45 Bodyweight Arm Exercises To Help You Build Strength & Definition

Written By: Todd Kuslikis
April 21, 2016

Bodyweight exercises are one of the greatest methods for building strength and definition. You can do them anywhere and they don’t require any investment in equipment.

However, you have to know the proper way to train based on your goals.

There are specific ways of training the arms using bodyweight exercises to get greater results in less time. The most common exercises… chin ups, pull ups and dips only scratch the surface of bodyweight arm training and create many questions…

For example:

What if I can’t do these exercises at all? Where do I begin?

Do I just keep doing these exercises forever? Shouldn’t I be varying the exercises to provide my muscles with different challenges?

These are real and valid concerns.

You DO need a starting point when training your arms… especially if you can’t do a chin up.

And you DO need to have some variety in your exercises in order to stimulate the muscles in different ways.

Training the arms using bodyweight exercises is a world that most people never enter.

They add some push ups and chin ups to the end of their weight lifting routine.

They only get a fraction of the true benefit of bodyweight arm training.

Today, I’m going to teach you everything you need to know about working your shoulders, biceps, triceps, forearms and hands using just your own bodyweight. You’ll learn how to develop strength and increase muscular definition without ever touching a weight.

I’ll give you a variety of bodyweight arm exercises to choose from and show you how to add variety to them, whether you are a beginner or are advanced.

I’ll even show you some workouts that you can follow to get you started today.

Sounds good?

Welcome to the world of bodyweight arm training… one of the most effective ways of training.

What Are The Muscles In The Arm?

 

Yeah, we’re starting off with the basics here.

I’m not going to get into too many details here. For general purpose, here’s what you need to know:

Shoulder Muscles (Deltoids) – Lift up the arm up

Bicep Muscles – Flex the elbow

Tricep Muscles – Extend the arm

Forearm/Hand Muscles – Flex and extend the hand and fingers

Yep, told you we would stay basic.

You can get very detailed in regard to muscle insertion and origins and actions.

Is it necessary? Not really, but it can help if you are working on creating your own arm exercises and are trying target a specific muscle.

Bodyweight Exercises vs Weight Lifting

bodyweight arm exercises weight lifting

Before I begin, I want to mention that training using just your own bodyweight doesn’t need to be an either/or choice. You CAN add it to your current routine.

But you don’t NEED to… In fact, I just use bodyweight training in my own routine.

Its a choice.

You have the freedom to decide how you want to train.

Why Use Just Bodyweight Exercises?

There are a ton of benefits for bodyweight training.

  • No cost
  • Decrease likelihood of injury
  • You can do them anywhere
  • Help improve core strength
  • Decreased boredom
  • And many more…

Isolation vs Compound Movements

Typically, when you use weights the exercises are more focused on muscle isolation. For example, with the bicep curl you move a weight upward and are strengthening just the bicep. This is isolation.

The equivalent bodyweight exercise for the bicep, the chin up, works the bicep but also strengthens the forearm, the back muscles and core (among others). In the same amount of time you work more muscles.

How’s that for efficiency? 😉

Let’s take another example, the tricep extension.

When using weights you can do this in a number of ways including: skull crushers, tricep extensions with weight, tricep kickbacks, bench press tricep extensions, etc.

All of these exercises effectively target the triceps muscle.

The equivalent bodyweight triceps exercises, though (as you’ll learn later in this article) also work the core, shoulders, chest muscles and other muscle groups.

So are bodyweight exercises better?

No, they are just different.

Here’s how I look at it…

Weights lifting (especially how most people use them, ie, isolation exercises) are great for targeting one muscle group.

You can really focus on a particular muscle and leave it totally fatigued.

With bodyweight exercises you can target a single muscle group too but other muscle groups will also be worked.

Ok, onward we go.

Can I build as much muscle size in my arms as doing weight lifting?

The short answer is no.

Using progressively heavier and heavier weights is a much easier method of building muscle size.

There are obvious benefits to doing bodyweight exercises (as mentioned above) but using weights will get you SIZE faster.

What! Aren’t you the bodyweight dude, Todd? Why are you telling us to use weights?

I’m not telling you to use weights. You CAN build muscle size and amazing definition with just bodyweight exercises. However, its easier to do when you use weights. Personally, I find freedom in bodyweight training which is why I proclaim this method.

You choose your own path based on your goals.

I have no desire to get as big as Arnold. I do, however, have a desire to have a really nice physique which CAN be done with correct bodyweight training.

Why Split Your Body Into Parts?

At this point, you may be thinking a very important question: “If bodyweight exercises are better designed for working the body as a whole, why should I split my routine into parts? For example, why should I work my arms separately from my whole body?

Its is true that some exercises work the body as a unit.

Here are a few of my favorite:

When you do any of the exercises above, you’ll be strengthening your chest, back, arms, legs and core.

Isn’t this enough?

Pretty much covered the whole body, right?

In order to build muscle and increase muscle definition, you’ve got to have some level of isolation.

If you are ONLY doing “whole body” movements than one of two things will occur:

1. You’ll fatigue your body as a whole

By this I mean that you’ll get tired, but you won’t feel it in one particular area. It will be a generalized fatigue that is great for increasing cardiovascular conditioning and muscular endurance, but not so much for muscular hypertrophy (increase in size).

2. You’re weakest body part will give out first.

For example, if your weakest body part is your triceps, then when you do the Hindu Push Up (mentioned above) you’ll find it very difficult to push back up.

You’ll still be building some level of muscle definition but its not as effective as targeting the tricep (similar to how weight lifting does).

This leads me to a major point in bodyweight training:

Some bodyweight arm exercises will be more isolating than others. You should use both. The ones that are more isolating will help build greater definition and target the muscle more effectively. The ones that include more synergistic muscles (whole body training) will help strengthen the surrounding muscles and build more whole body strength.

Make sense?

Alright, let’s carry on…

What Rep Ranges Should I Shoot For When Doing These Bodyweight Arm Exercises?

This totally depends on your goal. Below, I’ve laid out several rep/set schemes based on the three goals: build muscle, build strength and build endurance.

Goal 1: Build Muscle

If you are trying to build muscle, you must fatigue the muscle within a mid rep range (ideally 8-12 rep range). This doesn’t mean stopping once you’ve hit this number. This means finding a bodyweight exercise where you naturally can’t do any more than 8-12 reps.

What about sets?

In order to build muscle size, you NEED volume. By volume, I mean sets. You need to do a large number of sets in order to fully tear the muscle tissue and have it rebuild. I recommend 8 sets for each exercise (lately I’ve been experimenting with 15 sets and loving it! Its actually a super set where I move back and forth from a bicep and tricep exercise. Its an absolute killer and I’m sure I’ll share more in a future post).

EIGHT full sets for EACH exercise is a great target for building muscle.

What about rest periods?

You want to keep rest periods to a minimum when training for size. Keep rest periods in the 30-60 second range.

Goal 2: Build Strength

If your goal is to build strength then you’ll want to fatigue within a lower rep range (ideally 6-8). Same thing applies. You should not just stop when you reach those numbers. When you are creating your routine, pick HARDER exercises where you literally can’t do any more reps than 6-8.

What about sets?

When building strength you can get away with fewer sets. These sets can even be spread out over the course of a full day. This method is called ‘Greasing the Groove” and will help neurons “learn” the patterns needed to perform the movement. This is an important component of strength. Keep sets to around 3-4 but if you are spreading your sets out over the course of a day you can do more.

What about rest periods?

Rest periods should be long. At a minimum, rest for 90 seconds but can be longer like in the 2-3 minute range.

Goal 3: Build Endurance

You can build endurance with any amount of reps beyond 12 reps. The structure inside the capillaries of your arms is changing when you workout for endurance. They are adapting so they can carry more oxygen to your muscles. You won’t see an increase in size when training for endurance but this is a very helpful type of cross training for sports. For example, if you are a biker or a runner you can increase your endurance by doing bodyweight squats for reps greater than 12.

What about sets?

Since each set is longer (over 12 reps) you can decrease the number of total sets. Stick to 3-4 total.

What about rest periods?

Rest periods should be mid range: about 90 seconds.

Now that you have a basic understanding of HOW to train, let’s get into the nitty gritty exercises.

45 Bodyweight Arm Exercises To Help You Build Strength & Definition

Below you will find a very detailed guide for building strength, muscle and endurance in the arms.

I have divided each part into sections for ease of use. I also broke up the sections into “Beginner”, “Intermediate”, and “Advanced”.

Remember that you need to pick an exercise that forces you to fatigue within your desired rep range goal.

Bodyweight Exercises for Shoulders

Below you’ll find some awesome exercises for building up your shoulders. Some of these also work the tricep muscles but are mostly targeting the front, middle or posterior part of the deltoid (should muscle).

Beginner Bodyweight Shoulder Exercises

High Plank

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Push Back Push Ups

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Arm Circles

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Bird Dog

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Standing Wall Angels

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Air Punches

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Intermediate Bodyweight Shoulder Exercises

Handstand Against Wall

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Elbow Twists (Helicopters)

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Stretch Push Up

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Wide Warm Push Up

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One Arm Static Plank Hold

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Advanced Bodyweight Shoulder Exercises

Handstand Push Up

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Pike Push Ups

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L Sit

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Tuck Planche Push Ups

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Reverse Wall Walks

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Bodyweight Exercises for Biceps

The biceps are a fun muscle to work because they are in front and you can see the swelling during the workout. Make sure that you choose exercises that naturally force you to fatigue within the desired rep range.

Beginner Bodyweight Bicep Exercises

Chair Chin Ups

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Inverted Row with Underhand Grip

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Intermediate Bodyweight Bicep Exercises

Isometric Chins

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Dynamic Tension Bicep Curl

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Static Tension
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Vince shows it with weight but you can do this without weight as a static tension exercise.

Chin Ups

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Lumberjack Chin Ups

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Close Grip Chin Ups

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Advanced Bodyweight Bicep Exercises

One Arm Chin Ups

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Archer Pull Ups

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Super Slow Negative Chin Ups

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These can be done even slower. Try for at least a 10 second count on the eccentric (down phase).

One Arm Chin Up Hold

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Bodyweight Exercises for Triceps

Many of these triceps exercises also work the chest. However, there are ways of modifying each exercise so that it targets more of the tricep. Watch the video to learn how to modify each each exercise.

Beginner Bodyweight Tricep Exercises

Wall Push Ups for Triceps

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Bench Dips

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Lying Floor Tricep Dips

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Intermediate Bodyweight Tricep Exercises

Tricep Push Ups

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Dips

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Bodyweight Tricep Extensions

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Close Grip Push Ups

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Advanced Bodyweight Tricep Exercises

Triangle Push Ups

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Half Plank Tiger Bends

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Mike calls these Tricep Extensions but I call them Half Plank Tiger Bends.

L Sit

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Bodyweight Exercises for Forearms & Hands

When you strengthen the forearms and hands this will improve your ability to perform other exercises. Think about a pull up as an example. You might have great bicep and back strength but if your grip gives out than you’ll never be able to use the pull up as an exercise for strengthening your biceps and lats. When doing calisthenics, you need to have a strong grip. The exercises below will help you build strength in your forearms and hands.

Beginner Bodyweight Forearm/Hand Exercises

Supported Hangs
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This guy is doing an unsupported hang but all you have to do is keep some weight on the ground to start until you can hang unsupported.

Intermediate Bodyweight Forearm/Hand Exercises

Unsupported Hangs

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5 Finger High Planks

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Fingertip Push Ups

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Your arms don’t need to be extended to get the benefit in your finger and grip strength.

Advanced Bodyweight Forearm/Hand Exercises

One Arm Hangs

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5 Finger High Planks on One Arm

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The person in this video has his hand down. You would want to pop up so you are on your fingers.

Fingertip Pull Ups

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You don’t need to try to go for 1 or 2 fingers. Stay at 4 fingers and as you get stronger drop down to fewer fingers.

How To Make Any Of These Exercises Harder   

Ok, that should give you a great starting point for your bodyweight arm training.

However, remember that you must try to fatigue within a certain rep range depending on your goal in order to (a) build muscle (b) build strength or (c) build endurance.

So here are 3 techniques that I like to incorporate into some of the sets in order to make them harder.

1. Increase Time Under Tension

Spending more time under tension will help you fatigue the muscle more effectively. If you find an exercise too easy you can very quickly make it harder by decreasing your speed of the positive (concentric) and negative (eccentric) phase of the movement.

2. Focus On The Eccentric Contraction

The eccentric phase of the movement is when the muscle is lengthening but its under tension. Research has shown that this phase is where most of the muscle damage is done. If your goal is to build muscle, then spend most of your time here.

3. Increase Squeeze While Doing Movement

In my Isometrics Strength program I go into this in more detail but essentially you can squeeze the muscle harder than what is needed to perform the movement. This uses dynamic tension and recruits more muscle fibers. Its a great way to tear more muscle tissue.

How Should I Structure My Bodyweight Arm Workout?

There are many ways of structuring your workout.

Here are just a few. There is no “right” way. My general recommendation is to train one way for 2-3 months and then switch up. When you change up your routine you force your body to keep adjusting to the changes. This prevent plateau.

Method 1: Biceps & Triceps On Different Days

This is just like a traditional bodybuilding plan. Chest/Triceps will be worked on Monday. Back/Biceps will be worked on Tuesday. Legs on Wed and repeat, taking Sunday off. Shoulders can be either Monday or Tuesday.

The benefit of this method is that you don’t inadvertently fatigue the triceps when they shouldn’t be worked. For example, most chest exercises will require the use of the triceps. Since they are worked on the same day, it doesn’t really matter. If you worked the triceps on the same day you worked back (say for example, Monday), when you worked the Chest and biceps on Tuesday, you’d also be working the triceps and not giving them a full rest.

Method 2: Biceps & Triceps on Same Day

This method is known as “Arm Day” and is the day everyone looks forward to because you get a tremendous pump in your arms (which feels great!). Do this day after your Chest/Back day.

Method 3: Whole Body Method

If you are not interested in muscle isolation you can work your entire body using many of the exercises found here. However, don’t use this method every day. Limit it to 3-4 days out of the week to give your body necessary time to rebuild and recover.

How Do I Stretch My Arms?

There are many different methods of stretching.

I’m not going to do into too much depth here other than to emphasize that before any workout you want to do dynamic stretches, meaning movement. Static stretches (no movement) can be performed after the workout to increase flexibility.

You can learn a lot more about my stretching philosophy and learn a ton of arm stretches here.

Show Me Some Bodyweight Arm Workouts Todd!

Alright, now on to the fun stuff right? 😉

Below I have listed some awesome bodyweight arm workouts you can perform.

Check them out. I’ve again categorized them for you based on beginner, intermediate and advanced.

Beginner Bodyweight Arm Workouts

Home Upper Body Workout Without Weights

Purely Twins Quick Arm & Core Workout

Bodyweight Arm Workout

Intermediate Bodyweight Arm Workouts

15 Minute Bodyweight Arm Workout

Colossal Base Bicep Workout

Advanced Bodyweight Arm Workouts

Extreme Bodyweight Shoulder Workout

Bodyweight Arm Resources

Bodyweight Exericse Full Video Library

Periodic Table of Bodyweight Exercises

Great video for more Bicep Exercises
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Bodyweight Arm Workout Video

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Yo Elliott Video on Why Bodyweight Training Is Better

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Conclusion on How To Train Your Arms Using Only Bodyweight Training

As you can see there are MANY methods for training your arms.

Bodyweight Arm Training is not an exact science. Arms are worked inadvertently when you perform any number of other bodyweight exercises. However, if you really want your guns to pop and have beautiful definition than isolating the biceps and triceps will be a great method.

Go ahead and build your own workout or try one of the workouts above.

Remember to change up your routine ever 2-3 months and you’ll have beautifully defined arms… using just bodyweight training!

Let me know if you have any questions.

-Bodyweight Todd

Show/Hide Comments (24 comments)
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24 Comments
  1. Erbear

    You forgot the absolute best forearm body weight training… Climbing! I may struggle with Push ups, Dips, and one armed Pullups, but as a climber I can hang with 1 arm until I’m bored, do pull ups from a ledge as wide as a toothpick, with 3 fingers total, or from 2 hanging soccer balls. It also works all those little muscles in your hands and wrist. It works pretty much your full body. And it’s fun. Yay! All you have to do is do it. Just don’t over train those hand muscles, since the tendons can’t keep up.

    Reply
  2. Aksh

    Hi Bodyweight Todd.

    First of all, thanks for this amazing arricle and website.

    Also I would like to achieve Goal 1, 2 and 3. How can I do that? Thank you

    Reply
    • Todd Kuslikis

      Hi Askh,

      There are instructions under each goal showing how to achieve it. Just follow those instructions.

      – Todd

      Reply
      • Aksh

        Hi.

        Sorry I didn’t make myself clear.

        In the week, should I aim for Goal 3 on Day 1, then Goal 2 on Day 3, then Goal 1 on Day 5? If not, how can I structure it during the week.

        Aksh

        Reply
        • Todd Kuslikis

          Sorry for the misundersting. I’d say just stick with one goal for a couple of months at least then move to the next goal. For most people, I’d recommend focusing on strength in the beginning, then once you have a strength foundation, you can move to building muscle size. If you do some kind of sport, then building stamina can be the third goal.

          – Todd

          Reply
          • Aksh

            You are always on your website. You never let your fans down. Thanks a million!

          • Aksh

            Can the same be done with legs?

          • Todd Kuslikis

            I love my fans, Askh, that’s why I’m always there for them. I wouldn’t be here without my fans.

            I’d say use that method for every muscle group, including legs.

            – Todd

  3. Rich

    Hey Todd,

    First of all thanks for the post! Really inspiring 😉

    Probably the most extensive blog I’ve ever read on body weight arm exercises!

    I’ve tried a few of these in the past, one which I especially love but am missing here is doing a bridge tricep exercise. Where you go into a bridge and then push yourself up and down as you would with a handstand only then in a bridge. I can highly recommend this, because it also adresses body balance, coordination and allows for good transitions into other exercises. Have you tried this? What are your thoughts on exercises which require more complexity?

    With regard to isolation vs compound movements, I’ve recently come across guys such as ido portal and simonster, who are especially good in transitioning from exercise to exercise. Which in itself is an exercise. Do you have any tips on these transitions? And on making them more fluid?

    Thanks in advance!

    Rich

    Reply
  4. Fabrice

    Hi Todd, great article as usual. Could you please produce a sample hypertrophy for the legs? I really think that with bodyweight legs, one can gain flexibility, strength, athleticism but in term of hypertrophy…. I hope that I ‘ m wrong. Thanks for your work and happy thanksgiving.

    Reply
  5. smart player

    thanks for this article, i just was designing my routine but getting confused which exercise works which muscle mostly. bodyweight exercises are cool shits as they work multiple muscles.

    Reply
    • Todd Kuslikis

      Yep, bodyweight training is the bomb! 🙂

      Reply
  6. ROCCO

    Awesome!! You’ve outdone yourself. Keep up the good work and I really enjoyed the combat bundle.

    Reply
    • Todd Kuslikis

      Awesome Rocco! Thanks man!

      Reply
  7. Carl

    Todd,

    Thanks for putting these all together in one place. Curious – I have seen a number of sites recommend against bench dips because of damage to shoulder or rotator cuff. What are your thoughts on that?

    Reply
    • Nick

      Hi Carl,

      I used to have the same question. I have found out that dips will damage your shoulders only if you allow your shoulder to elevate. If you keep your scapula depressed you are fine. Just try it right now using both ways and you will notice that when you have your scapula depressed you have less range of motion and no shoulder pain.

      There are other forms of dips that are more stressful and still ok for you to perform (if you have the scapula strength), such as bulgarian/ korean dips.

      Reply
      • smart player

        how can we keep them depressed (i’m not getting to the point), can you please describe?

        Reply
        • Nick

          Hi Smart Player,

          You will have to contract your lats. What you actually want to do is to keep your shoulder far from your ears.

          Try this. Go into the dip position and with straight arms let your shoulder come slowly close to your ears, then push them back down. You can do this for reps to strengthen the position.

          Check out this video for a description of the scapula positions: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9-njKUc-f9U

          If you have difficulties holding the depressed position during dips, you can practice with push ups.

          Reply
      • Todd Kuslikis

        Yep, great points Nick!

        Reply
    • Todd Kuslikis

      Hi Carl,

      It has everything to do with mobility. If someone has limited mobility and jumps into an exercise that is a little bit more difficult or “unstable” than it can be a cause of injury. If you have good mobility and strength than its a great exercise. 🙂

      Reply
  8. Nick

    WOW! This is really awesome Todd! Very helpful post.

    I have a question though. How would you implement the static holds such (eg. L-sit) with the hypertrophy protocols?

    I was thinking of super-setting L-sit variations with some static bridging (not so good for arm definition, but great for core strength). I have done this in the past, but I wasn’t aiming for hypertrophy.

    Reply
    • Todd Kuslikis

      Hi Nick,

      Great question. Personally, I wouldn’t use that one for hypertrophy. You could always add a weight vest but then it wouldn’t technically be “bodyweight”. 😉

      Yeah, that would definitely be a great method of supersetting for strength!

      Reply
  9. Gary

    Todd! You’ve out done yourself on this one. Absolutely awesome article that filled some gaps in my thoughts on body weight vs. weights training. Now, I can laser focus on what I need to do and alter in my workout routines. Thanks again Todd. You’re still the “man”!

    Reply
    • Todd Kuslikis

      Thanks Gary! So happy you found some insight in the article. 🙂

      Reply
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