Key Points of Bodyweight Exercise for Legs
- Bodyweight exercise for legs resulted in muscle gains in the quads.
- Free leg exercises weight training resulted in greater strength gains than bodyweight exercise training.
- 8 weeks of free and bodyweight-based resistance training led to increased quad mass. However, the free-weight group gained more muscle than the bodyweight training group.
- Only the body mass-based resistance training group showed a significant decrease in intramuscular fat content. Intramuscular fat refers to the fat within or between muscle fibers.
Can you build muscle without weights?
No time to make it to the gym for leg day? What about bodyweight leg exercises taken to failure? You can’t build muscle with upper body, and lower bodyweight exercises have been stigmatized in the fitness industry for decades. For years bodyweight exercises have been crapped on as ineffective for building muscle.
When you see some jacked guy on social media, he is always in the gym doing barbell heavy squats and leg presses, not doing bodyweight squats. What if I were to tell you that bodyweight exercise for legs can be effective in increasing muscle growth. This blog will dive deep into the ongoing debate between bodyweight exercise for legs and weightlifting for muscle gain based on a new study
The article will explore a new study that compared bodyweight workouts vs. free weights for muscle growth. So, if you’re ready to challenge conventional wisdom and unlock the potential of bodyweight exercises, keep reading to unravel the truth behind leg muscle growth.
Bodyweight Exercise for Legs vs. Weights: The Muscle Gain Debate
In the realm of fitness, there is a common misconception that bodyweight exercises cannot yield substantial muscle growth in the legs. However, recent research studies have disproven this notion, highlighting the effectiveness of bodyweight exercises for leg muscle development. (Ogawa et al.) Before we get into the study, let’s look at the previous research on bodyweight exercises and muscle growth.
Benefits of Bodyweight Exercise for Legs:
In addition to promoting muscle hypertrophy, bodyweight exercises offer several other benefits. Firstly, they can improve functional strength and movement patterns, as they often mimic real-life movements and require coordination and stability. (Shaikh et al., 2019) This can be particularly beneficial for older adults who want to maintain their independence and easily perform daily activities. For example, lower body movements such as a reverse lunge, walking lunges, split squat, and sitting chair squats are excellent movements for beginners’ leg strength movements for the quadriceps.
A 2015 study found that bodyweight exercises (i.e., front lunges and squats with feet shoulder-width apart) with blood flow restriction were able to build muscle a significant amount of muscle (5.3% change) compared to standard bodyweight exercises (.7% change), which may be useful in adults in rehabilitation and clinical settings. (Kang et al., 2015) It also suggests that incorporating blood flow restriction training into a bodyweight exercise routine may promote greater gains in muscle growth compared to exercising with your own bodyweight.
Secondly, bodyweight exercises can be performed anywhere without specialized equipment or a gym membership. This makes them a convenient and accessible option for individuals who may not have access to a gym or prefer to exercise at home. They can be done in your living room. Lastly, bodyweight exercises can be modified to suit different fitness levels and goals. Beginners can start with basic variations and gradually progress to more challenging exercises, such as the pistol squats and Bulgarian split squat as they become stronger and more proficient.
Are Bodyweight Exercises for Legs Sufficient for Muscle Building?
The evidence suggests that bodyweight exercises can indeed be sufficient for muscle building in conjunction with adequate nutrition. However, as will be discussed later in the article, to a lesser extent than resistance exercise, it builds muscle nonetheless. Some studies have shown that bodyweight exercises with elastic and resistance bands can lead to muscle hypertrophy and strength gains comparable to weightlifting. (Domingos et al., 2020; Kotarsky et al., 2018) All these studies progressively increased the resistance leading to gains in muscle mass.
It’s crucial to note that progressive overload is the key to muscle growth with bodyweight exercises, as with any form of resistance training. This means gradually increasing the difficulty of the exercises over time, whether by adding more repetitions, reducing rest time, or increasing the intensity of the exercises.
Bodyweight exercises, such as squats, jump squats, lunges, push-ups, and pull-ups, can effectively stimulate muscle growth when performed with sufficient intensity and volume. These exercises engage multiple muscle groups and require stabilization, increasing muscle activation and recruitment.(Tillaar et al., 2019)
Additionally, bodyweight exercises can be modified to increase the difficulty and challenge the muscles, such as by performing single-leg variations or adding resistance bands. These modifications can increase the mechanical tension on the muscles, a key stimulus for muscle hypertrophy. Therefore, bodyweight exercises can be a valuable tool for individuals who do not have access to free weights or prefer to train using their body weight. A qualified personal trainer can find the right exercises for building strong legs, glutes, etc.
Bodyweight Exercises for Legs: A Pathway to Muscle Gain
Bodyweight workouts, which require no equipment, are convenient and potent for muscle gain. A study discovered that participants who performed push-ups with elastic bands that progressively increased tension over five weeks experienced similar muscle activation to those who performed bench presses. (Calatayud et al., 2015) This suggests progressive tension increase with bodyweight exercises can lead to muscle growth.
Furthermore, resistance exercises with low load (30% 1RM) taken to muscular failure have been discovered to stimulate increases in muscle protein synthesis, akin to heavy-weight resistance exercise (i.e., 90% of a 1RM). (Mitchell et al., 2012) Even in older adults, light resistance exercise (20% 1RM, 80–100 repetitions, one set) taken to failure was found to stimulate muscle growth comparable to heavy-weight resistance exercise (80% 1RM, 10–15 repetitions, two sets).(Van Roie et al., 2013) What have come to realize that gaining muscle is a function of effort rather than the amount of weight on the bar. Whether is a loaded bar or your bodyweight, as long as you are progressively applying tension to the muscle, it will grow.
Building Muscle Without Weights: Is it Possible?
The brief answer is yes. As the studies mentioned earlier, bodyweight exercises can effectively stimulate muscle development. Moreover, incorporating bands into your resistance exercise training can enhance strength compared to resistance training alone. (Anderson et al., 2008) TRX or suspension training, which relies on body weight, is also a viable alternative for home workouts, as it has been found to stimulate muscle growth, akin to resistance training.(Anderson et al., 2008)
Bodyweight Exercises for Legs New Study Says Yes!
Regarding leg workouts, many believe that significant muscle growth can only be achieved through heavy weights. However, bodyweight exercises can also be highly effective for building leg muscles. A new study recruited 42 healthy men and women assigned to either a free weight resistance training program or a bodyweight exercise program for 8 weeks.
The free weight resistance group performed squats, bench presses, deadlifts, dumbbell rows, and back range exercises. They used 70% of their one repetition maximum (1RM) for three sets of 8-12 repetitions per exercise.
The body mass-based resistance group performed nine body mass-based exercises, including leg raise, squats, rear raise, overhead shoulder mobility exercises, rowing, dips, lunge, single-leg Romanian deadlift, and push-ups. They performed as many repetitions as possible in one or two sets per session. Each rep was taken thru a full range of motion.
At the end of the study, the free weight training resulted in greater strength gains than bodyweight exercise training. However, 8 weeks of free and bodyweight-based resistance training led to increased muscle mass. However, the free-weight group gained more muscle than the bodyweight training group.
Only the body mass-based resistance training group showed a significant decrease in intramuscular fat content. Intramuscular fat refers to the fat within or between muscle fibers. However, the exact reason IMF decreased more in the bodyweight exercise group was unknown.
The practical applications of the study are that both free weight resistance training and body mass-based resistance training can induce muscle hypertrophy in healthy young and middle-aged individuals. However, using weights build more muscle. Additionally, the body mass-based resistance training alone decreased intra-muscular fat content.
The belief that bodyweight exercises are ineffective for building muscle is a myth. Scientific research has shown that bodyweight exercises can lead to muscle endurance, hypertrophy, and strength gains, although not comparable to weightlifting. Whether it’s bodyweight vs. weight for muscle gain, the evidence is clear: bodyweight exercises result in muscle gain.
As fitness enthusiasts and those interested in gaining muscle, it’s important to be informed about the effectiveness of different types of exercises. Bodyweight exercises offer a convenient, versatile, and effective way to build muscle, whether at the gym, at home or on the go. So, next time you can’t make it to the gym or are travelling, don’t underestimate the power of bodyweight exercises for muscle gain.
In conclusion, bodyweight exercises for the legs can indeed increase muscle growth similar to weightlifting. While weightlifting has traditionally been associated with muscle building, research has shown that bodyweight exercises can be just as effective in stimulating muscle growth, especially when performed with proper form and intensity. By incorporating exercises such as squats, lunges, and calf raises into your routine, you can target and strengthen your leg muscles without the need for heavy weights or gym equipment. So whether you prefer to workout at home or are looking for alternative ways to build muscle, don’t underestimate the power of bodyweight exercises for leg development. To learn more about different exercises and techniques for building leg muscles without weights, refer to our comprehensive guide on bodyweight workouts for muscle gain.
Anderson, C., Sforzo, G., & Sigg, J. (2008). The Effects of Combining Elastic and Free Weight Resistance on Strength and Power in Athletes. Journal of strength and conditioning research / National Strength & Conditioning Association, 22, 567-574. https://doi.org/10.1519/JSC.0b013e3181634d1e
Calatayud, J., Borreani, S., Colado, J. C., Martin, F., Tella, V., & Andersen, L. L. (2015). Bench press and push-up at comparable levels of muscle activity results in similar strength gains. J Strength Cond Res, 29(1), 246-253. https://doi.org/10.1519/jsc.0000000000000589
Domingos, S., Silva, D., Almeida Bergamasco, J. G., Angleri, V., Medalha Junior, R., Dias, N., Nóbrega, S., Cesar, M., & Libardi, C. (2020). Suspension training vs. traditional resistance training: effects on muscle mass, strength and functional performance in older adults. European Journal of Applied Physiology, 120. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00421-020-04446-x
Kang, D., Kim, H., Lee, K., & Kim, Y. M. (2015). The effects of bodyweight-based exercise with blood flow restriction on isokinetic knee muscular function and thigh circumference in college students. Journal of Physical Therapy Science, 27, 2709-2712. https://doi.org/10.1589/jpts.27.2709
Kotarsky, C. J., Christensen, B. K., Miller, J. S., & Hackney, K. J. (2018). Effect of Progressive Calisthenic Push-up Training on Muscle Strength and Thickness. J Strength Cond Res, 32(3), 651-659. https://doi.org/10.1519/jsc.0000000000002345
Mitchell, C. J., Churchward-Venne, T. A., West, D. W., Burd, N. A., Breen, L., Baker, S. K., & Phillips, S. M. (2012). Resistance exercise load does not determine training-mediated hypertrophic gains in young men. Journal of Applied Physiology, 113(1), 71-77.
Ogawa, M., Hashimoto, Y., Mochizuki, Y., Inoguchi, T., Kouzuma, A., Deguchi, M., Saito, M., Homma, H., Kikuchi, N., & Okamoto, T. Effects of free weight and body mass-based resistance training on thigh muscle size, strength and intramuscular fat in healthy young and middle-aged individuals. Experimental Physiology, n/a(n/a). https://doi.org/https://doi.org/10.1113/EP090655
Shaikh, S. F., Parti, S., Shah, K., & Agrawal, R. (2019). Effect of Low Intensity Body Weight Training on Balance in Older Adults. International Journal of Physiotherapy and Research. https://doi.org/10.16965/ijpr.2019.116
Tillaar, R. v. d., Andersen, V., & Saeterbakken, A. H. (2019). Comparison of Muscle Activation and Kinematics During Free-Weight Back Squats With Different Loads. PLoS One. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0217044
Van Roie, E., Delecluse, C., Coudyzer, W., Boonen, S., & Bautmans, I. (2013). Strength training at high versus low external resistance in older adults: effects on muscle volume, muscle strength, and force–velocity characteristics. Experimental gerontology, 48(11), 1351-1361.
Bodyweight Exercise for Legs: Frequently Asked Questions
How do I properly do a bodyweight squat?
To properly do a bodyweight squat, follow these steps:
1. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, with your left foot and right foot pointed slightly outward.
2. Engage your abs by pulling your belly button in towards your spine.
3. Bend your knees and lower your hips back and down as if you’re sitting back in the squat position as if you were sitting in an imaginary chair. Keep your chest up and maintain a neutral spine.
4. Lower yourself until your thighs are parallel to the ground (i.e., your right knee and your left knee) or as low as you can comfortably go without compromising form.
What are some effective bodyweight exercise for the legs?
Effective bodyweight exercises for the legs include squats, lunges (with or without weights), step-ups on a bench or stairs, and Bulgarian split squats. These exercises target various leg muscles and can help build strength and muscle growth.
Are Plyometrics Good for Building Muscle Mass?
A plyometric exercise is an explosive movement, also known as jump training, that can be beneficial for building muscle mass. Plyometric exercises involve explosive movements that require your muscles to generate maximum force in a short amount of time. This type of training can trigger muscle hypertrophy, leading to increased muscle size and strength. However, it’s important to note that plyometrics should be incorporated into a well-rounded training program that includes resistance training and proper nutrition for optimal results. Additionally, plyometrics may not be suitable for everyone, particularly those
How to Perform Plyometric Movements
To perform plyometric movements, start by selecting a plyometric exercise that targets the specific muscle group you want to work on. Some common plyometric exercises include jumping exercises such as box jumps, jump squats, and clap push-ups. Opposite leg plyometric exercises, such as alternating split jumps or scissor jumps, can also be effective.
To perform a plyometric movement, begin by warming up with some light cardio and dynamic stretching to prepare your muscles. Once warmed up, start with a basic version of the exercise and gradually increase intensity as you become more proficient.
When performing plyometrics, focus on explosiveness and proper form. Ensure that you have a solid foundation before attempting more advanced variations. Land softly and absorb the impact by bending your
Once you have chosen an exercise, begin by warming up your body with some light cardio and dynamic stretches. This will help prepare your muscles for the explosive movements.
Next, stand in a comfortable position with your feet shoulder-width apart. Engage your core muscles to stabilize your body.
For plyometric exercises that target the legs, such as jump squats or box jumps, start by standing with your feet shoulder-width apart. Bend your knees and lower your body into a squat position, keeping your chest up and back straight.
From this position, explode upward using your leg muscles and propel yourself off the ground. As you jump, swing your arms upward to generate additional power.
As you land on the balls of your feet, make sure to bend your knees and hips to go into a squat position, once again keeping your chest up and back straight. This will help to decrease stress on your joints and activate your leg muscles.
To increase the intensity of the exercise, you can try incorporating variations such as adding a jump onto a box or performing clap push-ups in between jump squats.
Remember to listen to your body and only push yourself as far as you feel comfortable. It’s important to gradually increase the intensity of your workouts to avoid injury.
In addition to plyometric exercises, there are other bodyweight exercises that can help strengthen and tone your leg muscles. Some examples include lunges, squats, and single-leg deadlifts.
How to Perform Plyo Pushups
Plyo pushups are an excellent way to not only target your chest muscles but also engage your leg muscles for a full-body workout. Here’s how you can perform plyo pushups:
1. Start in a standard pushup position with your hands slightly wider than shoulder-width apart and your body in a straight line. Your right arm and left arm should be shoulder width apart.
2. Lower your body towards the ground by bending your arms, keeping your elbows close to your sides.
3. As you reach the bottom of the pushup, explosively