Can you really build muscle without going to the gym?

Lifting weights has long been the gold standard for building muscle and boosting metabolism. Fitness gyms have mushroomed all over the world to help you achieve that end. But perhaps your cash-flow isn’t ready for a gym membership…

Or maybe you’re on vacation, and you can’t leave your family just to pump iron…

Maybe all the gyms are closed for the holidays anyway…

Or perhaps you work long hours, reducing the amount of time for gym workouts… 

Is it still possible to gain muscle without all the equipment a gym has to offer?

Your Body is a Machine

build muscle without gym

In a word, yes!

Fitness gyms have grown in size and with an increasing amount of fancy equipment over the years, but that hasn’t stopped non-members from beefing up. 

Gyms have state-of-the-art exercise machines designed to make the process of bodybuilding more effective, yes, but in the end they are not absolutely essential. In fact, your body itself is a machine, a lever  if physicists were to classify it, and it’s up to you how to take advantage.

One of the biggest problems for gym members these days if a lack of knowledge of the equipment. Walk into any large gym on any given day of the week and you’ll easily find at very least 10% of users walking around not having a clue what they are doing.

For example, you may have a gym member doing partial reps because they’ve picked a weight that is too heavy. Or equally as bad, picking a weight that is comfortable and never challenging themselves and progressing.

Not to mention, poor form in gyms and incorrect use of gym equipment is likely to result in chronic injuries and irritation.

Besides, if you’ve not set foot in a gym before,it’s easy to get paralyzed by the sheer number of choices in equipment at the gym, which might distract you from the important task at hand. 

Before you know it you’ve just spent 30 minutes on the power plates trying to work out how you can turn up the intensity to tone your core quicker, even though it’s leg day.

So with all the mistakes people can make with the latest high-tech equipment in gyms – is it really worth paying for a gym membership if you’re not confident?

Maybe so – but for those who would rather keep those $40 or more in their bank account rather than fund the gym manager’s next restaurant visit, there are other options available.

Let’s break it down simply before we continue, the process by which a muscle grows is in response to a persistently challenging level of resistance over time. i.e. a weight where you can’t comfortably complete 20 repetitions for 5 sets.

build muscle without gym

By picking a weight that is sufficiently challenging i.e. one where the final rep of your 4th set of 10 is almost too difficult to lift, you muscles will be fatigued and you will have caused micro-tears in the muscle (this is good). 

Eat enough protein and get enough sleep and boom, the little engineers in your body send across nutrients and repair the small tears in your muscles, with a little extra to make the muscle bigger and stronger ready for next time.

Repeat this process of continually challenging your muscles with enough weight, eating right and sleeping enough and the routine that your body follows to build muscle is almost endless.

Some of the biggest mistakes people make in the gym is with this cycle. They either pick weights they were using 2 months ago, lack sufficient calories for growth or simply don’t sleep enough. 

Make any of these mistakes often enough and your muscle growth will be halted, if not reversed.

build muscle without gym

In order to challenge your muscles, you’ll need some resistance, i.e. weight. Luckily we walk around carrying the most versatile piece of weight training equipment with us on a daily basis.

You’ve guessed it, our own bodies!

With weight training, our muscles can’t tell the different between pulling 60kg down on a lateral pull down machine, or 60kg of our body weight up whilst doing a pull up. The force exerted on our muscles will be exactly the same.

So if we carry around at least 60kg with us, the only thing we need to know is how to move that weight effectively to get the best results.

In you think of reaching muscle building goals as a journey from A to B, you can think of the traditional gym being a manual car, you’ll get there fairly efficiently as long as you know how to drive and the rules of the road. 

On the other hand, you may think of body weight training as a motorbike, you’ll still finish your journey and get to where you need to be, you just won’t have the added luxuries a car may provide such as air conditioning or heated seats…

Building Muscle Without Going to the Gym

Resistance is resistance, whether it’s your body weight or otherwise.

All your muscles know is that they are working against something difficult and therefore need to adapt and grow.

But what are some of the best exercises for building muscle outside of the gym?

You’ll want to focus your workouts around compound exercises, involving multiple muscle groups, here’s why.

If there’s any at-home exercise you should perform, it’s the pull-up. The sheer effort required to pull up your body weight will truly exert the muscles in your arms and back. Just find a tree or a monkey bar, and you’re all set on your way to that “V-shaped” back so many people look for.

To avoid hitting a plateau with pull-ups, always increase the weight when you can do more than 15, the key here is progression. “Without progression – there is no progress.”

build muscle without gym

Alternatively try doing sets in descending repetitions rather than ascending ones. Also, switch from a pull-up to a chin-up just when you teeter on the brink of failure. 

Push-ups are also trusty fallback away from the gym. Make the ordinary push up more challenging by reducing contact with the floor, e.g. by holding one foot in the air. 

Also, start your push-ups with your hands close to each other and move until they’re shoulder width apart. Another challenging variation is to do the push up with a handstand, with your body inverted upright. 

Lateral raises (i.e. lifting straight arms from your hips to shoulder height beside you) and front raises (i.e. lifting straight arms from your hips to shoulder height in front of you) can be done with no more than milk cartons filled with water or sand. 

Using the same, you can launch into bicep curls, with your pinkie raised for extra challenge. 

To work your triceps, just get a chair, put your hands on the seat, and sit on the air before it, your legs in front. Then take a dip. Push yourself up to complete one rep. As always, load yourself up with some extra weight when these become easy.

For crunches, make your abs work harder by laying your feet on a bench or propping them against the wall. 

And because you would not want chicken legs, perform lunges. Challenge yourself by twisting your torso right and left as you do. Other leg exercises you can do in the comfort of home are calve raises and an assortment of squats. 

These home exercises are by no means exhaustive. In any case, form is essential – so do your research before launching haphazardly into random exercises.

The best results will come from a plan, rather than trying individual exercises when you feel like it. 

For a full description of how to get the most from your training without using gym equipment, including how to progress your exercises, read here.


build muscle without gym

Generations of men and women had gotten by before gyms were even invented. But you can’t deny that gyms of this century are more efficient than ever. 

Gym equipment is designed to make exercises easier, after all. Plus, gym equipment is designed for safety, ensuring that you don’t get pinned under the weights. 

However you don’t need to get roped into a “gym is the only way” mentality. The gym is great, often they provide a range of equipment to give you more options to train a specific muscle group than you can often imagine.

But the gym isn’t the only way to stack on quality muscle and maintain a strong & lean physique. 

Take the calisthenics movement as an example, using nothing but body-weight alone, this exercise regime can build an incredible physique through pull ups, press ups and dips. 

If you’re worried you won’t quite get big enough, try working up to a hand stand push up or even a one handed pull up to really test yourself.

If you have the means and time for gym, then by all means take advantage of the excellent facilities on offer. If you must invest in any home equipment, let it be barbells and dumbbells, in addition to a sturdy power rack and simple benches. 

Once again, they’re not all that essential, and sometimes a milk carton is all you need. 

Finally, don’t forget the three absolute essentials of building muscle here.

Know someone looking to increase their muscle size?

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