Tag Archives: Pull-ups

Top 5 Body Weight Exercises

Improving your physique and strength isn’t all about smashing the heavy weights. It is a great idea to incorporate simple body weight exercises into your workout programme. These sort of exercises can help with explosive strength, core development as well as overall body development.

The great thing about body weight lifts is that they can be performed at home when you can’t make it to the gym and also function as a great introduction for people who have yet to take the leap to weight lifting.

I perform at least two body weight exercises every time I hit the gym. I use them primarily as a warm up for bigger lifts but increasing repetitions or adding additional weight to body weight lifts can make them  a major part of any workout.

Here are my top 5 body weight exercises:

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#1 Pull-ups

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In my opinion, the undisputed king of body weight exercises. Pull-ups are simple to perform. Pull-ups are a fantastic way to build upper back mass but are also effective in building larger biceps. I rarely train biceps by themselves (I know, shocking!) but my arms remain in proportion to my physique due to focused back training. Some people swear by pull-ups for arm growth and perform them with a narrow grip to put as much emphasis onto the biceps as possible.

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Varying your hand grip can change the emphasis across your entire back. Feel like your lats are lagging? Wide grip pull-ups have you covered. Looking to beef up your rhomboids and lower trapezius? Narrower grip pull-ups are for you.

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Not only are pull-ups versatile in muscle targeting but adding additional weight (either through a belt or dumbbell) turns them into a serious back exercise to rival well-liked machines such as the ‘rope pull down’.

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Ever since hearing that Arnold (The King) use to start every training session with a 5 set pull-up warm up I have done the same. It has done true wonders for the width of my upper back.

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If pull-ups aren’t part of your routine then consider fitting them in or even performing them instead of using fixed pull down machines. If you are an ace at the standard pull-up, consider making things harder for yourself by increasing your hand spacing, performing pause reps, or adding additional weight to the lift.

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Major Muscles:

  • Middle and lower trapezius
  • Rhomboids
  • Latissimi dorsi
  • Deltoids
  • Biceps brachii/brachialis

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Great For:

Upper back width

Building ‘lat’ mass

Building biceps

Grip strength

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How To:

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Key things to remember:

Full reps! Don’t cheat yourself with half repetitions

No ‘kipping’. This isn’t cross-fit. Avoid using leg momentum

If you are just starting out, most gyms have ‘assisted’ pull-up machines to give you a hand

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#2 Press-ups

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A classic body weight exercise favoured by teenage boys the world over. The press-up is so popular because it can be performed pretty much anywhere. Not only are press-ups a great chest builder but they also target the triceps. As with pull-ups varying things such as hand width and body angle can place greater emphasis on certain parts of the chest.

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Although I only perform press-ups rarely they can be used as great warm up to any full chest routine, or with varied grips and added weights, can act as a great chest workout in or outside of the gym.

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Major muscles:

  • Pectoralis major.
  • Deltoids.
  • Triceps brachii.
  • Serratus anterior.

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Great for:

Chest work when away from the gym

As part of a chest routine/part of a super set

Building triceps

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How to:

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Key things to remember:

Avoid elbow flaring. Press-ups should be performed in a similar way as the bench press

Vary the grip to place greater emphasis on different parts of the chest/triceps

Keep the body straight, don’t dip the hips to the floor

Get nice and low to the floor, perhaps even a light touch

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#3 Dips

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When talking about ‘dips’ I am referring to full body weight dips which are usually performed on a rack with also has a bar for pull-ups. Another form of the ‘dip’ also exists, usually called ‘the tricep dip’ in which one balances off the end of an object with the feet on the ground – these sort of dips are almost exclusively for targeting the triceps.

Dips are a solid auxiliary exercise that target both the chest and triceps. As part of a workout with press-ups, dips increase the tension even further on similar muscles. Super setting these two exercises, especially with added weight, can provide a demanding but effective chest/triceps workout.

Dips are one of my favourite exercises. I use them, alongside pull-ups, as an overall upper body warm up, especially when going into a full chest routine. By practising dips frequently you can eventually add substantial weight to the lift either around your waist as a belt or via a dumbbell picked up with the feet.

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Major muscles:

  • Triceps brachii
  • Pectoralis major
  • Anterior deltoids

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Great for:

Adding volume to a chest workout

Building tricep mass

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How to:

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.I’ve highlighted the two major forms of dip. Each comes with their own advantages.  Note that the bar dip is the better of the two for chest development. The bench dip however is great for tricep work.

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Bar Dip

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Bench dip

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Key things to remember:

Control your reps – these exercises are hard on the shoulder ligaments and joints

Angling your body on the ‘bar dip’ places emphasis on different parts of the chest

Avoid elbow flaring just as you would on the bench press

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#4 Lunges

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Ah good old lunges. Tough but effective. Lunges are a great way to add volume during leg training. I really like to perform them after a heavy squat session to push myself over the brink! Lunges can be used by themselves as part of a body weight leg workout and are great for quad and glute development. Lunges come in a variety of form but I will run through the basics of the standard lunge.

Don’t forget that as with all ”body weight’ exercises, additional weight can be added for greater benefit. When I first started training and went abroad for holidays with no gym access, I would lunge with a back pack full of rocks (sounds crazy but it works!). In the gym, additional weight can be applied across the back as a barbell or held at the side using dumbells.

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Major muscles:

  • Quadriceps
  • Gluteus maximus

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Great for:

Adding volume to leg workouts

Glute development

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How to:

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Key things to remember:

Take care with additional weight – especially across the back

Avoid touching the floor with the lower knee – keep everything under tension

Both legs should be roughly right angles – avoid a very narrow or very wide step.

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#5 Plank

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The plank is a fantastic core development exercise. It spreads tension from the shoulders, through the abominable and lower back muscles and finally through the quadriceps. Although correctly performed heavy lifts such as the deadlift and squat help build a strong core, it never hurts to supplement with core-specific exercises.

If you don’t squat or deadlift then exercises such as the plank should definitely be in your routine.

Coupled with more traditional ‘ab’ workouts like crunches and leg raises, planks can be an effective addition to any abdominal routine. It should be noted that a strong core is vital to big lifts. People who constantly focus on ab work like crunches aren’t really building a strong ‘core’. Instead they are simply developing their abdominals. A strong core relates to the strength of all the lower trunk muscles which includes the abdominals but also the obliques and much of the lower back anatomy as well. Planks target all of these components. 

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Major muscles:

  • Erector spinae
  • Rectus abdominis
  • Transverse abdominus
  • Deltoids
  • Pectorals
  • Gluteus maximus
  • Quadricpes

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Great for:

Building a strong core!

How to:

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Key things to remember:

Make use of this exercise for building a strong core as well as a nice set of abs (body fat % permitting)

Additional weight can be added for a greater challenege but do this gradually

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Well there you have it. My run down of the top 5 body weight exercises. All of which can function as great additions to an existing workout or form a workout at the gym or at home by themselves. It’s entirely up to you.

If you want to incorporate body weight lifts as part of a more advanced weight lifting programme then don’t forget to check out our ‘5 best mass-building exercises‘ article to make sure you aren’t missing out on some serious gains!

Any questions? Leave a comment below and I’ll get back to you or reach me at ed@scienceguysupplements.com

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-ScienceGuy