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7 Best Exercises for Women to Gain Muscle Without Equipment

Building muscle is an excellent way to develop a more toned look.
FACT CHECKED BY Alexa Mellardo

When you think about building muscle, the first thing that might come to mind might be the bulky, classic physique you commonly see in bodybuilding competitions. If you are a woman who steers away from muscle building because you are afraid of getting bulky muscles, you are not alone. In fact, many women avoid resistance training for this exact reason. The truth is, even if you were to lift weights, you have little-to-no risk of becoming bulky as a woman. In fact, building muscle is an excellent way to develop a more toned look for women. While your muscles won't balloon up, the fibers will enlarge slightly, which adds definition to the various areas of your body. That's why we've put together seven of the best exercises for women to build muscle without equipment.

If you are looking to tone up your body but don't have access to a weight room (or perhaps you are intimidated by the weight room), don't stress about it. The following workout includes exercises that you can perform without equipment to build muscle. If you are new to fitness, you can likely follow this routine for three to six months before having any issues with insufficient resistance.

Perform each exercise for three sets of up to 15 repetitions. If you can perform substantially more repetitions, consider adding another set. Rest for 60 seconds between sets and perform the workout twice per week. You can split them into shorter sessions by performing more workouts per week, depending on your schedule. Aim to get six working sets of each exercise per week.

Keep reading to learn about the seven best exercises for women to build muscle without equipment. And next, don't miss The Best Leg-Strengthening Exercises for Women.


woman doing squats, demonstrating exercises for women to gain muscle

Squats are a must if you want to build muscle in your glutes, quads, and hamstrings. Adding some muscle growth to this area as a woman accentuates your natural curves in a flattering way. You will develop curves in all the right places on your lower body while burning calories to help with weight loss.

When you squat, start with your feet wider than hip-width distance apart. Sit back and down by hinging at the waist and bending at the knee. Aim for a depth of at least thighs parallel to the floor. Focus on squeezing your glutes and bracing your core during the ascension.


woman 5 a.m. workouts in gym

Pushups are one of the most effective upper body exercises you can perform without equipment. These will help tone up your arms and upper body while building strength. If standard pushups are too hard, consider performing them on your knees or with your hands elevated such as placing them on a wall or bench.

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Front Lunges

fit woman demonstrating walking lunges at gym to transform your backside

Lunges are one of the best exercises for women to build muscle. They hit the glutes, hamstrings, and quads in a different way than squats, helping to ensure all the fibers in your lower body get the stimulus to build more muscle.

To perform lunges, begin with your feet hip-width distance apart. Take a large step forward, and then lower your back knee toward the ground and bend the front knee to enter the bottom part of the lunge. Push through your front foot to return to the starting position. You can step your back foot forward to do a walking lunge, or step your front foot back to perform a stationary lunge.

Glute Bridges

woman doing glute bridge on yoga mat during barre workout

Glute bridges are the best way to specifically target your gluteus maximus, which is the muscle responsible for developing a defined, shapely posterior. Begin on your back with your feet on the ground and your knees bent. Push through your feet while focusing your efforts on squeezing your glutes. Aim for a maximal squeeze at the top of the movement. Slowly return to the starting position. To increase difficulty, perform the bridges single-leg, with one leg extended in the air pointing upward.

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Side Lunges

woman performing side lunges, demonstrating exercises for women to gain muscle

Side lunges hit your exterior hip and thigh primarily, creating flattering curves on your hips when viewed from the front. Begin standing with your feet shoulder-width distance apart. Take a big step laterally, keeping your toes on both feet pointing in the same direction.

After planting your feet, lower your hips toward that side by bending the respective knee while keeping your other leg straight and your foot flat. Push laterally through the bent leg to return to the starting position.

Mountain Climbers

mountain climber exercise part of five-minute cardio workout, woman at home in bright living space

Mountain climbers train your core and hip flexor muscles. When performed slowly with control, the time under tension can provide a hypertrophy stimulus to your abdominal muscles. This helps with the toned, defined appearance of your midriff area. Begin in a plank position. Bring one knee forward as you float your foot just off the ground. Once your knee is roughly under your chest, reverse the movement, and repeat on the other side.

Side Plank Bridges

illustration of side plank bridge exercise

We'll wrap up these exercises for women to build muscle with the side plank bridge. Side plank bridges are my favorite under-utilized core exercise. They focus on the obliques, deep core stabilizers, and outer hips for a complete "side body" toning exercise.

To perform side plank bridges, begin in a side plank position. Bend your knees, and slowly lower your hip to the floor. Lightly tap the floor with the side of your hip, then squeeze your glutes and core, and raise your hips back to the side plank position. Repeat on both sides.

Tyler Read, BSc, CPT
Tyler Read is a personal trainer and has been involved in health and fitness for the past 15 years. Read more about Tyler