There’s one big question on everyones mind right now; How to progress training from home with limited equipment?
Right now, with so many gyms around the world being shut down and everyone locked in their homes due to the Coronavirus epidemic, many people are wondering what they can do from home to maintain their health, fitness and muscle mass.
Fortunately, in some countries, being outdoors to exercises is not prohibited yet, which gives you some options in terms going out for a walk, a run, or a bike ride in order to keep your cardiovascular fitness up.
The added energy expenditure can also assist with keeping your body fat at reasonable level, provided you are still monitoring your food intake.
Even if you are in complete lockdown and you are not allowed to leave your home at all, we still have some options like skipping and jumping jacks which you can perform from home to keep your fitness up.
But what about resistance exercise to maintain muscle mass?
This is the biggest struggle most people face because they are not aware of what exercises they can do with limited equipment to target all the major muscle groups of the body, and how to progress those exercises beyond just adding reps.
Most people are familiar with the basic variations of squats, push up, chins ups, and sit-ups and that’s about it. But what if you can’t do a chin up, or body weight squats are too easy and do not provide your muscles with a sufficient stimulus.
How do you make exercise that are too challenging easier and how do you make exercises that are too easy more difficult?
One option would be to consider hiring a skilled fitness professional that can help put together a personalised routine for you based on your goals, strength level, and equipment available. Working with a trainer is something I would recommend in any circumstance, but even more so when you are limited in equipment and exercise options.
A good trainer will be familiar with many bodyweight exercises and their variations and can help you select the right exercises for your strength level and coach you on how to progress through them. Right now, there are many trainers around the globe transitioning to training clients online or in parks, that are looking for work. If that is an option for you that would be my first recommendation.
Of course, I can also appreciate that with many people being laid off right now that option may not be available for everyone, so I wanted to share with you some strategies in this article that you can use to progress while training from home. These are some of the strategies that I am currently using in my own training and with my online and face-to-face clients.
This is a good strategy if you don’t have sufficient strength to perform a movement. It could be used for basic exercises like dips and chin ups, or more advanced exercises like single leg squats and Nordic leg curls. Basically, it involves performing only the eccentric or lowering phase of an exercise, in a controlled manner.
Since we are stronger eccentrically, this method enables us to perform exercises that we would not normally be able to do.
As your eccentric strength increases and you can perform more eccentric reps, your concentric strength will also increase and eventually you will be able to perform full reps.
Isotension involves isometrically contracting a muscle while performing an exercise so that you are generating an internal as well as external torque. An example would be performing a push up while trying to squeeze the floor together with your hands which will create internal torque on the pecs.
Since there is no limit to how much isometric tension you can generate, this method will allow you to fatigue very quickly using only limited weight. Another example would be trying to perform pull ups while spreading the bar apart.
Manual resistance will require the assistance of a partner, but this method can be very effective. It works best for light dumbbell exercises such as dumbbell flyes or lateral raises.
It involves applying manual resistance to your partners limbs to increase the difficultly of an exercise. The resistance can be applied on the eccentric phase only, where we are stronger, or on both the eccentric and concentric, depending on your partners strength level.
Furthermore, with this method you can apply more resistance at that point in the strength curve where someone is stronger and less where they are weaker.
One and One Quarter Reps
This method involves performing a full repetition of an exercise followed by a quarter repetition in the weakest position of the exercise.
Typically for exercises like lateral raises this would be at the top of the movement, while for exercises like split squats or push ups it would be at the bottom of the movement.
By performing a quarter rep in the weakest position of an exercise after each full rep, we are spending more time at that point in the strength curve where a muscle is under greater tension, thus making the exercise more difficult.
Similar to one and one quarter reps, paused reps involve pausing at the weakest position of an exercise for a couple of seconds, before completing the rep.
By pausing in the weakest position, again we are spending more time at that point in the strength curve where a muscle is under greater tension, and we are making the exercise more difficult.
Paused reps are preferable to one and one quarter reps for beginners because they require less neuromuscular coordination.
Agonist supersets and even trisets involves performing two or more exercises in a row for the same muscle group with limited rest in between. The limited rest between exercises causes metabolites to build up in the muscle, which brings on muscle failure prematurely due to metabolic fatigue.
This is very beneficial in this circumstance because it allows us to fully exhaust all the motor units within a muscle group with limited load. The latest research shows that for muscle growth the load is much less important than we previously believed (1). As long as you fatigue the muscle thoroughly, it doesn’t matter that much how you get there.
Blood Flow Restricted Training
Blood flow restricted (BFR) training is another method using low-load resistance exercise that has been shown to induce similar gains in muscular strength and hypertrophy as using moderate-to-high-load resistance exercise (2).
BFR training works by applying external pressure cuffs over the most proximal parts of your limbs such as the arms or legs which causes occlusion or blockage of venous outflow. This causes pooling of blood and metabolites within the muscle and rapid accumulation of metabolic fatigue, even with minimal loads.
As you can see, we have several options available for making even the most basic exercises more or less difficult, just by changing how we perform those exercises.
On top of that there is a wide variety of resistance exercises that you can perform from home using minimal equipment such as your own body weight, bands, and a set of adjustable dumbbells.
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- Schoenfeld BJ, Grgic J, Ogborn D, Krieger JW. Strength and Hypertrophy Adaptations Between Low- vs. High-Load Resistance Training: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis. J Strength Cond Res. 2017;31(12):3508–3523. doi:10.1519/JSC.0000000000002200
- Hwang PS, Willoughby DS. Mechanisms Behind Blood Flow-Restricted Training and its Effect Toward Muscle Growth. J Strength Cond Res. 2019;33 Suppl 1:S167–S179. doi:10.1519/JSC.0000000000002384