There are a short answer and a long answer to this question. Simply put, yes you can build muscle mass with bodyweight exercises without a doubt. However, there are many factors at play here that determine where on your body you can build the muscle, how you can build muscle mass with bodyweight exercises, and who can build muscle with bodyweight exercises.
The living proof
Anyone who has watched the Olympics has probably noticed the fantastic physiques of the top performing athletes that compete in the games.
It’s no secret that gymnasts performing at the Olympic level have chiseled bodies for the most part. However, the only exercises they partake in are bodyweight-based exercises. Whether it be through tumbling, using the pommel horse, or the trapeze bars, gymnasts build sculpted muscle through bodyweight exercises.
Sprinters, if you have ever noticed have built thigh muscles, toned glutes, and washboard abs. For them, it would be utterly pointless to do any sort of bodybuilding. A top-heavy sprinter won’t makes it ahead off the blocks. As a result, they only tend to focus on interval training to build the muscle they have.
The list goes on. Boxing, basketball, swimming, and nearly every track and field sport all involve athletes who have achieved amazing body through bodyweight exercises almost exclusively.
Based on the living proof we can all agree that bodyweight exercises can build muscle mass. However, these are Olympic athletes whose lives revolve around working out and eating right. They live and breath their sports and have developed their physiques over years of dedicated work.
However, not everyone has the time to spend 5 hours a day on their body (very few people have the willpower, to begin with) so how is it possible for the average guy or gal to really make a difference in their body and build muscle mass through bodyweight exercises…
Where on your body can you use bodyweight exercises to build mass?
You can pretty much any muscle on your body with bodyweight exercises. The thing is, it can be a bit of a challenge to build up some parts of your body.
For instance, for a full back workout, a pull-up bar is really all you need. With a pull-up bar, you can work nearly ever back muscle to some degree and you can build lean back muscle just with the pull-up bar.
However, it can be a bit more challenging to build muscle mass with bodyweight exercises for example on your quads. Yes, sprinters noticeably have defined leg muscles, but most of the time they aren’t bulky.
It is extremely hard to use bodyweight exercises to build muscle mass for the quads and hamstrings. To really develop your quads and hamstrings, weighted squats and deadlifts should be in store. Simply doing bodyweight squats is good for staying in shape and burning calories, but you won’t build bulky muscles anytime soon.
In addition, bodyweight exercises can build muscle mass for compound muscle groups. For instance, as I mentioned before you can build a sculpted back from these exercises. However, it is particularly difficult with bodyweight exercises to target isolated muscles such as the rear delts.
How can you build muscle mass with bodyweight exercises?
If you don’t already know, muscles only grow under stress.
Put in an overly simplistic way, when you exercise you put your muscles under stress. When the muscles are put under stress, afterward they either can die from the stress, or repair themselves so that they are even stronger than they once were. This leads to muscle growth.
However, once your body gets used to the amount of stress you put on your muscles, the more your body becomes complacent. Unless you constantly expose your muscles to increasing stress and strain, your muscles simply won’t grow.
That being said, in order to bulk up your muscles with bodyweight exercises, you need to constantly increase the stress on your muscles through your workouts.
Incrementally increasing the amount of pressure your muscles are exposed to is easy through weight training. In a nutshell, you simply just need to gradually increase your weight for each set week by week and month by month.
For bodyweight exercises, doing this is not as easy. It’s not as if you can make your body heavier on command so that you can push yourself harder doing pushups.
You can improve your muscle endurance by adding more reps to each set but this won’t allow you to build larger muscles. Tacking on more reps might build your muscles to some extent but your progress will quickly plateau.
This being said, the best way to build a muscular body with bodyweight exercises would be by adding some variation to your workouts.
For instance, instead of doing the same pull-up routine every day, maybe try alternating between pull-ups and chin-ups. Maybe the next week focus on pulling up fast, pausing for 5 seconds at the top and then going down slowly. Maybe the next week try to do one hand pull-ups if you’re up for it.
Bottom line is that if you want to build muscle with bodyweight workouts, you most importantly need to incrementally add more stress to your muscles each workout. Variation in your workouts is a great way to do so.
Who can build muscle with bodyweight exercises?
Almost everyone can use bodyweight exercises to build mass. Anyone who doesn’t want to get a gym membership, is a beginner in fitness or exercise, or simply wants to get in shape can achieve amazing results with bodyweight exercises.
However, for some people, I would not recommend bodyweight exercises if their goal is to build as much muscle as possible.
People who are morbidly obese can absolutely build muscle with bodyweight exercises. No doubt about it. However, if you are obese and want the muscle to show through the fat, I would recommend taking a different course of action first. First off, I would advise you to work on doing more cardio training to shed away some of the fat. After you lower your body fat percentage a bit, then building muscle through bodyweight exercises is the next step.
The other type of person I would not recommend bodyweight exercises to is the person who is already has a decent amount of muscle. If you are a bodybuilder, bodyweight exercises as you probably know should be more supplemental exercises to your preexisting gym routine. As I said before, you cant expect to build tree trunk legs by just doing bodyweight squats.
At the end of the day, building mass through bodyweight exercises is slightly harder than weight lifting. That does not mean by any means that is not possible. By taking the necessary steps to ensure that you keep your body on your toes by constantly challenging yourself, this feat is achievable