Jack King's Blog
Natural bodybuilding & Olympic lifting resource

Building Upper Body without Lifting Weights

In this post, I’ll talk a bit more about two techniques you can use to build your upper body without lifting weights. I want to preface this post by saying that I am an advocate of training with weights. There is nothing better. But, if you can’t get to a gym or don’t have weights at home, there are still ways that you can improve your physique. So, I wanted to share some techniques that will help you do just that. If you follow these routines for six weeks, you’ll be able to see the results in the mirror.  


I developed a chest routine based primarily around push-ups after an injury prevented me from being able to use most apparatus-based training methods for chest. I used the push-up routine in preparation for the Mr. America contest and it, along with other techniques, was successful in getting me where I wanted to be. From this experience, I learned that push-ups truly are invaluable. So, here are a couple of push-up routines that will be sure to challenge your muscles.

Push-up Variation #1
First, you’ll get into the push-up position with your hands positioned just outside your shoulders. Do one controlled push-up using perfect form. You want to go slow enough so that you feel what you’re working. Then, stand straight up. Go back down into push-up position and do two perfect push-ups. Then, stand straight up. Continue this process while increasing the number of push-up reps you do by one with each set. Continue until you are doing at least 10 or more push-ups and go until you start losing reps in the process. This routine is based on one that Marines did many years ago. This drill is a fun way to challenge yourself and add variety to your workout. You won’t be able to do as many as you think you can.

Push-up Variation #2
For more advanced trainees, try this push-up variation. First, you’ll do as many push-ups as you can do on your first set. Rest for a couple of minutes. Then for the second set, try to repeat the number of push-ups you did in the first set. If you can’t quite get the same number of reps as you did in the first set, it is ok.

Be sure to record your reps for each set so you can track your improvement over time.

Just record the number of reps you were able to perform in each set. Continue this process for about five more sets. Be sure to make note of the number of reps performed in each set. You’re always trying to repeat the number of reps you performed in the preceding set. A day or two later, you’ll do the routine again. This time, you’re trying to exceed the number of reps you performed in each set from the previous day’s workout.

For either of these push-up variations, perform the routine twice per week. Cycle through these exercises just like you would exercises for any body part. In other words, you don’t want to perform these exercises on two consecutive days. You’ll want to allow for a day of rest in between.

Shoulders, Back, & Arms

To develop shoulders, back, and arms, you’ll need to do chins or pull-ups.

You can improvise a chin/pull-up bar if you don't have one. Be creative.

Remember, you can always improvise a chin/pull-up bar. One of the best places to look is at playground at a local park or school. You can use monkey bars, swing sets, and other equipment to do your chins/pull-ups.

Chins are performed with an underhand grip, whereas pull-ups have an overhand grip with palms facing away. If you want to work mainly arms on a given day, do all chins. If you’re trying to stress back and shoulders on a given day, do all pull-ups.

Chins/Pull-ups Routine
Chins/pull-ups are more difficult than push-ups, but you’ll still want to set rep standards with the following routine just as you did with the push-up routines outlined above. On the first set, do as many chins/pull-ups as you can. Rest for a couple of minutes. Then, try to repeat the number of reps on the second set. Repeat this process through the next 4-5 sets. Losing reps is no sin in this routine. The key is to keep a written record of how many reps you’re able to perform in each set. This provides a measure of comparison over time so you can work to improve.

Cycle this routine into your workout schedule allowing for rest in between days where you work the same body part. Again, you can use chins for an arm day and pull-ups for a back/shoulder day. 


If you do these two movements, push-ups and chins/pull-ups, with no missed days for six weeks, you will definitely see results in the mirror and feel it in your clothes. The uphill sprints and lunges detailed in previous posts will take care of your lower body development if you push it.

If you have drive and ambition, the rewards will be there.

I’d love to hear any questions/comments you have about these or any of the other routines I’ve posted on the blog. Next time, I’ll talk more about recommendations for waist work.

Until next time, keep training hard.


23 Responses to “Building Upper Body without Lifting Weights”

  1. Thank you Mr. King. There have been alot of falsehoods propigated concerning the push up and the use of weights by you by John Peterson.

    Nice to read the THRUTH by the man that actually did it!


    • Thanks, Billy, for your comments. There is so much information out there that it can be confusing to know fact from fiction. There are new “secrets” every month in the magazines and misinformation is rampant. So, I will attempt to tell truths about training that work and always have worked. When it comes to training, you have to factor in drive, determination, and consistency. If you do, you’ll amaze yourself.

  2. Mr. King,

    I think it is great you have started a blog. It is very interesting. I have read you had great success doing hundreds of Push-ups a couple days a week. What do you think makes Push-ups so effective? Did you build up your numbers using one or both of the methods you mentioned above?

    I was also wondering how you would put together a bodyweight only exercise program? How many days a week would you suggest working out? How would you split exercises? etc.

    Thanks for starting this blog and sharing your experience.

  3. Thanks, Brett, for your comments. To answer your question about the effectiveness of push-ups, it all comes down to what I’ve been able to see in my physique and what I can feel in my training. Push-ups target the whole shoulder girdle– the tris, pecs, lats and ties pecs to shoulders. To me, there is nothing like the pump you get from push-ups if you do them fast and with high enough numbers.

    As far as your question about building up numbers, you always aim to surpass the number of push-ups you did on the set before. When you get to a number of reps that you can keep up continuously for 4-5 sets without failure, then you decide right then that you won’t do any less on any set from that point on. As you progress, add another set of the same number of reps. This kind of progression has worked for me. When I had a shoulder injury, I started with sets of 20 and then progressed to sets of as many as 250.

    You’ll find that your body adapts much better to this kind of bodyweight-only training routine than if you were to try to add weights to an exercise. I will tell you though, you have to possess an incredible hunger to do a program like this or you won’t see spectacular results.

    For a bodyweight-only exercise program, refer to some of my other blog posts. I think you’ll find some helpful tips throughout. I recommend training 4 times per week (2 lower body, 2 upper body) with a break in the middle. Remember, you have to perform a bodyweight-only program just like you would a bodybuilding program with weights. You have to do repeated sets and aim for progression of goals over time. If you do, it will work!

  4. Mr. King,

    Thanks for the reply. One other thing…How would you suggest an ectomorph or “hardgainer” train?

    • Hi Brett,

      I do realize that there is some validity to your question concerning hardgainers, but truthfully I’ve never paid attention to the idea for myself or any of my pupils. In other words, I tell people not to come up with reasons not to work hard, eat right, rest, or gain. The key to success is to believe in yourself and have the drive and determination to reach your goals.

  5. Mr. King,

    We spoke we few months ago and I really appreciated the opportunity to discuss your training philosophy and approach. As Billy noted above, having the ‘truth’ published regarding your use of weights, pushups, etc., is welcomed!

    Best regards –

  6. Great blog site…

  7. Mr. King, how were your push ups performed. were they fast and short push ups. like the ones u would see people setting world records with, or were they perfect push ups. all they way down chest to the floor and all the way up, arms locked out. i love doing pus ups. but ,always got confused as to, how to perform them.

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  20. a very well written program indeed,I love the second one even better,I knew a guy in school who looked like a prime natty dedicated lifter,but he was 17 and all he did was 1500 push ups and 600 pullups a day in a 30 minute workout daily,dude had 18 inch arms ripped,and could easily lift 300 lbs sandbags overhead.

    However,if muscle building is the goal,then its beneficial to choose a varition that you can do no more than 20 reps with,I think gradually you should progress towards things like planche push ups and feet elevated one arm one leg push ups as well as one arm pull ups,those build amazing muscle.

  21. This is an amazing piece of information i found on internet. Its a ray of hope for the ones who somehow couldn’t hit the gym. One can try these exercises at home without going outside and it doesn’t cost you a single penny. Just look for an open and even space in your home and start the workout. Once again thanks for such a wonderful and helpful information.

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