I think bodyweight exercises are great. My very first training program as a teenager was a bodyweight routine that I did at home with no equipment other than a broomstick, some chairs and a place to do pull ups. Like many bodybuilders, one of my first influences was Arnold Schwarzenneger, and the first bodybuilding book I ever read was "Arnold : The Education of a Bodybuilder," which was written as part autobiography, part instruction manual.
Arnold 's book recommended "freehand" exercises as the ideal way to start working out and тАЬlaying the foundation.тАЭ He even said that freehand exercises can add muscle size and enhance muscular definition. Sounded good to me, so my first routine was the "freehand" program straight from Arnold 's book:
1. Push ups
2. Dips (between chairs)
3. Broomstick pullup between chairs
4. Bent knee sit ups
5. Bent knee leg raises
6. Bodyweight squats
7. One legged calf raise
8. Close grip Chin ups
I didn't have a rigid set and rep structure, but instead aimed for a cumulative rep total, such as 50 push ups, and whether that was 5 sets of 10, or 2 sets of 25 didn't matter so much to me at the time. What I worked on was gradually building up my cumulative rep total.
Arnold recommended using this routine for two to six months before progressing into weight training. I did two months, then I just couldn't wait any longer. I saw fairly good results from just the bodyweight movements, but I was incredibly eager to start lifting. Once I started pumping the iron, my strength and muscle development exploded and I never looked back.
To this day - even though I'm an advanced bodybuilder - I still keep some bodyweight training in my programs. In addition to the countless abdominal exercises you can do with your body weight, the most important bodyweight movements in my opinion, are pull ups and dips. Since there are so many variations on pull ups and chin ups (more than a dozen), you could do nothing but pullups/chinups and achieve excellent back and bicep development. Some people consider rows the king of back exercises, but if I could only pick one back exercise, pull ups would be it (with or without weight).
Dips, both narrow grip for tricep emphasis and V-bar wide grip for pectoral emphasis are also excellent. Most strength athletes and bodybuilders will need to add additional load once they are doing their bodyweight for 10-12 reps on dips. Reverse dips for triceps are good too, but you have to be cautious of the shoulder joint if you use full range.
Push ups are a superb exercise. You can make push ups more challenging by elevating your feet and/or pushing up between two chairs. It's even more challenging when you destabilize by putting your feet up on a swiss ball. Narrow grip tricep push ups are quite challenging even to an advanced trainee, and push ups with your hands on one (or two) medicine balls or a swiss ball are a lot harder than they look.
Most people think of the push up as an upper body (chest, deltoid, tricep) strength or strength-endurance exercise, but it's more than that тАУ the push up is excellent for developing strength and stability in the core.
Some athletes (and occupations) tend to gravitate towards bodyweight exercises and away from weight training. Bodyweight movements are especially popular among martial artists, wrestlers, law enforcement personnel and the military (although I know many in all these groups who powerlift and bodybuild).
I believe that almost anyone can become fit and even build some muscle size with bodyweight only exercise, but once you've mastered your bodyweight and can easily perform high repetitions with good form, it's only logical to add additional load. For bodybuilders, or those seeking maximum hypertrophy, weights are an absolute must (there's no such thing as a successful competitive bodybuilder who doesn't lift weights).
One of the greatest advantages of having a variety of bodyweight exercises in your arsenal is that you can get a great workout when you're traveling, right in your hotel room. That's one of the reasons I think everyone should learn at least a handful of bodyweight movements so you can get a workout anywhere, anyplace, anytime even when you don't have a gym or equipment available.
Training is covered in detail in my 340 page ebookBurn the Fat, Feed the Muscle (BFFM)
If you do not like to read I have a brand new 6 hour audio series BurntheFatAudioSeminar.com