Build Muscle Without Weights


Build Muscle Without Weights

Is It Possible


Body weight workouts are popular among certain groups like the military and martial artists, but not usually with bodybuilders, fitness models or those looking to build muscle fast.  That of course leaves you wondering if it is posible to build muscle without weights.

As with most strength and muscle building questions the answer is, “it depends”.

I know that answer sucks but stick with me and I will explain.

But before I answer your question, I’m going to briefly tell you how to build muscle. Don’t worry, I’ll keep it brief because I’m sure many of you aren’t as interested in the science behind muscle building as I am.

How to Build Muscle

To build muscle fast, or at all for that matter, there is one main principle that needs to be followed.  It doesn’t matter if you’re a bodybuilder, power lifter or going for that fitness model look you need to include this element in your weight training program…

do more work in today’s workout then you did in your last workout.

Doing this in a planned, logical manner is known as progressive overload.  Basically what you are doing is breaking down your muscles and with healthy muscle building foods, and rest you repair and build the muscle back up so it is bigger and stronger.

I won’t go into all the details of how to structure your workout routine to ensure that you get a progressive overload, but do realize that if you want to get any results from your workout routine, progressive overload is a necessity. You need to push yourself and give your body a reason to grow bigger and stronger. Your body is very adaptive, but very efficient, you have to force it to build muscle.

I’m sure you can remember a time when you worked out or did some other strenuous activity and how sore you were afterwards. Well your body doesn’t like that, it does everything in its power to prevent that from happing again. Notice how next time you did the same activity or workout that you were not as sore. Your body had adapted to protect itself. Building more muscle is one way your body adapts to prevent trama like that from happening again.

The theory of progressive overload applies to any strength or muscle building routine. It doesn’t matter if  you’re doing your work out in your garage gym, if you are an Olympic athlete at the state-of-the-art fitness facility, or someone working out the park trying to build muscle with body weight exercises, you will not see results without a progressive overload.

If you don’t give your body a reason to change, it won’t.


Can You Build Muscle Without Weights

Now that you have an idea of how to build muscle I’m sure you have a good idea of how to answer the question…

can you build muscle without weights

Let’s see…

Building muscle without weights is just like regular strength training in the gym.  Think back to the principle of progressive overload and what needs to be done to build muscle.  When working with dumbbells or doing a barbell routine you add more weight to the bar to increase the difficulty of the exercise to get the progressive overload.

Body weight exercises are a little different but are still a form of resistance training. Your body has become the weight as opposed to a barbell or dumbbell which most people are use to. But with bodyweight exercises you don’t have that same flexibility as you do lifting weights. Sure you can can add weight, or some other kind of external resistance, and that is recommended as you improve.  But clearly it’s not as easy.

build muscle without weights

Explosive Push Up To Build Muscle Without Weights

But it’s necessary to make each exercise in your workout more difficult each time through.  It doesn’t always have to be an increase in weight, it can be more reps, getting the same amount of work done in a shorter time period by applying more force to each rep, or increase the length of time your muscles are working and being strained.


back to the question at hand, can you build muscle without weights.

For the beginner, the answer to the question is, yes.

When you’re first starting out you can easily build muscle without weights. Chances are any body weight exercise done will be challenging and modifications will be needed to make it a little easier. As your strength and your muscles grow, each exercise will have to become progressively more difficult to continually challenge you.

Eventually the most challenging of the body weight exercises except for maybe 2 0r 3 of them may become to easy for you, adding in traditional weightlifting exercises will be necessary.  That doesn’t mean abandon bodyweight exercises all together, but limit their use.

Now that you know that you can build muscle without weights let’s see how to do it.


How to Build Muscle Without Weights

Your muscles won’t grow and your body won’t change or improve unless you force it to.

No matter how good your workout routine looks on paper, muscle will not grow, and strength won’t be gained, unless you demonstrate that it is necessary for your body to adapt.  This is accomplished by making your exercises and workouts more difficult from week to week…

just can’t get away from the idea of progressive overload.

 3 ways to make your bodyweight workout more difficult

  1. Increase the load
  2. Do same work in less time
  3. Do more work

All of these have been mentioned earlier but I will give you an example to better understand what I am talking about so you can apply it to your workout routine so you are able to build muscle without weights.

A great example is the bench press versus push-ups. These two exercises work the same muscles and look similar.  For this example I’m going to use the common push-up and some of the different push up variations.

I’m going to assume that you’re new to exercise and fitness, or you haven’t worked out the while.  So I’ll layout and approach for complete beginner.

 beginner push-up variation

Increase the Load

The first variable that was mentioned was to increase the load. As I’ve mentioned before this is a little more difficult to do with body weight exercises as apposed to the bench press, but not impossible.

If you were to work your chest in a typical strength training workout you would include the bench press.  To get better from week to week you would simply add another 5 pounds to the bar or do one or two reps more than the previous workout. Since you’re doing body weight exercises here adding more weight is a little more difficult, but it is possible with weight vests and push-up bands.

But I would like to show you how to increase the load as you would if you were a beginner or were not going to use an external load.

Make sure you start with a pushed up variation that is within your ability.

The simplest way to increase or decrease the push up is to change the angle of your body. The more vertical you are the easier it is, get more horizontal and the exercise becomes more difficult. I’m not going to get into physics because you probably don’t care, and I don’t fully understand it myself, but I think it has something to do with vectors.

The easiest push up variation is to stand and place you hands on the wall then slide you feet away from the wall to decrease the angle and make the exercise harder.  This is a great place for the beginner to start. If you are more advanced you can use a bench, box, or smith machine to put your hands on instead of the wall.

Find the angle that allows you to get 6 repetitions. Each week try to get an additional rep in each of your four sets. Once you can easily do 10 repetitions it’s time to increase the difficulty by lowering the angle so your more horizontal.

Repeat this process until you can do 4 sets of 10 regular push ups.  At that point you can start raising your feet by placing them on a box, bench, wall or any elevated surface.

Know that every time you adjust the exercise to make it more difficult you have gotten stronger and have been able to build muscle without weights.

Do Same Work In less Time

One element you’re going to have to include is explosive movements. These are a form of plyometric exercises where you apply maximal force in the quickest amount of time.

This concept is a little more complex, but basically by doing the exercise faster you are putting more force into the exercise than before.   This is effective because you’re applying maximum out of force, it recruits more muscle fibers because of the extra effort needed to increase the speed of the movement. It is similar to lifting more weight without lifting more.

My buddy Rusty talks about force production as it applies to classic strength training, applying more force to the bar. Granted he’s referring to the dumbbell and barbell exercises, but the same principles apply if you want to build muscle without weights because you’re still dealing with applying a force rapidly. It is a quick and easy read if your interested.

 Do More Work

This is fairly straight forward.  Do more sets and reps, spending more time under tension.  Don’t go crazy though, doing too many reps doesn’t help.  Research studies have shown that for the best combination of sets and reps for size and strength is 3 to 4 sets of 6 to 10 repetitions. Decreasing this rep range works more on absolute strength, while increasing your repetitions from this will do more to build muscle mass.

Be careful though, more is not always better. When you increase your rep range to build muscle fast you reach a point of diminishing returns. That means more reps don’t equal more muscle. In fact, if you do too much you’re getting into an aerobic state that can be catabolic and eat muscle. We are not interested in bodyweight fat burning workouts at the moment.

Ideally your sets need to be done in less than 70 seconds. If it takes you more than this to do 10 reps then the exercises is too difficult.  From time to time you can see how many push ups you can do in this time frame, ideally you would like the resistance to be enough so that you don’t do a crazy amount in that time.

As a general rule of thumb remember, the best muscle building numbers

  • limit your upper body reps to 15
  • 20 reps for the lower body.

Pavel goes through and excellent progression for increasing the intensity of body weight exercises in this book Convict Conditioning. in addition to the progression of Pavel mentions the key bodyweight strength exercises along with a solid training philosophy. Definitely an excellent resource if you want to stick solely to body weight training.

 Best Exercises to Build Muscle without Weights

  • Push-Ups – There are many different push up variations that you can do to challenge you as you progress, and to ultimately you do a one arm push-up.
  • Pull-Ups – One of the best back exercises you can do. Again their different variations that ultimately lead to a one arm pull-up. These are extremely difficult, I’ve only seen two people do them. One was a world-class rower, the other a bodyweight enthusiasts.
  • Squats –  You guessed it, these progress toward a one legged version as well.
  •  Hand Walkouts –  A killer core exercise.
  • Russian Leans –  Excellent for developing hamstringing glute strength.

These exercises make the foundation of any body weight workouts that you intend to build muscle.

Sample Workout To Build Muscle Without Weights

Do each exercise in the order listed. Complete three sets of 10 increasing the difficulty each set. On your last set you want it to be a struggle to complete reps 8, 9 and 10.

Do exercise 1A, rest 30 seconds, to exercise 1B, rest another 30 seconds, then go back to exercise 1A. Repeat this until you have completed the recommended sets and reps.

1.a –  Push-Ups

1.b –  Inverted Rows

2.a – Split Squat

2.b – Hand Walkouts

Simple but yet effective.  Goes to show you that you don’t have to go crazy to build muscle without weights.


You can build muscle without weights.

As long as you give your muscles a reason to grow by increasing the difficulty of each work by increasing one or both of these aspects of your training…

  • the volume
  • the load or difficulty of the exercise

Do this from week to week and your body will respond, you will grow stronger and bigger.

Make sure you follow these rules when you plan out your workout routine…

  • Be sure that your bodyweight exercises are difficult enough that you find 6 to 10 reps a challenge,
  • get in three or four sets
  • make sure there is a progressive overload throughout your workout program.

Remember I say all but 2 or 3 exercises may become too easy.  Let me know if the one arm pull up or the one arm handstand push up ever get too easy for you.  I haven’t got there yet.

Get plenty of rest, eat some healthy muscle building meals and you’re well on your way to getting stronger and building more muscle.

So long as you increase the demands on the muscle you can …

build muscle without weights