How to Build Muscle Without Weights - The Complete Guide

James Cunningham, BSc, CPT
Published by James Cunningham, BSc, CPT | Staff Writer & Senior Coach
Last updated: June 19, 2024
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While lifting weights is a popular and effective method, it's not the only path to increased muscle mass.

As a health and performance coach, I've guided numerous clients through various methods of muscle development, including beyond the weight room.

This article explores the science of muscle building, extending past traditional equipment use.

It highlights the best bodyweight exercises and provides essential tips for building muscle without weights.

These strategies are adaptable to any setting, ensuring you can progress toward your fitness goals regardless of your access to traditional gym equipment.

Quick Summary

  • To build muscle without weights, you should do rotating exercises like squats, pull-ups, dips, lunges, and planks three times a week.
  • Increase protein and vegetable levels in your diet, as they are used to build and repair body muscles.
  • To build muscle, you need more than the recommended dietary allowance of 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram (kg) of body weight, as reported by Medical News Today.
  • In my professional opinion, the adaptability of bodyweight exercises to various fitness levels makes them a cornerstone of effective muscle building.

The Secret to Building Muscle Without Weights

Guy showing his muscle back on dark background

It’s no secret that you can have the build you want with the right amount of exercise, diet, and lifestyle changes. As a health and performance coach, I've seen firsthand that building muscle isn't exclusive to weightlifting.

You can effectively build muscle anywhere — at home, in the park, or even in the office — using just your body weight.

This approach hinges on dedication and the right techniques.

Through consistent and challenging bodyweight exercises, it's entirely possible to achieve muscle growth comparable to what you'd expect from gym workouts.

6 Best Body Weight Exercises to Build Muscle

Understanding the most effective bodyweight exercises is key to building muscle without weights.

By rotating through a variety of these exercises, you can target key muscle groups, ensuring a comprehensive full-body workout.

This approach, based on my experience as a health and performance coach, allows for significant muscle development without the need for traditional gym equipment.

1. Squats

Woman doing a squat

Start working on those buns! Squats are an excellent way to work your core, glutes, quads, hamstrings, obliques  and hip muscles, as shown by WebMD [1].

Begin your squat by situating your feet just wider than the width of your hips with your toes facing forward.

Lower yourself as if you were going to sit in a chair and go as low as you comfortably can, then press into your feet and return to a standing position.

If you have children, an interesting challenge to add to squats is giving your child a piggy-back ride while you’re at it. Safely, of course! Know your limits before attempting this.

2. Push Ups

press-up-push-up

With push-ups, you are putting your body weight to the test as you push yourself off the floor. Start by positioning your hands on the ground slightly larger than shoulder-width apart.

As you push yourself up, your body should stay straight. No butts in the air!

This exercise works to strengthen your core and build upper-body muscle mass.

You can also switch things up by alternating your limbs, such as trying one-arm push ups or one-leg push ups. When trying different variations of this exercise, make sure you perform each version equally.

3. Pull Ups

Pull Ups

Continue working on your upper body strength and target your forearms, back, and biceps with pull ups.

All you need to get started is a bar to pull yourself up from.

Place your hands shoulder-width apart on the bar, clench your butt and tighten your abs as you pull yourself straight up off of the ground.

Pull ups can be daunting, so if you aren’t totally comfortable with the thought of lifting your body off the ground, you can trying lowering your pull up bar and starting with your knees on the ground and lifting yourself up from that position first.

4. Dips

Dips

Like pull ups, dips are a great way to do upper body exercises without weights. If you don’t have access to fancy dip equipment at home, no worries! You can use a chair.

Start with your hands on the seat of the chair and lower yourself until your legs are bent at the knees at a 90-degree angle.

Push yourself up until your arms are straight again, then lower yourself back down into the 90-degree angle.

You can also check out the best home gym dip bars.

Related: Dips Vs. Bench? Which One Should You Do?

5. Lunges

Woman doing lunges

Much like squats, lunges take aim at your glutes and are a great way to get in leg workouts without weights, as well as working to strengthen your core and balance.

To start, keep your upper torso straight and step forward with one leg.

Lower your hips until both knees achieve a 90-degree angle.

As you push yourself back up from this position, make sure you’re applying the weight to your heels. You’ll want to alternate between each leg as you go through reps.

If doing lunges for the first time, watch this video to guide you on how to do it properly.

youtube

6. Planks or Situps

plank

While the debate is out about whether or not planks or situps are better for abs, either way you’ll want to make time to do both.

To begin a situp, lie down on your back and bend your knees with your feet firmly placed on the ground.

Cross your hands over your chest and bring your upper torso to your knees.

A couple reps of this will target your chest, hip, neck and lower back muscles.

To do a plank, get into a proper push up position, push yourself up and hold that position for a minimum of two minutes. Doing planks will target your core and glutes as you test your endurance!

You can also use an ab roller in your weightless workouts.

Why Workout 3x Per Week?

The best way to build muscle and see progress from your efforts involves two key elements: routine and consistency.

As a health and performance coach, I emphasize the importance of routine and consistency to my clients.

A well-structured schedule, like working out on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, provides the necessary balance of exercise and rest

The days in between workout sessions are crucial not just for muscle relaxation but also for sleep and recovery, which are essential for muscle growth and repair.

In my experience, a workout plan with four different exercises, repeated three times each, strikes the right balance.

Whether it's 30 seconds of exercise followed by 30 seconds of rest, or longer periods for increased intensity, it's crucial to avoid overexertion to prevent muscle strain.

6 Effective Muscle-Building Tips

Here are some of the most effective tips that have worked not just for me but my clients as well when it comes to muscle building beyond using weights.

1. Increase the Difficulty of the Exercises

man pushing himself

Alongside traditional progressions, consider integrating advanced techniques like plyometrics or unilateral exercises to further challenge your muscles and stimulate growth. It always works with my clients.

Push yourself until you can’t do another rep and once you’re able to do 15 reps at a time, find a more difficult exercise to pursue.

2. Increase the Amount of (Healthy) Foods You're Eating

healthy-foods

Nutrition is half the battle in muscle building. I always advise my clients to focus on protein-rich and nutrient-dense foods.

Reports by Medical News Today state that the recommended dietary allowance of 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram (kg) of body weight may not be enough for muscle building [2]

Switching from refined carbohydrates to items such as whole, unrefined grains and fruit will also be helpful in the long run.

This will even encourage more healthy habits to help you build muscle without weights!

3. Sleep 7-10 Hours

Sleep plays an important role in building muscle mass. I always advise my clients to get a good night's rest. I've found that it not only makes you stronger mentally but physically as well.

Lack of sleep can lead to muscle loss by: hindering muscle recovery after damage induced by exercise, injuries and certain conditions associated with muscle atrophy.

- Experts from Center for Psychobiology and Exercise Studie

4. Drink Lots of Water

woman-drinking-water

Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate! I cannot stress this tip enough. It’s crucial for your health and is a key player in building muscle.

Drinking at least eight to 12 cups a day will keep you moving and flexing your muscles efficiently.

This will also help carry important nutrients needed for recovering from a routine.

5. Don’t Overdo the Cardio

man tired of workout

Cardio is an excellent method for burning fat and kicking calories, but for muscle-building purposes you’ll want to avoid going overboard.

Shane Duquette, founder of the fitness website Bony to Beastly, warns that overdoing cardio can harm muscle growth due to something called the interference effect.

However, if you do cardio moderately, your cardiovascular system will adapt, allowing you to deliver more blood to your muscles.

You need fuel to build muscles. Always ensure optimal muscle recovery.

Between 2-4 days a week of cardio for 30 minutes at a time is ideal to avoid burnout.

You can also try out this list of calisthenics exercises.

6. Invest In Some Gear (Ex. Pull Up Bars, Kettlebells)

photo-of-gym-equipments

While you can exercise without weights, some kind of gear will help you along the way.

If you have the money, investing in smaller items such as battle ropes, pull up bars, kettlebells, a TRX band, etc. will help with resistance training and getting you on the fast track to building muscle.

Francis Fessler, founder and coach at F2 Wellness, highly recommends using bands for muscle building because they are far easier on the joints when used.

Just make sure you're using them properly, and just as with bodyweight exercises, the different rep counts, rests, and speed make all the difference.

Building Muscle Without Weights: The Bottom Line

References:

  1. https://www.webmd.com/fitness-exercise/health-benefits-of-squats
  2. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/how-much-protein-do-you-need-to-build-muscle
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About The Author

James Cunningham, BSc, CPT
Staff Writer & Senior Coach
James Cunningham, BSc, CPT holds a BSc degree in Sport & Exercise Science from University of Hertfordshire. He's a Health & Performance Coach from London that brings a unique blend of academic knowledge of health supplements and practical exercise experience to the table for his readers.
Learn more about our editorial policy
Dr. Harshi Dhingra, MBBS, MD is a published peer-reviewed author and renowned physician from India with over a decade of experience. With her MBBS from Bharati Vidyapeeth and an MD from Rajiv Gandhi University, she actively ensures the accuracy of online dietary supplement and medical information by reviewing and fact-checking health publications.
Learn more about our editorial policy
Dr. Kristy June Dayanan, BS, MD is an author with a BS degree from University of the Philippines and an MD from University of Perpetual Help System. Her ability to simplify medical science complexities and dietary supplement jargon for the average reader makes her a valued medical fact checker and reviewer.
Learn more about our editorial policy

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