Have you tried to order gym equipment recently? We did. Four weeks ago. It is just shipping now. The good news is, you don’t need any extra equipment to meet your fitness goals.
If you are serious about weight lifting, you probably know how important progressive overload is. The concept is that in order to see progress in your strength or muscle growth over time, you need to increase the demand on your muscles. This is usually done by increasing the weight or number of repetitions. You might be struggling to do this with your at home workouts. You might just be working with body weight—if you are lucky, you might have a few bands and dumbbells, but those will start feeling light over time. You can increase the number of reps, but that just gets silly after a while. No one has the patience to do 500 body weight squats.
You actually have a lot of other tools at your disposal. These strategies are especially useful now, but are great techniques even in the absence of a pandemic. Once this is all over, you will be able to take your new body weight workouts to your hotel room on that vacation you are finally able to take. When the gym is crowded and the dumbbell you need is taken, you will still be able to get in a killer workout.
Play with Tempo
Changing the tempo of your exercises can be an extremely effective way to make an exercise feel more difficult. This is especially true if you have never tried this before. To understand tempo, it is important to understand the different phases of an exercise. The concentric phase is when you are shortening the muscle, the isometric phase is when the muscle is contracting without movement, and the eccentric phase is when the muscle is lengthening. For example, while performing a bicep curl, during the concentric phase, you are curling the weight up. The isometric phase is the hold at the top of the movement. During the eccentric phase, you are lowering the weight back down. When most people think of contracting their muscles, they are thinking of the concentric phase. However, eccentric and isometric training are great tools for muscle growth.
If you have never thought about this before, you likely perform your exercises at the same tempo every time. When squatting, you might eccentrically contract (lower) for one second, isometrically contract (hold) for zero seconds, and concentrically contract (come back up) for one second. Instead, try lowering for four seconds, holding at the bottom for two seconds, and coming back up for two seconds. This is just one example, but you can get creative with your tempo. You could potentially do the same workout for weeks with the same rep ranges each time, but use a different tempo for each of them. This is a great way to kill boredom and make your exercises feel much more challenging. Slowing down your repetitions can actually make your workouts much harder!
Switch Up the Exercises
Do you do the same exact exercises every time you workout? This is an easy trap to fall into. Maybe you start off every leg workout with a barbell back squat. It is your go-to movement, and you have gotten really good at it. Your form is nearly perfect every time, you can load it up really heavy, and the movement itself has become second nature. After months of this routine, you decide to give the barbell lunge a try. You load it up decently heavy, since you know your legs are strong from consistent squatting. You go for it, but you are barely able to squeeze out two reps and your form is all over the place! This is due to the specificity principle, which states that strength gains are specific to the type of training performed. There is some crossover, so performing squats will help your lunge strength. However, this is not a substitute for performing lunges.
For your at home or limited equipment workouts, phasing exercises in and out is a great strategy for progression. Stick with the same routine for about two weeks before changing up the exercises. Here is an example of what that might look like at home:
|Muscles Targeted||Weeks 1&2||Weeks 3&4|
|Quads, Hamstrings, Glutes||Air Squats||Bulgarian Split Squats|
|Lats, Biceps||Bent over row (using water jugs, laundry detergent, etc.)||Partner Row|
|Pecs, Delts, triceps||Wide arm push up||Standard push up|
Try Single Side Progressions
I touch on this a little here, but you can easily progress your body weight exercises by taking an arm or leg out of the equation. The pistol squat is an excellent movement to try this with. The pistol squat is a squat performed on one leg. The other leg hovers in front of the body and is parallel to the floor. This exercise requires a great deal of strength and stability. If you can’t do a pistol squat yet, practicing the movement will add great value to your workouts! Don’t feel discouraged if you feel a little wobbly on your first try. Instead, try modifying the movement. Pistol box squats, TRX supported pistol squats, and banded pistol squats are all excellent modifications that will get you closer to the full movement. You can find more details on those progressions here. You can also try single arm variations of the push up and pull up. When performing single side exercises, always start with the weaker side and match the number of reps you are able to do on your strong side. This will help correct any muscle imbalances. Please note that these are extremely difficult movements and often take years of practice. However, the process of practicing progressions and drills to get to this level will improve your muscle symmetry, strength, stability, and muscle growth.
Creativity is your friend when it comes to at home workouts. Have fun with different exercise variations. Make the most of the equipment you do have. Use a different tempo for each exercise. Work towards a really challenging bodyweight movement. Follow these guidelines and watch yourself get stronger, with or without a gym.