Ready to start your fitness journey but lack the time or money to get into a gym? Or perhaps you find the gym too intimidating and don’t feel comfortable learning the ropes with an audience?
Well, I have great news for you: you don’t need a gym to get in shape!
If the COVID pandemic taught us anything about exercise, it’s that you can absolutely get a great workout from home - even without any equipment.
A review on resistance training during the pandemic revealed that strength and muscle gains can be achieved with a light or even no external load, especially with high repetitions, full range of motion and maximal muscle contraction.
In plain English, this means you can use your bodyweight as a form of resistance, and so long as you perform each exercise with the appropriate effort, it’s no different than using weights or a machine.
To be clear, this isn’t just applicable for beginners - everyone can benefit from learning how to get a great workout without any equipment! With or without a gym membership, there will be times when you want to exercise but simply don’t have time for the trip to the gym. Or you’re traveling leaving only your hotel furniture to leverage.
Experienced lifters may be thinking, “There’s no way I can get a solid workout without a gym!” However, while many people were gaining weight and losing muscle gains during the pandemic, most of my clients were seeing their best results yet from home.
As a virtual personal trainer, most of my clients train from home, and many do so without any equipment at all. So, I have to get creative to ensure my clients are challenged throughout all stages of their fitness journey.
In this article, we’ll discuss some of my favorite at-home exercises, how to modify them as you progress and how to utilize your home itself to enhance your workouts.
Lower Body Strength Exercises
There are myriad options for training your legs from home. Let’s take a look at a few of them:
Squats are one of the best exercises to start with because they are a compound exercise, meaning they recruit multiple muscle groups simultaneously. They give you the most bang for your buck.
Let’s go over a few of the versatile options, working our way from easiest to most difficult.
For this exercise, all you need is a chair or comparable elevated surface to sit upon. Think of this as training wheels for a regular squat. As these become easier, try simply tapping your butt to the chair rather than fully sitting in order to more closely emulate a “regular” squat.
Once you feel comfortable, remove the chair and try a bodyweight squat. Try not to overthink it - it’s the same exercise just without the training wheels! If they’re becoming easier but you’re not quite ready to progress to the next variation, make sure to utilize my tips for increasing difficulty at the end of the article.
Single-leg Chair Squat
This next variation requires some balance, so make sure you’re working on a flat surface with a firm seat and wearing flat or no shoes for optimal stability.
Bulgarian Split Squat
The final progression is the most advanced, so make sure to take it slow. You may want to hold on to a chair with one hand for support until you feel comfortable with the movement.
One of the best ways to get the most from your home workouts is incorporating single-leg exercises. Think about it: your entire bodyweight is loaded onto one leg.
If you’re a beginner, start with this variation. If you have trouble balancing, put one hand on a chair or countertop for support. Just make sure that you’re not using that arm to pull yourself up - it’s only there for support.
Once you’re confident in your ability to balance in a lunge position, try a more dynamic variation. Again, don’t hesitate to use one hand to balance.
The next variation will test your balance a bit more, so take it slow.
Once you’ve mastered the easier variations, try this advanced one. You’ll need to elevate your feet - a stair step or stepping stool is perfect. Just don’t go any higher than a foot or so.
Another great single-leg exercise you can easily do from home is the step-up. All you need is a stable surface to step onto. I recommend starting with a single stair step or short stepping stool. Over time, try using higher surfaces.
Now that we’ve covered some great knee-dominant exercises, let’s switch gears to hip-dominant ones. Bridge variations are great because they work a material portion of the posterior chain (i.e. the backside of your body)
If you sit at a desk for most of the day, you can especially benefit from building a strong posterior chain because it improves posture and reduces the risk of low back pain.
Beginners should start with this basic variation. Make sure not to overextend your hips. If you feel any pain in your lower back, you are likely overarching your back. Focus on squeezing your butt as hard as you can rather than lifting it as high as you can.
Single-leg Glute Bridge
While this version may look tricky, its mechanics are the exact same as the previous variation. Position yourself as you would for a regular glute bridge, then lift one leg off the ground keeping it bent throughout each repetition.
Feet-elevated Glute Bridge
When you’re ready for some more range of motion, try this variation. All you need is a surface with which to elevate your feet (i.e. chair or stair step). As this gets easier, use a higher surface, but don’t use anything more than a couple feet tall, as you will no longer be able to achieve optimal range of motion.
Single-leg Feet-elevated Glute Bridge
Once again, let’s make it single-leg! I recommend a firm surface for greater stability.
Another type of bridge is the hip thrust, which targets the glutes a bit more. Find a comfortable surface that is shoulder blade-height when you sit against it. Keep your knees at about a 90-degree angle at the top of the movement and your feet flat on the ground. If your heels are lifting off the ground, you likely need to scoot your feet a bit further away.
Single-leg Hip Thrust
Finally, the most advanced variation and my personal favorite at-home lower body exercise! You’ll want to set yourself up exactly as you would for the regular version, then slightly lift one leg off the ground keeping it bent. Get ready for some real booty burn with this one!
Another posterior chain exercise is the calf raise. And there are plenty of at-home variations.
Standing Calf Raise
This is the simplest version. You can hold on to a wall, countertop or other surface for support.
Standing Single-leg Calf Raise
To make things a little more challenging, try making it a single-leg version.
Elevated Calf Raise
The next variation requires an elevated surface off of which to hang your heels to allow for a deeper stretch at the bottom of the movement. I recommend using a stair step for these.
Elevated Single-leg Calf Raises
Finally, for the greatest challenge, combine the last two variations to get the elevated single-leg calf raise.
For more detailed information on how to build your calves, check out my article: How to Build Killer Calves (With or Without a Gym!).
Upper Body Strength Exercises
Though more challenging, an upper body workout is entirely possible if you’re intentional with every rep!
Push-ups are my favorite upper body exercise for at-home workouts. They can easily be modified for all experience levels - even experienced lifters!
In fact, a 2017 study found that when load is equated, push-ups can produce similar muscle and strength gains to that of the bench press exercise.
How? Well, you can make a push-up easier by creating an incline, and make it harder by creating a decline.
In another study, researchers estimated the percentage of bodyweight one presses at different angles. Here’s what they found:
Incline push-up (60 cm): 41%
Kneeling push-up: 49%
Incline push-up (30 cm): 55%
Standard push-up: 64%
Decline push-up (30 cm): 70%
Decline push-up (60 cm): 74%
These numbers can be used as a way to quantify “load” for push-ups. For example, I weigh 120 pounds and currently bench press 85 pounds for ~10 reps, which is ~70% of my bodyweight. To approximate my bench press, I would choose decline push-ups (30 cm).
Now, I’m sure these percentages aren’t perfect, but they give us a general idea of how to pick a suitable variation for the exercise.
If you’re a beginner, this is where to start. And all you need is a wall!
For more difficulty, I recommend starting out your incline push-ups on a higher surface, such as a countertop or dinner table.
Once you can confidently perform the exercise at that height, you’ll want a lower surface, such as three to four stair steps.
Once you’ve worked your way down to just a slight incline, it’s time to try a ground-level push-up (with a little support). This is the last step before a standard push-up!
And, of course, the classic push-up. Now that the training wheels are off, make sure to keep that core tight.
And for the most advanced variation: the decline push-up. When regular push-ups start feeling like a breeze, it’s time to try this exercise. Start with a small decline, such as a single stair step, and work your way up to 60 cm for that 74% bodyweight load!
Another exercise that is perfect for home workouts is the dip because you can simply swap out an exercise bench for a couch or chair. Beginners should start with bent knees to alleviate a bit of the load.
Once you’re comfortable, try extending your legs for more of a challenge.
This exercise is a great way to train the back from home.
Alternating Superman (Swimmers)
For a more controlled variation, alternate one arm and the opposing leg, then switch.
Eventually, incorporate both arms and legs simultaneously to recruit all four limbs at once.
Another one of my go-to upper body exercises when no equipment is available is the up-down plank. Aim to keep your torso as parallel with the ground as possible. You can modify this exercise to make it easier by doing it at an incline (i.e. against a countertop or couch).
When I create at-home workouts for my clients or myself, I like to conclude the workout with a heart-pumping metabolic finisher to end with a nice endorphin flow!
Here are a few client favorites that can be done from home:
Burpees (okay…not a client favorite but one of mine!)
Try adding 3 rounds of 3 different exercises with minimal rest at the end of your strength workout! Or, if you want a full cardio workout, choose 4-6 exercises, set a timer for 15-20 minutes and complete as many rounds as you can.
Tips for Enhancing Difficulty
If you’re finding any exercises becoming too easy, try one of these strategies to make it more challenging.
Or even try going to failure (going until you can no longer safely and properly complete the movement).
2.Increase resistance with at-home alternatives
In place of dumbbells, try using milk or water jugs, a laundry basket, bags of groceries, etc.
3.Decrease rest between sets
Once you’ve increased your reps to 20 or 30, try this tactic.
4.Increase time under tension by slowing down the tempo
Using squats as an example, you could try a 4-count on the way down, a 1-2 second pause at the bottom and then another 4-count on the way back up.
And if you need some help tailoring them to your specific needs and goals, schedule a free consultation with a Kickoff trainer, who can help you create the perfect plan for you!