10 Ways to Get Stronger and Build Muscle Without Weights

LIVESTRONG.com may earn compensation through affiliate links in this story.
Plyometric exercises are one effective tool to challenge your body and build muscle without weights.
Image Credit: StefaNikolic/E+/GettyImages

Public service announcement: You can build strength and lean muscle without going to the gym, buying expensive home exercise equipment or even lifting weights

Advertisement

Just about anyone can benefit from body-weight exercises. Even world-class athletes like Olympic gymnasts use them as a primary way to build strength without equipment. The weight of your own body provides plenty of resistance to progress your fitness level and build muscle.

Read on to learn how to get stronger and build muscle without weights. You can thank your own body weight later.

Advertisement

1. Pull Your Body Weight

Pull-ups are one of the best exercises you can do to strengthen your upper body: back, biceps, triceps, shoulders, core and even grip. Want a home pull-up bar that won't wreck your walls? Check out the Perfect Fitness Portable Pull-Up Bar (Amazon.com; $34.99).

Activity Body-Weight Workout
Body Part Back, Arms, Abs and Shoulders
  1. With an overhand grip, grasp a pull-up bar with your hands just farther than shoulder-width apart.
  2. Let your legs hang straight down towards the floor. Squeeze your glutes and core.
  3. Keeping your body as straight as possible, pull your elbows down to your sides to raise your chest to the bar.
  4. Pause, then reverse the motion with control.

2. Do Air Squats

Air (aka body-weight) squats and their many variations target your quadriceps, glutes, hamstrings, calves and core muscles.

Advertisement

Some lifters add a heavy barbell to increase the intensity of their squats, but it's not the only way to do so. Slow down your movements, add a pause at the bottom or try setting up on a single leg for an additional challenge.

JW Player placeholder image
Skill Level All Levels
Body Part Legs, Butt and Abs
  1. Stand with feet hip-width apart.
  2. Raise your arms out in front of you and slowly bend your knees as you push your hips back to squat down as far as comfortable.
  3. Pause, then press through your heels to stand back up. As you stand, lower your arms back to your sides.

3. Use Plyometric Exercises

When trying to build muscle without weights, plyometrics are your friend. When strength training without a gym, these explosive, powerful movements can build muscle by putting an intense demand on your body, according to The American Council on Exercise.

Advertisement

Athletes who need to run fast or jump high often use plyometrics to build explosive strength. While plyos aren't for exercise newbies, experienced body-weight exercisers can try moves like jump squats, plyo push-ups and star jumps to get stronger without weights.

JW Player placeholder image
Activity Body-Weight Workout
Body Part Butt, Legs and Abs
  1. Stand with your feet hip-width apart.
  2. Bend your knees as you push your hips back to squat down.
  3. Press through your heels and jump up into the air, swinging your arms to gain momentum.
  4. Land lightly back into the bottom of the squat before you start your next rep.

4. Plank for Core Strength

One of the most common ways to build core strength at home without equipment, planks target your entire midsection, including your obliques and lower back. They can also work your shoulders and hips.

Advertisement

JW Player placeholder image
Activity Body-Weight Workout
Body Part Abs, Arms and Shoulders
  1. Start on your hands and knees with your shoulders stacked above your wrists and your hips directly above your knees.
  2. Step your right foot back and then your left foot to balance on your hands and toes. Your body should form a straight line from the top of your head to your heels. Tuck your tailbone to engage your core and squeeze your glutes.
  3. Hold this position while maintaining a neutral spine.

5. Embrace a Push-Up Trio

Go beyond the conventional push-up and try a push-up trio of push-ups, decline push-ups and close-grip push-ups to build strength throughout your upper body.

Begin with one set of 10 push-ups for general upper-body conditioning. Next, do 10 decline push-ups to hit your shoulders. Create a decline by propping your feet on a short stool. Finally, do 10 close-grip push-ups to focus on your triceps. Repeat the rotation as many times as possible with good, comfortable form.

Advertisement

1. Standard Push-Up

JW Player placeholder image
Activity Body-Weight Workout
Body Part Chest, Shoulders and Abs
  1. Get a high plank with your core and glutes engaged. Your shoulders should be stacked over your wrists and your hips should be in line with your head and heels.
  2. Bend your elbows at about a 45-degree angle from your torso and lower your body toward the ground.
  3. On the way down, squeeze your shoulder blades together.
  4. When your chest hovers just above the ground (or however far down you can go), press into the ground and push your shoulder blades apart to return to the starting position.

2. Decline Push-Up

JW Player placeholder image
Activity Body-Weight Workout
Body Part Chest, Shoulders and Abs
  1. Get a high plank with your feet elevated on a chair or workout bench, palms on the floor. Your shoulders should be stacked over your wrists and your hips should be in line with your head and heels.
  2. Bend your elbows at about a 45-degree angle from your torso and lower your body toward the ground.
  3. On the way down, squeeze your shoulder blades together.
  4. When your chest hovers just above the ground (or however far down you can go), press into the ground and push your shoulder blades apart to return to the starting position.

3. Close-Grip Push-Up

JW Player placeholder image
Activity Body-Weight Workout
Body Part Abs, Arms, Chest and Shoulders
  1. Get a high plank with your core and glutes engaged.
  2. Place your palms just inside your shoulders, hips in line with your head and heels.
  3. Bend at your elbows, keeping them close to your sides.
  4. On the way down, squeeze your shoulder blades together.
  5. When your chest hovers just above the ground (or however far down you can go), press into the ground and push your shoulder blades apart to return to the starting position.

6. Perfect Mountain Climbers

When learning how to get stronger without weights, take advantage of the high-plank/push-up position. While you are down in it, add in a few sets of mountain climbers to work your lower abs and hip flexors.

Advertisement

JW Player placeholder image
Activity Body-Weight Workout
Body Part Abs and Chest
  1. Get in a high plank position, balancing on your palms and toes with your body in a straight line from heels to hips to head. Keep your palms under your shoulders and your back in a neutral position. Brace your core.
  2. Drive one knee up toward your chest, then return it to the floor.
  3. Repeat with your other leg.
  4. Alternate as quickly as you can while maintaining the plank position.

7. Raise Your Calves

Standing calf raises are an effective exercise to sculpt strong calf muscles. You can perform these standing on the floor or, for a fuller range of motion, on the edge of a step. (Just hold onto the railing for balance.)

JW Player placeholder image
Activity Body-Weight Workout
Body Part Legs
  1. Stand with your feet hip-width apart.
  2. Raise your heels off the ground and balance on the balls of your feet.
  3. Pause, the slowly lower your heels back to the ground.

Related Reading

8. Try Body-Weight Triceps Extensions

Nope, you don't need a dumbbell to do triceps extension. Build the muscle group with this overhead version. FYI, it's safer on your shoulder than triceps dips.

Advertisement

If your chair starts to scoot around, set it up against a wall. That'll hold it still.

Image Credit: Noam Tamir/LIVESTRONG.com
Activity Body-Weight Workout
Body Part Abs, Arms, Chest and Shoulders
  1. Begin kneeling about three feet away from a chair with your back straight and arms at your sides.
  2. Place your palms on the edge of the chair. Brace your core.
  3. Bend your elbows as far as possible with good, comfortable form to lower your body toward the chair.
  4. Pause, then push against the chair and straighten your elbows back to return to the starting position.

9. Use One Arm or Leg

An alternative to adding weight to increase the difficulty of your body-weight exercises is to switch to using only one limb on each exercise. Some examples are the one-arm push-up, one-arm pull-up, single-leg calf raise and shrimp squat. Use these variations to build strength more quickly, one side at a time.

JW Player placeholder image
Activity Body-Weight Workout
Body Part Abs, Butt and Legs
  1. Stand with your feet close together.
  2. Transfer your weight onto one foot, bend the other behind you and grab your raised foot with that side's hand. Hold your other arm to your side for balance.
  3. Bend the knee of your planted leg and push your hips back to lower as far as comfortable.
  4. Press through your left foot to return to standing.

10. Work Out Like a Kid

One of the best ways to stick with any workout plan is to make it fun. So, add in a few old-school kid's exercises from your elementary P.E. days, like bear crawls and crab walks. Getting creative and mixing things up is one way to add new stimulus to your training and help you get stronger with no weights needed.

JW Player placeholder image
Activity Body-Weight Workout
Body Part Butt and Legs
  1. Start with your butt, hands and heels on the floor. Place your hands behind your back, flat on the floor. Brace your core.
  2. Press through your hands and heels and squeeze you glutes to raise your hips several inches off of the floor.
  3. On your hands and feet, walk backward by alternating steps with each hand and the opposite foot.
  4. After a few steps, change directions and walk forward back to start.

Related Reading

Advertisement

references