11 PT-approved bodyweight exercises that will help you build muscle at home

No gym? No problem. Here are the best exercises to help build your physique in the comfort of your home

Man performing a push up
(Image credit: Getty Images)

If we can’t get to a gym, many of us think that means our chances of building strength and muscle is over. Wrong. Bodyweight exercises often don’t get the credit they deserve, mainly because they don’t involve moving heavy iron, but they’re what foundational strength is built on. Not to mention they are way more convenient as you can literally do them in your living room and they teach you good technique.

Below, we've compiled a list of some of the best bodyweight exercises that you can do at home to help you build muscle, which have all been approved by Sean Murphy Chief Personal Training Officer at Ultimate Performance. So, whether you can't get to the gym, or suffer from gymtimidation, you can still get fit at home.

But first...

Can bodyweight exercises build muscle?

Woman doing bodyweight squat

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Yes, bodyweight exercises are a form of resistance training, so as long as your muscles encounter resistance and have to work hard to overcome that resistance, you can build muscle and get stronger. However, the key is progressive overload. This is where you increase the intensity of your workout and increase the stress placed on the muscles. 

“You can achieve this by slowing down the tempo and /or pausing in certain positions to work the isometric portion of the muscular contraction,” says Sean. “For example, if you perform a push-up with both feet on a chair, and slow the eccentric portion of the movement to four seconds, six to 12 reps will feel more difficult. Next time, slow the eccentric portion of that movement to five seconds, then six seconds and so on. Trust me, your chest will grow!” 

You must continue to find ways to continuously make your bodyweight exercises more difficult because if your muscles aren’t challenged, they won’t grow. If you do have access to any home gym equipment, like a pair of dumbbells, kettlebells or even a set of resistance bands, you could always incorporate these later down the line.

Sean also adds that making sure you’re eating a healthy diet with enough protein is key and that your hormones are functioning well, as these trigger muscle growth. Sleep, keeping stress to a minimum, and drinking plenty of water will help.

Bodyweight upper body exercises

Whether you're looking to grow your arms, build a bigger back, grow your chest, or sculpt your shoulders, these bodyweight exercises can help.

Push ups

Man performing push ups

(Image credit: Getty Images)

These are without a doubt one of the best bodyweight exercises for hitting your upper body. The push-up works your chest, shoulders, triceps and core, even people who lift weights will have them in their programs. You can also modify the move to hit different parts of your body with the incline and decline variation too. And, don't forget, you can always start from your knees!

Tricep dips

Man doing tricep dips

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The tricep makes up two-thirds of the overall arm, so if you want your arms to pop in your summer t-shirt, you need to give them some love. The tricep dip is your go-to. Do them on the edge of your coffee table, sofa, low wall, or step of your stairs. You may need to play around with your tempo here if they become too easy, or you could place a backpack or a few books on your quads.

Pike push up

Man doing pike push up

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Ok, so pike push-ups may not be easy, but if you’re after a bodyweight exercise that’ll smoke your shoulders, then this is it. As well as the delts, triceps, chest, biceps and lats will also be fired up. Plus, once you’ve mastered doing it from the floor, you can increase the difficulty by placing your feet on a low coffee table. 


pull up

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Just like the push-up, the pull-up is another bodyweight exercise you'll see programmed into bodybuilder's workouts. Why? Because it’s a great upper-body exercise, there's no other like it really. That being said, it is one of the hardest and a true testament of strength. Obviously you’ll need a pull-bar to do these at home, or you could head to the local park and find the monkey bars.

Bodyweight lower body exercises

We all know you should never skip leg day and now you won't have to as you can target your lower body muscles using some home furnishings.

Bulgarian split squats

Man doing bulgarian split squats

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There's a reason people have a love-hate relationship with Bulgarian split squats, they burn like hell, but give you the goods; strong, muscular quads, hamstrings, and glutes. As it’s a unilateral exercise, where you work one leg at a time, it’ll also help you avoid any muscular imbalances and it can easily be performed by propping one foot up on your sofa.

Sissy squats

Sketch of a woman performing a sissy squat

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Despite its name, the sissy squat is actually pretty challenging, but it's a great one to grow the quads. They also put your hip flexors and core strength to the test, as well as your balance. We definitely advise holding onto the side of something study when giving these a go.

Step ups

Woman doing a step up

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Step ups hit all your major lower body muscles, including the glutes, quads, hamstrings, adductors, abductors, calves, and your core. All you need is something sturdy that you can step onto, whether that be a coffee table, chair or the step of your stairs. Make sure you really push through the foot that you're stepping onto and avoid bouncing off the other foot.

Single-leg glute bridge

Fit beautiful young woman and man demonstrating bodyweight exercises you can do at home or anywhere with no equipment. Professional fitness trainer showing the correct way of performing an exercise. You can do this simple exercises at your home, every day and improving our physical abilities. Before working out, it’s important to warm up the body with a little cardio routine, always making sure to work out as intensely as our body allows us and taking a break when you need one. During the exercise you must stay hydrated and after making sure you stretch your muscles. All the steps of the proper workout.

(Image credit: Getty Images)

 Buns of steel are key for good posture and helping us move efficiently, and the single-leg glute bridge can help us get there. This unilateral exercise predominantly targets the glutes and hamstrings and (if you're doing them properly) your backside should be left burning after the first set. Again, to help overload your muscles, play around with tempo for these, place a heavy-ish object on your hips, or a book underneath your foot to increase your range of motion.

Bodyweight core exercises

We know you'll most probably be aiming for a six-pack, but these exercises don't just hit the abdominals, but your entire core muscles too.


Woman doing bodyweight tall plank

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As well as hitting those abdominal muscles and obliques, this compound exercise is going to hit your glutes, shoulders, arms, upper back, and legs too. If you struggle with a high plank, drop down to your forearms instead. Don't worry if you can only stay up for 15 seconds, do this three to four times a week, and you'll be adding on extra seconds in no time.

Bear crawls

sketch of a man doing bear crawls

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Bear crawls are a completely underrated exercise. Yes, you may be slowly crawling across the floor on all fours, but don't be fooled, as but they give a lot of bang for your buck, working the core, shoulders, chest and quads. Try doing them backwards too to really light up your mid-section.

Side plank

Woman doing side plank

(Image credit: Getty Images)

The side plank hits your oblique muscles, as well as boosting core strength and stability. It's another great exercise that you can modify, depending on your fitness levels. Beginners can start by balancing on the forearms and knees, then move up onto their feet, and then transition from the forearm to their hand.

Bryony Firth-Bernard
Staff Writer, Active

Bryony’s T3’s official ‘gym-bunny’ and Active Staff Writer, covering all things fitness. In her spare time, you will find her in her natural habitat - the gym - where her style of training is a hybrid of bodybuilding and powerlifting. Bryony loves writing about accessible workouts, nutrition and testing innovative fitness products that help you reach your fitness goals and take your training to the next level.