Best Ways to Make Exercises Harder Without More Weight

By Nancy LangLast update: 2023-07-25

While adding more weight is the most popular way to add stress to your muscles, there are many good alternatives to consider, especially when you’re stuck indoors during the pandemic or if you want to create a minimalist home gym.

Without further ado, here are the best ways to make exercises harder without more weight

Use Grip Thickeners

This is a great add-on for those exercisers who already have had weights in their home gym.

Adding a grip thickener to your pull-up bar, barbells, and dumbbell handles and exercise within 2 or 3 weeks, you will get a noticeable change in your muscle sizes and strength.

Best Ways to Make Exercises Harder Without More Weight

Grip thickeners stimulate not only your forearm muscles but also your neurons to work harder when performing pull-ups, rows, and deadlifts though at the same amount of weight.

They are also cheap and easy to buy.

Add Instability

When loading an exercise asymmetrically – such as performing dumbbell shoulder presses, single-cable horizontal rows, or two-handle lat pulldowns with one arm at a time, your core muscles are stimulated to work harder to keep your balance.

Best Ways to Make Exercises Harder Without More Weight

You can also try holding a weight in the hand opposite to the front knee when you’re performing reverse or forward lunges.

In a nutshell, there are two main ways to add instability:

  • Change from bilateral to unilateral movements
  • Decrease your base of support

Completing 21s

The term “completing 21s” refers to doing an exercise in three different ranges of motion for 7 reps in reach – including the top half, the bottom half, and the full range.

For example, when performing a push up, do 7 reps from halfway up to arms fully extended, 7 reps from the bottom to halfway up, and 7 reps of full pushups. In total, you’ve just done 21 reps.

Best Ways to Make Exercises Harder Without More Weight

In other words, “Completing 21s” is a fun way to play with ranges of motion.

Proper Core Positioning

Most exercisers just brace their core muscles as if they’re trying to doo-doo.

Best Ways to Make Exercises Harder Without More Weight

But by changing the core positioning a little bit and maintaining it when performing an exercise – like pulling, pushing, hinging, squatting, and moving, it will be a lot harder.

According to many famous personal trainers that I interviewed, they advise that instead of pointing your ribs out in front of you, try to point them straight down to your feet by tucking your tailbone.

Introducing A Plyometric Element

This strategy is perfect for exercisers who have no joint problems.

Introducing a plyometric element to exercises adds explosiveness, which can significantly make them more challenging with no weight needed. By forcing the use of fast-twitch muscle fibers, it adds up the intensity to hence boost the metabolic rates.

Best Ways to Make Exercises Harder Without More Weight

For example, introducing a plyometric element to pushups drives your body up from the floor more quickly.

Do An Exercise Combo

When performing an exercise combo, your brain will be occupied and your muscles are forced to get accustomed to new and constant changes of motions.

You’ll find your body feels fatigued faster.

Here are some effectively calorie-burning exercise combos for you to consider:

  • One push-up + 3 dolphin planks
  • One push-up + 3 mountain climbers
  • Mountain climber + jump
  • Kettlebell swings
  • Single-leg Romanian deadlift with row

Adjust The Hold Or Stance

When you’re performing an exercise that requires using a wide range of muscle coordination, even a small adjustment in the hold or stance can make it harder.

For example, doing inward or outward palm push-ups. Or, instead of performing a standard back lunge, bring your back leg diagonally behind you or to the side.

Stop Midway

Stop midway is an effective way to eliminate the momentum that your body relies on to carry you through a movement.

You can reverse back the exercise and repeat or continue on in that direction.

A typical example is performing 1-1/2 push-ups: From the plank position, lower your body until your face is as close to the ground as possible. Then, come back up halfway, and go back down, then come up.

Best Ways to Make Exercises Harder Without More Weight

Do similarly when you perform 1-1/2 pull-ups.

Make The Exercise Slow

This is a great way to perfect your agility, balance, and form. Make a part of the entire exercise slow due to your physical strength.

For example, perform slow pull-ups or slow push-ups. Go slow both on the way down and up or go slow on the way down and fast on the way up.

Add Pulses

Pulsing is a micro-movement in the most contracted part of an exercise, which helps isolate the active muscles and make them tired faster to hence increase posture, endurance, and more.

Depending on your physical health and strength, add 1 to 5+ pulses to the exercise.

For example, 20 pulse-ups x 4 sets (rest 20 seconds between sets) or 20 side plank pulse-ups x 4 sets (rest 20 seconds between sets).

Use Isometrics

Isometric exercises refer to holding a static position in a certain time interval – which means your joints don’t move and your muscles’ length doesn’t change much. That time interval is usually within 5 to 30 seconds depending on your body strength.

Best Ways to Make Exercises Harder Without More Weight

This way of exercising allows you to train and even build strength on a particular muscle or a group of muscles.


Those are the best ways to make exercises harder without more weight that I have analyzed and rounded up from my own experience and the advice of the personal trainers I interviewed.

Share with me if you have any other effective ways and please follow my blog for more informative posts. Thanks a lot for reading!

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