How Effective is Bodyweight Training?

women performing pushups against wall outdoors

Getty Images / The Good Brigade

Bodyweight training is very effective, regardless of your fitness level. While many people, from beginners to advanced lifters, may skip bodyweight exercises in favor of using weights, bands, or machines, several bodyweight movements help you target muscles and use your body in ways that can be superior.

Learn more about bodyweight training and its benefits and tips on incorporating it into your workouts for the best results, no matter your fitness level.

What Is Bodyweight Training

Bodyweight training is a method of resistance training using your body weight as the resistance. You can use your body weight to build strength and muscle, increase functional fitness, and cardiovascular training.

As with free weight and machine training, bodyweight training requires you to work against gravity to perform eccentric and concentric contractions, flexing and extending the muscles to challenge them and force them to adapt in ways that change your body, building strength and muscle in the process.

Benefits and Effectiveness of Bodyweight Training

Bodyweight training is an effective form of resistance exercise, which has many benefits, including increased strength and muscle mass and reducing visceral fat, which improves body composition, metabolism, and daily functioning.

Using your own body helps you focus on how you are moving as a unit rather than concentrating on how you are using a particular piece of equipment. Bodyweight training also increases your awareness of proper form, making sure you are moving correctly in effective ways before lifting heavier weights.

Research shows that bodyweight training can provide modest increases in strength and muscle gain, although progressing to more challenging movements and workouts is necessary. This can easily be done with bodyweight training, making it convenient for anyone without equipment.

Using body weight movements also means less time setting up or moving between exercises. This makes bodyweight training ideal for interval-based cardio workouts, including Tabata or HIIT style sessions, since the short rest times can make switching between pieces of equipment tricky. You can also do this training style anywhere you have the space, including in a small dorm room, living room, or outdoors.

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC)and Prevention and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommend at least two sessions per week of muscle-strengthening exercise that works every muscle group in your body. Bodyweight training is a convenient way to fit in this recommendation.

Tips on Adding Body Weight Training to Workouts

When it comes to planning your workouts using bodyweight training, you can either perform bodyweight-only exercises for the whole session or add some bodyweight movements to complement resistance training using weights or machines. Here are some ways you can add bodyweight training to your workouts.

Add Bodyweight Training to Weight Training

There are a few ways to add bodyweight exercises to your regular weight training routine. Depending on your goals, you can use bodyweight movements to build muscle mass or muscular strength and endurance.

For instance, adding volume is an essential strategy if you are hoping to build muscle mass (hypertrophy). Volume in weight training is the number of sets and repetitions you perform. More sets and reps within a range that challenges you without overtraining will lead to the best success in growing muscle.

However, performing a lot of sets and repetitions of exercises using weights that causes a lot of stimuli and fatigue may reduce your ability to recover and heal properly. Adding more repetitions of bodyweight exercises is an excellent way to add volume to your training without so much fatigue since bodyweight exercises are easier to perform than the same movements using weights.

You can add bodyweight exercises for each muscle group after you perform your more challenging, heavier exercises. For example, if you are working your chest and back in one session, adding sets of pushups after your bench press and rows will add volume without the fatigue that comes from lifting a heavy barbell or dumbbell.

If your goal is to increase strength, using bodyweight exercises can help you perfect your form and build functional strength. If you are a beginner, push-ups (or incline push-ups), lunges, active planks, bench triceps dips, and crunches are good choices. Try pistol squats, pull-ups, feet-elevated pushups, chest dips, and decline bench crunches for more advanced lifters.

Adding a suspension trainer, such as a TRX, which uses straps to help you perform bodyweight resistance training, will increase the variety of exercises you can do using your body. Suspension trainers can also increase or decrease the difficulty of some exercises. For instance, if you cannot do a pistol squat, use the strap of a suspension trainer to help you keep upright and return to standing.

You can use bodyweight exercise variations of your regular weight training exercises during a de-load week. De-loads are vital for managing fatigue in any well-designed weight lifting program.

Do a Bodyweight Only Strength Workout

If you don't have any weights or prefer not to use them, it is possible to use only your body weight for an effective strength workout. This option is particularly useful for anyone with limitations or low levels of strength, such as seniors, those who have been sedentary, and anyone recovering from an injury. It's vital to get approval from a doctor before beginning if these situations apply to you.

A bodyweight-only strength workout program needs to include ways to increase the challenge each time you exercise. Progressing the challenge of your workout is the only way you will continue to see results. As your body adapts and gets stronger, you will be able to do increasingly more challenging exercises, or you can perform more of the same movements in each session.

Below is an example of a full-body bodyweight training workout. If you are new to training, aim for 2 sets of 10 to 12 repetitions. If you are more advanced, try 3 to 4 sets of 15 to 20 repetitions.

You can perform this workout with straight sets, working through one exercise and all of its sets before moving to the next, or you can perform it as a circuit, moving from one set of each exercise to the next and repeating the entire circuit for the desired number of sets.

Full Body Bodyweight Training Workout

Use Bodyweight Training for Cardio

You can use bodyweight training for cardio workouts, especially if you do not have any cardio machines. Bodyweight exercises are ideal for cardio workouts because you can move from move to move without needing to fuss with any equipment.

An effective way to perform a bodyweight training cardio workout is to choose a few exercises and perform them in a circuit with minimal to no rest between movements. Once you reach the end of the circuit, rest to recover and repeat.

Choosing bodyweight exercises for cardio might differ from those you'd choose for a strength routine, depending on your fitness level. For optimal cardiovascular work, plyometric movements are an excellent choice. An ideal cardio circuit workout would include a lower body movement, upper body movement, core exercise, then a pure cardio exercise.

Below is an example of a plyo-based bodyweight cardiovascular workout. Beginners can aim to do 2 rounds, resting 2 to 3 minutes between rounds. Intermediate exercises can try 3 rounds with 1 to 2 minutes of rest, and those more advanced can aim for 4 or 5 rounds with 1 to 2 minutes of rest. Perform 10 to 15 reps of each strength movement, then perform jumping jacks for 1 to 2 minutes.

Bodyweight Cardio Workout

A Word From Verywell

Bodyweight training can effectively build muscle, increase strength, and boost your cardiovascular fitness. Using only your body as resistance is convenient and easy, with the ability to increase the challenge using progressions or a suspension trainer. It's wise to seek the advice of a doctor if you have been sedentary for a long time or have any past or current injuries or health concerns.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Is bodyweight training effective for building muscle?

    Bodyweight training can help build muscle for those new to exercise. To continue seeing results, it's vital to continue adding challenge by increasing the difficulty through harder exercises or more volume (sets and reps).

  • Is bodyweight training as effective as lifting weights?

    Bodyweight training can be as effective as lifting weights, especially as you are new to resistance training. Careful programming that increases the challenge of your workout each session will ensure you see results from bodyweight training.

  • Who should do bodyweight exercises?

    Everyone can benefit from doing bodyweight exercises, no matter your fitness level. Beginners can particularly benefit from using bodyweight to perfect form and gain functional strength before moving on to using weights.

  • Is the TRX good for bodyweight exercises?

    The TRX is excellent for bodyweight exercises. It helps you perform a much wider variety of movements using your bodyweight as resistance that cannot be done otherwise. TRX trainers also help you make exercises easier or harder with easy tweaks.

6 Sources
Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Lipecki K, Rutowicz B. The impact of ten weeks of bodyweight training on the level of physical fitness and selected parameters of body composition in women aged 21-23 years. Polish Journal of Sport and Tourism. 2015;22(2):64-68. doi:10.1515/pjst-2015-0014

  2. Hollingsworth, J.C., Young, K.C., Abdullah, S.F. et al. Protocol for Minute Calisthenics: a randomized controlled study of a daily, habit-based, bodyweight resistance training programBMC Public Health 20, 1242 (2020). doi:10.1186/s12889-020-09355-4

  3. ARCHILA LR, BOSTAD W, JOYNER MJ, GIBALA MJ. Simple bodyweight training improves cardiorespiratory fitness with minimal time commitment: a contemporary application of the 5bx approach. Int J Exerc Sci. 2021;14(3):93-100.

  4. How much physical activity do adults need?. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

  5. Schoenfeld BJ, Contreras B, Krieger J, et al. Resistance training volume enhances muscle hypertrophy but not strength in trained men. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise. 2019;51(1):94-103. doi:10.1249%2FMSS.0000000000001764

  6. La Scala Teixeira CV, Evangelista AL, Pereira PE de A, Da Silva-Grigoletto ME, Bocalini DS, Behm DG. Complexity: a novel load progression strategy in strength training. Front Physiol. 2019;10:839. doi:10.3389%2Ffphys.2019.00839

By Rachel MacPherson, BA, CPT
Rachel MacPherson is a health writer, certified personal trainer, and exercise nutrition coach based in Montreal.