Build Muscle Mass With Body Weight Exercises

April 9, 2009

I don’t talk too much about building mass, since it really isn’t the main focus of this site. That being said, I know there are quite a few readers who do want to add a bit of mass. I am going to talk about how to put on mass with nothing but body weight exercises. I don’t care if you can do 80 push ups or 30 pull ups, here is a way gain size and make body weight exercises challenging again.
build muscle with body weight exercises
[I found a body weight routine that will even challenge people in peak condition…like this guy!]

Let Me Give Credit to Nick Nilsson…

Nick Nilsson is the guy who outlined this body weight workout. He has written numerous books and is probably best known for his work with Charles Staley on Escalating Density Training (a video course on gaining mass and definition at the same time by lifting multiple low rep sets with compressed rest periods). I haven’t mentioned either of these guys on my site before, because the subject matter here is more focused on building strength and muscle definition without adding size…to get that slim “Hollywood” look. As far as mass building goes, these are the guys I recommend.

The Common Problem With Body Weight Training

As soon as I read this outline, I knew Nick had come up with a solution to a common problem. You see…the problem with something like push ups is that you quickly get too strong for them to be challenging. A set of 50 reps of push ups is high rep “endurance training”. The problem is that even if you go to failure, isn’t really hitting the muscle fibers with the most growth potential.

High Volume With Compressed Rest Intervals

A key to gaining mass is to aim for a high volume of work while lifting weight that is heavy enough to challenge the muscles. You also want to keep the rest somewhat brief in between sets to get the full pump in the muscles…this is the optimum condition to put on size quickly. Here is the solution that Nick came up with to get this done with body weight exercises.

As Many Sets of 3 Reps As Possible in 15 Minutes

This is done in a strategic way, which I will explain in a second. The reason he suggests 3 reps at a time is to limit fatigue in order to maximize training volume (sets and total reps). Both Charles and Nick believe that you should train muscles for output and not fatigue…which is why their programs build strength and mass, not just muscle mass. Too much fatigue is bad for building strength. They believe in a high volume of quality reps without hitting failure, which is a unique approach in the bodybuilding world (and why I dig their approach).

How the Workout is Structured

1) Pick one body weight exercise – Push Ups (as an example)
2) Do 3 reps and rest 10 seconds then 3 more reps…repeat
3) When it becomes tough to do 3 reps, extend the rest time to 20 seconds
4) When it becomes to tough to get 3 reps, extend rest time to 30 seconds
5) Keep doing this exercise for 15 minutes straight. As soon as it gets tough to complete 3 reps add another 10 seconds to the rest time in between sets.

Tips: Make sure to avoid failure on all of your sets, but push yourself. By avoiding failure, you are limiting fatigue and you will get in more sets and reps in the 15 minute period.

Other Tips for This Mass Building Routine

Nick recommends 15 minutes for back, chest, and quads…and 10 minutes for hamstrings, shoulders, biceps, triceps, calves, and abs. He recommends a 2-day split doing a total of 4 workouts per week. Day One back, chest, biceps, abs and calves. Day Two quads, hamstrings, shoulders, and triceps.

Note: You could certainly use this same method with weights as well. I’m imagining there are probably a few people who have a weight set at home that they are too strong for. Consider using this lifting method with those weights to get some good use out of them again.

profileNote:I blog less these days & save my most up-to-date info for my free exclusive newsletter.

Click Here to Subscribe.

Rusty Moore

----> (New) Facebook Comments..."Cause all the cool kids are doin' it!"

{ 72 comments… read them below or add one }

Jay.Cee. April 15, 2009 at 2:16 am

I think this is great, but i would want to try it with some weights.
say im doing bicep curls.i still follow the same regime?

i do it for 15 minutes?how heavy is the weight supposed to be?

Alfredo April 15, 2009 at 2:48 pm

Hi: Interesting article, firdt time in this site.

I have never done exercise like that way. I will give it a try.

Thanks for the information

Amelia Burton - Health & Fitness Coach April 16, 2009 at 10:28 pm

Hi Rusty,

The thing I love about this method is it’s focus on form. So many exercisers have poor posture, internally rotated shoulders due to training with poor form.

I love your website, I’d love to know your methods for building it up so successfully! You’ve done so well!


Greg April 16, 2009 at 10:56 pm

I love body weight exercises. I have even read suggestions that until you can manage X-number of body weight exercises you shouldn’t even bother with a dumbbell. I don’t agree with that, but there are some out there that do.

Janel April 17, 2009 at 5:17 pm


I love this workout! One of the things I don’t like about getting in a “good workout” is that if I don’t get nauseous (which I hate!), I don’t feel like I worked out hard enough. This puts me in a lose-lose situation. The idea that I get to stop BEFORE it hurts and still have an effective workout that I can feel good about is amazing! (I prefer to workout light–I just do.) I’ve modified it for myself and right now I’m doing 10min of pushups, 10min of abs and 10min of lunges/squats. I’m putting together other bodyweight exercises I can do the full body workout with the 2 day split.


spen c. April 27, 2009 at 3:24 pm

sounds good to me, ive been doing body weight exercises for the past two months and i am progressivly getting stronger, but i am sure this will maximize my results and make the workouts less boring.

chuck May 17, 2009 at 5:33 am

EDT is originally designed to use a weight that you can do 10 rep. i doubt if using bodyweight exercise will do any good. (although i tried with push up and i sore for 5 freakin days) remember to ice massage the muscle after you’ve done with the routine, as the author recommended it. and rest until your soreness disappear before your next routine!! YEAP, EDT is designed to be SORE. as the author point out: your gonna pay if you want fast result. you may try the russian bear method for mass too, without soreness

JR May 18, 2009 at 9:40 am

This is a GREAT site….very addictive!

JR May 18, 2009 at 9:42 am

I did this pushup workout 4 days ago…still sore…lol. I like the whole idea of not exhausting the muscle by doing 3 reps per set, plus you can maintain perfect form with full ROM…awesome!

gabe May 28, 2009 at 1:14 am

(SORRY – WRONG EMAIL BEFORE) love this idea..BUT BUT BUT…how else do you isolate the other muscle groups with body weight moves…the push up is a no-brainer for the chest…but what about everything else??? thank you so much – peace

Tony G June 17, 2009 at 7:37 pm

I tried this workout doing 15 minutes of pull ups, 15 minutes of push ups, and finishing off with 15 minutes of sit ups. I kept my rest for 10 seconds the entire time and did 3 reps each time. I used push up bars for the push ups, using a full range of motion to try and make the workout harder. The only part that started to get hard was the pull ups. Maybe I’m just a beast or have great genetics. One thing I can say though is that it did produce a great pump, especially in my chest. Not a bad pump up workout to do back stage for any of you bodybuilders out there…

Sonny December 17, 2009 at 6:08 pm

Hey Rusty,

great post mate. I read this post on EDT and actually mentioned it to a friend who tried it. He mentioned that in between supersets you have a meal (protein and carb) and then you perfrom another superset.

I was wondering what your thoughts on this was as im following your reccomendation of not eating for 4 or so hours before working out and then waiting 1-2 hours to eat after the workout.

I would like to put on thickness, density as in have that thick muscle look that still when flexed it has that muscle tone.

Currently i just started the E2E program and also do heavy sets for low reps. The reason i was interested in the EDT program is because I want to increase my arm size as its the lagging body part. Is the EDT way to go or stick with what im doing.

So much information out there and much of it contradicts, im not really sure what to follow.

My goal is to decrease my body fat %, for some reason my fat seems to gravitate around my abs and chest. The rest of my body is quite muscular, except my arms. So while trying to increase my arm size im also looking to torch body fat.

As far as training im doing 1 day on 1 day off. The ON days i do heavy sets for low reps concentrating on arms but maintaining back, shoulders, chest followed by 15 mins HIT. The OFF days i do exercises like farmers walk, dumbell swings, barbell throws, planks, renegade rows, burpees, etc for a circuit done 3 times followed by 30 mins of kickboxing as a steady-state cardio session. I do take 1 day completely off.

Any help or tweaks in my diet or routine is much appreciated. Apologies for the long post.


Patrick January 4, 2010 at 2:08 pm

Hey Rusty,

Thank you for posting this article. I greatly appreciate it, this will help me develop a new workout system for me. I have read other articles that you posted and it is really interesting. I will definitely use FBB as your reference fitness site. I have something to ask you and give me some advice for what I’m doing.

I developed a workout my self for seven days, Sundays and Saturdays are my Cardio Days to lose additional fat. Monday, Tuesday and Wednesdays are bodyweight exercises with the required structured you mentioned ( 3 reps, 10 secs and continue for 15 mins). Then Thursday and Friday are the same thing, but this time I’ve added the 3 second count to do the actual exercise properly with better form for shock resistance, plus the same resting time. Is this a safe workout for me to do?

Thank you very much Rusty and sorry for the long post.


Giovanni February 11, 2010 at 3:58 pm

Hey Rusty,

What should I eat before and after this workout? And should I do it everyday. I’m tryna get a nice bigger chest with the pushup method.

spence March 21, 2010 at 1:18 pm

This sounds interesting. It is just one of the many ways to train with your body weight. I do have to dissagree with your statement that high rep is endurance training. You see, I have had a good expierince with body weight, and I have a cousin who only uses it. He is one of the strongest people I know and he does high rep. My friends dont want to wrestle or fight or anything with me because I am to strong for them. High rep = endurance? No, it builds both strength and endurance at the same time. Think about it with chinups. You lift say, 180 pounds for fifty reps or more in your workout. Are your mucles only going to get the endurace factor? No! Try this technique with weights. Take a exercise, such as bent over rows, and use a weight such as 150-200lbs and do 50+ reps for a month. Then see what happens.

stonecoldcrazy March 28, 2010 at 7:16 pm

You’re going to overtrain your body, and as a result you won’t get muscles, you’ll burn them, and promote stored fat.
So, is this workout good for mass and strength? I workout 3 days per week can you suggest me a way to split it? Personally I don’t like to split, I like full bodies the most, but I’ts imposible to do a fb workout less than an hour with this workout
Also, I’m going to stick to this routine 3 months or more, what do you think? Should I add anything?
PS:Nice website, very helpful

Zaffer July 31, 2010 at 2:03 pm

It makes a difference!
You do 20 reps with 5-10 sec intervals the cumulative fatigue builds faster instead u do like 5 reps wait 5 sec and do them again till around 15 minutes the volume of training increases so u land up doin like 20 sets instead of 8 -10 sets with 20 rep and besides with a high rep count like 20 the lactic acid formation in the muscles will be zippy quicker and hence fatigue point comes quicker
The point is to vary the load or tension on the muscle and by underdoing your capacity it gives a neurological spike in ur muscles
and besides anything over 8 reps either bodyweigh or iron , it becomes endurance training
So u see u need to do way more number of sets with less less reps
becoz the total volume of work needs to be more and there is no definate figure like 10 or 15 sets , how many eva in the given time line. With 20 reps and more sets the fatigure sure would build faster even if u are sm1 who can do 120 pushups in a set
The whole idea to gain hypertrophy in bodyweight workouts is many sets less reps, fatigue, once in a while u can try to max out but other wise to achieve hypertrophy only with body weight this is the way to go buddy.

Zaffer July 31, 2010 at 2:25 pm

One more thing ive experienced personally is that by doing reps way below ones capacity say u do just 4-5 reps of push ups for as many sets as u can in say 15 mins during ur workout , then once in a way u stretch to see ur max in a set and u will definately find ur max would gave gone up considerably, its very important to stop a few reps below ur capacity becoz it has a neurological effect on ones strength in the long term coz like the article says mass and strength gain go hand in hand
And if u find 3 per set is too low to get u fatigued at the end of 15 mins ,simple make it 5-6 per set , find ur balance , it differs frm person to person but the basic idea here suggested is superb
Good am really impressed
Cheers to the author!!!!

loser1 August 28, 2010 at 10:16 pm

try jumping jacks for 3 5 7 10 mins. your shoulders would look big.
thus making you look big without being big. it gives you that effect of lifting weight. but not really. its really cause you are tone and lean.

John October 4, 2010 at 4:16 pm

Great ideas for body weight training. I used to do a lot of free weights and now I only do body weight. When you switch gyms or you’re between gyms you don’t miss a beat cause you’ve always got the equipment you need with you.

Tony - Rochester Exercise Equipment October 22, 2010 at 3:11 pm

Thanks for the helpful tips. I’m kinda a small guy and I’ve been trying to build mass by drinking protein shakes and some other products that I bought at GNC. I think it’s about time I gave this a try.

pilates classes los angeles November 15, 2010 at 6:20 pm

Thanks for the tips! I will have to pass this article along to my dad!

John November 25, 2010 at 11:56 am

Thanks for response.
Can’t I just do a 3 day full bodyworkout approach to this concept?
Spend 15 minutes on bodyweight squats, 15 on chins, 15 on pushups, and 15 on dips in between chairs.
Or maybe do this twice weekly.
I have to put work in on my home Martial Arts routine which is 2 days 1 hour each and this would give me 2 days of “active” rest where I can do an easy 15 minute stretch type workout.
Any comments welcome.

Trent November 27, 2010 at 6:55 pm

What if you add weight to the excersises? would that be more beneficial?

Jason October 31, 2011 at 8:29 pm

Has anyone used this bodyweight technique for extended time? Did you experience good mass increases?

Kiri November 22, 2011 at 9:02 am

Some of you are missing the point of this workout…Those of you who are not feeling the effectiveness of this workout is because you are using less weight, ex. you are using something that you can do 20reps on….some of you are able to do 10+ pushups with your own body, so if you are going to try this routine out, then you probably won’t require too much rest and will not be able to get a good workout out of it. So, you need to increase the tension, as an example try using a 5lbs back-pack that you can tightly strap around and do a push up with this routine…I guarantee that you wilkl start feeling it….some of you will feel this more on a pull-up then push up as pull ups are very difficult to do compared to a push-up….I am sure you can build good muscle mass with this program because what you have to understand is that your body does not know if you are using bodyweight, free weights, machines or resistance bands…it really comes down to the amount of resistance that you use in the workout….when you are easily able to use your body weight to do exercises….start adding resistance….be it a weighted vest on you, weighted anklets…etc…or you can even go to free weights…but, I personally think…body weight exercises will get you a better body then, free weights…I find free weights to add more bulk…and ppl who build with free weights are less flexable and have low speed…The Navy seals use body weight in their workout to build strength and endurance….and they are the toughest men out there…anyways…this is my 2 cent….

Rocky May 21, 2012 at 6:15 am

I use this method in a 45 minute circuit 2-3 times a week. 15 min inclined pushups with my feet approx 4 feet above head and I was able to do 23 sets of 3 in 15 min, then I did regular pushups and I did 25 total sets of 3, Finally I did dips I call slow negative, explosive positive dips. The negative motion must last 10 seconds and the you explode with doing the positive. each 3 rep set should last at least 34 secs, I’m telling you this is intense. I haven’t felt my triceps this sore in a while. I have seen moderate size increase but muscle definition is and firmness has at least doubled. I have been doing this for 2 and a half months. I also noticed that even though I don’t try to increase my rep total in one set for push ups and dips my max rep set has gone from 25 to 47 in 2 months and 12 dips to 29 in two months. I am a HUGE fan of this technique.

Victor July 21, 2012 at 11:54 pm

Great Technique, Don’t Have Lot Of Time To Go To the Gym. Keep Up The Good Work Man.

Josh July 28, 2012 at 10:32 pm

See… This just doesn’t make any sense to me at all. IMO, by only doing X amount of reps then resting and performing X number of reps again until 15 minutes is complete is just a waste of time. You’re doing less reps in a long period of time therefor you are not building endurance nor are you building strength because fewer reps are being performed.

For example, in 20 minutes I do sets of
5 – pull ups
10 – pushups
15 – body weight squats
My last go around I did 20 sets in 20 minutes. I have gotten stronger, built muscle mass, and increased my endurance. All of these goals were met in only a 20 minute workout.

If you just want to bulk up, hit heavy free weights. If you want to gain strength and stay lean then circuit training is the way to go. Supplemented by 5 days of cardio and eating a lot of food.

abhimanyu August 21, 2012 at 7:37 am

weighted push ups are great!! pulll ups and chin ups with weights also r grt!! all u need is a backpack

Steve September 21, 2012 at 5:41 am

Holly cow I’ve never thought about this method, will be giving it a go. Thanks

Steve (UK)

Kevin Martin September 25, 2012 at 5:19 am

I’m gonna give this a go for a couple weeks. Originally my goal is to achieve a muscle-up (both arms at same time), but if it can help me get more power on my pull-ups and single bar dips (with more muscle mass) I’d be more than happy to give it go. I’m gonna throw this is in addition to my training for the general movement of muscle ups, as well as my sprints/tabatas/hikes for fat burning and lower body work.

For the past month or so, I’ve been generally doing a more extended form of this: I would cycle between different pull-up variations/dips but with a lot of rest in between each set, as long as 5 minutes at times. I would try to get as many reps as comfortably possible each set (without going to complete fatigue, typically 5-10 reps each set). Basically I was trying to get as many reps as possible in a day of each excercise. Ive definitely gained some mass from this and making good progress with getting to a muscle up (I can do 5 decent sternum pullups, and 1-2 staggered muscle ups. When I started 4 weeks ago I couldn’t do any sternum pullups) but I’d like to try this out because its more time efficient and maybe more effective. Saving time and compartmentalizing it would be great instead of spending hours at a park. However I’m going to use a different more relaxed method for my headstand presses (as many reps before failure, but random sets throughout the day, focusing on increasing max reps and explosiveness, right now Im at 9 reps on an average set) and compare the difference.

I’ll report back in a few weeks to let you all know how it goes.

Kevin Martin September 25, 2012 at 7:50 am

Haha well good news, first day and I already reaches my previous maximum reps! Did 30 sets of 3 reps on pullups, and 28 sets of 3 on single bar dips. Super excited tk keep this up, especially since now I know I can do at least the same output in 1/10th of the time I previously thought was possible. Thanks for posting this!

RANDOM October 15, 2012 at 2:54 am

This post was a good help towards creating my workout plan

I thought i would share it with you all

There is no rest between exercises

Day 1
pushup – 5 min
wide pushup – 5 min
decline pushup – 5 min
close pushup – 5 min
tricep dip – 5 min

Day 2
wide pullup – 5min
close pullup – 5 min
reverse crunch – 5min
close chinup – 5 min
bicep holds – 1 minute (3 angles)

Day 3
squat – 5 min
lunge – 5 min
quad extension – 5 min
hamstring curl – 5 min
floor hip extension – 5 min
calf raise – 5 min
reverse calf raise – 5 min
rocca press – 10 min

Abs are exercised daily with 25 reps of 3 sets with the following exercises

basic crunch – leg raise – bicycle crunch – side touch – flutter kicks

harry ballsonya March 22, 2013 at 7:18 am

This does not work.. I lost 44 pounds in 2 years by doing this.. i lost size, and i am nappy

Shane Baird May 6, 2013 at 1:00 pm

On the exercises I was strong on, like push ups I would do 4 reps with slow negatives and fast on the way up. I also hold my breath for all the exercises to get my hear rate up. I found that by doing this I’m building mass and my joints are feeling good. I cant wait to try this out with a weighted vest.

My chest gets the same soreness I get from benching heavy weight, this works for sure.

If its to easy add reps up to 5 I think and then try adding weight.

Leave a Comment

{ 1 trackback }

Previous post:

Next post: