How can one get bigger at home without weights such as bench press, dumbbells or anything else. I don't have any weight equiment at home but I workout everyday such as push-ups, sit-ups and dips but dont see any results. I don't know what the problem is. I just want some suggestions on how to get bigger and stronger at home. Any one have ideas?


6 Answers 6


I have to disagree with Christopher Bibbs assertion that you are limited to the same weight by performing bodyweight only exercises. It is not how much weight in total that you have at your disposal but rather how much force you are able exert on particularly groups of muscles that will determine how close to maximal a loading you can apply to them. There are many bodyweight exercises that through leverage and isolation of particular muscle groups will bring you to exhaustion after a very low numbers of repetitions. Here are some suggestions with some progressions that would allow you to exert increasingly larger forces relative to the muscle groups involved (i.e. that would push you to muscular exhaustion in few repetitions).

  • Push-ups > elbows-in push-ups > inclined (legs on a bench/ladder) push-up > handstand push-up against a wall > free-standing handstand push > planche (no legs) push-up > ring handstand push-up
  • Sit-up > crunch > v-up (http://gymnasticswod.com/content/v) > candle sticks http://gymnasticswod.com/content/candle-stick-lever > toes to bar (http://gymnasticswod.com/content/toes-bar) > toes to bar against a wall (no chest no shoulder, much harder) > hollow push-ups (something like http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QTvkVbTvOHM)
  • Air squat > one-legged squats > one-legged jumping squats
  • Pull-ups > muscle-ups > one-arm pull-ups > back levers (with rings ideally) > front levers > iron cross

I could go on. Many on this list would require significant training for 1 repetition. Bodyweight exercises also potentially have some broader spectrum benefits for general strength and balance with the coordination they require.

This is not say that Olympic lifts and the like do not, and I cannot think of a way to replicate the the kind of effort involved in a very heavy dead-lift or bench-press (the latter doesn't interest me much though), and the development from bodyweight exercises surely diverges from that of lifting at the advanced level, but it is fallacious or at least misleading to say that you have 'one weight' to work with in callisthenics.

A compelling summation that I read was that through bodyweight training you will develop mastery of internal loads, with all the stability that involves, and also a good level of mastery of external ones. With lifting alone the converse is not true.

  • 3
    I agree on both your main points: bodyweight training, if used in such a way as to decrease your leverage, can produce strength, but power and Olympic lifts are still relevant. Ido Portal points out that there are examples of gymnasts who can bench significant amounts while only doing bodyweight exercises, but good benchers can't do even simple gymnastics moves. He does, however, allow that weighted training is generally superior for lower-body raw-strength work (barbell squats, deadlifts). Commented Aug 26, 2011 at 18:16
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    I wanted to make a case for bodyweight exercises, but I am sure there are loads that you cannot replicate without the use of external weight. I am also convinced of the fairly unique response that very heavy weights seem to illicit. I have read some interesting things about the effect of heavy deadlifts on hormone levels, that may have a positive effect on bone density and anabolism (growth hormone and testosterone I recall), and from personal experience barbell lifts, particularly dynamic ones make my body feel quite different from other strenuous activity. Commented Sep 5, 2011 at 16:55

You cannot expect to see muscle mass or strength gains if you repeatedly do the same exercises with the same weight (in your case, bodyweight). At best you'll see a change in the ratio of slow-twitch to fast-twitch fibers for an improvement in endurance.

Looking at recent ACSM guidelines, in order to see gains you'll need exercises that can take you to exhaustion in 6-12 repetitions. That is unlikely to be normal push-ups or dips. If weights are completely out of the picture, I'd recommend a backback loaded with books or other heavy items. Whatever it takes to hit exhaustion before that 12th rep.

Also, cut your workouts down from daily to 2-3 times per week per muscle group to give time for recovery.


The basic building blocks of all successful exercise regimens will require a decent understanding of Selye's General Adaptation Syndrome. The initial theory has been expanded to include a two-factor conceptual model of adaptation syndrome:

  • You need stress sufficient to disrupt homeostasis (the current level of adaptation)
  • You need rest sufficient to allow the body to hyper-compensate (i.e. adapt to handle more than the stress you last gave it).

Initially you will see good gains no matter what you do. However, the trick is to increase the stress enough to require adaptation. Weight lifters and body builders do that by increasing the weight on the bar, and manipulating the sets and reps that they use.

If you are restricting yourself to strictly body weight exercise, then you have to adjust other variables:

  • Leverage: more inefficient leverage will cause more stress on some muscles.
  • Volume: when you multiply the sets times the reps, you get the volume of exercise. You will need to increase this volume to continue to improve.
  • Unconventional weights: use common household items to add more weight to your body while exercising.
  • Time between sets: by not fully allowing your body to recover between sets you can accumulate load.

According to the "Practical Programming for Weight Training" book we have some common rep ranges that cause different adaptations:

  • 1-3 reps builds strength
  • 8-12 reps builds size
  • 16+ reps builds anaerobic endurance

Many programs use sets of 5, as a good compromise between building strength and size. This information is important to figure out how to organize your sets to get the adaptations you want. To increase the volume of work done (the stress required to disrupt homeostasis), add more sets of the same number of reps. If you were doing 3 sets of 12, increase to 4 sets of 12, or 5 sets.

You can carry these variations for a good while and make some progress. Eventually, you will run out of time in the day to progress any further on body weight exercises. At this point you really need to look at purchasing a weight set if you can't/won't go to a gym. Even a used set would help you get stronger.

  • I think the way your second-to-last paragraph is phrased may cause a misunderstanding of Rip's PP. One cannot just stick to less than 6 reps and expect to build strength: those reps need to be difficult enough (i.e., a certain % of your 1RM) to induce stress. That usually means that you shouldn't be able to do a lot more reps in that set. Adding extra sets can help build strength only if the reps are already hard and heavy. 5 sets of 5 air squats is not a strength exercise. Commented Aug 31, 2011 at 21:33
  • I'm inclined to agree with you @Dave. I was attempting to demonstrate how you can maximize body weight only work. We are in definite agreement that we would need to increase the weight in order to improve strength/size after a certain point. A point I am guessing will come very quickly. The OP seems to be more interested in size than strength, so sets of 12 would be in order there. Commented Aug 31, 2011 at 21:55

If you're trying to gain mass, look at your calorie intake. You're probably not eating enough. An increase of about 500 calories/day is the number I hear most often, but you'll want to figure out what you're currently taking in vs burning each day and go from there. Also,

Added benefit: Increased caloric intake translates to increased weight, which increases resistance on bodyweight exercises.

I recommend checking out You Are Your Own Gym by Mark Lauren. It covers increasing difficulty/intensity of bodyweight exercises, diet, intervals, and pretty much everything else to help you push past your current plateau.


You should add Pullups/chinups into your routine as well as one-leg squats to balance your workouts to hit each body part.

There are ways to add resistance to you workout without weights. You could try adding intentional resistance by contracting the muscles (squeeze the contractions at the weak points), or by using resistance bands, for instance.


If you want to build overall strength and gain muscle, you need to train the LEGS. Why? They are your biggest and strongest muscles, and many exercises involving the legs will recruit a variety of secondary muscles as well.

You want intense/heavy compound exercises that will increase your testosterone levels, which is, in the simplest of terms, your body's "build muscle" on/off switch.

If you have absolutely no access to weights, sprints (i.e. MAXIMUM pace you can put out) with full recovery in between will help, along with whatever bodyweight exercises you choose. (Squats, pushups, pull-ups, etc.) Sprints are probably the closest you'll get to max effort exercises without weights.

Ideally, though, if you really are serious about gaining strength, you need to find a gym where you can train heavy, or if that's not possible, build a home gym. Building strength with hackish or halfway-solutions will NEVER compare to being able to lift truly heavy weight.

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