The real question is “Why are you putting on muscle?” If your
goal is to compete in bodybuilding competitions, then only using bodyweight
training exercises will not get you there. However, if you want to build
functional muscle – muscle strength that you can use in everyday life –
bodyweight exercises will far exceed what you can get from conventional
strength training alone due to the difference between the two forms and how
they work the muscles. With bodyweight training, a muscle is elongated during
the exercise – called isometric contraction, whereas with weight training, the
muscle is contracted called eccentric contraction. The later builds bulk while
the former tones, and builds definition and sleekness. Don’t gymnasts look more
balanced body wise than most bodybuilders and weightlifters?
Some of the exercises using just bodyweight are identical to
the ones involving a piece of weighted equipment. For example, what is the
difference between a chin-up and lat pulldown? Actually with the weight the
same, nothing, as both types of exercises use the same muscles. However, with
lat pulldowns, you could progressively add weight as you max out on
repetitions, where with chin-ups you are limited to just your bodyweight.
But there are techniques to make bodyweight exercises more
effective. Gymnasts use isometric contraction to their advantage. Basically it
is holding your weight in one position over a set amount of time, thus
continually stressing that particular muscle for that duration. Think the
routines they do on a set of rings holding their bodyweight using just their
To demonstrate how you can use isometric contraction to your
advantage, let’s look at the pushup. From the starting position, lower yourself
but stop just before your upper arms are parallel with the floor. Hold that
position for 40 to 60 seconds. Now do a cluster set of 5 pushups where you do
one push-up, rest 10 seconds, do another, rest, etc. As you build muscle,
either hold in position longer, do more repetitions in each cluster set, or add
in more complete pushup sets.
With some imagination, most of the bodyweight exercises “can
be taken to the next level” by using the hold-in-position-and-then-cluster-set
routine. So if you are looking to get buff, but not muscle bound, then yes
bodyweight training exercise will build muscle where you want it.