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I know that it is possible to build muscle without using weights, but I was wondering how effective it actually was. Does using weights allow you to build muscle faster or can you build muscle at a similar speed without using weights?

If it is possible to build muscle at a similar speed, what would be the best workout structure to maximise muscle gain?

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I believe the overall consensus is that building straight muscle mass without weights is less effective.

Here's a nice comparison of weight training vs callisthenics.

My summary of it is the following:

  • Building muscle mass requires progressive overload and a proper diet.
  • Progressive overload is achieved in weight training by adding more weights.
  • Progressive overload in callisthenics is achieved by performing easier variations of an exercise and progressing to harder variations of the movement (e.g. wall pushups > chair pushups > knee pushups > pushups > advanced pushups).
  • Bodyweight workouts have a barrier to entry, in other words, you need to be in shape a bit, to begin with (very hard to perform push-ups if you're overweight). You can overcome this by performing easier variations of the exercise as per the previous point.
  • Building muscle with callisthenics is not impossible just different.

Does using weights allow you to build muscle faster[?]

Yes.

[Can] you build muscle at a similar speed without using weights?

Potentially, up to a muscular ceiling.


I believe these types of questions arise from individuals who don't have access to a gym or the equipment needed to do weight training. If you're interested in building muscle mass and have access to a gym, I strongly suggest going. If you don't have access, for any reason, you can still do weighted workouts from home. You don't need an entire expensive home gym.

Find your favourite bodyweight home workout and just start there. Get in the habit of performing it. While you're starting that, get your eating on point.

Now that you're getting your eating on point, you've got a left over jug of milk. Fill it with water. Got a back-pack? Fill it with heavy books. Boom, weight. Change those bodyweight squats to goblet squats. Start adding in some bicep curls and one arm rows too. Push-ups can become weighted push-ups.

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    Based on my own personal experience, I don't necessarily agree that weight training is more effective (my greatest muscle gains came when I switched from a powerlifting style program to a bodyweight one), but I do especially like your point about improvising weights with whatever you happen to have around (I spent some time doing volunteer work in Mexico, and we improvised a decent weight set with 20 litre water bottles) – Dark Hippo Jan 10 at 7:34
  • "very hard to perform push-ups if you're overweight" Yes, but it is possible to modify exercises to be easier, for example to pivot from knees or to do them on stairs or even standing up. – user7761803 Jan 23 at 12:59
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    @user7761803 - absolutely. I edited my answer a bit to add that in. I've got nothing against bodyweight workouts. However, from a purely 'building muscle' standpoint, I strongly believe weights are king. That really depends on where you draw the line for "building muscle" I suppose. No one is entering the IFBB or the IPF using only bodyweight. – C. Lange Jan 23 at 15:47
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Sprinting contributes to hypertrophy and can be done as a complement, supplement, or alternative to training in a gym or with the equipment needed to do weight training.

(Added on 22 January 2020): Sprint training will add muscle mass in two key ways:

First, sprinting targets Type II or ‘fast twitch’ muscle fibers in the legs. These fibers are associated with increases in muscle size and mass. Studies show that for this reason alone, sprint training can increase muscle size and strength.

Second, sprinting has been shown to increase protein synthesis and growth hormone production; both of which are essential for recovery and growth.

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  • Your response is rather sparse. Can you explain further? – rrirower Jan 16 at 19:48
  • In theory, perhaps. In practice? I've never seen a profesional athlete with big legs by just running. They work out... Of course, for me "big legs" are really big, perhaps you have lower criterias. – JarsOfJam-Scheduler Jan 23 at 16:00
  • @JarsOfJam-Scheduler: Well, the original question didn't ask if weights were advisable, but rather if they were "necessary." I enjoy and appreciate working out with weights and encourage others to do so as well, yet I also enjoy working out with a medicine ball, with bounding and jumping exercises, with balance and body-weight exercises. And some sprinting. Finding the right mix, the right recipe, and finding the "efficient frontier" between risks and rewards, to borrow an expression from the investments field, is key. – WPWPWP Jan 23 at 21:01
  • @JarsOfJam-Scheduler: I suppose many have different goals: some are interested in hypertrophy - gaining big muscles - whereas others are more interested in functional abilities. – WPWPWP Jan 23 at 21:15

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