Lifting weights isn’t for everyone, fortunately there are alternatives you can consider, including a number that avoid the gym (and one that requires very little exertion).
Here are our 12 favorite ways to build muscle without weights:
1. Bodyweight Exercises
Bodyweight exercises can be particularly effective for muscle building.
They’re defined as exercises that use your own body weight to provide resistance, which can help to increase your strength.
Plus the best part is, you can use them all to build muscle at home without equipment.
Push Ups and Pull Ups
Push ups and pull ups are great if you want to build muscle in your upper body.
Fitness writers are keen to highlight that it’s essential that you complete high repetitions at an “appropriate difficulty level”.
They explain that muscle growth is best achieved when performing between six and 12 repetitions, using 67-85% of the maximum resistance you can manage.
If you want to build your leg muscles, then you need to start squatting!
It’s one of the best exercise for muscle growth in the hamstrings, quadriceps and calves.
But squats don’t just give your legs a great workout.
Health publication, The Active Times, describe how squats create an anabolic environment within the body.
This environment promotes muscle building throughout the whole body, generating muscle mass.
Dips can help you get those killer arms you’re looking for!
Body transformation coach and insta-star, Charlie Johnson explained in Men’s Health:
Dips are an excellent movement to build size, strength and power into the triceps…some variation of dips within a training programme is a wise idea if you’re looking to develop this muscle group and improve your pressing strength.
Sit Ups and Crunches
Crunches give your abdominal muscles an intense workout, strengthening your core and helping you get that toned, muscular look.
Sit ups are a multi-muscle exercise not just building your abdominal muscles, but also other groups in your chest, hip flexors, neck and lower back.
2. Electrical Muscle Stimulation (EMS)
Building muscle with zero exertion might sound too good to be true, but electrical muscle stimulation (EMS) is proven to work.
If you’re not familiar with EMS, here is a quick summary:
Electrical muscle stimulation is delivered via an EMS machine that stimulates your motor nerves and induces muscle contractions, mimicking the way they contract during a workout.
Here at The Good Body we recently explored the benefits of EMS and discovered that since 1982 it has been known to be an effective tool for building muscle.
A research project in Russia looked at how highly trained athletes could benefit from EMS treatment.
After just nine weeks, respondents saw strength improvements of between 30% and 40%.
The World Academy of Science, Engineering and Technology came to a similar conclusion, discovering that both strength and muscle size was increased.
Fitness facts highlight that swimming is a great form of exercise.
It’s often recommended by health professionals as it’s low impact so kind to your joints.
Despite it not being as strenuous as lifting dumbbells, you can gain muscle mass.
Athletic training and nutrition magazine, STACK, comment that you only need to look at Olympic swimmers if you’re wondering whether swimming can help you bulk up.
They do add however that you won’t develop muscle as quickly as you would by using free weights.
2023 yoga statistics show it has grown phenomenally over the last few years, with an estimated 34.4 million Americans now practicing.
It’s not surprising when you consider the whole host of yoga benefits. There are advantages unique to men, plus many ways yoga can help women — even little yogis can enjoy a boost.
Though yoga might look like a super relaxing form of exercise, and it can be, it can also strengthen most of your muscles!
In fact, there are a number of yoga poses for strength, so why not grab your mat, and start stretching today.
5. Eat More Protein
Eating more protein is another way you can encourage greater muscle growth without equipment or heading to the weight rack.
Great sources of protein include chicken, turkey, eggs, lentils and tofu.
The amino acids that make up protein act as the building blocks for muscle tissue, helping you to both build and maintain lean muscles.
6. Resistance Training
Resistance training commonly involves using elasticated bands during bodyweight exercises.
If there’s a particular area you’re looking to bulk up, resistance training can be the ideal technique as it allows you to target specific muscle groups.
A systematic review of all the research around resistance training and muscle hypertrophy reached the same conclusion:
Resistance training should be used by people looking to maximise muscle growth.
This form of exercise is also used during physical therapy for people recovering from an injury, as a gentler way to rebuild muscle strength.
Going for a quick run is another way you can build muscle without lifting weights.
Dietitian Gavin Van De Walle explains the science behind how it helps:
Aerobic exercise like running is thought to build muscle by inhibiting proteins that interfere with muscle growth and decreasing muscle protein breakdown (MPB).
However, he warns you need be to careful how long your run lasts!
On the other hand, long-distance running can significantly increase MPB and thus hinder muscle growth.
Getting on your bike is a good way to stay in shape, but you might be surprised to read that cycling is also one of many fun ways to build muscle.
That’s down to the resistance element of the sport.
Working against an opposing force builds muscle, and in cycling that of course means your calves, quads, hamstrings and glutes.
10. Get a Good Night’s Sleep
The sleep statistics don’t lie, we’re getting less and less!
Which is shocking news when you consider just how many health benefits there are to getting an early night.
Research is still fairly limited, but there is evidence to show how important sleep is to the process of muscle growth.
Sleep debt (the difference between the amount of sleep you should be getting and the amount you actually get) decreases protein synthesis which contributes to the loss of muscle mass and inhibits muscle recovery.
Thankfully there are lots of different evidence-based ways you can improve your sleep, such as wearing a sleep mask!
11. Keep Your Stress Levels Low
We’re becoming an increasingly stressed out society, with the last few years adding to the crisis.
If you want to build muscle without lifting weights then you need to keep your stress levels low.
Scientific research shows that when you’re stressed your body releases hormones that have a negative effect on muscle development.
Reducing stress isn’t easy, but keeping a journal can help or you could start reciting an affirmation for stress relief each day.
12. Improve Your Posture
Sitting up straight must be one of the easiest ways to generate muscle growth without weights!
Just take a look at the benefits of good posture and you’ll see that core strength is one major advantage.
If you practice good posture you’ll build core strength, and vice versa.
An article published in the Journal of Physical Therapy Science highlighted how correct posture increases abdominal muscle activity, helping you to develop a stronger core.
Lacking the motivation to get started?
We’ve highlighted 13 ways to get motivated to workout including a few unexpected suggestions…
- Cherney, K. (2020). Situps vs. Crunches [Online]. Healthline. Available from: https://www.healthline.com/health/fitness-exercise/sit-ups-vs-crunches#crunches [Accessed 11 April 2023]. ↩
- InBody USA (2020). The Relationship Between Nutrition and Muscle Growth [Online]. Available from: https://inbodyusa.com/blogs/inbodyblog/the-relationship-between-nutrition-and-muscle-growth/ [Accessed 11 April 2023]. ↩