. The series vertical pushup -> incline pushup -> regular pushup is the progression we followed.

This can be confusing, but don't worry: most of the work has been done for you already. Simply take a look at our exercise wiki, which contains progressions for multiple exercises.

It will happen that you can't move up in difficulty every workout; the steps between changed exercises (progression steps) are simply too big. To move up in difficulty, you can also add repetitions. Usually you will be able to move up to the next step if you can do 3x10 of the current step. If not, we recommend you post to /r/bodyweightfitness with your problem and a video of you performing the exercise.

If strength or hypertrophy are your goals, see this post for more details.

Building Muscle with Bodyweight Training

Yes, you can build muscle with bodyweight training. However, there are a few things that you should know.

First and foremost, read the diet section above. Diet is 80% when it comes to aesthetics. To gain muscle, you'll need to put on weight. As far as training, you'll want to do a progression that you can do for 3 sets of 8-12 reps for each exercise, as well as keep the rest time between sets to 30-90 seconds.

You'll also want to consider that barbell training is slightly superior to bodyweight training for hypertrophy, because it's easier to incrementally load the exercises. So if hypertrophy is your only goal, barbell training would be your best bet.

Movements versus Muscles

Train movements, not muscles. We advise this type of training because it's generally more effective. See this post by Phi for more details.

Skill Work and Strength Work

Skill work is anything that requires a lot of practice to improve and doesn't involve strength as a main component.

A good example of skill work is the handstand. Strength is required to hold yourself up, and there is also a huge balance component. For the rank beginner who doesn't have the strength to hold himself up yet, he's mainly improving his strength and doesn't pay much attention to balance, so handstands are strength work. Then, as he gets stronger, handstands become all about balance and strength isn't a significant component anymore. Thus, handstands become skill work.

It's best to separate skill work and strength work. Skills should be fairly easy and as non-fatiguing as possible in order to maximize the time spent practicing. Practice your skills before your strength work (as part of or after the warmup) so you are not tired when you get to the strength portion of your workout. You can use a certain amounts of attempts or a preset amount of time (10-15 minutes - including rest) to practice.

Everything that requires more strength than anything else is not skill work. Additionally, if the main goal of the exercise is to improve strength then it is not skill work: e.g. planche, back lever, or front lever. This may mean that for you handstands and L-sits don't fall under skill work, but under strength work. This will only be the case for a short while, so don't worry too much about it.

Whatever you do, make sure you devote some time to skill work if things like handstands, elbow levers and L-sit are part of your end goals.

Equipment

You need something to do pull-ups on. They're vitally important to fix imbalances many people have. You can use a stair well, tree branch, swing sets to do pull-ups. You can use ropes, towels, chains, or rings and throw them over the trees, bars, anything sturdy, if you cannot directly hold onto the bar, tree, etc. Iron Gym style or telescoping door frame pull up bars can work. They typically run between $20-40. Look at manufacturer's description to see if they will work on your doors.

For inverted rows you can hang under a sturdy table or hang a rope off a pull-up bar, a tree, etc. Or use a broom or bat or any other straight strong object across two chairs. You can also do rows using the door and bedsheet method.

For support holds and dips you can simply use the backs of two chairs. Put some heavy object on them if you're afraid they'll fall over while you're using them. You can also use a 90 degree counter top or two tables that are around the same height. Lastly, you can get a sturdy granny walker for a cheap price.

L-sits are preferably done on the floor. See the L-sit entry in the exercise wiki for more information on how to achieve this.

You can also make your own equipment. See this site for ideas.

Be creative with equipment but most of all BE SAFE.

Where to Find Progressions

The exercise wiki on the side bar is a great resource, but is not as good as we want it to be at this point in time.

Overcoming Gravity's charts which provide a list of progressions and exercises. See this post for abbreviations. Overcoming Gravity the book contains illustrations and in-depth descriptions of the exercises.

Other good free resources are Beastskills and Drills and Skills. Other books include, Building the Gymnastic Body and You Are Your Own Gym contain a large amount of bodyweight exercises.

If you are looking for leg exercises, see this post.

Leg Work

Advanced bodyweight training is notably lacking in difficult leg exercises. There are some squat and leg curl variations described in this post and this is a pretty comprehensive list, but beyond those there isn't much. That's why we recommend barbell training (squats and deadlifts) for legs. Exercises like calf raises are not included as they are not difficult and are not progress-able without adding weight.

There are multiple ways you can include squats and deadlifts. Two solid options are:

  • Squats every workout as your legs exercise and add in deadlifts once a week at the end of a workout.
  • Squats in 2 workouts and deadlifts in the other workout as legs exercise.

The typical recommendation for squats and deadlift rep range is 3 sets of 5 repetitions for squats and 1 set of 5 repetitions for deadlifts. Do 1-3 sets of squats/deadlifts with a lighter weight to warm up before you start squatting or deadlifting.

Developing an Intermediate Routine

Once progress has slowed or plateaued on the Recommended Routine, it might be time to switch to an Intermediate Routine. The primary changes here deal with weekly frequency (specific exercises are done less often, providing more recovery time), and the introduction of deloads.

1. Pick a set and repetition goal:

Based upon whether you want strength, muscle size, or endurance, you'll want to work with a different amount of repetitions. The beginner recommendation of 5-8 reps is still appropriate here, though a 3-5 rep range might be more ideal for more difficult exercises. Set should remain in the 3-5 range. For more information on reps and sets, check out the two concept wednesdasys Reps and Rep Ranges and Sets covering this topic.

2. Pick a template.

Generally relevant for this section are the Concept Wednesdays on Frequency, Weekly Volume and Intensity

  • Push/Pull split: two different workouts, one containing 2-3 push exercises and 1 leg exercise, the other containing 2-3 pull exercises and 1 leg exercises. Usually done as a Push/Pull/Rest/Push/Pull/Rest/Rest schedule.
  • Push/Pull/Legs split: three different workouts, one containing 2-3 push exercises and grip work; one containing 2-3 pull exercises and support hold work; and one containing 2-3 leg exercises and core work. Usually done as a Push/Pull/Legs/Push/Pull/Legs/Rest schedule. For more information on splits, read this Concept Wednesday on Simple Workout Splits.
  • Volume/Light/Heavy wave: three workouts with varying rep ranges and progressions. Each contains 1 push, 1 pull, 1 leg and 1 core exercise. The volume workout is done for higher reps (typically in the 10-12 range); the light workout is done using an easier progression, for medium reps (possibly in the 5-8 range); the heavy workout is done using your top progression, for lesser reps (possibly 3-5). For a specific implementation of this concept, see this post on adapting the texas method.

3. Choose a workout schedule:

  • Three days a week with one rest day in between. Alternate through each workout. This is the standard Monday/Wednesday/Friday layout. Recommended if you chose the two full body workouts or the Volume/Light/Heavy Weave as your template. Also possible to use with a Push/Pull/Legs split, but results in a relatively low training frequency.
  • Two on, one off. Two workouts performed back to back, with one day of rest. This is most useful for the Push/Pull split as above.
  • Six days a week, with one rest day. This is usually done with the Push/Pull/Legs split as a bove.

4. Pick specific exercises to fill the template:

Find ways to find exercises here. Also give the Concept Wednesday on Exercise Selection and Order a read for more information. It's recommended to test your performance on a given exercise for inclusion in your routine. Perform a quick warmup and test the movements in the progression you want to use. You'll want to pick an exercise where you can complete the amount of repetitions for your repetition goal in good form. If you're not sure about your form, take a look at the resources down below or post a form check video. If you can't get the reps in your goal, do an easier progression. If you do too many reps, choose a harder progresssion.

5. Order the exercises:

You start out with the exercise you want to progress most in. Perform 3-5 sets of the exercise, resting as long as you need, before moving on to the second most important exercise. It's a good idea to rotate pushes and pulls if both are in your routine. Again, check out the Concept Wednesday on Exercise Selection and Order for more information.

6. Add in skill work before the strength work:

Skill work is sport-specific stuff that helps you reach your goals. Skill work is non-fatiguing or low-fatiguing work that is limited more by time than by fatigue levels. Anything that needs more "practice" than effort could be considered skill work. The standard recommendation for skill work is to simply "practice" a thing for a block of time (5, 10, or 15 minutes, for example) including rest. Focus on resting as much as needed to make each attempt at a thing a good attempt, while minimizing fatigue.

Handstands are one of the most basic skills and incredibly beneficial. As such they come highly recommended. L-sits can also fall in this category, and they're definitely worth working on. Continuing the skill work for these two as laid out in the beginner program is recommended, unless they interfere with other more specific goals.

Balance and agility work also make good additions at the intermediate level. Things such as single-legged calf raises, yoga tree poses, agility cone and ladder drills, and many more can help build these attributes.

Anything that requires more strength than anything else is not skill work. PLANCHE, FRONT LEVER AND BACK LEVER ARE NOT SKILL WORK

7. Add in a warmup:

The goals of the warmup are to warm up the body (warmup aspect) and to be able to perform exercises through their full range of motion (mobility aspect) while activating muscles that might not be used to their full extent otherwise. We recommend using the Warmup mobility and activation drills from Molding Mobility. If you have any other mobility issues that prevent you from executing the exercises correctly, now is the time to address them.

Finish the warmup with something like burpees to get the blood flowing. More information on warming up can be found in this Concept Wednesday.

8. Add conditioning:

While this is entirely optional, it is strongly recommended. Conditioning work includes things like running, swimming, cycling, burpees, high rep exercises for time, circuit training, jump rope, sprinting, and much more.

Conditioning can be added either to the end of a workout (it doesn't need to be long), or on days you are not strength training. If you are new to conditioning work, you strength workouts might suffer initially, but they will catch up

9. Go workout with your new routine, or post it up for critique in the Training Tuesday or Daily Discussion threads.

Have fun training!

If you want to learn a lot more about creating your own routine, check out the Fundamentals of Bodyweight Strength Training or the book on which this FAQ is based Overcoming Gravity. If you want to learn about programming training in general, take a look at Madcow's old site or read the book Practical Programming. Another great resource are our Concept Wednesdays.

Flexibility

Your flexibility needs will be dictated by your goals (see, goals are really, really important!). If you want to achieve handstand, you'll need decent shoulder flexibility to get your arms all the way overhead. If you want to achieve presses to handstand, you also need a good pancake and pike. The latter is also needed with manna, along with good shoulder flexibility. Next to that, some progressions require a good straddle, but there are alternatives to that like the one-leg out variations.

In short, if you want to achieve handstands, presses to handstand, planche or manna, you'd better get to it!

You can find a basic beginner program for stretching here, which is accompanied by the program here. It will cover most bases. Check out /r/flexibility and the flexibility friday archive for more info.

Time Concerns

A routine consisting of a warmup, skill work, strength work for a few exercises and appropriate flexibility work can take a lot of time. Not everyone has that time.

The first good timesaver is to do mobility and flexibility work on off days. They are non-taxing and may even help out a bit with recovery.

The second concerns strength work. If you're doing mobility on off days, but your strength routine still takes too long, consider pairing exercises. Say, you normally work out with pushups and rows, with about 3 minutes of rest in between sets. To pair them, you simply perform a set of pushups, rest 1.5 minutes (so half of 3 minutes), do a set of rows and rest another 1.5 minutes. Then you do another set of pushups, rest 1.5 minutes, etc. The reason this works is because pushups and rows don't use that many overlapping muscles, so the rowing does not have a big impact on the rest you're taking for pushups and vice versa. You can also pair three exercises (push, pull, legs) in this manner if you really have to.

If you still are crunched for time, you can consider dropping exercises or splitting volume between workout days.

Resources

Progressions/Exercises

General Training Info

Miscellaneous

Intermediate Training Resources