7 Ways to Make Exercises Harder Without More Weight

Anthony J. Yeung
by Anthony J. Yeung
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7 Ways to Make Exercises Harder Without More Weight

If you want to build more muscle, burn more fat and become a better athlete, you have to get stronger and more powerful. But that’s where a new challenge starts: The more athletic you are, the harder you have to work to continually stimulate your body to grow.

The common way is to simply add more weight to each exercise, yet there’s only so much weight you can continue to add. Also, with more external weight, you’ll increase the stress on your joints and muscles.

If you’re looking for an edge in your training, try these seven simple ways to make any exercise harder without adding a single pound. In fact, some of these exercises are so challenging, you’ll find yourself using less weight to get the same effect.

Warning: Don’t get mad at me if you’re really sore the next day.


Make each repetition harder by slowing down the movement. First, this increases the time under tension, which helps you build more muscle. Second, this emphasizes your slow-twitch muscle fibers. Typically, weights target your faster fibers, but by slowing down the movement, you’ll blast your slow-twitch fibers for more endurance and less fatigue.

Count at least 3 full seconds for your descent (eccentric phase) and finish the exercise at your normal speed.


The farther you have to go to complete a movement, the harder. That’s why you’re always taught to do a full movement — think: a quarter squat versus a full squat below parallel — because you build more muscle and strengthen your joints throughout a larger range of motion.

For more difficulty, keep increasing the range of motion. For example, do Bulgarian split squats or reverse lunges with your foot on a 4-inch box. Do pushups with your hands on small blocks so you can let your chest go even lower before pushing back up. Or, if you already have great technique, do deadlifts while standing on a 4-inch step.


Add a pause in the middle of an exercise — between the eccentric and concentric phases — to boost your strength and power.

For example, on the bench press, pause the barbell on your chest for 3 seconds. This eliminates any elastic effect you gain from lowering the barbell and forces you to press the barbell with only your muscular strength. You won’t bench as much weight, but it will build power and explosiveness like nothing else.

Add a pause at the bottom of any lower-body exercises to crank up your training.


The less stability you have, the harder your body has to work. For example:

  • Plank: Put your forearms on a stability ball instead of the ground.
  • Bench press: Use dumbbells instead of a barbell.
  • Romanian deadlift: Use one leg instead of two for less stability.
  • Chinups: Use rings instead of a bar.
  • Pushups: Put your hands on a suspension trainer instead of the ground.


You can make many exercises harder by simply spreading your hands wider than normal. This reduces the leverage of your arms in each exercise, putting more emphasis on your upper body. For example, here’s what will happen if you use a wider grip on the following exercises:

  • Barbell bench press: more chest and pecs
  • Pullups: more back and lats
  • Deadlifts: more traps
  • Pushups: more chest
  • Barbell rows: more traps


To make an exercise harder, combine it with another exercise to kill two birds with one stone. This will burn more calories because you’ll target many more muscle groups than before and keep your heart rate up.

Here are some ideas:

  • Dumbbell steps: Do a military press after you step onto a box.
  • Standing cable rows: Do a squat between every rep.
  • Romanian deadlift: Do a bent-over row at the bottom of the deadlift.


If you put a rubber grip on your dumbbell handles, barbell or pullup bar, you’ll have to squeeze harder to hold the same amount of weight. This will increase your forearm and grip strength while increasing the number of neurons that need to fire to do the move.

Even better, the stronger your grip, the more weight you can pull on your deadlifts, rows and pullups. You’ll notice a carryover within a few weeks.

About the Author

Anthony J. Yeung
Anthony J. Yeung

Anthony, a certified strength and conditioning specialist, is a fitness expert at Esquire, GQ and Men’s Health and gets guys in shape for their wedding at GroomBuilder.


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