Building Muscle Without Weights

parkour: strength, originally uploaded by zenobia_joy.

Strength training without weights is one of the most widely use methods of what’s be coined “functional” exercising. Functional exercises are frequently bodyweight exercises or those that use objects other than traditional weights to challenge the body through a series of tasks. Many like them because they provide a more wholistic fitness experience.

These body weight exercises not only improve all around musculo-skeletal health, but also tend to produce lean, dense muscle when done consistently. This is what gives the person a slimmer, more fit appearance.

Those who spend most of their time in the gym may not believe that constistently doing a workout without weights can produce marked changes in muscle and strength. There is sometimes a “health club bias” for whatever reason. I would simply point to any gymnast, olympic or otherwise, to make my point.

Many ask “how can you do real strength training without using weights? The reason that this takes place has to do more with your brain than it does with whether you use your gym membership or not.

It has been shown that strength gains and muscle growth are dependent on a variety of neurological adaptations which take place as you challenge your body with new and interesting physical tasks. This is especially true when you are just starting out in an exercise program.

On the physical side, these changes include developing greater connections between your brain and muscles, the development of reflex movements, and once the movement is learned the body can devote more energy to building the muscle mass, thus larger muscles. On the cognitive side, it’s a little more involved.

It’s the same concept as learning a new dance step or even learning how to throw a frisbee. What happens during the initial phase is that your mind and body are attempting to learn how to control your muscles to accomplish the desired movement. Whether that is some new dance move, throwing a ball straight, or doing a walking lunge without falling over. This is active participation. This is you actively learning how to perform the exercise.

In your brain, the pre-frontal and motor cortices, and the cerebellum (not to mention other areas) go into overdrive laying the strong neurological infrastructure necessary to support an increase in muscle growth that comes with a regular weight lifting routine.

All of this takes mental focus, determination and repetition prior to muscle growth, in order to fully coordinate the muscles. I suspect that this is the principle behind success with the P90X program and others like it. However, I haven’t read any studies about that program specifically. But, in the end, this is how you learn to do the exercise.

One training suggestion would be to focus on, not just doing the movement, but how you’re doing the movement. Feel your body parts going through the entire range. Get in touch with other areas of your body that, although aren’t the prime movers, are still working just the same. How are they working? What are they doing? Are you working too much? Too little? Feel your body and what it’s doing so you learn to control it faster.

Learning to do any exercise, rather than just doing it, will increase your ability to build muscle without weights and you will undoubtably see more gains with your routine.

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8 thoughts on “Building Muscle Without Weights

  1. I really enjoy bodyweight exercises you can take them anywhere! ..haha ..
    but it depends on what your goals are.
    If you want a lean fit athletic body thens thats all you need and you can become very creative without using weights … my favourite is a wall handstands and now I am practicing 1 arm pushups.
    ..bu tif you want to look like Jay Cutler then you will have to lift lots of weights … I have yet to see it work any other way.

  2. There is no doubt in my mind that doing body weight exercises gives you much more functional strength then lifting weights. You activate many more secondary muscles when you do body weight exercises. Free weights mostly helps build the larger muscles, and you don’t get the extra benefit of working all those smaller muscle groups, tendons and ligaments. And that makes it much easier to get hurt.

    For me, body weight exercises will always be the main part of my workout.


    • You make a good point Greg. Unfortunately weight machines and typical approaches to lifting free weights don’t allow for other muscles to participate in the movement as much as functional and bodyweight exercises do.

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