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December 5, 2017

3 Secrets to Building Strength Without Weights

How you can build strength without pumping the iron.

For this post I want you to think about gymnasts. They don’t typically “lift weights” but they are EXTREMELY muscular and strong AF. How? Because they use the three secrets/training techniques for building strength which I am sharing with you today.

Resistance training is great and my personal favorite form of training to build muscle, but it CAN happen without weights.  It will take time, and body control, but strength is definitely possible without the iron.

1.    Explosive movements: Plyometrics

When you use explosive movements know as plyometrics you recruit your type II muscle fibers (your fast twitch fibers) and are able to cause hypertrophy (muscle growth) and strength.  This type of training also has a large caloric expenditure, which gives you more bang for your buck.


  • Squat Jumps
  • Triple jumps
  • Gorilla jumps
  • Box jumps
  • Switch lunges
  • Explosive step-ups
  • Bounding (lateral + single leg)
  • Plyometric push ups
  • Deficit push-ups to normal push ups

 Get stronger with just your bodyweight. 3 Secrets for bodyweight strength Annie Miller at fitdesignbyannie

2.    Tempo + TUT

Tempo is the amount of time you spend in each phase of a movement. You have the eccentric or “negative” phase (lowering phase), the bottom or top position, and the concentric (the raising phase).

During the eccentric phase, the muscle is working while it LENGTHENS while during the concentric phase the muscle works while SHORTENING. Both are intensely important when building strength and muscle growth.

SO, tempo is the time you spend in each phase, ie. 2 seconds down, one second pause at the bottom, two seconds up, no pause at the top.  Time under tension or TUT is the total time your muscles spent under tension during a set. The slower the tempo OR the more reps you do, the larger the TUT is.

Slowing down the tempo is a GREAT way to build muscle because you spend more TUT and cause more damage to the muscle.  If you recover properly, you will have muscle growth from that damage.

You can also add pulsing to the bottom of an exercise in order to increase TUT.  For example, you perform 15 squats at a tempo of 4 seconds down, 2 seconds up and then pulse for 15 reps at the bottom of your last squat…aaaaannnddd let the burn do the work.

Isometrics are another way to increase TUT.  Simply hold a position or a timed interval OR until failure. This will ensure muscle damage and hopefully, you come back stronger.

Isometric examples:

Can be done with literally any position, but there are a few common ones below:

  • Front and side plank variations
  • Squat variations
  • Split squat
  • Wall-sit
  • Wall supported handstand

 Increase strength using no weights. 3 tricks to bodyweight training

3.    Train often, increase reps or sets (overall volume)

Muscles need proper time to recover, yes. But they need to also be stressed often with “progressive overload” in order to grow + get stronger.

Progressive overload is most commonly referred to as increasing total weight lifted (1 rep max) or weight lifted for number of reps (5 rep max or AMRAP [as many reps as possible] with a certain weight) but it can be applied to bodyweight exercise as well.

Doing 4×10 body weight squats at the same tempo for the rest of your life will most certainly NOT cause muscle or strength increase. You have to do more reps or more total volume in order to damage and grow new muscle.

For example. 4×10, then 4×12, then 5×10 then 5×12. And then perhaps you add in pulses or an isometric hold at the bottom of your last rep on each set.  Are you with me?

You’ve got to shock the muscle, give it something it hasn’t had to do yet.  Quite simply, progressively overload the muscle. Allow it to recover, and do it again.

On a last note, keep rest periods short with doing body weight exercise. This is a very simple way to fatigue the muscles without using weight. You will also get a better caloric expenditure this way; not always easy with bodyweight work.

There are many, many more ways to get strong with your bodyweight but these three secrets are a perfect place to start.

Do you workout at home or when you travel?

Maybe you just like bodyweight work?  Leave me a comment below with questions or thoughts on these training techniques!

If body weight workouts are your jam, check out some of my #FreeWorkoutFridays here.


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I'm an adventurous introvert from Vancouver, Washington who lives on sleep + "me time." I'm a lover of lifting weights, dinosaurs, real talk and traveling with my husband. I am here to help you move better, lift more, bust the myths of the fitness industry, and inspire you to love the process.

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