Bodyweight workouts have their place in the fitness world. They can help increase muscle growth, build a foundation of strength, and can be great ways to develop the capacity for heavier weight training movements.
Building strong legs with body weight can be challenging, however not impossible. Adding unilateral lower body movements, tempo training, positional pauses, and training to fatigue are just a few ways to increase lower body muscle mass without weights.
In this article, we will discuss various strategies to increase muscle mass without weights and offer three leg workouts you can do to maximize your lower body muscle growth.
Can You Build Muscle Without Weights?
In short, yes, you can build muscle without weights, however various levels of individuals will benefit more than others.
FOR BEGINNER LIFTERS
For beginners with limited overall strength will find bodyweight movements relatively challenging compared to their overall strength abilities than more trained individuals. Including bodyweight exercises with the strategies below will further accentuate the muscle-building effects of bodyweight exercises with beginners. That said, adding weights into training programs, as well as bodyweight workouts, will increase overall strength and muscle building abilities even more so than training with bodyweight alone.
FOR ADVANCED LIFTERS
For more experienced and stronger individuals, bodyweight exercises may not offer as much as a muscle building and strengthening benefit than with beginners. Performing bodyweight exercises with tempos, pauses, and training closer to fatigue (see strategies below) are just a few ways that more advanced and stronger individuals can maintain strength and muscle mass during times where weights are not accessible, or at the very least minimize and significantly decrease muscle mass and strength.
5 Workout Strategies to Gain Muscle Without Weights
Below are five (5) workouts that build muscle without weights. These can be done using nearly all bodyweight movements and are effective strategies for all fitness and abilities levels.
1. TEMPO AND PAUSE TRAINING
Adding tempos (controlled cadences as part of each repetition, such as slowly lowering into a movement) and pauses can drastically increase time under tension of a movement, which can increase muscle activation and demands. This is an effective means for increasing muscular stress on a muscle without the need for external loading (or without needing as much external loading), making it a great strategy to employ when weight training is not feasible.
Related Article: Can Bodyweight Exercises Build Glutes? (Yes, Here’s How)
2. UNILATERAL EXERCISES
Bilateral movements like squats and push-ups are great exercises to build strength and muscle without weights. That said, unilateral variations like lunges, split squats, and even 80/20 push-ups are great ways to increase strength on a side by side basis from those individuals who may not struggle with bilateral movements. Using unilateral exercise within a bodyweight program can allow lifters to challenge themselves and even further enhance muscle growth and strength development.
Related Article: Can You Get Big Legs Without Squats?
3. TRAINING TO FATIGUE
As one would suspect, stronger more advanced lifters will need to train using higher reps ranges to accumulate enough muscle fatigue and stress to create adaptations. If maximal strength is a goal, it will be difficult for more advanced and even intermediate lifters to add enough loading to stress the neurological systems necessary for maximal strength development.
That said, training to failure for all levels can increase muscle growth and/or at least maintain basic levels of strength. It will also help increase the ability to push oneself to fatigue; a needed attribute when training with weights as well (not alway, but sometimes).
Related Article: Try These 12 At-Home Hamstring Exercises
4. TRAINING WITH MORE FREQUENCY
At times when weight training is not an option, increasing muscle growth can be done by simply training a muscle more frequently and to fatigue more often. This will increase overall training volume and can help keep overall daily training fatigue lower since you are spreading overall volume across the entire week.
If you want to work out with your partner, try these 15 at-home couples workouts.
5. FOUS ON THE MUSCLE CONTRACTION
Lastly, no matter what strategies you decide to employ within your training program, it’s important that you understand the muscle you are trying to work and focus on feeling that muscle contraction throughout the set. Mindless movement and performing repetitions without an emphasis on feeling the muscle working will limit the overall effectiveness of the movement.
Additionally, this will often result in you performing too much volume and/or not adhering to proper technique, which can result in an overuse injury.
Looking to take the guesswork out of programming altogether, then try using the Fitbod app, which will design your body weight and strength training program based on your logged training data and goals. The workouts will adapt to your levels of recovery and rate of progress and help you maintain strength and muscle while cutting. With over 600 movements and exercises videos, you can be sure to perform the movements correctly for optimal results.
Related Article: The Best Bulking Leg Workouts: 10 Must-Do Exercises
3 Leg Workouts to Build Muscle Without Weights
Below are three (3) leg workouts that can be done to build muscle without weights. Each workout differs from one another and can be used during a weekly plan if you are looking to train legs 2-3 times per week.
The below workout is geared for all levels and is targeted to train the quadriceps, hamstrings, glutes, calves, and core. This workout should take no longer than 60 minutes. Exercises should be done to fatigue, with the highest emphasis on maintaining the strict tempos and feeling the muscle fatiguing out, rather than just doing endless repetitions.
Warm Up – 3 Rounds
Glute Bridge x 30 seconds, followed by 10 Hip Raises
Cossack Squat x 10/side
Hollow Hold x 30 seconds
Related Article: Does Cardio Count As A Leg Workout? (Yes, Here’s How)
Part A – 4 Rounds
Tempo reps, in this case, means 3 seconds lowering, 1-second pause at the bottom (knee not on the floor), no tempo on way up, no pause at top (go directly into the next repetition). Prisoner squat jump means you will do a maximal bodyweight vertical jump with hands behind the head.
Tempo (3100) Bulgarian Split Squat x failure
Prisoner Squat Jump x 5
Part B – 4 Rounds
Use a foam roller or a towel on the floor to perform the hamstring curls.
Single Leg Foam Roller Hamstring Curl (or towel) x 8-10/leg
Wall Sit x 60 seconds
Part C – 4 Rounds
Stand on the edge of the stairs or a step, and perform as many single legs calf raises as you can. Your knee should be straight. The key here is to drop your heel as close to the ground as possible to get a large stretch in the calf, then lift upwards and squeeze at the top of every rep and pause for 1 second, then repeat until maximal failure on that leg. From there, switch legs to failure. From there, use both legs and do double calf raises to failure. That is one set. Repeat 4 times.
Single to Double Leg Calf Raise x failure (read instructions above)
The below workout is a no-frills, leg burner of a workout. This workout should take no longer than 45 minutes in total, and targets the glutes, quadriceps, and conditioning.
Warm-Up – 3 Rounds
Groiners x 10/
Jumping Jacks x 20
Side Plank x 30 seconds/side
Complete for Time
Perform 300 total walking lunges as fast as you can. Every minute on the minute, however, you will perform 5 burpees. Once you have completed the burpees, you can begin to chip away at the 300 lunges. At the beginning of every minute, you will stop performing lunges and do another 5 burpees, then resume your lunges wherever you stopped from the previous minute. Repeat in this manner until you have completed 300 total walking lunges.
300 Walking Lunges for Time
Every Minute on the Minute x 5 Burpees
This workout is a squat emphasis workout, mainly training the quads and glutes, with some conditioning to finish the workout. In total, this workout should take no longer than 45 minutes.
Warm-Up – 3 Rounds’
Kang Squat x 10
Bird Dog x 10/
Part A – 4 Rounds
Perform a wall sit for 60 seconds, then go directly into air squat pulses for 60 seconds. Air squat pulses are air squats that are done to the deepest squat position, but instead of standing all the way back up you will only come up about 80% of the full squat, omitting the final stages of knee exención. This should drastically increase leg fatigue. Rest 60 seconds after each set, and repeat for a total of 4 rounds.
Wall Sit x 60 seconds
Air Squat Pulses x 60 seconds
Rest x 60 seconds
Part B – 4 Rounds
Repeat this core and cardio circuit for a total of four rounds.
V Up x 60 seconds
Hollow Hold/Rocks x 60 seconds
Mountain Climber x 60 seconds
Leg workouts without weights are viable ways to increase muscle mass and strength for beginners and some intermediate lifters. More advanced lifters can also benefit from bodyweight training sessions, however at some point weight training will offer great rewards for those individuals who need more loading to stress a muscle for strength and mass.
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About The Author
Mike holds a Master’s in Exercise Physiology and a Bachelor’s in Exercise Science. He’s a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS), USA Weightlifting Advanced Coach, and has over 10+ years of experience working with collegiate athletes, national level lifters, and beginners alike. Mike is Founder of J2FIT Strength and Conditioning, a growing global training company with gyms in New York City, Cincinnati, and online offering personal training, online custom coaching programs.
Mike has published over 500+ articles on premiere online media outlets like BarBend, BreakingMuscle, Men’s Health, and FitBob, covering his expertise of strength and conditioning, Olympic weightlifting, strength development, fitness, and sports nutrition. In Mike’s spare time, he enjoys the outdoors, traveling the world, coaching, whiskey and craft beer, and spending time with his family and friends.