Can you build muscle with weights?
For years, everyone thought this was impossible.
But what if I told you that building muscle didn’t require you to be able to squat 500 pounds and that you could build muscle just as efficiently with nothing but your own bodyweight?
That would be the best thing since sliced bread, right?
I got to sit down and talk with Todd Kuslikis, a bodyweight expert (and creator of Bodyweight Overload) who specializes in helping people build muscle with only bodweight exercises (no gym required).
It’s pretty badass stuff, check out the interview below.
1) Hey Todd, thanks for agreeing to do this interview. So to start can you give us a quick rundown of who you are and what you do?
My pleasure! My name is Todd Kuslikis and I am the founder of AShotofAdrenaline.net. It’s a website that helps people transform their bodies and their lives using bodyweight exercises.
I particularly focus on helping men that are skinny build mass. Most people don’t know it but I also have a day job.
I work with individuals that have had a closed head injury or spinal cord injury and help them through rehabilitation. The human body is so fascinating from every angle and I thoroughly enjoy learning about it and applying what I learn to help people live a more fulfilling life.
2) So it’s obvious you’re a big fan of bodyweight exercises. What made you focus on bodyweight exercises versus traditional weight lifting?
My history of martial arts taught me that bodyweight exercises can be just as effective for staying in shape as weight lifting. I still remember some of my kenpo classes.
We would do extreme calisthenics for about an hour. Our drills were super tough and left you on the ground barely able to catch your breath. We would then practice forms or sparring after that. It helped to condition the body very well.
It’s not that I am against weight lifting. Weight lifting is a tool that people can use to build muscle. I do think people are more likely to get injured, if they don’t know what they are doing with weights, but it still can be a very effective tool.
I have been in love with bodyweight based training for a long time because for me it is more than a system of physical fitness. Bodyweight exercises is a tool for self-mastery.
I regularly work on more challenging moves such as front levers, handstands, pistol squats, etc. After you start achieving some of the advanced calisthenics moves, it really boosts your confidence in all areas of your life which makes it even more satisfying.
3) You have a program called Bodyweight Overload which is designed to help people build muscle with only their bodyweight. What is it? How does this work? It seems to go against everyone’s belief that you must lift heavy to build muscle.
Bodyweight Overload is a 6 week program that is designed to build muscle mass. I modeled it off of the same principles that body builders use to build muscle with weights. Weights don’t help you build muscle. It’s actually the resistance against the muscle that helps build muscle. It doesn’t matter if that resistance is an external weight or your own bodyweight.
There is a very popular idea that bodyweight exercises are used to get someone lean and weight lifting is used to get people big. One of my goals with the program was to prove this notion wrong.
Bodyweight Overload isn’t easy. The workouts take about an hour and are very intense. However, people see great results with it.
4) Take the bench press for example. If someone wanted to get a big and muscular chest, they would focus on getting really strong at the bench press. How does Bodyweight Overload compete with this since you’re only using your own bodyweight?
That’s a great question. Let’s use the most popular bodyweight exercise as an example, the push up.
It is comparable to the bench press as it works the chest muscle in the same way. In Bodyweight Overload, I talk about two principles that are used to help people build muscle with bodyweight exercises.
The first principle is Bodyweight Distribution. When someone normally does a push up they keep their weight evenly distributed across both arms. They do push ups until they fatigue. The problem is that if they are fatiguing in a higher rep range than they are not building muscle but building endurance.
In order to do an exercise for a long period of time your muscles need oxygen. So if you are cranking out 40, 50 or 60 push ups then you’re training the capillaries in your muscles increase in diameter to let more oxygen in. This allows you to do the exercise longer. This is a problem if you want to build size.
In order to fatigue the muscle to build size, you have to fatigue it within a lower rep range. Bodyweight Distribution is the key. Try shifting your weight over to one side or the other. Keep 75% of your weight in one arm and 25% of your weight in the other arm while you do the push up. You’ll instantly feel a huge difference and fatigue in a much lower rep range.
The other technique that I talk about in Bodyweight Overload is called, Angular Training. Essentially, you change the angle of an exercise to make it harder. Remember, that the goal is to fatigue within a low rep range so that you induce hypertrophy instead of endurance. We can take the push up as an example again.
Instead of doing the normal push up, try elevating your feet onto a chair. You’ll change the focus of the exercise from the middle part of your chest to the upper portion of the chest.
If you are really extreme try combing both techniques together!
5) What would you say are the biggest mistakes people make with bodyweight training and building muscle?
I am going to share with you the secret to getting bigger. I’ll share it but most people won’t believe it. Or even if they do believe it, they won’t follow it. The secret to getting bigger is to eat big.
Eat clean and eat big. Get a ton of protein in your diet, especially after your workout along with healthy fats. This will help increase testosterone levels.
In terms of training, the biggest mistake is not staying consistent with your workout plan. I have an article about how people are workout whores and like to jump from one shiny workout system to the next. It’s so unhelpful and stunts the effectiveness of your efforts.
I am a firm believer in not doing the same thing for a long period of time because the body adapts but you need to give your workout plan enough time to work.
6) Can you give us some examples of exercises you use to build muscle with bodyweight exercises? For example, if I wanted to grow my biceps or shoulders, what would I do?
I use the same standard exercises that most people use but I apply the principles of hypertrophy to the exercise. For example, if I wanted to grow bigger biceps the “what” is less important than the “how”. The principles of hypertrophy are simple and talked about at length in my Bodyweight Overload system.
- Fatigue the muscle in low rep ranges so you induce muscle growth and not endurance.
- Do high volume. You will not gain size if you are doing just a couple of sets.
- Low rest periods. You shouldn’t be resting for 2-3 minutes in between sets. Rest for 60-90 seconds max. If you are resting longer than you are focusing more on strength than muscle growth. The two are connected but strength has more to do with neural adaption while muscle growth has more to do with increasing the size of the muscle fibers.
Great stuff, Todd.
A lot of guys always complain about not being able to build muscle because they can’t go to the gym or don’t have the proper equipment, but using Todd’s principles you really have no excuse not to build muscle.
I personally will continue to lift weights but plan on incorporating some of the stuff from Todd’s Bodyweight Overload program, especially when I travel.
For more on Todd:
Todd’s website: http://ashotofadrenaline.net/
Build muscle with just your bodyweight: Bodyweight Overload
lets say I do 50 push ups as fast that I can. The next time I try to beat the previous time by doing it even faster, always trying to take little or no breaks. In that way I will improve my endurance or will grow on size?
Read: In order to do an exercise for a long period of time your muscles need oxygen. So if you are cranking out 40, 50 or 60 push ups then you’re training the capillaries in your muscles increase in diameter to let more oxygen in. This allows you to do the exercise longer. This is a problem if you want to build size.
This is so good, Keith.
Why don’t people follow “eat big to get big”? Isn’t it reeaaally obvious? Or is it more about eating “healthy” foods?
Because eating big without training smart will usually just lead to you getting fat.
It’s about training and eating smart.
So I have several problems. First I am in shape and have hardly any fat. I want to get bigger but with muscle, I currently weigh 145. Problem is I can eat right but not a lot, I just cant do it for some reason. So should I drink more protein shakes throughout the day?
Second when I workout and do hit, I do them with only 30 seconds breaks but for example I do push ups and then go to pull ups and eventually back. is that correct or should I do push ups and then push ups again till the sets are done and then move on? Biggest problem is I cant eat enough to gain. Thank you
If you can’t eat a lot, yeah shakes can help.
I love the article, first off I’m not fit but I’m not out of shape either I weigh 155 pounds and my arms are kinda skinny If I want to grow my arms in muscle using just body weight exercises how would I do that?
I highly highly recommend checking out todd’s site for more info on that. But in the end if you really want big arms, you will need to start lifting weights.
i have recently started the 24 weeks freeletics.
is it possible to build significant muscles in 24 weeks? am super skinny.
im now eating well and train 4 times a week.
mon and thur push ups and dips
tue and fri pull ups and squats
yes but only because you’re a beginner. Sooner or later, you’re going to have to add some form of external resistance if you want to continue building muscle.
Here is my workout plan (im a newbie)
1. 20 pushups
2. 10-15 crunches
3.20 leg raises
4. 20 squats
6. Repeat all the steps(done this much in the first week.3days)
7.then added pull ups
8. Next week added front and side planks,some bicep workouts (i forgot what they are called) and dumbles
Are these enough for building muscles? I have been through this workout for like 2 weeks (3 days each). If this is a proper way,how long might it take to see the result? If its the wrong way,any mods?
If you’re a beginner, this will work fine, also depends how many times you run through the circuit. I would try for at least 3 rounds.
You do plenty of the following.
And all the variations that come with these types of exercises.
And – if you’re skinny, you need to be eating. A lot. Muscle doesn’t grow out of thin air – no matter how much you exercise and push your body – you need actual raw material to build muscle, and that’s where the calories through food come in.
I’ve put together a list of the 20 best body weight exercises to build muscle, you can check it out here.
Sir, I’m 26 and I weight only 57 kg. I surely want to gain some weight and want to be muscular. If I follow your tips in how much time I’ll gain muscular body? Thanks in advance.
I’m just 18 and weight is 77 kg. Being girl my weight and my look embarrasses me. I’ve proper diet and no outside junk food. Regular GYm and also 1 hour swimming is not helping me to reduce weight. Please help me.