Think you need to always go to the gym to get in a great muscle building workout to help shape and tone your body?
We’ve assembled a list of the best muscle building exercises you can perform right in your own home.
That’s right, there’s no need to get in your car, drive to the gym, change clothes, wait for someone else to get off the machine you need, change clothes again, and then drive back home.
With these exercises, you have all the tools you need to burn calories and get in shape right in the comfort of your very own home!
Top 5 Exercises to Build Muscle at Home
Push ups are the ultimate anytime, anywhere exercise. All you need is Mother Earth and gravity and you’ve got everything you need to thoroughly work the entire anterior portion of your upper body along with some added core and glute work!
Push ups help strengthen the muscles of the chest, shoulder, and triceps. They also tone and tighten the glutes and core due to the fact that you must keep them tensed in order to properly perform the push up and maintain a straight line from head to toe while you raise and lower your body.
One other great thing about the push up compared to bench press variations used to train the upper body is that it trains the shoulders through a full range of motion, allowing for natural rotation and protraction/retraction of the shoulder blade (scapula).
The scapula plays a vital role in shoulder stability and strengthening the muscles around the scapula (such as the serratus anterior) will pay dividends towards improving your bench press performance (should you decide to start training at a gym or buy a home weight set).
If the standard push up is too difficult for you, you can try performing incline push ups where you elevate your hands onto a bench, sofa, or stable ottoman while your feet are on the ground. The higher your hands are in relation to your feet, the easier the exercise becomes.
Conversely, if the standard push up is too easy, there are a plethora of advanced push up variations you can start working on to continue making gains at home without having to go to the gym or buy a set weights for your home gym.
Some of our favorite advanced push up variations are:
- Diamond push ups
- Decline push ups
- Wide grip push ups
- Spider-man push ups
- Archer push ups
- Clapping (plyometric) push ups
- Dive bomber push ups
- Tiger push ups
- Push ups on 2 medicine balls
- Push ups with 2 hands on 1 medicine ball
- 4-ball push ups (a ball under each hand and foot)
- 1-arm push ups
- Superman push ups
You can also purchase a weight vest or simply toss a bunch of heavy textbooks in a backpack and start performing push ups for an added challenge.
Pull ups are like squats for the upper body, by that we mean they hit just about all muscles of the upper body (including the chest, shoulders, and triceps). Due to this we feel comfortable saying that the pull up is the “king” of upper body exercises.
Pull ups are essential for developing a strong back, which also benefits your performance in squats and deadlifts, as having a stronger upper back better allows you to resist flexion or falling forward during heavy compound lifts. Upper back strength also aids bench press performance as you’ll have a stronger, sturdier base from which to press.
Furthermore, pull ups also help reinforce proper shoulder retraction and scapular stabilization, and can help improve posture. Many lifters perform more pushing movements than pulling movements which leads them to have a shoulders rolled forward (hunched over) position. Including more pulling volume in your training (from a mixture of pull ups and rows) helps correct this muscle imbalance and improve overall posture.
If pull ups are too challenging for you at the moment, you can try doing jumping pull ups with a slow controlled negative where you jump up to the top of the bar and take 5-10 seconds to slowly lower yourself. After a few weeks of doing these eccentric pull ups, you’ll start to develop the strength to perform your first few unassisted pull ups!
If you’re already proficient with standard pull ups, you can try some advanced pull up variations, including:
- V-Pull Ups (pulling your upper body to one hand and then the other)
- Switch grip pull ups (one hand pronated, one hand supinated)
- Plyometric pull ups
- Around-the-World pull ups
- Corn cob (typewriter) push ups
- 1.5 rep pull ups
- 21s (7 reps in the lower half, 7 reps in the upper half, 7 full range of motion reps)
Bodyweight squats are a total lower body builder as they train the quads, glutes, and hamstrings. They’re essential to building lean, toned legs and furthermore, squatting is a primal movement, yet due to sitting too much many people lack the ability to do a proper bodyweight squat.
As an added bonus, squats also help tighten and tone your core as you have to brace your abs when squatting and they also force you to engage the muscles of the upper back which helps strengthen the muscles responsible for proper posture.
After a while, bodyweight squats become fairly easy for most people, so while they might lose some of their muscle-building “pop”, they can still serve as a great exercise to use in body weight conditioning circuits when you want to perform HIIT cardio but not have to use a bike or run wind sprints.
Once bodyweight squats become too easy, you can start working on some plyometric jumping squat variations or performing single-leg squat progressions such as:
- skater squats
- shrimp squats
- bulgarian split squats
- assisted slow-eccentric pistol squats
Lunges are yet another phenomenal lower body exercise for building muscle and strength. They can be performed both stationary and walking and are a great way to develop strong, firm glutes and thighs.
Lunges also challenge your balance, coordination, and hip stability as they involve you training primarily one leg at a time, making them an incredibly functional exercise.
Due to their unilateral nature, lunges are also a great tool for addressing any imbalances that develop between your two legs (we all tend to favor one side or the other whenever we perform a bilateral exercise like a squat).
Lunges can also be used to target the glutes or quads more depending on your stride length and torso angle. Using a longer stride with a forward leaning torso emphasizes more glute and hamstring involvement while using a shorter stride and more upright posture emphasizes the quads and glutes more.
If you’re new to performing lunges, start with the stationary lunge and gradually progress to more dynamic variations such as alternating front lunges or alternative reverse lunges.
If regular bodyweight lunges are too easy, there are endless lunge variations you can perform to up the intensity, including reverse lunges, step ups into reverse lunges, jumping lunges, side lunges, curtsy lunges, 3-way lunges and drop step lunges.
If you’re looking for the ultimate bodyweight lunge challenge, try working up to 10 minutes straight of walking lunges. Do this and you’ll know that you’ve built a set of strong, toned legs!
You didn’t think we’d forget about the abs did you?!
Now, truth be told, all of the exercises discussed above will engage the abs to a certain degree, but performing some direct ab work also helps increase the strength and definition of your core, and there’s no better exercise for that than the plank.
As opposed to crunches, which only train a small portion of your abs and put excessive pressure on your spine when done incorrectly, planks provide a way to tax the entire musculature of the core in a manner that keeps you injury-free and chisels the flat six-pack you want.
Moreover, the plank also helps to train the spine from extending or bending backwards, and advanced plank variations (such as the side plank) help us prevent lateral flexion.
To progress the standard plank, you can experiment with some anti-rotation variations of the plank where you try holding a plank while extending one arm in front of you or lifting one leg off the ground while balancing on two hands. You can also try a “swimmer’s plank” where you lift your right leg and left arm at the same time (while trying to resist falling over) and then switch sides (lifting the left leg and right arm).
Side planks with a leg and arm raise are also another great spin on the traditional plank that helps develop the obliques.
At-Home Muscle Building Workout
Now that we’ve given you a list of our top 5 exercises for building muscle at home, we thought it’d be helpful to put together a home workout for you to try out for yourself.
For each exercise listed below will be a given rep range, select a variation of the bodyweight exercises above that allows you to fail in the given rep range listed. This helps ensure you’re getting some muscle building benefits from the exercise as opposed to endurance/cardio benefits
- Dynamic warm Up for 5-10 minutes performing jumping jacks, arm circles, jogging in place, leg swings, etc.
- Pull Ups: 3x8-10
- Squats - 3x15-20
- Push Ups: 3x10-12
- Lunges: 3x12-15 (reps per leg)
- Plank: 3 sets (hold each for as long as possible)
- Cool Down