Strength Training: Do I need to go to the gym, or can I get good results working out at home?

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Image Courtesy of Stockimages, www.freedigitalphotos.net

Working out at home is more convenient, and those who strength train at home are more likely to stick with their programs.

Bodyweight exercises that you can do easily at home such as sit-ups, push-ups, squats, and tricep dips work very well for building muscle if you do them regularly. However, there is one significant drawback to working out at home: as you get stronger, the weight you’re lifting (your own body) stays the same, so you’ll hit a plateau at a certain point and stop making progress. To prevent this problem, you can adjust exercises to make them more challenging (for example, doing one-armed push-ups or one-legged squats).

    • You can also use household objects to make your exercises more challenging:
    • Use two chairs to do tricep dips – put your feet up on one and your hands on the other.
    • Put objects of various weights in sturdy bags or boxes and lift them in different ways.
    • Use a footstool or coffee table to do decline (feet on the stool, hands on the floor) push-ups.
    • Put one foot back on a chair to do split squats (with or without weights).
    • Use a narrow coffee table as a weight bench (throwing a yoga mat on it will make it more comfortable) to support additional exercises.
Image Courtesy of David Castillo Dominici, www.freedigitalphotos.net
Image Courtesy of David Castillo Dominici, www.freedigitalphotos.net

Equipment for working out at home

You’ll get the best results from your home workouts if you also invest in few pieces of equipment:

    • A set of adjustable dumbbells is space efficient and less costly than buying a full spectrum of weights.
    • A bar that anchors to a doorframe is great for doing pull-ups, chin-ups, and other bodyweight exercises.
    • TRX suspension systems support a variety of additional exercises.
    • You may also want to purchase a good mat for core exercises and post-workout stretching and an exercise ball for building core strength and stability, though these items aren’t as critical.

With a few pieces of equipment, you can do highly effective full-body strength training workouts at home. Just vary your routines regularly and find ways to make bodyweight exercises more challenging so that you increase the muscle-building stimulus as you adapt and become stronger.

If you find adjustable dumbbells too expensive, you can still get a good workout using a pull-up bar, TRX system, and simple bodyweight exercises you can do on the floor and using household objects. You can save even more money by using equipment at a local playground for pull-ups, chin-ups, and other strength-building exercises if there’s one near your home and you don’t mind doing your workouts outdoors in all types of weather.

Image Courtesy of Nenetus, www.freedigitalphotos.net
Image Courtesy of Nenetus, www.freedigitalphotos.net

Tips for success with home strength training

    • Do some research to learn about the different types of bodyweight exercises you can do at home. A great place to start is the Exrx.net Directory, which lists exercises for each muscle group (click on the individual exercises for instructional videos).
    • Establish a routine for workout times and days and try to stick with it consistently.
    • Vary your workouts if you hit a plateau to make them more challenging.
    • When you can comfortably complete 10-12 repetitions of a particular bodyweight exercise, switch to a more challenging variation.
    • Keep an exercise journal to track routines and progress.
    • Do home workouts with a friend if possible to alleviate boredom, gain the motivational benefits of friendly competition, and have a spotter on hand if you need one.
    • Do a full-body routine 2-3 times per week or a split routine (targeting different muscle groups on different days) more frequently to avoid working the same muscles two days in a row (rest time is required for best results and to avoid overtraining).

For answers to more frequently asked strength training questions and health questions, see the main Mind-Body Health page.

References

    • Hutchinson, A., PhD. (2011). Which Comes First, Cardio or Weights? Fitness Myths, Training Truths, and Other Surprising Discoveries from the Science of Exercise.  HarperCollins.
    • Lauren, M., & Clark, J. (2011). You Are Your Own Gym: The Bible of Bodyweight Exercises. Ballantine Books.
    • Sarnataro, B.R. (n.d.). No Gym Required: How to Get Fit at Home. WebMD.com.
    • Sculer L., & Mejia, M. (2003). The Men’s Health Home Workout Bible. St. Martin’s Press.