Two of the most common excuses for not exercising are lack of time and lack of access to a gym. Both can be eliminated with home workouts, but many people think that exercising at home requires expensive equipment. This is not the case. With a little creativity and a few exercise modifications, virtually anyone can see improvements using a home workout program—without having to empty their wallets.
1. Get Creative
Unless you are fortunate enough to have a full gym in your basement, you need to get creative with your home workouts. With a little imagination, many everyday items (chairs, stairs, water jugs, etc.) can be used as exercise equipment or to provide resistance.
For those who struggle to perform Push-Ups with proper form, elevating the hands by placing them on a set of stairs can be a great modification to build upper-body strength. As strength improves, you can walk your hands lower and lower on the stairs until you are finally doing Push-Ups from the ground.
To work your triceps, you can perform Dips using a fold-up chair. To increase the difficulty of the movement, place your feet on a step or chair.
To target the shoulders, one-gallon water jugs filled with water or sand can be used as makeshift kettlebells for Overhead Presses. By adjusting the contents of the water jugs, you can increase or decrease the weight being lifted.
Finding ways to target your back muscles at home can be challenging. A suspension trainer or an inexpensive tow rope can be a versatile tool, not only for your back, but for the rest of your body. Most suspension trainers can be attached to a door frame, but a tree or any other sturdy object will work to facilitate performing Inverted Rows.
To perform an Inverted Row, lean away from the suspension trainer anchor point and walk your feet toward it as far as you feel comfortable. Once in position, row your body toward the anchor point, focusing on using your upper back. To adjust the difficulty, move your feet closer or farther away from the anchor.
Another option for training the upper back is to perform Bent-Over Rows with your one-gallon water jugs.
Training the core at home is relatively easy. Literally dozens of core exercises can be performed anywhere, without equipment. That said, I recommend buying a set of inexpensive furniture movers. When used on carpet, they can increase the intensity of a core workout and allow you to add different Plank and Push-Up options to your exercise list.
Besides Squat and Deadlift variations, you can do Step-Ups on a bench or chair. Just make sure it's sturdy before you step on it.
The biggest challenge with training your legs at home is finding enough resistance to stimulate muscle growth. Once again, you can perform Squats and Deadlifts while holding water jugs. If they do not provide enough resistance, switch to unilateral variations of these exercises.
2. Go Unilateral
At some point in your home training, you could become too strong to continue using only bilateral exercises. By switching to unilateral variations, you can greatly increase the difficulty of your home workout without the need to purchase expensive weights. A few of my favorite unilateral exercises are the Rear-Foot-Elevated Split Squat, Single-Leg Box Squat, and Single-Arm Inverted Row.
Rear-Foot-Elevated Split Squat
Place the top of your rear foot on a chair and perform a Split Squat. Focus on using only your front leg while allowing your back knee to bend on the descent.
Single-Leg Box Squat
Position a chair a few inches behind your legs. Lift one leg off the ground in front of your body. Slowly squat down onto the chair until your butt touches the seat. Stand back up to the starting position. To adjust the difficulty of the exercise, place pillows on the chair to adjust the height of the seat.
Single-Arm Inverted Row
Using a suspension trainer, take both handles in one hand and row your body up toward the anchor point. Focus on keeping your shoulders and hips square throughout the movement.
3. Slow Down
Tempo control is an underutilized technique, but it's great for home workouts. By changing the speed at which you perform an exercise, you can affect your muscles' time under tension (TUT). By increasing TUT, an exercise that once seemed easy becomes increasingly more challenging, without adding reps or weight.
There are two ways to increase TUT of an exercise: increase the duration of the eccentric phase (going down) and increase the duration of the isometric phase (the period between going down and coming back up). It is also perfectly OK to combine them in long and grueling reps.
Eccentric: When lengthening the eccentric phase of an exercise, aim for a five-second (or more) count—e.g., lowering into a Squat over 5 seconds.
Isometric : When lengthening the isometric phase of an exercise, pause for three seconds (or more) at the most challenging point of the exercise—e.g., at the bottom of a Push-Up or the top of an Inverted Row.
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