Build Muscle Without Lifting Weights
It’s 100% possible to build muscle without lifting weights.
When people decide they want to build muscle and get stronger, the first thing that comes to mind is usually weight training. They get started with dumbbells, kettlebells, and barbells because they hear it’s the best way to gain muscle.
And it is. Research proves weightlifting results in the most significant muscle growth compared to cardio, high-intensity interval training, and other forms of exercise.
However, while lifting weights remains the most efficient way to build muscle, it’s far from the only way. Next time you find yourself without barbells and dumbbells handy, try one of these five types of exercise for building muscle.
Calisthenics exercises include all bodyweight strength training movements.
The simplest way to build muscle without weights is to do bodyweight resistance exercises. The fancy name for bodyweight resistance training is “calisthenics.” Many people think calisthenics training is reserved for elite gymnasts who can do flagpoles and muscle-ups, but, calisthenics training also includes basic bodyweight exercises. Squats, push-ups, lunges, pull-ups, and sit-ups all count as calisthenics.
Plyometric exercises are powerful and explosive. You can think of plyometrics as bouncy calisthenics. Movements such as jump squats and jump lunges, clapping push-ups, burpees, tuck jumps, single-leg hops, and long jumps all fall into the plyometrics category — and they can all help you build strength and muscle.
Sprinting builds muscle in your lower body, especially the glutes and hamstrings.
Running long distance may not help you build muscle but sprinting definitely can! Fast sprints require immense power from the calves, hamstrings, glutes, and quads. Your core also activates to stabilize your torso and your arms provide torque, so sprinting is effectively a full-body muscle-building exercise.
Swim a few laps and tell us your muscles don’t burn. We’re waiting…
Swimming builds muscle through resistance, just like every other strengthening exercise. Even though swimming is technically considered cardio, water provides resistance as your body moves through it, which challenges your muscles. This makes swimming much more effective at building muscle than other forms of cardio, such as jogging or cycling.
Swimming in open water makes for an even greater challenge. Different swim strokes provide additional muscle-building potential, too. For instance, butterfly is way tougher than freestyle and can build up strength in your shoulders, core, and hips.
Suspension training makes bodyweight exercises more challenging.
Suspension training requires minimal equipment (a TRX or similar setup) but is still a simple and portable way to build muscle compared to weightlifting. With a suspension trainer, you can perform hundreds of exercises for your lower and upper body, as well as your core. As an added bonus, suspension training is really great for improving stability and core control.
If you’re up for some adventure, mountain biking poses a serious challenge to your leg muscles. Climbing hills on foot is tough but climbing hills on a bike will make your quads scream. Tackling obstacles such as rock beds and learning tricks such as bunny hops will improve your overall fitness, too. So, head out and hit the trails to get strong — just don’t forget your helmet!
Resistance bands offer great versatility.
Similar to a suspension system, resistance bands add an extra layer of difficulty to basic bodyweight movements. You can resistance bands to up the ante on movements such as air squats, as well as mimic barbell and dumbbell movements.
For instance, looping a resistance band under your feet and around your shoulders creates ample tension in the posterior chain, so you can practice hinging movements such as good mornings and Romanian deadlifts (things that are super hard to accomplish with no tension).
Finally, with resistance bands, you can perform isolated movements to strengthen individual muscles or muscle groups, such as front raises, lateral raises, or glute kick-backs.