This piece was written by one of our contributors; strength coach – Adam Willis.
This past year has seen a huge rise in home training, because, well, we had no choice but to train at home and adapt to the pandemic circumstances.
This transition has brought about a new wave in training. Home equipment purchases have gone through the roof. People are challenging themselves with new types of training goals and methods. Some people have even found a new love for training due to the change.
However, the need for home training has created a lot of questions, because, well, it can be very different to training in a gym, both from an actual training standpoint and a mental and motivational standpoint as well.
The biggest questions on most people’s lips are:“how do I keep making progress at home?”
- “how do I structure a home training program?”
- “what can I do if I have no equipment at home?”
All highly valid questions because gyms spoil us really.
Gyms provide us with a plethora of machines, barbells, dumbbells and an endless possibility for weight increases. Without this people have been worried about how to make progress training at home, and more importantly, how to not lose the great progress they had already made in the gym.
For some, there’s also been a belief that home training is inferior. I can tell you now, it’s not. It’s just different and because its different, different approaches need to be taken to create the training affects you need to keep making progress whilst training from home…
…and that’s what this article is all about.
It’s about showing you how to maximise your home training.
The first step in maximising your home training is to give it direction and purpose.
Like any training program, you have to have some sort of goal to give it direction otherwise you’re just going through the motions. When it has direction, every session can be given a purpose, and that purpose allows you to choose the best sets, reps, methods and exercises to fulfil that purpose.
This direction may be the same as the gym goal you had, with maybe the odd tweak here and there based on the equipment available to you. Alternatively, the direction maybe a completely new one as home training causes you to redirect your efforts.
Let me give you an example based on what a lot of my clients did when we transitioned into the first lockdown. The majority of my clients have a primary goal of getting stronger.
When in the gym we’ll work on Squats, Deadlifts, Presses and Chin Ups, but at home a lot of these things aren’t possible. So, we tweaked the exercises.
We still focused on getting stronger, however, we just focused on 3 different exercises.
- Squats became Skater Squats
- Deadlifts became Single Leg Deadlifts
- Presses became Push Ups
The majority of my clients also decided that working on Handstands would be a new fun direction as well, so that became a new skill for them to learn and progress.
By taking this approach, direction and purpose were quickly given to their home training. It was now focused on getting better at handstands and getting stronger at Skater Squats, Single Leg Deadlifts and Push Ups.
Now to the elephant in the room…
…the lack of equipment or no equipment at home.
No equipment isn’t usually the situation, a lack of gym equipment in the familiar sense is, because you’d be amazed at how effective a couple of heavy books or a couple of litre bottles of water in a backpack can be to make your workouts challenging.
If you’re able to add to your loaded backpack, a band or two and possibly a suspension trainer you’ve got yourself a great home training starter kit. But ultimately, if it’s just a loaded backpack and your bodyweight you’ve enough to still create some great training sessions if you utilise some of the 5 approaches coming up. The final piece, before we get to my 5 programming approaches, to remember is that unlike a gym you won’t have an infinite ability to increase or decrease the weight you’re using so you have to start using different approaches to make your training slightly more challenging every couple of weeks. Without the ability to keep
adding weight manipulating exercise order, exercise tempo, rep schemes, training methods and contraction types will allow you to make your home training challenging and allow a different means of progression that isn’t adding weight.
So, let’s talk about those approaches in more depth.
Approach 1: Manipulate Exercise order
In particular, utilising unilateral work [single arm or single leg] first in your workout and bilateral work [both arms or both legs] later in the session.
By using challenging unilateral work you’ll require less weight than bilateral work to create training stress. This allows you to still focus on training goals like strength without the amount of weight you have at home being such a factor.
Stressing your body unilaterally early in the workout also helps build up fatigue in the muscles worked which in turn can make doing bilateral work later in the workout harder as the muscles are tired and ends up requiring less weight to be lifted to make that lift challenging.
Approach 2: Manipulate Exercise Lifting Tempo
In particular, utilising slower lifting tempos and/or pauses
A great way to make any movement or weight feel more challenging is to move it slower or to pause in certain positions with it. This essentially increases each rep’s “time under tension” and can be a fantastic training approach whether at home or in the gym.
Let’s use a Goblet Squat as an example:
Instead of just squatting down and up with no thought about tempo, imagine taking 3s to squat down, pausing for 3s at the bottom and then taking 3s to stand up as well…..and doing that every rep. That’s going to make whatever weight you do have available to you much more challenging to squat with.
Approach 3: Manipulate your rep schemes
In particular, utilising more broader rep schemes than if you were in a gym
With the amount of weight available to you being limited utilising broader rep schemes can be highly beneficial as you likely won’t have the ability to increase or decrease the weight at home.
This might mean that you use a 10-20 rep range for an exercise you would have programmed a 10-12 or 12-15 rep range for in the gym. Another example might be, instead of programming a 3-5 rep range like you might do in a gym, you might broaden it to 3-8 reps.
However, for this approach, when it comes to progressive overload, or put another way, making the approach harder once you hit the upper rep range for all sets, you don’t want to just add more reps. If you don’t have more weight or a stronger band to use, you’ll want to find a way to increase the challenge of the movement whilst still staying in the set rep range.
To achieve this, you want to increase each rep’s time under tension by slowing the tempo down more. If you achieved all the reps using a 3s lowering, increase that to 5s per rep and that will
1] progress the exercise the following week
2] keep you in the rep range you’re using whilst ensuring it is still challenging.
Approach 4: Manipulate the training methods you use
In particular, utilise density training methods
Now for the most fun approach, the best training methods to use for home training.
With weight being a limiting factor, we want to use approaches that create a higher training density. Training density is essentially the amount of work you can achieve in a specific time, for which there are several approaches I like to program, all of which are great options for home training.
Here are my favourite 3…
METHOD 1: Escalating Density Training
For this approach you want to choose 2-3 exercises. I’ll usually pick a lower body exercise, an upper body exercise and then a Core or Mobility exercise [if picking 3]. You will then perform these 2-3 exercises back and forth in a circuit fashion for a set time.
Now I know what you’re thinking, this sounds like circuit training, and it is in the sense that you’re performing the exercises back-to-back but, unlike most people’s approach to circuit training you want to ensure that:
1] every set of every exercise is challenging
2] form is perfect for each exercise
3] you’re not rushing to get as much work done as possible
Let me give you an example and how you can progress this method over 4 weeks:
Let’s say your EDT is using 10x Walking Lunges per side, 10x Push Ups, 10s RKC Plank in this circuit fashion.
Week 1: Perform this approach for 10 Minutes
Week 2: Perform this approach for 10 Minutes [aim to do more overall work in 10 minutes than Week 1]
Week 3: Perform this approach for 12 Minutes
Week 4: Perform this approach for 15 Minutes
METHOD 2: Every Minute on the Minute Method [EMOM]
I love this method for its simplicity, and the fact the timer forces you to work to its rate and not your own.
If you’ve never experienced an EMOM approach, put very simply, you’re starting a timer and performing 1 exercise for a certain number of reps, each minute on the minute.
An easy example of this is performing 6 Push Ups every minute on the minute for 10 Minutes, equalling 60 total reps in 10 minutes. Then you can progress this approach 1 of 2 ways each week.
- you can keep the minutes the same and increase the reps per minute [increase by 1-2 reps per week]
- you can keep the reps the same and increase the time of the method [increase by 1-2 minutes per week]
METHOD 3: Timed Interval Sets
Much like EMOMs, I like timed sets because the timer forces you to work to its rate and not your own, there’s nowhere to hide.
With this approach you can choose 1-3 exercises and look to either complete maximum reps in the timed set or achieve a certain number of reps within that time.
As an example:
- 30s of max rep Push Ups
- 30s rest
- 30s of max rep Alternating Step Ups
- 30s rest
- 30s of a Hollow Body Hold
- 30s rest
- = repeat sequence for 3 sets
Now, to progress this approach, you can again take a couple of approaches.
1] You can keep the timings and sets the same and aim to beat your reps achieved each week.
2] You can keep the timings the same and increase the work by 1 set per week.
3] You can keep the sets the same but increase the work time by 5s each week whilst also decreasing the rest by 5s as well.
Approach 5: Utilise Iso-metrics
…and finally, my last go-to approach, Iso-metrics. Iso-metrics are about as “old school” as a training approach can get, and for home training, with minimal equipment, they are excellent options.
For this approach you’re going to simply hold a certain position for a set period of time. No movement, just maximal muscle contraction whilst your body tries to hold you in place.
The first isometric that usually pops into people’s heads is the classic wall sit, and this can be a great option.
It’s not one of my go-to’s because people often relax into the wall, but it can still be good.
My go-to’s are:
- Split Squat Iso-metric holds [bottom position] for 30-60s per side, per set
- Push Up Iso-metric holds [bottom position] for 10-30s per set
- Floor Batwing Iso-metric holds [top position] for 20-40s per set
- Hip Thrust or Hamstring Long Lever Bridge Iso-metric Holds [top position] for 30-60s per set
To progress Iso-metrics, simply increase the amount of hold time you work to each week by 5-15s.
Now, with all of those approaches explained let me give you an example of a full body training session layout using all of the 5 approaches above:
A1: Split Squat Isometric: 3 sets of a 30s hold at the bottom position each side
A2: Push Up Isometric: 3 sets of a 15s hold at the bottom position
A3: Deadbugs: 4 sets of 10-12 reps per side
*30s rest between exercises, so 1 set of A1, rest 30s, 1 set of A2, rest 30s, 1 set of A3, rest 30s – repeat
B1: Skater Skaters: 4 sets of 5-8 reps per side [5s lowering every rep]
B2: Push Ups: 4 sets of 5-8 reps [5s lowering every rep]
B3: Side Plank: 30s per side
*30-45s rest between exercises, so 1 set of B1, rest 30-45s, 1 set of B2, rest 30-45s, 1 set of B3, rest 30-45s – repeat
Escalating Density Circuit: x8-10 Minutes
C1: Floor Batwing Iso-metric Hold: 30s hold every set
C2: Single Leg Hip Thrust: 8-12 per side [3s hold at the top of each rep]
*perform C1 & C2 in a circuit fashion ensuring that the movements are challenging, and the form is perfect
D: Squats bearhugging a heavy backpack: 5 sets of 10 reps [using a 3-0-3-0 Tempo]
*60s rest between sets
…phew, that’s quite a challenging workout.
Be sure to give it a try.
Home training can be as challenging as gym training when approached the right way.
Home training will get you great results, and it starts with giving your workouts direction and purpose.
Home training is not inferior, it’s just different, both physically and mentally, so it requires some different approaches to conventional gym training.
…and hopefully this article has given you some great ideas and approaches to help you maximise your home training so that you can still make great progress from home.