How to Do Strength Training at Home Without Equipment
Today, there are countless reasons to work out from home and skip the gym. Lack of time or funds is always a factor when comparing a gym membership vs. home gym. Commitments like work and family come first. And, of course, there’s the novel COVID-19 that has kept so many of us indoors over the past few years.
Regardless of your reason for favoring your humble abode over a fitness center, there are still options if you’re wondering how to get fit at home. For instance, strength training, a commonly used approach to at-home fitness, is one of the most effective methods for those looking to gain muscle. Some people also chose to invest in a home gym system to help assist them. But the real question is: can you achieve gym-level results at home without any equipment?
Let's find out.
The term “strength training” refers to the set of exercises that build muscles and—you guessed it—strength. This branch of fitness is commonly associated with weightlifting and calisthenics (otherwise known as bodyweight exercises). Strength training differs from cardio in its goals and values.
While cardio aids endurance and burns more calories than strength training, the latter is not without its benefits. Some of the advantages of strength training include:
- Muscle group growth and definition
- Burning calories
- Increased metabolism—even after workouts end
- Better joint function
- Higher overall levels of fitness
Ultimately, strength training and resistance training should occur in tandem with a cardio workout for a balanced fitness routine. (Cardio and strength training really are a match made in fitness heaven.) For now, we’ll take a look at the ins and outs of strength training, including how to strength train at home.
If you’re a fan of gyms with massive squat racks and rows upon rows of dumbbells, you might be asking, “can strength training be done at home?”
The answer is yes! While gym equipment and other home gym essentials can often elevate a traditional workout, strength training at home without equipment is possible. An entire branch of strength training called calisthenics (also known as body weight exercises) relies solely on something you have with you at all times: your own body.
Of course, there are certain parts of the strength training experience you simply can’t recreate with a bare-bones home setup. The social aspect is missing, and all those machines can be fun and inspiring to toy with. But on the flip side, there’s no ear-splitting music or benches covered in someone else’s sweat (yuck), and you never have to wait your turn.
At the end of the day, all you need is some motivation, a bit of space in your home, some home workout tips, and a water bottle on standby (with your favorite playlist blasting in the background).
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Some basic strength exercises probably need no introduction; we’ve all been doing these since the schoolyard gym class days. You’re likely already familiar with exercises like:
- Reverse Lunge
- Plank Position
These are all examples of exercises that can help build muscle without the use of equipment, especially if you incorporate them into your routine with progressive overload (which means consistently challenging your limits once an exercise gets too easy). You can use this principle to guide your workouts with the above moves or a myriad of others. If you’re looking to try new strength training exercises at home, consider creating an added challenge to your home workout routine with these advanced modifications:
- Isometric squat
- Slow push-ups
- Mountain climbers
Isometric squats are a basic squat with a twist, and are a great way to further develop lower body and core strength. Here’s how to execute an isometric squat:
- Stand with feet shoulder width apart with knees bent slightly and toes pointing forward. This is your starting position.
- Push your hips back as you bend your knees at the same time, ensuring that your knees don’t go past your toes.
- Once your thighs are parallel to the floor, hold your position. Imagine that you are splitting the floor with your heels as you create tensions in your lower body, keeping your core engaged.
- Then, slowly come back to your starting position.
You can hold an isometric for anywhere between 3-10 seconds (or more) and add resistance bands for a deeper burn.
Slowing down your push-ups creates additional muscle tension, forcing them to work harder and build strength. Here’s how to do it:
- Start in a plank position with wrists stacked under your shoulders and arms slightly wider than your shoulders.
- As you lower, count slowly to five until your chest reaches the ground. Pause for one second, then slowly count up to five as you push yourself back up.
As you get stronger, you can increase the count as you lower yourself and push back up to continue increasing your strength.
This is a functional fitness exercise that targets your core, shoulders, hamstrings, and glutes. Here’s how to execute them:
- Start in a plank position similar to your push-up starting position.
- Drive one knee forward as far as possible while keeping the other foot planted on the ground.
- In a fluid motion, switch legs and drive the other knee forward.
- Keep repeating until you reach your desired rep count.
For an added challenge, cross your knee over to the other elbow rather than straight forward to further increase your core strength.
You’ll find isometric squats and other functional fitness exercises in our Strength: Total Body Classes.
Once you have the basics under control, there are ways to take your strength training workout at home from fine to fantastic. Test out these five home strength training tips the next time you get your sweat on—you can thank us later.
- Slow It Down
- Increase the Number of Reps
- One Leg, Not Two
- Start-Stop Reps
- Use Resistance Bands
1. Slow It Down
Crank up the intensity of any exercise just by doing it slower. It may seem backwards, but it’s true. Let’s use a push-up as an example.
When you do a push-up, you’re engaging muscles in your upper body (chest, shoulders, back, and arms) as you lower and raise your body weight. By increasing the amount of time it takes to bend and straighten your arms, you’re engaging those muscle groups for longer and are more likely to grow muscle mass and build definition.
So instead of hammering out a set of 20 push-ups as fast as possible (or any exercise, for that matter), complete each repetition at a comically slow pace. We’re talking ten or more seconds for each push-up. Slowly lower and return to the plank position slowly. You’ll feel the burn as you hold the position for longer than usual.
As a bonus, slowing down your exercises allows you to focus on proper technique, which keeps injuries at bay.
2. Increase the Number of Reps
If you’ve had an extra cup of coffee and don’t feel like slowing down, try tacking on extra reps instead (or as well). When you’re working out without kettlebells or other equipment, there’s no option to add more weight, so increasing your reps is the next best thing.
If you typically do 15 sit-ups or squats before resting, try pushing it to 25 or 30 reps in each set. The goal is to tire out your muscles a little more than you normally do, which can help with gains. Just be sure you’re maintaining good form throughout the entire set.
Add reps to your workout, but do so slowly—don’t double all your sets at once or try to do as many reps as possible. Above all, listen to your body, and don’t push yourself too hard if you feel too much strain.
3. One Leg, Not Two
When you can’t double the weight, you do the only sensible thing: cut the muscles supporting the weight in half. Single-leg squats present an entirely different challenge when compared to their two-legged counterparts. The same goes for bridges and other exercises that allow you to use one less limb than usual. So next time, try performing your squat or glute bridge on just the left leg, then switch sides and repeat the movement on the right leg.
As a general philosophy, finding ways to make exercises slightly harder will pay off in the long run. For example, bringing your hands closer together during push-ups adds an extra layer of difficulty.
4. Start-Stop Reps
The hardest part of many exercises is the beginning. Since a harder workout means better results, making things more difficult is in your best interest. When you completely disengage your muscles during each repetition, you bring the intensity up a notch.
The idea is to return to a resting position at some point during the rep so that you have to work harder to start again. For example, when your chest reaches the floor during a push-up, lift your palms off the ground and wait a moment before continuing.
With sit-ups, you can let your back sit flat against the floor after each one. Removing momentum from the equation adds that extra challenge to each rep for any fitness level.
5. Use Resistance Bands
Gym equipment is big, bulky, and not the ideal décor for an apartment. That’s where resistance bands come in. They’re compact and help in both warmups and workout routines.
Step into a larger band like a pair of pants and stretch your legs apart while doing squats or a forearm plank. Similarly, you can position a resistance band around your wrists to provide extra tension during arm exercises. The added resistance engages different muscles and increases the difficulty of your routine.
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In reality, you don’t need much. Resistance bands or free weights can augment certain exercises, but they’re completely optional.
The factors that make strength training from home challenging are the intangible ones: motivation, camaraderie, encouragement.
That’s what makes MIRROR so special. You know that strength training at home is possible—MIRROR’s nearly invisible home gym makes it better. Instructors lead you in strength training via live and on-demand classes from your fitness mirror, and social features allow you to train with friends around the globe—it’s like having your own certified personal trainer any time!
The future of fitness trends is here, and a stronger, healthier you awaits.
Ready to get started? Try the MIRROR app free for 30 days and get access to 10,000+ fitness classes across 50+ workout categories (including no-equipment strength training).
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