For the Busy Athlete: Building Muscle Without Weights

Learn the best exercises to build muscles without weight from STACK expert Jim Carpentier.

Physioball Push-Up
Now that your season has begun, are you struggling with the challenge of balancing time between academics, sports practices/games and hitting the weight room? Off-season conditioning allowed you to focus on building muscle, but you still need strength training in-season to maintain lean muscle. Fitting in weight room workouts before or after practices and games can be tricky. That's where bodyweight exercises come in. They are a time-efficient alternative.

Try the following three short, intense 15-minute muscle-building workouts two to three times a week on non-consecutive days. Perfect for throughout the season to maintain or build muscle, they can conveniently be accomplished anywhere.

Before starting, heed these guidelines:

  • Workouts alone don't build or maintain muscle. You also need to get sufficient sleep, adequate hydration and nutrient-dense calories.
  • Do a few minutes of dynamic warm-up movements to make sure your muscles are warmed up—particularly with early morning workouts before school when muscles are tighter than later in the day.
  • Cool down with upper and lower body static stretches.
  • Drink water before, during and after workouts for proper hydration. If you work out before school, your body is already dehydrated from going without water several hours during overnight sleep. So be sure to have a few glasses. Also, have a light, easily digestible pre-workout meal.
  • Have a small high carbohydrate/moderate protein post-workout meal immediately after.
  • Keep rest periods brief between exercises and sets (aim for 30 to 45 seconds) to enhance intensity.

These body-resistance workouts are sports-functional, involving multi-joint upper-body pushing and pulling movements and leg and core exercises, so you can engage more muscles in less time for strengthening and muscle-building. You need no equipment other than a chair or bench (or your bed) and a door (you will use the doorknobs for pulling movements, although a pull-up bar can substitute).

Workout 1

Super-Slow Feet-Elevated Push-Ups

With your feet positioned on a chair, bench or bed, take five seconds to descend and 10 seconds to return to start position. This exercise strengthens chest, triceps, shoulders, upper back and core.

Sets/Reps: 3x5

Wall Squat Holds

Place your back against a wall and lower to squat position with hands overhead; hold this position for 45 to 60 seconds. Rest 30 to 45 seconds and repeat two more sets. You'll work quadriceps, hamstrings, hips, shoulders and core.

Door Rows

Set your feet 12 inches from an open door, keeping your legs bent in a squat position while holding the doorknobs. Your feet will be on either side of the doorframe. Start with arms extended; slowly pull your body toward the door, holding tightly to doorknobs. Pause one second, and slowly return to start. This effectively targets rear deltoid, mid and upper back, biceps, core and leg muscles.

Sets/Reps: 3x10

Workout 2

Squat Thrusts and Push-Ups

Assume push-up position. Do 5 explosive push-ups with your hands leaving the floor. Immediately follow these with five squat thrusts. This is where you rapidly thrust your feet in toward your hands, then back to push-up position. Great for working the quadriceps, hamstrings, hips, core, triceps, shoulders, chest and upper back.

Sets/Reps: 3x5

21-Style Rep Door Pull-Ups

Sit on floor with feet on either side of an open door. Grasp the doorknobs and pull yourself up and down a quarter of the way seven times. Next, pull up to doorknobs and lower a quarter of the way and up seven times. Then do seven full-range pulls from seated position up to doorknobs. On seventh rep, hold position close to doorknobs for 21 seconds. Strengthens biceps, forearms, upper and middle back, and core.

Feet-Elevated Prone and Side Plank Combo

Planks are an excellent core strengthening exercise. Place feet on chair, bench or bed, keeping your forearms on floor and back flat. Hold this position 30 to 60 seconds while contracting your abdominal muscles. Without pausing, rotate your body sideways to the left, keeping left forearm on floor. Then raise your right hand overhead. Hold for 30 to 60 seconds and quickly rotate. Repeat on right side.

Workout 3

Burpees/Push-Ups Combo

Jump as high as possible, landing in a squat position 10 times, then do 10 push-ups. For added intensity, after the tenth rep of each set of burpees, hold squat position for 15 seconds. Similarly, hold a partial bent-arm push-up position for 15 seconds after the tenth rep of each set of push-ups. These will strengthen your quadriceps, hamstrings, hips, chest, triceps, upper back, core and shoulders.

Sets/Reps: 3x10

Door Rows

Hold for 15 seconds on tenth rep of each set for added intensity.

Sets/Reps: 3x10

Russian Twists

With bent legs and feet off floor, sit with arms folded across chest. Quickly turn from side to side as many times as you can in 60 seconds. Works lower and upper abdominal and oblique muscles.

Check out STACK's Bodyweight Exercise guide for more workouts you can take on the go.

Photo Credit: Getty Images // Thinkstock