If you typically workout at a gym, the mandatory closing of most establishments around the world has seriously changed your fitness routine. As a result, there’s a good chance you’ve at least thought about working out at home.
But before you continue your standard training plan, you have to be realistic about what you can achieve. Unless you have equipment that matches the options of your gym, there will be some compromise.
Understanding the limitations of your bodyweight or minimal-equipment workout plan is crucial. At least, if you hope to progress and maintain during this age of quarantine.
With this understanding, you can set realistic goals and train in ways that will help you achieve them.
Here are some factors to remember as you jump into the world of training at home with no equipment.
Impossible doesn’t mean impossible… think about it. What’s impossible for most may not apply to you.
U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Esgar Rojas
Muscle Building Expectations
If you have no equipment at home, the harsh reality is that building muscle with only your bodyweight will be challenging. Unfortunately, it’s even worse if you’re experienced with lifting weights.
Building muscle depends on progressive overload. In a nutshell, the body responds to resistance training by getting bigger and stronger, depending on how hard you train. But once your body responds, you have to throw more at it if you want to continue improving.
If you have experience with weight training, your muscles have grown to deal with these increased demands of weight, reps, and sets.
Now, you have only your bodyweight as resistance, which is a much lower stimulus than you usually achieve at the gym.
For instance, imagine the number of bodyweight squats you’d have to perform to match the stress and intensity of a 10-rep squat set with 315 pounds. And that’s just one set!
Importantly, if you have five or more years of consistent training under your belt, things will be challenging. Realistically, building additional size with only your body will be very difficult.
For you, you’ll need to train harder than you ever imagined if you have no resistance and want to build additional muscle.
If you have almost no experience with lifting weights, (which is unlikely) and want to begin working out, muscle growth will still be challenging, but possible. At least, as long as you make sure to practice progressive overload by adding exercises, sets, and reps.
If you’re lucky enough to have some equipment, like dumbbells, kettlebells, and a pull-up bar, building or maintaining muscle will be easier. However, don’t expect the same results as you would with a full gym at your disposal.
Strength with a capital “S” is that which must me trained at your limit. It’s hard to find your limit at home unless you decide to lift your car.
U.S. Army photo by Spc. Ryan Lucas
Strength Building Expectations
If you’re experienced and strong, building and maintaining strength with only your bodyweight will be even more challenging than building muscle size.
Strength and muscle size are connected. However, strength depends more on how your nervous system reacts to heavy resistance. Without that resistance, strength gain is challenging.
Have you ever seen someone with incredible strength, despite being small? That’s because muscle size isn’t the only factor for strength.
Think of it this way: your muscle tissue is your hardware, and your strength ability is your software. Bigger muscles have the capacity to produce more strength, but you have to train correctly to use that potential.
Essentially, the physical act of trying to move heavy resistance is what teaches your body to get stronger. Without that heavy resistance, there’s nothing to tell your body to maintain or build strength.
Fortunately, performing explosive movements like high and long jumps will help your muscles maintain the ability to produce force rapidly. But, understand that explosive bodyweight jumps will never match the stimulus of a heavy and explosive squat or deadlift.
Here’s the takeaway: if you want to maintain your strength without equipment, try to incorporate explosive movements. These include things like:
- High and long jumps
- Contracting your muscles as forcefully as possible during exercises. (Including an explosive set or two in some of your workouts can do the trick here.)
M240B is 27.5 lbs that’s a nice bit of extra resistance that would be frowned upon at your local Planet Fitness. Make the most with what you have.
U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Esgar Rojas
Aerobic and Anaerobic Capacity
Luckily, it’s not all bad news.
If your cardio is lacking, you have an awesome opportunity to improve. That’s because aerobic and anaerobic capacities don’t rely on resistance.
Mostly, you can challenge and improve your cardio with little or no equipment, by just going for a run.
As another example, try performing 100 bodyweight squats with as little rest as possible. Then the next time, try 150. Challenges like this will stress both your aerobic and anaerobic systems and help you maintain and improve.
Best of all, even though your cardio still depends on progressive overload, you can practice this overload easily with no resistance. For example:
- You can run longer
- You can run faster and longer
- You can take shorter rest periods between exercises
- You can add more exercises
- You can sprint uphill or downhill
- You can add more squats per set
This list goes on.
The takeaway here is that building and maintaining muscle and strength with only your bodyweight will be challenging. Your cardio, however, doesn’t rely on external resistance. This factor makes cardio improvement a bit easier to achieve, especially if you have no equipment available.
Hold yourself accountable to training 6 times a week for two months then worry about results. You can only control your actions not the outcomes of them.
U.S. Marine Corps photo by Pfc. Timothy Shoemaker
Maybe, maybe not, maybe go fix yourself.
The fact of the matter is 90% of you fine readers should have just shrugged by the end of this article after realizing not much is changing since you don’t work out consistently or intensely enough. The other 10% are probably weight and power lifters. Chances are you lifting cults…errr, clubs never closed anyway.Now, if your goal is to put on muscle while training at home you can still do it. Just get creative by finding “weights” around the house or check out one of the countless calisthenics strength training YouTube channels. With the internet at your fingertips you have no choice to feign ignorance. Start with AthleanX or my bodyweight program Back in Fighting Shape here if you’re absolutely experiencing paralysis by analysis.