I come bearing good news (weight-free good news): you don’t need weights to strength train.
Yeah, I know. After walking into the gym and seeing all the ripped and pumped guys pumping nothing but iron, that might be hard to believe, but trust me, it can be done.
The main difference between building strength with weights in the gym and building strength anywhere with your bodyweight is simply creativity.
This is one of the reasons I focus on mostly bodyweight work for myself and my clients – not only does it actually build holistic strength and improve functional movement, but it also keeps them (and I) from getting bored from so many repetitive lifts and moves. With bodyweight, the options for movements become limitless and, if structured correctly, can have you making serious gains.
How to Strength Train Without Weights
Again, the key to making gains with bodyweight alone is creativity. Add a special structure (how you stack moves) and you’ll be golden. Below are several things to consider before you start:
Intervals. Using intervals in a HIIT-based structure gives you the opportunity to stress every angle of a muscle group, while also boosting muscle-growth-promoting hormones like HGH and testosterone (in fact, aside from heavy lifting, HIIT is one of the best ways to do this). Check out the video below to see an example of using HIIT and explosive training for strength gains:
Get Single. Nope, not in that sense! What I’m referring to is utilizing single-leg and single-arm exercises to add intensity and weight to movements. If you watched the video above, you’ll see I do pushups and burpees at one point with one leg up, which challenges my core and upper body to carry more of my body weight. You can use single-arm pushups to load one arm with your entire weight, as well as single-leg squats to do the same. Think of this as adding weight, without the weights.
Get Explosive. Explosive plyometric movements like jump squats and clap pushups are another great way to add intensity and exhaust your muscles without weight, leading to gains. Also consider jump lunges, burpees to high-knees, and other moves that require exploding out of the top (see more examples over at the ‘Tube).
Be Eccentric. Eccentric training is training that focuses on the extension, or lowering phase, of movements. For instance: after you curl up your bicep while doing a bicep curl, the phase when you lower it is called the “eccentric phase.” With eccentric training, the idea is to focus on going slooowww during the lowering phase. Studies have proven this is one of the best ways to build muscle, regardless if you’re using weights. [*]
To use another example, say you’re doing pushups. To do an eccentric-focused version, you’d pull up to the bar and, instead of letting momentum pull you back down, you’d lower slow and controlled back to your starting position at the bottom. The same goes for pushups, squats, lunges, etc …
Utilize Compound Movements. Compound movements are those that work multiple large muscle groups at once, and they’re extremely effective in boosting growth hormone and testosterone, the two hormones crucial for muscle growth. This video has a few examples using bodyweight:
Get Creative with Weights. If you’re still feeling like you want some weight, yet don’t have any, get creative. You can load up some large water jugs and utilize those, make your own sandbags, find an old tire and flip it, or even try out bands.
At the end of the day, these type of workouts are going to make you stronger. With a few simple tweaks like the tips mentioned above, you can focus on not only burning fat, but making actual strength and muscle gains with pure bodyweight.