March 2, 2014

No Gym? No Problem! Everything You Need To Know To Get A Good Workout At Home

Do you have a minute?

Society in general is seemingly becoming more and more health conscious as the information age in which we live continues to shine light on the negative health effects the environment, as well as dietary choices we make, have on health. More and more people are choosing to ‘make time’ for fitness than in the past, in which there were apparently less hours in the day (at least they made it seem that way by using time, or lack thereof, as a reason to not prioritize health/fitness). This health conscious mindset, which oddly enough, seems to come with more hours in the day, is even influencing where people choose to live (is there a gym close by? or does it come with access to a fitness facility? etc).

What do you need all that for?

Most commercial gyms these days are well equipped with ‘state of the art’ cardio equipment, and strength training machines, none of which is necessary to get results, but is just there to help with the sales process. Those who know what they’re doing (or at least think they do), can tell immediately if a facility is for them, or not, based on the equipment there is. Those who don’t know what they’re doing, or even what they’re looking for, can easily become overwhelmed, and decide that maybe they want to start on a smaller scale than in front of a large group of people (usually because they fear that everyone is looking at them, and they don’t want to be judged or seen as someone who doesn’t know what they’re doing). Others simply ‘don’t have time’, and therefore base whether they workout or not on convenience.

Fuck it, I’ll do it myself

Whatever the reason is, home gyms, or condo gyms have become increasingly popular. After all, why would anyone pay to go to a gym, if they can do it at home? Well for some it’s cost or convenience, but for most it really comes down to equipment (quality and quantity, in terms of amount of weight). The fact is, most home gyms, and especially condo gyms, are ill-equipped (not because they lack state of the art machines, but because the weights aren’t heavy enough). I know for me, in a perfect world I would have a home gym that consisted of a squat rack, an adjustable bench, a rack of dumbells (10-150 lbs.), a barbell, various machines for the upper and lower body, a twin cable station (cable crossover station), a smith machine, bands and chains, you get the picture. A ‘good’ home gym is not only EXTREMELY expensive, but also requires a ton of square footage.

Do you really need all that?

While some may realize that equipment (especially a lack of weight) really can be a limiting factor, and understand that progress may not be optimal without it, others still choose to workout in their home or condo gym (we’ll let em say it’s cost or convenience, even though those are bullshit reasons).

But are their efforts futile, or can you get results with limited equipment? The short answer is yes, you can get ‘results’ with anything. But what really matters is, how much results can you get?

Ummm, let’s hear the good news first...

Fortunately, muscles don’t know whether or not they are lifting a barbell, dumbell, super expensive machine, couch, fridge, wheelbarrow, or car (ok, maybe not a car). They only know, and respond to, tension. That’s it! This means that the multi-thousand dollar equipment that’s used to persuade people into buying (in some cases expensive) gym memberships may not have much of a difference on the end result. As long as you can expose your muscles to progressively greater levels of tension, you’re in the clear.

So what’s the bad news?

Unfortunately, there are varying levels of tension, and eventually you’ll get to a point where a certain amount of weight will not be enough. This is the major downfall with in-home, or condo gyms. Because most don’t have much weight, it’s hard to expose the muscles to enough tension (even if you attempt to counterbalance it with a hefty dose of volume) to provide a positive growth stimulus. If the heaviest weights are a pair of 25 lb. dumbells (generally condo gyms go up to 50 lbs. these days, but to me that’s still not enough, even for a female), or there’s no barbell (and if there is, there’s only a couple of 25 lb. plates), and the bench (if there is a bench) is the shittiest bench of all time, then you’re going to have one hell of a time exposing your muscles to progressively greater levels of tension over the long haul, but it can be done.

That’s not so bad

If your only option is relatively limited, but you’re willing to work with what you have, there are a few ways to provide your muscles with the tension necessary to illicit a positive growth response.

Train to failure – one of the ways you can ensure your muscles are taxed is to perform as many reps as you can. Depending on how much weight you have at your disposal, this may not be all that challenging, in which case, there are ways in which you can make things more challenging.

Slow things down – traditionally, repetitions are performed rather rhythmically by nature. The first time anyone picks up a weight, they generally lift and lower at a relatively fast tempo (assuming that the weight is low-moderate relative to their strength levels). By slowing things down, the time under tension is increased, and remains constant, which has a host of growth benefits. On top of that, the exercise is dramatically harder.

Superset/tri-set – depending on equipment, exercises can be paired together, in which you perform the most challenging movement first, then switch to a less challenging movement as fatigue sets in. You can pair as many movements together as possible given the amount of weight/equipment you have to work with.

Iso-dynamic reps – each and every movement is more, or less, difficult depending on the range of motion, and one way you can increase the effectiveness and difficulty of the exercise is to pause while holding the weight, or your body, in the most challenging part of the exercise for a set amount of time (ex. 3 seconds).

Rest-pause – after reaching failure, instead of resting until you’re ready to go again, try performing a few more reps, only a few seconds after you could no longer mange anymore (ex. wait 5 seconds and perform a few more reps, rest 10 seconds and perform a few more reps, rest 15 seconds and perform a few more reps).

Isometrics – if the weights you have at your disposal are simply too light, and you can seemingly perform more reps than you can count, you can pre-exhaust the targeted muscle by holding the weight in place for a set period of time (ex. 45 seconds), and then performing as many reps as you can. If you are performing a bodyweight exercise, or for whatever reason there is a giant gap between the amount of weights you have, and the heaviest pair of dumbells is almost too heavy for you, but the second heaviest pair is too light, then you can perform an isometric hold at the end of your set to increase the time under ‘maximal’ tension (the tension is greater as the muscles are already exhausted).

Use your imagination

While there are more effective ways than others, and more optimal training environments than other, there is no right and wrong. Any, or all, of the techniques above can be strung together over the course of a workout, or a set (if you’re sick in the head), regardless of where you train.

Trainers take note

All trainers are faced with specific challenges that each and every client comes with. Given that more and more clients are choosing to hire a trainer to come and train them in the confines of their home, it is in your best interest to have as many tools at your disposal to provide them with the most effective workouts as possible, to ensure they get the results they hired you for. Thankfully, it’s not the end of the world if all you have to work with is a pair of dumbells, or a barbell. In some cases, all you have is a mat, and one’s bodyweight, but as long as you understand how to apply as much tension as possible, you should be able to get the job done.

If you have any questions about how to make the most of your efforts with limited equipment, feel free to contact me at I'm available for online consulting and personalized program design, as well as one on one training if you are located in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA).

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