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How to Build Muscle with Body Weight Exercises

Delve into the best way to build muscle, even if all you have is just your own body weight.

By
Ben Greenfield,
Episode #296

If you’ve ever performed a wall squat, in which you sit in an imaginary chair with your back against the wall for as long as you possibly can, then you’re familiar with isometric exercising! Your legs are certainly burning, but you’re not budging an inch. Other popular examples of isometric exercise are the front plank, side plank, and the “boat” abdominal hold in Yoga and Pilates.

If you really want to take isometric exercises to the next level, you can use a technique called “extreme isometrics,” in which you do indeed move your muscles, but you move them very, very slowly, taking as long as 5-10 minutes to complete a single repetition. As you can imagine, this takes intense focus. Go ahead and just try and do a 10 minute push-up and see what happens to your entire body.

Why Isometric Exercises Work

In addition to all of the cardiovascular and strength benefits that I explain in “Does Super Slow Training Work?” such as increased cardiac output, better training of your muscles to pump lactic acid, and increased ability to withstand an external force, isometric exercises also result in better muscle utilization and coordination.

Think about it this way: whether you’re running a marathon, shoveling snow, or lifting a piece of furniture, if the wrong muscles are turning on for any given movement, then you have poor technique and this means you increase your risk of injury, and you produce less-than-ideal force.

But your body can learn how to utilize the correct muscles, and just like any movement, it’s easier to learn how to use the right muscles when you train slowly or you hold a position, with an emphasis on maximally activating the specific muscle groups you want to work.

In “Get More Lean Muscle with Isometric Training,” you learn that for this type of training, you can simply include a weekly or every-other-week workout in which you incorporate at least one move or a series of moves performed very slowly, or simply held for a long period of time. For example, you could simply perform one set of each of the following exercises (timed so that it takes you 10-60 seconds to go up and 10-60 seconds to come down), or simply hold each exercise in it’s hardest position for as long as you possibly can, up to five minutes.

-Push-up

-Pull-up

-Dip

-Lunge

-Wall Squat    

Another isometric technique you can use is to simply do isometrics when you’d normally be standing around anyways – such as doing a wall squat while you’re on hold on the phone, or holding a push-up position during the commercial break of a TV program.

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