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“How do I Get Muscles without Lifting Weights?” Sort of like how you’d gain knowledge without learning anything

Yes… there are people online actually asking this question: “How do I get muscle without lifting weights?”

If you find yourself asking the ‘how do I get muscles without lifting weights’ question, I’d like you to seriously consider a different question: How could you lose muscle faster than any other method? Here’s an answer to that:

Become an astronaut who spends a lot of time on a space station. Go where there’s no gravity… no resistance for your muscles to work against. Astronauts can lose forty percent of muscle power with just six months in space. That’s how important resistance (weight) is to the existence of skeletal muscle.

For a more earthbound answer to the ‘how do I get muscles without lifting weights’ question, consider the shrinkage that befell my right leg back in the year 2000. That was when I made the fatefully idiotic decision to jump off a roof. My resulting broken foot had me off of my right leg for months. I’d never realized how fast a muscle can lose size with lack of resistance until I watched my right quadriceps muscles leave the bone as if someone were stealing chunks of the tissue while I was sleeping.


'Strap Workouts': They might be fun and convenient...


Should I assume if you’re asking the “how do I get muscles without lifting weights” question, you’re inquiring about bodyweight workouts? Yes… that would make more sense than the alternative: Thinking you can gain muscle with some type of electronic gizmo that’s attached to your body while you watch television and swig on a beer. Many people want to know if just rolling out of bed, popping in a DVD, and being instructed to do push-ups (something we learned in PE class) will put noticeable muscle on their bodies.

‘How do I Get Muscles without Lifting Weights?’ Not with “familiar resistance.”

I doubt if anyone could be more familiarized with body weight exercises than I am. I’ve done them extensively, both in the U.S. military and prior to entering it. I know what bodyweight exercises can and can’t do. They can basically add a light bit of resistance to an exercise movement – and a ‘limited’ movement at that. Attempting to build a respectable degree of muscle with limited exercise options and one light amount of resistance weight is… well… somewhere between daunting and futile. Resistance on muscles needs to increase for hypertrophy (growth) to occur.

Of course, a “respectable degree of muscle” is subjective. Some people who’ve been sedentary for years would love to possess the amount of muscle necessary for doing four sets of twenty push-ups. For these individuals, body-weight exercises might be a great place to start. But to expect anything but a small amount of muscle, disproportionately placed, from such a protocol is more an exercise in futility than anything else.

The reason is that bodyweight exercises quickly become “familiar resistance” to your muscles. If you weigh 180 pounds and you perform sets of bodyweight pushups, you’re providing less than half your body weight as “pressing resistance” given that your lower body likely out-weighs your upper half. It’s really the weight of your shoulders, chest, and head that are providing resistance. Thus, the resistance on these push-up presses is probably no more than a third of your total body weight – making the exercise about as challenging as doing dumbbell presses with 30-pound dumbbells.

Body weight exercises, by nature of the statically light resistance they provide, can’t help but become extremely high-reps exercises. These higher repetitions (20 reps and higher) will work the slow-twitch muscle fibers of whatever muscle group’s being worked. Slow-twitch muscle fiber development can create some hypertrophy, but these fibers actually possess the least potential for growth. Working with these higher reps can also enhance the muscle’s energy storage/usage efficiency.


... but straps will never build muscle like weight resistance.


In other words, here’s what I learned from doing high-reps bodyweight exercises in the military:

Doing high-reps bodyweight exercises will make you really good at doing high-reps bodyweight exercises; they do very little for physique enhancement.

‘How do I Get Muscles without Lifting Weights?’ You could try ‘Band Resistance.’

A better answer to the “how do I get muscles without lifting weights” question might reside in the existence of resistance bands. These tools provide more exercise options than a bodyweight workout. They can also work in the confines of a bedroom or any other smaller room, including a hotel room. Most importantly, increased resistance can be added to them (in the form of elastic “tubes”) so that hypertrophy can be stimulated.

The big drawbacks I see with these “weight substitutes” is in the way the resistance is applied and, once again, the limitedness of the movements. When we use resistance bands, the amount of resistance is always lowest at the start of the muscle contraction and highest at the peak; you’ll always get the greatest resistance on the last one-third of the range-of-motion. This could certainly make for some strangely disproportionate muscular development if it proves effective for building muscle at all.

And disproportionate development is a concern from another standpoint: namely, lack of upper chest movements when using these bands. Some of the band contraptions (like Tower 200) have covered for this by providing a wall/door attachment that can be connected low, near the floor. This allows for a standing flye movement to be performed whereby the band handles can be arced from hip level (hands down by the side) to being joined at about chin level. This could adequately build some upper pectorals – an absolute necessity for any guy who doesn’t want a feminine appearance to begin appearing on his chest.

Again, whether it’s with Tower 200 or any other band resistance product, the questions that should arise from the “how do I get muscles without lifting weights” question are:

  • How much muscle do I want to gain? (Weightless workouts generally provide less)
  • How proportionate do I want the muscle to be? (Weightless workouts allow the least)
  • How efficiently do I want to build muscle? (Short workouts can only be efficient if they’re effective)
  • How committed am I? (Wanting muscle without weight workouts might just be a reflection of not wanting muscle very badly)

How do I Get Muscle without Lifting Weights?’ I wonder what my Navy buddy is doing

I was a real ignoramus about physique training when I was young and in the U.S. Navy. So was a buddy of mine who would go to the gym with me. We’d perform the typical haphazard workouts that made us sore, but got us next to nowhere.

What I remember about this buddy is that he really wanted to be “ripped”:

I don’t want to be big”, he’d say with a smug sense of self-awareness. “I just want to be ripped.”

He would do high-reps and body-weight exercises… but he never even came close to being ripped. Aside from knowing nothing about proper eating, he didn’t possess nearly enough muscle to have a “ripped” appearance.

Sometimes he’d find the old Clarence Bass books advertised in the back of Muscle and Fitness magazine. Of course, those books were called ‘Ripped’… so he was interested:

Ya know… I’m thinking about buying one of his books… I want to be ripped like he is”, he’d say as he glanced at the rippling (but not huge) physique of Mr. Bass.

I bought and read those books a few years later. I wonder if he ever did. If so, I wonder with what surprise he found himself when discovering that Clarence Bass built substantial muscle in order to “get ripped.” I’d love to have seen the look on his face when realizing that Clarence Bass built that ripped and “not too huge” physique by using progressively heavier weights. He did it with ‘bodybuilding workouts’ – not with bodyweight stuff.

Just as any astronaut could attest: Muscle needs resistance (gravity/weight) to be created and to exist.



Hi Bali,

Thank you for your thoughts and question.

Doing light weights for very high repetitions is definitely a tissue-torcher; it sets the muscles on fire. I received plenty of my share of that in the military. You're right - it didn't do a damned thing for my physique. It might have provided me some disproportionate "muscle tone" - nothing to write home about.

Your question about 'under-training': If you're keeping any kind of written record of weight volumes, you should be able to easily determine if you're taking too many rest days between workouts.

The perfect amount of rest days between workouts is almost "hyper-affected" by number of sets, intensity-of-effort, and age/diet/genetically-determined recuperative abilities. Thus, a system with easy-to-read/adjust-to feedback needs to be followed for ongoing natural bodybuilding progress to be enjoyed.

Let me know how things are going.


Personally, I feel that training with weights in a lower rep range is easier than bodyweight training. Doing a heavy set of dumbbell bench presses for 30 seconds is a lot easier than repping out 60 consecutive push ups for a few minutes. One would have to really dig in to grind out all those reps which just pumps your muscles with lactic acid and other waste products. Expands a person's pain threshold and perseverance but that's about it.

That part you wrote on how fast a muscle can atrophy due to an absence of resistance does raise a query. I've significantly increased my recuperation period between workouts. But what if I end up undertraining as a result? Lets say my muscles are fully recuperated and overcompensated but I give an additional unneeded 4 days of rest, would they lose some strength such that during my next workout they are only capable of performing the same workload as they did the last workout?

Anyway your last few paragraphs do drive home a point: A good way to aid muscle growth is to lose body fat (aid testosterone) while an excellent way to lose fat and keep it off is to build a significant amount of muscle onto one's frame.

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