Updated: Jan 11, 2021
Not too sure about the rest of the world but I know the UK at the moment is in full lockdown and gyms are closed. It’s incredibly frustrating. Training plans go out the window. When the key to success is consistency and these are such inconsistent time, it’s hard to get the results you want.
So many people like me have had to resort to training at home or outside in a park or something like that.
This isn’t just for those of us who are locked down. There are many people who train at home but don’t have a home gym. They have some adjustable weight and maybe a couple of kettle bells and maybe a resistance band or two.
When you don’t have much equipment or as much weight as you would normally have to work with, how can you make your home work outs challenging enough?
I know for me this can be a challenge. The heaviest weight I own is a 20kg kettle bell. Which is plenty heavy for a lot of exercises, but no where near heavy enough to replace what I’d normally lift for certain exercises.
For example, I would normally squat 60/65kg for reps (I know that’s far from impressive but that’s not the point). The point is, I don’t have a squat rack at home or 60kg of weight to squat with.
So how do I challenge myself with these home work outs?
Most of these are pretty straight forward to be honest. So I will list and then explain a few methods.
4. Change of goals
5. Alternative exercises and Adapting exercises
6. Time under tension
Pretty simple but yeah. Do more reps. This is useful for building endurance and for building muscle. Simply because neither of these training methods require much weight.
Yes if you want to build muscle, you don’t need massive amounts of weight. You’re building muscle, not strength.
Now obviously how much reps you should do is all relevant to the weight you have to work with etc. Again using myself as an example. If I’m doing an exercise like single arm rows, I would normally
use a 25kf dumbbell. But seen as I don’t have that, the 20kg kettle bell will do.
But it’s not as heavy as I would like. No problem, I just do more reps. Instead of my usual 8-10 range, I’ll go 10-12 or maybe slightly more. Doesn’t sounds like rocket science but works. I don’t miss the fact I don’t have a heavier weight at all.
Same as the reps, simple but it works. By increasing the amount of sets, you increase the overall volume of your training. So if the weights you have to work with just aren’t quite heavy enough, like the reps, doing more will get you what you want.
This can also be paired with doing more reps.
Like I mentioned earlier, when I do single arm rows, I use a 25kg dumbbell and would do 8-10 reps for 3 sets. Because I only have the 20kg kettle bell to work with, I’ll do more reps or more sets. Or both. So maybe I’d do 4 sets of 12 reps or 3 sets of 15.
It doesn’t really matter. As long as my sets and reps meet the targets for what I want to do, that’s all that matters.
So if you are wanting to build muscle for example. Your hypertrophy rep range it typically 8-12 maybe even 14. And you would be these for 3-5 sets. And the weight that is used is typically 65-75% of your 1 rep max.
So you actually have a lot of wriggle room. If you don’t have lots of weight to work with, you’re probably at the lower end of the 65-75%. Because you’re at the lower end, 8 reps probably isn’t enough. There’s probably more in the tank to do more reps and more sets because of the less weight. Which is completely fine.
Again, nothing too fancy about this method. Cut your recovery time between sets or exercises.
The reason for a rest between sets is straight forward. You need to give your muscles a chance to recover so that you can go again.
We’ve all done this, I know I certainly have, and that is rushing into the next set. You take a quick drink of water and bit of stretching and you think you’re good to go again. Only to get half way through the set and realise you’re muscles are fried because you’ve pushed too hard because to didn’t rest enough, and now you make incredibly hard work out of what should have been a straight forward set.
However, sometimes this can be a good thing. Under the right conditions of course. I know this is something that we do a lot for conditioning in my martial arts training. You get X amount of time to recover and that’s it. Back at it.
This is good for improving cardio and great for increasing your muscles work capacity which I have mentioned many times and wrote blog posts about. So you can check them out to find out more.
But by shortening the recovery period, you’re not giving the muscles a chance to fully recover before you have to go again. Which is you’re not lift as heavy as you normally, you shouldn’t need the same amount of time to recover. So this will make the exercise more challenging.
Another option is to superset exercises so that the muscles get no break before they have to do another exercise. For example doing squats then going straight into lunges.
Not only does this mean more reps but instead of your muscles getting a break after the squats, instead you challenge them again slightly differently without giving them a break.
Change of goals
No matter what your fitness goals are, no doubt the recent closures of gyms and clubs has had a massive impact on you achieving what you want to achieve.
I know personally it’s hit me very hard.
So without the usual gyms and sports clubs, we need to change our training. This could very well mean changing your goals.
Now I’m not saying abandon doing what you’re doing. What I’m saying is, now is a good time to work on something else.
Like if you’re a strength athlete. A lot of what I have talked is great for building muscle or improving endurance. But when you’re whole thing is how much weight you can lift, what do you do when you don’t have the weights?
Now is the perfect time to work on your mobility and flexibility. If you don’t have heavy weights, now is the time to lift lighter and focus on technique and see where you’re weaknesses are.
Like for me, I’m a martial artist. I do Muay Thai and Judo. I can’t do to either class. I can’t hit pads, I can’t spar, I can’t fight. It sucks.
So now is the time to work on things to make sure I go back with less weaknesses. If cardio is a problem, get running. Do HIIT circuits. Use this time to get your fitness through the roof. Can’t kick high? Get stretching everyday so that when you can go back to training you’ll be kicking people in the head with ease. Or refine technique or work on techniques your not good at.
Just cause you train the way you normally do, doesn’t mean that you can train what you do.
Alternative exercises and adapting exercises
Kind of continuing on from what I just said. If your plan is to do X,Y and Z exercise but you can’t do them at home, then you need to find alternatives or find ways to adapt them.
For example, squats. Most people don’t have a squat rack or heavy enough weight to squat the way they normally would in the gym.
But there are so many variations on nearly every exercise, you just need to find for what works for you. So if you normally back squat you might have to do a goblet squat. But that might not be challenging enough so you need to adapt again. Maybe you could do a sumo goblet squat. Or you can pause squat.
Even if you are in the gym normally, it’s still good to challenge your body to work in different ways. When you have access to a squat rack, change your program up by doing these alternative or adapted exercises. You’re still squatting but challenging your body a slightly different way.
Another option is to do an alternative exercise. So sticking with the squat, maybe so a do a pistol squat (single leg squat).
Ok yes that is very difficult. But you could be a pistol leg box squat. So stand up and sit down on a chair by doing a pistol squat.
Also, now you’ve got a goal to work towards, being able to do a pistol squat.
And if you achieve that goal, it should benefit your squat when you get back to the gym.
Time Under Tension
Time under tension is important for strength training and building muscle at the best of times and gets over looked. Now that you don’t have the normal heavy weight, focusing on time under tension is a great way to make the light weights feel twice as heavy.
The great thing about it is, there’s so many ways you can train it.
If we use push ups for example. When I do push ups for martial arts training, it’s more about getting them done. Yes you still want good technique, but when your coach shouts 50 push ups, you’re going to do them as fast as possible.
Push ups are something I’m good at and when I go fast, I can make 100 push ups look easy and do it well under 2 minutes.
However, if I focus on control, I can make 20 push ups feel harder than 100 fast ones.
The obvious way to make it more challenging is to lower slowly. What I like to do for my home work out is a 3 count down, 2 count hold at the bottom and fast and explosive up. Or you could only do the lowering part and just go really slowly until your chest touches the floor.
You can go slow down and the hold at the bottom. So do the likes of 10 count down and the hold for 10 at the bottom. You can then come up slow as well. 30 seconds for 1 push up is very challenging. 10 seconds down, 10 seconds hold and 10 seconds up.
Whether your doing a home work out or in the gym, I would definitely advise more time under tension and really focus on control.
Over head pressing a big one I see people rush. If you pause at the bottom of each rep and pause at the top, literally for only a second or two, it makes it a hell of a lot harder.
So when the gyms finally open again, take some of this advice and add it into your training. Do alternative or adapted exercises. Use more time under tension. Whether you’re in the gym or the house, training is still training. Don’t neglect good training methods because of your location.