Monday, July 1, 2019

Best Body Weight Exercises for Lean Muscle and Performance

Are you looking for a way to build lean muscle tissue without getting bulky? Want to lose body fat and get lean? Do you prefer avoiding the gym and exercising in the comfort of your own home? Calisthenics workouts may be your answer. Often called body weight exercise, calisthenics is the foundation for modern day exercise. Let’s take a look at what calisthenics workouts are, their benefits, and how you can apply them to your own workout program.

What are Calisthenics?

Calisthenics are the basics of muscle and strength building. You use your own body weight as the resistance instead of the barbells and dumbbells you’d find in a traditional weight lifting workout. An example of a calisthenics or body weight exercise is a push-up. During a push-up, there are no weights involved. You are pushing your own bodyweight from the floor to a raised position.

Benefits of Calisthenics

Despite the absence of weight plates, body weight exercises are extremely effective at promoting a number of incredible benefits including fat burning and lean muscle building.

Lean Muscle Growth
·      The most obvious benefit of body weight exercises is lean muscle mass. No, you won’t bulk up like Mr. Olympia but you can build some serious lean and sculpted muscle with calisthenics. Studies show that strength training in the form of body weight exercises can vastly improve lean tissue mass. (1)

Fat Loss
·      Strength training in general promotes fat loss but body weight exercises offer a unique opportunity to vary intensity. Higher intensity calisthenics such as high intensity interval training workouts have been shown to dramatically increase fat burning during and for hours after the workout finishes. (2)

Cardiovascular Health
·      One of the most preventable diseases in the United States is cardiovascular disease. Caused primarily due to poor exercise and nutritional choices, cardiovascular disease is responsible for 1 in 4 deaths in the U.S., according to the Center for Disease Control. Body weight exercises are an excellent way to fight back against the risk factors for cardiovascular disease. Studies show that engaging in a consistent body weight exercise program can significantly lower your risk of cardiovascular issues. (3)

Mood Booster
·      If you’re feeling blue, calisthenics workouts are a natural anti-depressant. When you perform body weight exercises, your body naturally releases several feed good hormones including serotonin. Studies show that regular exercise is a crucial part of treatment plans for those suffering from mood disorders. (4)

Sleep Better
·      If you’re having trouble sleeping, try body weight exercises. Studies show that when you regularly work out, you support healthy sleeping patterns. This promotes a healthy cycle of more sleep and better hormone health. Do some push-ups to get better shut-eye! (5)

Ideal for Special Populations
·      Body weight exercises are safe and ideal for those populations of people that may be at a higher risk for injury. The elderly and those going through rehabilitation will benefit greatly from taking it slow with calisthenics workouts. Teens interested in getting started with exercise will be able to form a solid fitness foundation with calisthenics workouts.

·      Lastly, body weight exercises are extremely convenient. You don’t need to buy a gym membership or special equipment. You only need access to a local park or a small space at home. No need to worry about traffic, bad weather, or rude people. Put on some good music at home and get started exercising.

Calisthenics vs. Weight Training

One of the most popular questions that I receive from my clients is whether calisthenics workouts are better than weight training. The answer isn’t a yes or no response. Both body weight exercises and weight training exercises play an important role in helping you achieve optimal health along with any specific fitness goals you may have.

Both forms of training share the same benefits but let’s take a look at the pros and cons of calisthenics and weight training so you can see how the two naturally complement one another.

Calisthenics Pros

·      No cost
·      Convenient
·      Safe
·      Ideal for beginners

Calisthenics Cons

·      May be limited to exercises based on space and lack of equipment at home
·      Not ideal for size gains
·      Can get boring if you don’t have a pull-up bar or a bench

Weight Training Pros

·      Ideal for building large muscle mass
·      Weights provide hundreds of options

Weight Training Cons

·      Not cost effective
·      Weights may present a danger for injury
·      Weight exercises are not always easy to master and can result in improper form and strain

Despite the disadvantages of both body weight exercises and weight training, the two are necessary in a complete and effective fitness program. I’ll talk more about the progression of calisthenics workouts below but first, let’s provide you with the best body weight exercises workout.

Best Calisthenics Workout

Below is a circuit workout that will target all major muscle groups. Perform four sets of the following exercises and repetitions:

·      16 Push-ups
·      7-9 Dips

·      25 Squats

·      7-9 Pull-ups

Do not rest until you’ve completed all repetitions of all exercises. Once you finish the first set, rest for 2 to 3 minutes then begin again. Remember you have to complete this list four times!

Progressions for Calisthenics Workouts

If you’re just starting out or trying to get back into serious weight lifting, calisthenics workouts should be step one. As I mentioned above, they are safe and allow you to strengthen all major muscle groups before applying external force from dumbbells and barbells.

If you jump into a weight training program with a poor working relationship between major muscle groups, you’re putting yourself at a higher risk for over compensation and injury.

I recommend starting with body weight exercise workouts then after two or three months, moving your way into basic and foundational weight training workouts.


Do you use body weight exercises? What is your favorite? What benefits have you noticed since you began using calisthenics workouts? Tell me in the comments below!


1. Yamauchi J, Nakayama S, Ishii N. Effects of bodyweight-based exercise training on muscle functions of leg multi-joint movement in elderly individuals. Geriatr Gerontol Int. 2009 Sep;9(3):262-9. doi: 10.1111/j.1447-0594.2009.00530.x.

2. Boutcher SH. High-Intensity Intermittent Exercise and Fat Loss. Journal of Obesity. 2011;2011:868305. doi:10.1155/2011/868305.

3. Wong PC, Chia MY, Tsou IY, Wansaicheong GK, Tan B, Wang JC, Tan J, Kim CG, Boh G, Lim D. Effects of a 12-week exercise training programme on aerobic fitness, body composition, blood lipids and C-reactive protein in adolescents with obesity. Ann Acad Med Singapore. 2008 Apr;37(4):286-93.

4. Craft LL, Perna FM. The Benefits of Exercise for the Clinically Depressed. Primary Care Companion to The Journal of Clinical Psychiatry. 2004;6(3):104-111.

5. Kline CE. The bidirectional relationship between exercise and sleep: Implications for exercise adherence and sleep improvement. American journal of lifestyle medicine. 2014;8(6):375-379. doi:10.1177/1559827614544437.