The Best Workout: When You Have No Weights | Learn: Your Fitness Business Resource

The Best Workout: When You Have No Weights

Tyler Spraul is the director of UX and the head trainer for He has his Bachelor of Science degree in pre-medicine and is an NSCA-certified strength and conditioning specialist. He is a former All-American soccer player and still coaches soccer today. In his free time, he enjoys reading, learning, and living the dad life. He has been featured in Shape, Healthline, HuffPost, Women's...

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UPDATED: Aug 25, 2020

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Get the Basics...

  • You can build muscle and stay fit without weights.
  • Calisthenics, dynamic tension, and isometric exercises are methods of exercise that don’t require weights.
  • You can do many of these types of exercises almost anywhere.

It happens to everybody at some point: you are on a trip at work, on the road, on vacation, and realize that while it’s time for your workout…there isn’t a gym handy nearby. But you need to keep your form, or at least try and keep your routine. But how?

Since exercise is an important component of your overall health and fitness goals, it is good to have a consistent workout routine. If you are looking for an exercise routine, look no further. Go PRO today for access to certified personal trainers, workout plans, and more.

The Basics

There are several methods to work out in the absence of equipment, and they are:

  • Calisthenics. Yes, the stuff you did in high school. when used properly, they can keep you fit or even build muscle.
  • Dynamic Tension is where you work groups of muscles in your body against each other.  For example, put your hands in front of you, press your fist against your palm, and try to push your arm back with your fist. That’s dynamic tension.
  • Isometric exercise is where your body doesn’t move. A good example of an isometric exercise is to assume the yoga “plank” position: essentially the starting push-up position, only held.

You can use one or all of these, although all are recommended, and they’ll all help.  But the foundation of any routine should be…

The Push-Up

Push-ups are really a great all-purpose exercise, and they should be the foundation of any weight-free exercise program.  Don’t think so?  Go ahead, drop and give us fifty.  We’ll wait.

…See what we mean?  A push-up program can be useful even worked into your weightlifting routine.  When you have no weights, they can be absolutely essential.  Start with your basic push-up: if you don’t do push-ups on a regular basis, get into push-up position and try to do as many as you can.

From there, work out how many would be a good set. Then try the following:

  • Vary how wide apart your hands are. This works different muscle groups in your arms. Try to go as wide as possible and as narrow as possible; the narrower will work your forearms more, while the wider will make more use of your triceps.
  • Switch up where you place your hands on the floor. Try putting your hands at your shoulders, and at your midsection.
  • Vary the speed of the push-up. Sprinting push-ups feels much different, and develops muscles differently than an extremely slow push-up.

Remember to try these out in various sets, as well. No two sets should have the same style of push-up. So now that we’ve laid the foundation, what else can you add to your workout?

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Generally used by bad gym coaches to convince people they don’t like exercise, calisthenic exercises are an easy and cheap way to get some exercise in.  They can build muscle, too, although it’s going to take more work than weightlifting. They’re also ideal for maintenance: after all, you need to get your body moving.

Here’s some calisthenics to try:

  • Pull-ups. If you can hang off of something, and it will support your weight, pull-ups are a great option for maintaining and increasing body strength.  If something is too low, try bending your legs at the knee and see if that works.
  • Stomach and back crunches. Yes, they’re classic, but things become classics because they work. With stomach crunches, try this: imagine you’re at the center of a clock and do a set of crunches “towards” each number. This will work your entire core and give you a goal to keep things moving. With back crunches, try diagonal crunches: lift up your left arm and right leg, and then your right arm and left leg.
  • Bodyweight squats. Yes, you can squat without weights.  Simply take the squats as slowly as possible, to get the maximum amount of exercise out of them.
  • Bodyweight lunges. A good lunge can work your entire leg and lower back.

Dynamic Tension

Working muscle groups against each other is a great form of exercise as it builds both groups at once. The key to dynamic tension is to remember: the slower the better. All of the dynamic exercises you try should at least be on a five-count. Also, remember to breathe slowly; breath in on contraction and out when relaxing.

Some dynamic tension exercises to try:

  • Place your palms together as if you were praying. Press your hands together and slowly bring your hands to your chest. Point your fingers towards your chin, and then down towards your toes, keeping your palms together all the while. Then bring your hands back out. Repeat for at least three sets.
  • Get into a lunge position, with one leg behind you. Slowly shift all your weight onto your forward knee, and then shift it back to the leg behind you. Do three to five sets for each side.
  • Press your hands against a wall and push slowly, using your legs to resist your hands. Push with your hands until your legs contract, and then reverse.  Three sets should do you

Isometric Exercises

Last but not least, there’s isometrics. Isometrics are good for small areas because you don’t move very much. They’re especially popular in martial arts. In fact, an excellent isometric exercise is the most basic training tool for leg strength: the horse stance.

Assume the horse stance by putting your feet slightly wider than shoulder length apart. Keep your feet parallel to each other, and bend down until your thighs are parallel to the floor. Arch your back so your body doesn’t lean forward.  Now hold it. For how long? Well, how long can you hold it?

Shaolin monks were required to do this until a stick of incense burned out, which could take an hour or even longer.  Horse stance is ideal for any workout because of all the muscles it builds: the legs, the back, the lower core, all of them are engaged by horse stance.

We recommend a minute or two to start, with more as you get used to it. Try adding a second to your best time each day.

A few other isometrics to try:

  • The aforementioned “plank” from yoga. Just keep your arms straight and don’t move. Give the plank at least thirty seconds to a minute. It’s especially effective when used with dynamic tension exercises, or to finish a set of push-ups.
  • Flex and hold it for a long time. Yep, posing as exercise. Remember to get the full flex out of your muscles.

General Tips

  • Take shorter breaks, or no breaks at all, between sets; this will help keep your intensity up.
  • This will take more time than a weight-based workout, so be sure to budget at least an hour.
  • If you’re in a hotel room or a similar area, turn on the TV; the distraction will greatly help.

Other Options

Don’t forget; just because there’s no equipment doesn’t mean, for example, you can’t get in some cardio. If there’s an out-of-the-way stairwell where you won’t disturb anybody, try running up and down the steps repeatedly. Even consider going for a walk or jog and get in some cardio.

Exercise with or without weights is important. If you are wanting more in your workouts or trying to put together an exercise routine, you’ve come to the right place. Go PRO today for access to certified personal trainers, workout plans, goal trackers, and more!

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