If You Don't Have Weights but Want to Build Muscle, Start Doing These 12 Exercises

Getty / Luis Alvarez

If you don’t have equipment but your goal is to build muscle, you might be wondering how to train to reach this goal. Performing bodyweight exercises like push-ups, pull-ups, squats, and lunges are the way to go in order to build muscle without weights, but you also need to be strategic with how you program your workouts to maintain and build muscle mass.

How to Build Muscle Without Any Equipment

“Many people have had success in building muscle with bodyweight-only calisthenic workouts,” Sten Stray-Gunderson, MS, an exercise physiologist and trainer at Reach Outcome, told POPSUGAR. Stray-Gunderson said high volume and high rep training lead to building muscle, also known as hypertrophy. In addition to training in the hypertrophy phase, “the key to building muscle is to promote muscle protein synthesis (a natural process that allows your body to produce protein in order to repair the skeletal muscle damage from exercise and promote skeletal muscle growth) through nutrition and exercise stimuli,” he explained. Exercise is important but so is your nutrition!

How Long Will It Take to Build Muscle Without Weights?

No matter your fitness goal, building muscle won’t happen overnight. “Changes in muscle composition require six weeks of training to see significant changes, so do not get discouraged if you do not see changes right away. Consistent training and nutrition intake (primarily high intake of protein and the timing of carbohydrate intake after training) will yield results – it just takes time,” he explained.

Because every body is different (we cannot stress this enough!), how long it will take you to build muscle comes down to your current fitness level, genetics, and the frequency and duration of your workouts. It may take some trial and error to figure out what works best for you, but that’s OK. Generally speaking, Stray-Gunderson recommends erring on the side of caution and building up your tolerance to exercise when starting a new routine. “For an average individual with some exercise background, three to five training days per week is usually well-tolerated,” he said. Your goal should be high reps and sets, and he recommends three to five sets of 15 to 20 reps per exercise (if you have light weights, definitely use them, Stray-Gunderson said).

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The Best Exercises to Build Muscle Without Equipment

It’s going to take time to start building muscle but that doesn’t mean it’s impossible! “If you do not have access to equipment, performing full-body circuit training will maximally stimulate muscle growth and fat-burning,” Stray-Gunderson said. He recommends doing high-intensity interval training (HIIT) as it will help boost your metabolism and promote lean muscle mass. Add movements like push-ups, pull-ups, bodyweight squats, lunges and burpees to your next HIIT workout to start building muscle.

Stray-Gunderson also recommends jumping rope and doing sprint intervals to build muscle. If you’re wondering how long your workouts should be, he said at least 30 minutes of training per session should suffice. Additionally, if your goal is to build muscle, you’re going to want to hold off on doing long bouts of cardio, such as a five mile run, as cardio can burn both fat and muscle.

How to Maintain the Muscle You’ve Built

If you aren’t sure when the dumbbells you ordered off of Amazon will arrive at your home, you may be wondering how to maintain your muscle mass sans equipment. “The biggest factor for maintaining muscle mass is sufficient protein and caloric intake,” Stray-Gunderson said. “Muscles will not grow if there is not enough material to build them!” He recommends consuming 1.2 to 2.2 grams per pound of bodyweight a day of protein to preserve your muscle mass. This will also vary based on your body and genetics, so we recommend working with a registered dietitian for a more individualized plan. (Also check out these dietitian tips on what to eat to build muscle.)

Aside from your diet, Stray-Gunderson said to perform exercises focusing on the time under tension (moving slow and controlled, for example, lowering down into a squat for three seconds, holding for one second at the bottom, and slowly returning to the starting position for three seconds) during a minimum of two workouts a week to stimulate muscle maintenance.

If you’re ready to start building muscle, check out the 12 bodyweight exercises ahead to start adding to your workout. Also, consider adding the following bodyweight workouts into your routine.

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