Can you build mass with bodyweight exercises?
This is the twelfth question that I’m answering this month of the 24 most commonly asked questions Mark and I receive.
The Short Answer
Yes. You don’t necessarily need an external load (lifting weights) in order to build mass.
New terminology: time under tension.
The Longer Answer
Hypertrophy (growth in the size of the muscle) is achieved in the gym between the ranges of 8-12 reps. This is different than both building strength and stamina in the muscle. Building strength and stamina are generally achieved between the ranges of 1-5 reps and 12+ reps, respectively. However, hypertrophy can also be achieved by slowing down the movement — or increasing your time under tension.
For example: If it normally takes you five seconds to perform three strict pull-ups, slow down your three repetitions and turn the five seconds of work into fifteen seconds of work. This is you increasing your time under tension. Some people also call this tempo work.
The purpose of tempo work is to increase muscle mass (hypertrophy). It’s used all of the time in weightlifting, but rarely in calisthenic movements.
A classic example of this at work would be the gymnasts. Gymnasts have some of the biggest arms when compared to any other professional athlete. This is because they spend an incredible amount of their training using this time under tension strategy. They hold or slow down the movements of pull-ups, rope climbs, L-sits, and just about anything else bodyweight related.
Can you build mass with bodyweight exercises? Yes.
Do it with normal speed and the ranges between 8-12 reps. Or, increase your time under tension.