Making the most of home workouts
Currently we find ourselves in a strange time (unless you are lucky to be reading this in the future where Covid-19 is a distant memory!). We have all been forced to change our daily routine drastically and for all of us without a home gym, that means seriously imposed limitations on our training. Training in our living room or garden with minimal equipment has become the new norm.
In the past I have questioned the true efficacy of home workouts and always preferred training individuals in a gym setting but oh how times have changed!
Previous limitations are now challenges to overcome and right now there is no alternative, so we have to pivot and adjust with what we have.
The big challenge facing most folks now is a lack of equipment. Even those of us that are lucky enough to have access to some dumbbells and kettlebells will likely outgrow them in a few weeks – as long as training stays consistent.
All is not lost though, there are still plenty of ways to keep the intensity up in spite of these limitations. Here are examples of some adjustments / modifications that will help ensure progress.
First up, it is important to address the harder-to-quantify elements. Even before we get into the physical adjustments and protocols, I would like to talk about some psychological considerations to be aware of and take advantage of…
Know your WHY
I refer to this concept in my coaching but the foundation on which this is all going to last is knowing your WHY – your underlying reason for doing this in the first place…
This will be different for all of us but take a little time out to figure out your why. Why are you choosing to train? Why is it important to you to train? Why do you feel you have to train?
Is it to stay strong and keep your immune system healthy in this time? Or is it for the mental head space? Maybe it is for aesthetics? … I would encourage you to write this down somewhere (even the notepad in your phone) and hopefully this will give you a gentle nudge when you are feeling like you are struggling.
Intent and focus
Another important aspect of training, especially at this time, is intent and focus. Intent to see the workout, the set and each repetition through with conviction. It can be easy to go through the motions but when we are dealing with limited resources, we need to maximise each repetition. It is important to focus on what you are doing and be present. Not only will this mean safer workouts, but more effective workouts.
So this is both a mental and physical component but a nice lead into the latter. Bodybuilders are advocates for seeking a strong neuromuscular (mind – muscle) connection. They will tell you that they can get a muscle to contact hard whether using a 5kg dumbbell or a 30kg dumbbell. This will also eradicate the use of momentum to assist a lift. When going into an exercise, we are targeting a group of muscles intended to perform the specific task. Engaging these throughout the movement is key in order to maximise returns.
Now onto some of the physiological adjustments …
Time under tension (TUT)
Tempo work is another great way to increase time under tension (TUT) and get those muscles working for longer. This is a common approach to take when the weights you are using are lighter than normal.
Along with tempo prescriptions, you can increase time under tension by increasing repetition ranges or adding partial reps to a full repetition – for example 1 & 1/4 Squats…
Negatives – more tempo work
Conversely if the weight we are stuck with is too heavy, we can look to use a bit of assistance and work on the eccentric portion of the lift (i.e. push press a weight up and slowly lower down, or the old classic – power curl a weight and slowly lower). Just note that eccentric focus is a sure-fire way of bringing on delayed muscle soreness, so be prepared!
This is another way to increase intensity – isometrics involve holding, pushing or pulling – where the joint angle doesn’t change for the duration of the rep, in some cases trying to exert force against an immovable object. For field athletes it is worth noting that strength gains elicited in this way are very angle specific in terms of joints, so that is a consideration if you are training for certain sports.
Mechanical Drop Sets
These can be a great way of working with volume and increasing intensity. Pick a few movements from the same category and move between each with no rest – the idea being that as you progress through each, you are looking to increase muscles being used or improving leverage as fatigue increases.
For example an upper body push set could be feet elevated pushups, pushups and bench dips (another version would be push ups, pushups on knees and dips). These are particularly challenging, so you may need a decent amount of recovery time between sets.
A great addition to increase the resistance curve or for stability. I am a big fan of RNT Split Squats in particular but you can use bands for rdls, floor presses, pushups etc.
And of course the obvious components…
Range of movement (ROM)
This is an overlooked one but if you are not performing the movements with full range, you are limiting the benefit straight away.
There is no point in looking at other protocols until you can achieve full ROM throughout each repetition. This is a great time to iron out any erratic movement and build a strong foundation.
Volume is another way of saying repetitions and sets. If the weights are lighter than what we would normally use, we can look to manipulate reps and sets – meaning we can increase the number of each (or both) performed. At this time it also may be more viable to work towards failure on certain sets. Another option is to decrease the rest between each.
Another understated and obvious one. We are dealing in a time where perfection is an ideal. Even at the best of times, consistency will always overcome sporadic attempts at, or displays of perfection. This situation is temporary but good habits can be instilled now to bring with us going forward.
There are plenty of options here to implement and utilise to add an extra element of intensity to your home workouts if needed. It is a great time to increase our awareness around your training and this can be empowering, especially in this time of uncertainty.
On the other hand, you may be reading this sometime in the future, when Covid-19 is a distant bad memory and you are just looking at some ways to increase the effectiveness of training at home.
Hopefully you will find something here that helps!