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7 Weightless Workouts for Lean Muscles

BY: SHANNON GRILLI | 9.26.2016 |

outdoor rooftop aerial yoga fitness class jpg

For anyone who has even been intimidated while standing in a gym filled with grunting, tank-top clad folks lifting five times their own body weight: fear not. The truth is, you don’t have to be a circus strong man to build strong, healthy muscles (though a twirly, waxed mustache never hurt).

Below, these seven popular (tank-top optional) bodyweight exercises can help you build strong muscles using nary a dumbbell, and many also boast a wealth of other benefits to boot.


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By now, you probably know that yoga does wonders for your mental health and flexibility, but it does much more than just help you to find inner peace and reconnect with your toes. Yoga’s balancing poses rely strongly on the body’s core to provide stability, and many poses also activate and target select areas like the abs, thighs, and, if you’re trying inverted poses, the arms. Best of all, the moves are low-impact, so you build muscle without putting unnecessary pressure on the joints and ligaments.

Not sure which class is right for you? Read our guide to 10 different types of yoga.


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Similar to yoga, Pilates builds long, lean muscles by focusing on bodyweight exercises. The specific moves performed in a Pilates class can do wonders for the core—but those who want additional strength training can up their game by trying a Pilates Reformer class, since the apparatus can provide additional resistance to the routine.

Read how Pilates helped our editor recuperate from a cat-lifting injury, and learn more about the added resistance of the Pilates Reformer.


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Spinning classes have become the hottest way to build cardiovascular endurance and torch calories, but the heart-pumping workout can also help tone calves, thighs, and hamstrings. Classes also put a heavy emphasis on posture, which can do wonders for the abdominals.

Prepare for your first class with this instructor’s spin-class tips and pep talk.


woman practicing cross punch kickboxing jpg

Like many of the workouts on this list, kickboxing does a great job of keeping your muscles engaged while providing high-intensity cardiovascular exercise. But specific kickboxing moves are also great for targeting and toning problem areas. Roundhouse kicks, for example, work your abdominal muscles, and the punches and kicks do a great job of working your arms and legs. And punching bags and pads can always be added to create resistance and help you muscle up even more.

Read how 10 different martial-arts styles kick butt.


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If the traditional fitness class route isn’t for you, consider heading to a rock climbing gym instead. Physically demanding, yet accessible even for beginners, rock climbing provides an excellent upper and lower body workout, and is a great way to get your pumping if you don’t like to run or jump around. Moving from one climb hold to another also requires the climber to think carefully about their route, and flex their problem solving skills, building a strong mind to match your newly chiseled abs and forearms.

Check out our editor’s five tips for beginner rock climbers.


women jumping indoor zumba fitness class jpg

True, you won’t get a professional weight-lifters body in a Zumba class, but the weight-bearing moves in this Latin, hip-hop dance–inspired class will provide some light muscle toning and engage your core throughout the workout. Dance classes and dance-inspired workouts are also great for building bone density, which is particularly important for older women or people with osteoporosis.


woman on rings resistance training crossfit fitness jpg

Ok, so CrossFit is not without its share of heavy lifting, but the strength-training exercises here are nothing like boring, bench-pressing variety. CrossFitters might find themselves flipping tires, doing kettle bell squats, or tossing sandbags on any given day, as well as performing bodyweight exercises like push-ups and burpees.

Read how one instructor makes CrossFit for beginners possible.