8 Great Muscle Building Sports For People That Hate Weight Lifting

Building muscle helps you build muscle mass and burn fat more efficiently. If you aren’t a fan of weight lifting, here are 8 great alternative sports including bouldering, swimming and boxing.


Building muscle is an important part of your fitness routine because increasing your muscle mass helps you to burn fat more efficiently. Stronger muscles also help to relieve pressure on your joints, so even if you are a runner, for example, you still need to add some strength training to your routine.

With that said, I haven’t always loved the gym or strength training. When I was younger I would actively avoid any type of physical exercise and I know there are many other people who feel the same way today. Some people neglect strength training because they don’t like lifting weights in the gym. Others may find it boring and prefer team sports or outdoor activities. And some people simply just don’t want to work out. All of these scenarios are okay. I strongly believe that working out should be enjoyable. While it is important to build muscle, weight lifting isn’t your only option. There are actually a lot of other sports out there which are great for strength training and staying lean. If you can’t get on board with early morning lifting heavy weights, I’ve pulled together some great alternatives to help you build muscle whilst doing something you love.

Here are some of the best muscle building sports for people that hate lifting weights:

Bouldering - Grandiose Days - Psychi


Bouldering is a great sport that is often overlooked because people don’t really know much about it. But if you are looking for a fun sport that helps to build muscle, you should definitely try bouldering.

I’m a huge fan of bouldering, which you may already know if you follow me over on Instagram. But if you aren’t familiar with bouldering, it’s essentially rock climbing without a rope. Sounds scary, right? Don’t worry, bouldering is a really open, accessible, friendly and safe sport! Bouldering is often done indoors at a bouldering wall but you can also do it outdoors on real rock once you are more experienced. When bouldering outdoors, you’ll have a big crash mat underneath you so you are safe if you fall.

Climbing up difficult routes requires you to use every muscle in your body, but mainly your arms, legs and core, and after just half an hour, you’ll probably be aching. It’s a very quick way to build muscle throughout the body, and it’s great for core strength. Bouldering is as much about technique as it is about strength. You don’t have to be the strongest person in the world to be able to climb but the strength gains you’ll get from regular climbing won’t go unnoticed.

Bouldering is so much more interesting than weight lifting because it’s not just about pulling yourself up with brute strength. You have to pick out the best route, work with a variety of different holds and figure out the beta (there’s some climbing jargon for you!) so there is a puzzle solving element there as well. There is also a lot of opportunity for progression because you can start out with simple routes that have large hand and foot holds, otherwise known as jugs, but as you improve, you can graduate to the harder routes.

One of the great things about bouldering is how accessible and affordable it can be. When starting out you don’t require any equipment apart from climbing shoes, which you can hire when you go to an indoor bouldering facility, so you don’t have to invest a lot of money if you want to give it a try.


Gymnastics is one of those sports that I’ll always wish I did when I was a kid. I’m in awe of their strength, flexibility and grace.

If you have ever watched gymnastics, you’ll know how strong and controlled gymnasts are. They are constantly holding up their own bodyweight in difficult positions, so their muscles are incredibly toned. It’s another great full body activity that requires balance and coordination, as well as strength.

Some people are interested in building a lot of muscle and getting big, and that’s not what you will get with gymnastics. However, if you want to build some muscle and tone up, it’s the ideal sport. Gymnastics is another great sport for beginners because you don’t need to spend a lot of money on equipment. You should be able to find a local gymnastics club that accommodates beginners so you can start learning basic moves. As you become more advanced and start learning more complex moves, you will build a lot more muscle. I know I’ll be adding gymnastics to my list of sports I’d like to try!


Most people don’t consider cheerleading a good sport for muscle building, but if you think about it, it does require a lot of strength. Dancing of any kind gives you a great cardio workout and helps to tone muscle. The dancers I know have the most incredibly strong legs! But cheerleading also involves a lot of lifts and holds. You need to be strong to be able to confidently hold a person steady over your head or to climb to the top of a pyramid, so cheerleaders have great muscle tone.

Apart from some cheerleading uniforms, you don’t need to buy any expensive equipment to get started, so if dancing and spreading cheer is your kind of vive, why not look for a local team! There are a lot of great cheerleading competitions out there, so if you love competitive team sports and want to build muscle, it’s perfect.

Contrary to popular belief, cheerleading isn’t just a sport for women and there are some great opportunities for men to get involved as well. 

Wrestling and BJJ

Wrestling and brazilian jiu-jitsu are two sports that are built around strength but to beat your opponent, you also need to be flexible and have a lot of stamina. BJJ is a form of submission wrestling, but it’s one that I just had to call out individually. I had a brief year-long stint with BJJ and the strength and flexibility I had during that period is unparalled. I seriously miss my days of BJJ and will jump at the chance to restart training one day.

If you are looking for a sport that helps you to build a lot of muscle instead of just toning up, wrestling is a great option. If you are serious about getting into wrestling, you will still have to do some weightlifting to build up your muscle. However, it is less tedious because you use that strength training to improve your performance when wrestling. You use your entire body for wrestling, but it’s particularly good for core strength. It’s a great sport for competitive people that want to build a lot of muscle and push their own boundaries.


Swimming is one of the best all around exercises there is. You get a great cardio workout because you are constantly working against the resistance from the water. This also helps to build muscle throughout the body, especially in the arms, legs, and core. If you want to tone up all over, swimming is one of the best ways to do it.

The other big benefit of swimming is that it’s a low impact exercise. Many people worry about the potential of injury with weight lifting, especially if they have never tried it before. People that have recently been injured or older people that may have joint issues are not well suited to weight lifting either. But swimming is incredibly low impact, so you can still build muscle without risking injury. In fact, a lot of people will use swimming as part of their recovery training when recovering from a tendon or muscle injury.

On top of that, swimming has been shown to have a very relaxing effect, so it’s great for stress relief and improved mental health. Swimming can be enjoyed as a solo activity but you could also consider joining a club if you want to introduce a competitive element to it. 


Many people don’t think that boxing is for them because they think that it’s all about violence and competition, but that isn’t the case. Boxing is actually a great sport to get into, even if you don’t want to do it competitively. I’m probably the most non-violent person I know and even I once took up MMA and got in a cage! I was hooked on the skill and technique involved in stand-up boxing.

The training regime helps to build a lot of muscle, even when you are just punching a bag or doing pad work with a friend. It requires a lot of core strength and control, and it’s a brilliant way to tone up your arms. If you want to box competitively, you may have to spend some time lifting weights in the gym, but if you are doing it purely for exercise, the training regimes are a great way to tone up. You’ll be surprised how tiring just 10 minutes of pad work or shadow boxing can be.

Boxing also gives you a great cardio workout and helps to develop endurance as well, so it’s a brilliant all around workout if you don’t have that much time to exercise. You could find a boxing club to join but if you have the space, you could invest in a punching bag at home and train there instead. There are some brilliant boxing workout videos online if you want to give it a try before committing to anything. Although, I’ll admit I’m more on an MMA-girl. So instead of boxing, I’d opt for MMA which combines various combat sports, including boxing and wrestling.


You might have already used the rowing machine at the gym, but it’s not that interesting when you are staring straight ahead at a blank wall. Saying that, rowing is a brilliant full body workout that helps to build a lot of muscle by working 86% of your muscles.

People often assume that it’s all in the arms, but you will also build a lot of muscle in your back and your core as well. It’s also a great exercise for the lower body, and a good way to burn calories and build your upper body strength. Rowing out on the water is a lot more fun and interesting than using a rowing machine in the gym, so you should see if you can find a local club or plan a day-trip to a nearby lake for a spot of rowing or kayaking.

You can do rowing as a leisurely exercise or train with the club if you like but if you want to, there is also the opportunity to get involved in races and competitions as well. 


If you live near the beach and there are some great waves, you should definitely give surfing a try. You may have noticed that surfers are always in good shape because surfing is a great sport for toning muscle. You need to keep your core activated at all times to stay upright on the board and you use most of the muscles in your body to maintain balance. It’s actually a lot more intensive than people realize and it’s a great way to tone up and get in shape.

There is a steep learning curve and it might take a while before you can even stand up on the board, so you may want to get a few lessons to help you get started. Once you are more experienced, it’s a great sport that you can take all around the world. I don’t think there will ever be a day I don’t stare in amazement at surfers living the dream life as they’re out catching waves!

If you hate the idea of lifting weights in the gym, that doesn’t mean that you can’t build muscle. It’s an important part of your exercise routine, so why not try some of these great muscle building sports instead. 

One comment

  1. What are some good cardio workouts to help you get better in these sports? Excellent post and option for individuals who dislike lifting weights but enjoy sports.

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