How to Build Muscle Without Lifting Heavy Weights

Updated on March 11, 2019
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Michael gained 35 pounds of muscle cycling to beaches over the summer once a week.

How to Build Muscle

While exercising, you may notice pain and weakness. Because the exercise is damaging your muscle, your muscles become weaker and you feel sore. After you exercise, your body repairs the muscles. You build muscle while your muscles are recovering. The muscles don't just heal. They can adapt by becoming bigger and stronger. If you don't increase the intensity or the duration of the workout, then it becomes easier. It hurts less and it does not weaken your muscles, so your muscles stop getting bigger and stronger.

Damage your muscles a little. Rest so they can recover. Then do it again and again. Doing workouts that are too hard on your muscles or exercising too frequently can hurt your progress. Take it easy when starting a new workout routine. Figure out how hard you can work your muscles without being really sore the next day. Try to do better every time you workout.

To build a lot of muscle, work out at least once a week and compete with yourself. Increase the intensity or the duration of the exercises. Don't just go through the motions. Try to beat what you accomplished last week. For better results, workout most of your muscles.

I increased the size of my forearm muscles with a 10 pound weight.
I increased the size of my forearm muscles with a 10 pound weight. | Source

Building Muscle With Cardio

Does cardio cause muscle loss? While doing cardio for weight loss people tend to lose fat and muscle. They exercise too frequently because they are focused on burning calories. They diet to reduce the number of calories they consume. Overtraining and not consuming enough calories leads to muscle loss. If you don't want to lose muscle doing cardio then focus on getting fit.

While doing a cardio endurance workout I noticed I needed lots of time to recover. So I only did the workout once a week. I also noticed that I needed more food. So I ate more food. My goal was to improve my endurance. As my endurance increased I lost fat and gained muscle. I thought I would lose weight but my weight increased. My fat weight decreased but my muscle weight increased.

I quickly gained around 35 pounds of muscle and lost inches of belly fat by biking once a week. If you focus on increasing your strength and endurance then cardio is good for losing fat while gaining muscle. Increase your endurance by increasing the duration of the workout. Increase your strength by increasing the speed or resistance. For better results keep switching from intense exercise to less intense exercise during your workout.

Only do one to two difficult cardio workouts per week to increase your strength, endurance or the size of you muscles You might notice your muscles are bigger after working out 4 times in one month.

After biking to the beach 4 times.
After biking to the beach 4 times. | Source

Can Bodyweight Workouts Build Muscle?

Push ups are a good example of a body weight exercise. You are lifting about 60% of your body weight. Like cardio, people often just go through the motions while doing body weight exercises. They don't do a lot to increase the difficulty of the workout. Bodyweight exercises are associated with repetition. You might try to build muscle by doing 50 push ups a day.

You are not going to gain a lot of muscle doing bodyweight exercises unless you find ways to change the workout. Change your grip or the position of your body, wear a weight vest or backpack, or hold some light weights to increase the difficulty of the workout. For endurance increase the duration and the number of reps. Don't just do the same workout over and over again when you are trying to build muscle.

Doing regular push ups was not enough to build muscle. My body adapted and the workout became too easy. I found ways to increase the difficulty while doing a 10 push ups a day challenge. You can build muscle doing bodyweight exercises. Start with an exercise you can do. Then train to do workouts you can't do now like handstand push ups, finger push ups or one armed pull ups. You can also train to improve your endurance. Increasing the number of squats, lunges, step ups and calf raises you can do is a good way to increase the size of your leg muscles. After doing calf raises for 30 seconds I could feel the burn.

Push ups are one of the best body weight exercises for building muscle.
Push ups are one of the best body weight exercises for building muscle. | Source

Light, Moderate and Heavy Weights

For weight lifting light, moderate and heavy refers to the percentage of your one rep max or the number of reps a person can do in one set. If you can only do 6 reps then you are lifting heavy. If you can do 20 reps the weights are light. Twelve could be considered moderate. Do you need to lift really heavy weights to build muscle? Lift until you can't to build muscle fast. Exercise until you experience muscle fatigue. Lifting light or moderate weights can give you similar results to lifting heavy weights if you do more reps.

I like using my 10 pound dumbbells. Lighter weights can be used for more exercises, they cost less and they take up less room. They are also safer to use. I have heavy weights on a barbell but I rarely use it. You don't always need to lift a lot of weight or do a large number of reps. Exercise your weaker muscles, focus on fewer muscles and do exercises you never tried before. When I started a wrist roller workout to increase the size of my forearms I could barely do 2 reps with 5 pounds.

Lifting really heavy weights is the best way to get good at lifting really heavy weights but you can gain a lot of muscle and increase your strength with lighter weights. For strength and endurance I recommend using moderate to light weights. I just worked my muscles really hard by doing 28 dumbbell curls.

light weights
light weights | Source

Exercise Ideas

Weigh Lifting
push ups
dumbbell curls
pull ups
renegade rows
jumping rope
upright row
step ups
lateral raise
calf raises
hammer curls
shoulder press
lying leg raises
wrist rollers
You don't need heavy weights to build muscle with these exercises.


Build muscle with cardio, bodyweight exercises and weight lifting. The amount of weight or the intensity of the workout does not matter as much as the effort you put into it. Workout until you are close to failure. Feel the burn but stop before you injure yourself. You should not be really sore the next day. Do a variety of exercises so you can find and eliminate your weaknesses.

Cycling once a week made my legs strong enough for me to carry a tree to the wood pile. I held up a heavy cabinet with my right leg while standing on my left leg so I could open a door. Don't forget to exercise your legs. Most of the larger muscles are below your waist. That is why I gained more weight doing cardio than when I was doing upper body exercises. You need strong legs if you want to lift a heavy object while you are standing or walking.

When exercising to build muscle the most important thing is to compete with yourself. Maintain a healthy diet, eat as much food as you need, stay hydrated and give your muscles time to recover so you can do more than last time. The workouts should not be easy. You should feel the burn and you should need time to recover. Working out without lifting heavy weights gave me the results I wanted

You can build muscle lifting heavy weights but you don't need heavy weights to build muscle. Doing cardio, bodyweight exercises and lifting lighter weights is good for functional strength. It made me look more athletic. I increased the size of my muscles and gained weight but I did not look like someone that lifts heavy weights at the gym. My muscles are not huge but I could bike 37 miles, do 14 finger push ups in a row, carry more than my body weight, and do lots of other things.

If you are building muscle without heavy weights then expect to look more like an athlete than a weightlifter.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2019 Michael H


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