13 Moves That Let You Build Muscle Without Weights




“Lift heavy” seems like the answer to everything nowadays, right?

While weightlifting is beneficial for lots of reasons — especially for women — it’s not required to build strength and sculpt your body. For many people, getting a workout on with your own body weight is enough.

Whether you work out at home or want to give the dumbbells a rest, we’ve put together a list of 13 body-burning moves that require no weights.

To see strength success, practice your routine two to three times per week. Keep reading to learn how many sets and reps each move needs. And don’t be fooled by the lack of equipment. This mix of cardio, plyometrics, and bodyweight exercises will still work you hard.

Warm up before you start. Five minutes of brisk walking or jogging will do the job. Stretch or foam roll afterward to minimize soreness.

1. Rotational jacks

A twist on a jumping jack, rotational jacks are a good way to kick off a workout. They’ll get your heart rate up and muscles warm.


  1. Start in a wide stance with soft knees. Your arms should be extended straight out at your sides so they’re parallel to the ground.
  2. Keeping your arms straight and head and neck stationary, hinge forward at the hips and rotate your torso so your right hand touches the ground.
  3. Return to the starting position and jump your feet together.
  4. Immediately jump your feet back out, hinge forward again, and rotate to the left, touching your hand to the ground.
  5. Return to start. Jump your feet together and twist again to the right.
  6. Complete 12–15 reps for 3 sets.

2. Plank reach-unders

Planks are a basic (but not easy!) exercise that provide full-body benefits. Adding the reach-under targets your core even more.


  1. Assume a high plank position on your hands. Ensure your core is braced and your lower back doesn’t sag. Your neck and spine should be neutral.
  2. Lift your right hand off the ground and back toward your left thigh, tapping it with your fingers. Return to a plank.
  3. Repeat with your left hand, tapping your right thigh and returning to a plank.
  4. Complete 3 sets of 20 total taps.

3. Step-ups

Step-ups will burn your lower half. Plus, they’re great for working on balance and stability, too.


  1. Start standing in front of a knee-height bench, or step with your feet together.
  2. Step onto the bench with your right foot, pushing through your heel and driving your left knee up.
  3. Lower your left leg down, stepping backward off the bench.
  4. Complete 10–15 reps with your right leg, then switch and complete 10–15 reps, leading with your left leg.
  5. Complete 3 sets.

4. Mountain climbers

No need for weights when you can do a few sets of mountain climbers. Supporting your own body weight — in combination with the knee drive — will have your muscles, and lungs, on fire.


  1. Assume a high plank position with your arms extended.
  2. Engaging your core and keeping your spine and neck neutral, drive your right knee up toward your chest. Extend it and immediately drive your left knee up toward your chest.
  3. Repeat for 30 seconds, going as fast as you can while maintaining good form.
  4. Complete 3 total sets.

5. Squat jumps

Plyometrics are exercises that require your muscles to exert a lot of force in a short period of time. Squat jumps are a prime example. You’ll get a lot of bang for your buck with just a few sets of these. Warning: They’re high-impact, so if your joints are sensitive, proceed with caution.


  1. Lower into a squat position with your arms bent and hands together out in front of you.
  2. Explode up into a jump, pushing through and landing back on the balls of your feet.
  3. When you reach the ground again, squat down and repeat.
  4. Complete 3 sets of 10–12 reps.

6. Burpees

Another type of high-impact plyometric exercise, burpees are a full-body move that will torch calories quickly.


  1. Start by standing straight with feet shoulder-width apart and arms down by your sides.
  2. Start to squat down, moving your hands out in front of you. As soon as they reach the ground, extend your legs straight back so you end up in a high plank position.
  3. Immediately after you reach the high plank position, jump your feet up to your palms by hinging at the waist. Get your feet as close to your hands as you can get, landing them outside your hands if necessary.
  4. Stand up and immediately go into a jump squat.
  5. After you land, extend your legs back out again, continuing steps 3–4.
  6. Start with 15 reps.

7. Standing side hops

Lateral (side-to-side) movements are an important component of a well-rounded exercise regimen. Standing side hops are great for hip and ankle mobility.


  1. Start standing with your feet together and your arms bent at a 90-degree angle at your sides. Your knees should be soft.
  2. Keeping your feet together, jump to the right, taking off and landing on the balls of your feet.
  3. As soon as you reach the ground, jump back to the left.
  4. Repeat 20 reps for 3 sets.

8. Pullups

A standard pullup is challenging to complete, even for avid exercisers. Its payout is worth it, though. Use a pullup band for assistance and still reap the benefits.


  1. Stand underneath a pullup bar and grip it with your hands, placing them slightly wider than shoulder-width apart.
  2. Lift your feet off the ground and hang from your arms, then pull yourself up by bending your arms and pulling your elbows toward the ground.

9. Squat pulses

Holding a squat position and pulsing there increases time under tension, or the amount of work your muscle does during a workout. Feel that burn!


  1. Get into a squat position with your hands together out in front of you.
  2. Raise up slightly, pushing through your heels, then back down again.
  3. Repeat for 30 seconds.
  4. Complete 3 sets.

10. Flutter kicks

Although they target your core, flutter kicks also zero in on the hips. Three sets of these will have you feeling it the next day.


  1. Lie on your back on a mat with your legs extended into the air so your body forms a 90-degree angle.
  2. Slowly lower your right leg down toward the ground as far as it will go while maintaining contact between your lower back and the ground.
  3. Return your right leg to start, and lower your left leg down the same way.
  4. Complete 20 total reps for 3 sets.

11. Pushups

Foundational but not a cinch, pushups require upper body strength, yes, but also core and lower-body stabilization. Easily modifiable (drop to your knees or perform off an elevated surface like a bench), they’re a universal exercise.


  1. Start in a plank position with your pelvis tucked in, neck neutral, and palms directly under your shoulders. Make sure your shoulders are rotated back and down, too.
  2. As you brace your core and keep your back flat, begin to lower your body by bending your elbows while keeping them tucked into your body. Lower down until your chest grazes the floor.
  3. Immediately extend your elbows and push your body back up to the starting position.
  4. Repeat for as many reps as possible for 3 sets.

12. Broad jumps

Yet another high-impact move (noticing a pattern here?), broad jumps require lots of force, thus they burn lots of energy.


  1. Start standing with your feet shoulder-width apart and your arms down at your side.
  2. Squat down halfway, and use that explosive energy to jump forward, throwing your arms forward at the same time.
  3. Land with a soft foot and your weight slightly forward.
  4. Complete 10 reps for 3 sets.

13. Split squats

Any exercise that works your glutes, quads, and hamstrings — the largest muscles in your body — is bound to pay out big. Split squats are just that.


  1. Take a large step forward with your left foot to form a staggered stance. Distribute your weight evenly between both feet.
  2. Bend your knees and lower your body down until your left knee forms a 90-degree angle.
  3. Push up and repeat for 12 reps. Switch legs and repeat.

Weights aren’t required for a body-burning workout. Mix and match these 13 bodyweight exercises to see results in just a month or two.

Remember: Eating a healthy, balanced diet is the other piece of the puzzle. While you won’t see real changes without addressing your diet, you can still be strong and powerful.

Nicole Davis is a Boston-based writer, ACE-certified personal trainer, and health enthusiast who works to help women live stronger, healthier, happier lives. Her philosophy is to embrace your curves and create your fit — whatever that may be! She was featured in Oxygen magazine’s “Future of Fitness” in the June 2016 issue. Follow her on Instagram.

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