Our whole world changed over the last couple of weeks. It changed faster than anything I’ve ever seen before and it has left a lot of people feeling a bit lost for what to do now.
If you’re trying to hold on to your muscle mass during quarantine, or you’re just trying to stay active until this is all over, this article is going to help you.
And if you’re reading this in a post-covid world and you just want to know how to train at home, it’ll still be helpful then too.
This isn’t about how you build a home gym. If you have a home gym, your training can essentially be the same as if you were to go to the gym.
But most people don’t have the money or space to have a fully-equipped gym at home. This is for you.
What kit do you NEED?
Honestly, you can train most things bodyweight just fine at home without any equipment. So if you don’t want to buy anything, there are still things you can do.
But it won’t be as effective as if you had some things.
Pushing and core training is pretty easy without a gym. Lower body training is a lot harder, but still manageable.
These are relatively cheap and come in a variety of strengths. You can basically do anything you’d do with a weight with a resistance band. You just need a little imagination some times.
Maybe you’re thinking, yeah right. Like I can use a band to still squat, bench and deadlift. And look, no, it’s not going to be the same. Especially if you’re really strong. But you can definitely train those three patterns with bands pretty successfully, maintaining most of your muscle mass.
And if you’re an average person, you could probably even still make some gains. I’ll go into some specifics a bit further along.
Weights are actually suddenly very expensive and mostly sold out, so it might be too late for you in quarantine to get any. But if it’s not, one or two kettlebells can basically allow you to do everything.
Could use dumbbells instead. It doesn’t actually matter too much.
Either one pair, or two different weights. More is good, obviously, but not essential.
You can even use your bands to add resistance to your weights, so if you have one pair of a medium weight, you can make it heavier depending on which band you pair them with.
If you have some bands and or kettlebells, you don’t necessarily need this too. But these are pretty handy bits of kit that hook onto your door and allow you to do things like rows, bodyweight bicep curls and tricep extentions, ab roll outs etc.
Handy. And you probably have one tucked away somewhere already.
Pull up bar
The ones that hook over door frames are generally safer than the ones that go between door frames.
These let you do pull ups, obviously. And things like hanging knees.
Again, not essential if you have some weights and bands, but a super handy way to train your back. Especially if the weights you have aren’t heavy enough to train your back effectively.
Generally quite cheap. If you leave it up you can do some pull ups every time you walk through the door for bonus gains.
Bottles of water
Maybe you don’t want to spend money on kit. What can you do instead? Buying two or five liter bottles of water is a good place to start. These weigh a bit and can be used for loads of moves in all directions.
Cheap and cheerful.
You can actually make your own makeshift suspension trainer using a couple of towels and a closed door.
You can also pull apart to create tension to get a bit of back work in.
And also use as sliders to do things like hamstring curls on the floor.
How to make training effective
When your weights are not as heavy, doing sets of 8 using 30% your gym load isn’t going to really do anything.
I mean, yeah sure, it’s better than you not moving at all. But it’s not going to help you hold on to much of your muscle mass or make you feel like you’ve done any sort of work.
There are a number of things you can tweak to increase intensity.
The first thing anyone thinks of is rep count.
100 squats, push ups, lunges etc.
Yeah, ok sure. That’s one option. Probably errs more towards endurance training though now than strength training.
So what are the other options?
Tempo: Try going down slow and up fast; or down and up slow.
Pause: Try pausing at the bottom; or pausing in the middle; or pausing half way down, at the bottom and then halfway up again.
Range: Try using more range: squat the whole way down, lunge with feet on a step/stack of books; split squat with front foot elevated; push ups with one hand elevated on a step/stack of books for extra pec stretch; or both hands elevated so chest goes lower than hands.
Single-leg and B-stance variants: Single leg hip thrusts are harder than both legs, this rule carries. Swap squats for: lunges, pistol squats, shrimp squats, strict step ups. Deadlifts for single leg and B-stance RDLs, hip thrusts, marches. Be create. Think about the shapes you want to make and experiment with other ways to make the same shape differently.
This is an opportunity for you to learn.
The basic shapes: Squat (knee bend), hinge, push, pull, hold. Most things you do will fall into one of these categories. Hold includes carrying and twisting. Push and pull includes vertically and horizontally.
Once you understand that, coming up with an alternative to what’s in your programme because a bit easier.
You’re not going to be able to squat anything in your house like you could back squat in a gym (probably) or hinge anything like you could deadlift. But you can make similar shapes with different loads and tempos. You can learn to move competently one leg at a time.
How to train at home
I’ll run from head to toe with some examples of what you can do without a gym. This is by no means an exhaustive list; but should hopefully serve as an example of the many options in front of you. You may just need to be a little creative based on available equipment, strength and skill level.
This is the easiest thing to train without kit. There are a variety of push ups available to you. If regular push ups are too easy (I bet you most people reading this could do with sorting their form out tbh), there are tonnes of ways to make them harder.
Put your hands on a stack of books, or just one hand on a stack of books, to extend the range of motion. More stretch, more hard. Single-arm push ups or archer push ups are pretty much maximum hard for everyone who isn’t already incredibly experienced in bodyweight training.
You can put your feet on a chair or sofa, so make regular push ups harder. Or experiment with hand position.
Plyometric push ups, where you push up and off the floor, are also a good challenge. You can play with different variations. Maybe you clap. Maybe you touch something in front of you. Maybe you jump onto something.
You can do pike push ups to make it more shoulder-y, hitting more of a vertical push. You can put your feet on a chair or box to make it harder. You can learn to do a handstand, then learn to do handstand push ups. That’s a pretty long-game aim. But, the government just said we could be here for 6 months, so may as well settle in.
You can do dips off a table or chair. You can elevate your feet to make it harder. You can do regular dips where two counters form a corner or off two solid tables of equal height.
So all of those options are bodyweight. If you have some weights, throw in some floor press, overhead press, z press, unilateral work.
If you have bands, you can do the same.
Pulling is a bit more challenging without kit. You can do things like hovers, IYTWs, towel pull downs.
If you have a sturdy table, you can do rows. Put a counter weight on the other side so it doesn’t tip. If you don’t trust your table, don’t do it.
If you get a pull up bar, that’s the easiest way to train vertical pull. Or a suspension trainer to do bodyweight rows.
If you have bands or dumbbells/kettlebells you can do seated row (bands), bent over rows, gorilla rows. You can do delt raises – if the bands you have are too heavy, you can use bottles of water. If the bands you have are too light, you can use isometric holds. Pull up and hold for 30s before doing max reps. This will fatigue all the muscle fibres that aren’t going to be growing anyway. Means you won’t have to do 100s of reps for it to be hard.
You can curl with bands or whatever weights you have. Or bottles of water, again.
This is where it gets a bit more challenging. Your goblet squats probably aren’t that heavy. Ways to make it harder: go the whole way down (ass to grass) but don’t come the whole way back up; pause at the bottom (but don’t relax); go the whole way down, and then only half way up before going back down to go up again (1.5 reps).
You can do high step ups, making sure not to use your calf on the bottom leg to push up. Slow and control. Focus on moving well. Guarantee these get hard if you find something high enough to challenge you.
Split squats, rear foot elevated, front foot elevated, both feet elevated, cossack squats, sissy squats, pistol squats, shrimp squats.
Straight-leg heel raises off a step are a great way to get some calf training in. Single leg is harder. Do many reps.
The further away from your center of gravity the weight is, the harder a move will be. So if you have a kettlebell and you hold it down by your legs for a lunge that’ll be level one hard. Then if you hold it like a goblet squat, that’s level 2. Then if you front rack it on one side of your torso, that’s level 3, because it’s a bit more hard to brace when the weight is to the side. And the if you hold the weight straight above your head, that’s level 4, more hard.
It’s hard to replicate a deadlift in terms of load. The closest you can get is banded deadlifts off the floor or banded good mornings, focussing on your shape. This isn’t really going to load the erector spinae enough to challenge it though, so don’t expect to get stronger. But if you make sure to still go to failure, you can maintain a lot of strength.
Single-leg RDLs can be relatively challenging just bodyweight if you do enough reps (and you don’t fall over) focussing on really controlling your hips. Things like straight-leg lifts, forwards and backwards) and another good move for learning to control your hips (forwards will feel quite quad-y and ab-y, backwards more glute-y). If you have some bands of weights, single-leg RDLs will likely be easier to train with limited load than a full deadlift would.
Glute bridges are a good option for glute training, unilateral is harder. Feet elevated to make it more hamstring-focussed. Feet-elevated marches and nordic curls are also great for bodyweight hamstring training.
If you have some socks and a slidy floor, or paper plates and a carpet floor, leg curls from a bridge position.
Things like dish holds and rocks, deadbugs, v-sits, planks and the many variations, all solid bodyweight core training choices. If you can’t control your pelvis though, focus on making your plank better before you try making it longer. You won’t get much out of a 5 minute plank if your hips are sinking or tilted back.
Also things like L sits and Pikes, and L sit pulls and Pike pulls.
If you have a weight or two, you can do front-rack holds and carries.
Can you make progress at home?
Yes. You are not going to make progress on your deadlift max, but you can definitely progress on a tonne of other metrics.
You can maintain and or build muscle with just your body weight and a decent set of resistance bands. Especially if you also have a pull up bar and a set of kettlebells.
If you continually take any exercise close to failure (within 5 and 30 reps), while using full range of motion, is going to be good for growth.
So think, deficit lunges and push ups to failure.
If you are a novice lifter, you’ll be able to build strength at home. If you’re super strong, lifting hundreds of kg, then home training isn’t going to be a place where you grow.
But even the strongest amongst us have space to improve skills away from the barbell. Work on your pistol squats, your get ups, your L sits. Work on controlling your body and moving it well. Work on your range.
These things will carry over to create a healthy, mobile body that will be strong and capable.
To create progressive overload over time without being able to add more weight, work on being able to complete more reps of a given variation each week; or hold for more seconds. Or by adding more bands, or going to the next band up.
There are countless youtube videos with step-by-step guides on how to do every body weight exercise under the sun.
Now is your time, my friends. Pick a handful of skills to focus on, get yourself a couple of bits of kit if you can, and adapt.
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