No gym? No problem – these techniques will show you how to make the most of what you’ve got, so you have no excuse not to train, anymore
What you need to know:
- While it is beneficial to have a fully loaded gym at your disposal, it’s not necessary to get results
- All that’s needed to make continuous progress is a barbell, a few hundred pounds of weights, some dumbbells, a power rack, and a bench
- At the end of the day, the muscles do not know how much they are lifting, they only know how much stress they are under
In this day and age it’s all about convenience, and as it relates to physical fitness, more and more people are beginning to work out at home gyms simply because it is more convenient and cost effective to do so. As a result, people are investing in home gym equipment, and condos are being built with a wider array of equipment than ever before – but in both cases, they still fail to remotely compare to what is possible at a fully loaded fitness facility.
While some may see this is a limitation, at least in terms of training possibilities, at the end of the day, it doesn’t take much to get results, as long as you know what you’re doing. As someone who’s had to “make due” with what was available when training clients in their home (or condo) gym, or even working out myself when I’m on the road and have to rely on a hotel gym, I’ve learned a thing or two about getting the most out of what you’ve got.
Home Gyms vs. Commercial Gyms
In a fully furnished fitness facility you literally has an endless amount of options in terms. And while this is “best case scenario,” it’s not a realistic option for everyone. The fact of the matter is that some people can't afford a gym membership, while others may not have the means or the time to get to and from the gym.
The good news is that, even if you don’t have the means to train at a fully furnished fitness facility, you don’t need much to push your body to its limits. Home and condo gyms can vary dramatically in terms of equipment, but for the most part any hotel, condo, or home gym will at least have a set of dumbbells going up to 25 lbs. From there, some may have a barbell, some may have a power rack, some may have a bench or two, but there’s no guarantee. As long as a gym has at least a few of these things, it’s possible to make due by simply modifying the way you do things.
The whole purpose of resistance training in the first place is to subject your muscles to varying levels of “resistance,” and overload their current capabilities. When you have a fully furnished gym, this is a lot easier to accomplish – in fact, I’ve never met one person who was “too strong” for the gym. But if you have a very limited supply of equipment, you have to combine your understanding of biomechanics and physiology with a little bit of creativity to promote the desired response. The following are a few ways that you can modify the way in which you perform the work that you do, to subject your muscles to higher levels of stress, ultimately making the limited amount of weight you are using feel a lot heavier than it would otherwise.
Train To Failure
This is the most obvious of all methods when it comes to placing the muscles under high levels of stress. If you just keep banging out reps until your muscles can no longer perform another rep, then they have obviously been under high levels of stress. The only obstacle with this movement would be if the weight is simply too light, that it takes you 30, 40, or more than 50 reps to reach failure. In these cases, the difficulty is easily increased by slowing down the tempo, and increasing the time under tension.
Regardless of whether the weight is too light, or not, one of the best ways to increase the amount of stress the muscles are under when using submaximal loads is to increase the duration in which it takes to complete a rep. By slowing down the tempo, tension remains constant, and the working musculature never fully gets a chance to relax, thus increasing the demand placed on it. This creates an “occlusion” effect, meaning oxygen cannot get in, or out of the muscle, and this “hypoxic” state is perceived to be stressful to the body, to which it responds by increasing local growth factors to better prepare it to handle future stressful states like this.
A side effect of depriving the muscle of oxygen is the “reactive hyperemia” that takes place when the muscle disengages – also known as the “pump.” Therefore, this method is also very beneficial for those looking to build muscle, irrespective of whether they have an abundance of weight and equipment at their disposal.
If performing reps in a traditional manner is too easy, but performing reps in a slow manner is too hard, you could always start by performing as many slow reps as possible, before transitioning to performing reps faster. This way you get the best of both worlds per se. At the end of the day, it’s all about subjecting the muscles to as much high quality tension as possible, without overworking your body’s ability to recover. If you can’t perform that many slow reps, then there’s nothing that says you can’t speed it up a bit if it’s going to help you increase the demand on the working musculature.
If you are hell bent on performing all of your reps with the same tempo, there’s always the option to stop when you no longer can complete a rep in the desired manner, and wait till you’re ready to complete the remaining reps. This technique is another one that is effective, irrespective of whether or not you have a fully furnished gym at your disposal.
Depending on the muscle group you’re training, and how limited you are in terms of equipment availability, one way to subject the working muscles to high levels of stress is to perform multiple movements, each targeting the desired muscle group, without rest in between. To make the most out of what you have, always perform the most challenging variation of the selected lifts first, and upon reaching failure, switch to a more advantageous movement – this prevent you from having to reduce the amount of weight, since you are switching to a movement that you are stronger in.
Some examples would be an incline dumbell curl followed by standing dumbell curls, since the standing is easier than the incline. Another would be performing a chest fly variation followed by a chest press using the same angle of bench.
This is my absolute favorite method to use when training with submaximal loads. There are a few ways to implement isometrics to increase the demand placed on the working musculature.
- Pre-exhaust – if a weight is simply too light, and you know you could easily knock out more than 30 reps, try holding the weight in the most challenging position of the range of motion for a pre-determined amount of time (something like 20-30 seconds), and then perform your set of 8 or 10 reps. An example would be holding a barbell (or dumbells) with your arms bent 90 degrees for 30 seconds, then performing a set of barbell curls.
- Post-exhaust – if a weight isn’t that light, but you could easily perform roughly 20 reps, try holding the weight in the most challenging position of the range as long as you can, AFTER you’ve completed all of the prescribed reps for the set. An example would be holding a barbell (or dumbells) with your arms bent 90 degress for as long as you can, AFTER you’ve performed a set of barbell curls.
- Intra-set – to increase the demand on the working musculature, try pausing at the same angle of the range of motion for 3-5 seconds, with every rep that is performed. An example would be performing a set of dumbell chest presses, and pausing with the dumbells at the bottom position just above the chest for 3 seconds before pressing the dumbells up for each rep.
- Each of the above methods can be used independently, or concurrently, depending on your level of strength and conditioning in relation to the equipment available.
So if you don’t have the luxury of training in a fully furnished gym, feel free to give these methods a try to make the most out of what you have. Even if all you have is your bodyweight, you can still apply many of these methods, you just need to use a little bit of creativity and imagination.