Working out at home

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You are a beginner, and have no intention to go to a gym yet, but you still try to create some foundation to the program to come? You are about to return to weight training after a longer period of inactivity, and you plan to do some preparatory work at home? Or you don’t want to leave home for workouts at all, and you wish to make the most out of it?

Working out at home

You are a beginner, and have no intention to go to a gym yet, but you still try to create some foundation to the program to come? You are about to return to weight training after a longer period of inactivity, and you plan to do some preparatory work at home? Or you don’t want to leave home for workouts at all, and you wish to make the most out of it? If you have dumbbells and probably an abs bench, then basically you have everything for a proper all-round exercise, and even home workouts for a longer period of time. Let’s see the options and perspectives that such a program can offer!

Working out at home? You must be kiddin’...

Most people going to gyms regularly would think that working out at home is just fiddling around, even though some of them started working out just the same. These people tend to forget that they themselves went through their first workouts at home. Many of them can’t think of working out without machines, and some share a firm belief that muscles are built in gyms only. Actually it is not true at all: we crack the muscles up there, and then go home to rest, to eat, to sleep, to regenerate, and to have our muscles developed. A nice little workout at home can wrap this whole thing up locally. The question is whether this is the thing we need, or not. It is evident that you can have a bit of preparatory work, or a long-term program in mind, there is a way of doing it at home too.

“Everyone can have time for anything he or she wants, it is all down to logistics" – this is a wisdom that will never fade.

Yep. I’ve heard this oracle a million times from a few people. In most cases they were people sticking to a certain daily schedule, with no room for any error. For instance they do not calculate with chances of something throwing a spanner into their works, after which comes the period of numb idleness as they can’t adapt to the new turn of events. This frame of mind can only limit our options – even if this is killing the core of the statement above. It is a fact that there can be periods in our lives when we don’t have a chance to work out at a gym. The possible reasons include financial aspects, changes in workplace or family relations, problems – it makes no difference as far as the end result goes. There is also convenience as a motive, and probably that’s the most common reason for someone to work out at home.

Convenient pain

The comfort of home is not to be sneezed at. Let’s think about it:

  • There is no one to fall into line with.
  • You don’t need to wait for weights or machines to be available.
  • You don’t need to sniff into others’ stinky butt when they do stiff legged deadlift sets or some other exercises.
  • You don’t need to inbreathe other’s fart (only your own).
  • You can rattle and bellow whenever you like, no one will complain.
  • No one will tell you about the right way of doing things.
  • You can listen to the music you want – if you like.
  • And you can be sure to have hot water in the shower (does it ring a bell?).

Should I go on? I think the list of advantages is pretty good regarding home workouts. Of course there are disadvantages too like having no help/training partners (even though this is a question of logistics), the limited number of items available (unless having a fully equipped gym at home), a lot of things that can distract you, and so on. Working out at home pretty much determines the limits of possible achievements, and those limits will kick in relatively soon, but there is nothing wrong with that as long as the goal is just to reach a certain level. It is obvious that working out at home will never be an equivalent to a gym workout, but that is not the point either.

What you will need – the basics

Let’s forget all other kinds of training, and focus on weight training that can be augmented by calisthenic exercises. You don’t really need a lot of things: adjustable dumbbells, two-arm bar(s) (a French bar and/or an Olympic bar), weight plates for a proper resistance, probably an exercise bench too, or even an inclined bench for a more professional set. It is not crucial, but you can prevent the weights to dent your apartment by using foam floor mats. Fooooooooam! Say it out loud! I mean those durable floor mats that can be interlocked.

If you have all these things ready, you can work all your muscle groups, if you know how. If someone says otherwise, that person is lying – or definitely not telling the truth.

The program

A program that is based mainly on free weight exercises. Don’t believe anyone saying that free-weight-only exercises cannot work the shoulders, the entire arms, the back or the legs, because they definitely can. We stick to the basic exercises now. If you are completely new to body building, the best way to start is to use little of no weights.

Let’s see an example for a week of basic workout for someone in the shape of a slug, with no sports activities at all in the recent records:

  • Push-ups: 3×12 (If you can do more, do as many as you can with ease, that is without fatigue kicking in. In case you can’t do more than 3 or 4 reps in good form, don’t get frustrated: just put down your knees, and do the light version.)
  • Lateral raises with a bar only: 3×20 (Yep, that’s right. Bars only. In order to learn the correct way to lift the weight, and to learn to focus on the given muscles.) However if you really are out-of shape, you will definitely feel this exercise, no doubt about it.)
  • Standing barbell biceps curls, or concentration curls: 3×12 (Choose a weight that you can just do all the 3 sets with.)
  • Alternating triceps extension: 3×12 (Consider the things mentioned above when choosing a weight.)
  • One-arm dumbbell rows: 3×12 (Same here.)
  • Bodyweight squats: 3×12 (If it is too easy, do more reps.)
  • Standing calf raises: 3×20 (Stand on weight plates with one foot, and do the exercise so that your heel does not make contact with the floor. Think of the motion as doing toe stands, only you don’t come into contact with the floor when lowering the heels.)
  • Crunches (optional): Do it as you see fit; a newbie can have his/her abs demolished by 3 sets of 20-30 reps.

This program is to be performed3 times on the first week with a Monday-Wednesday-Friday (or similar) schedule. You can dedicate another week or even more to this stage, it will surely help more. But do not use heavier weights. The aim is not to increase resistance, but to get the muscles and joints used to this new load and range of motion and to get familiar with the thought of actually having muscles.

3-day split workout routine

In this case you are supposed to have a body that is prepared to take some considerable load with weights, and to have that load gradually increased. Let’s suppose that you also have 2 adjustable dumbbells, weight plates, and even a barbell. We’ll also include an exercise bench in this program.

Day #1: chest & shoulders

Day #2: legs & biceps

Day #3: Back and triceps

You can see that all muscles/muscle groups are trained once a week – but that training is hard (as our options allow). Most people are okay with that, and the weekend rest days are sufficient to regenerate. Now let’s see:

Chest and shoulders

  • Push-ups: 4 sets of 12-20 reps (you can increase the number of reps almost indefinitely, but there is not much to it as no increase in muscle mass would occur). Hint: You can use push-up handles that allows for a deeper lowering, as that elongates the pectoral muscles more at the lowest position.
  • Flyes: 3 sets of pyramid, but never do less than 10 reps. Just lie down on the floor and let the weight come down as far as possible. What you need to focus on: do not let the weights make contact at the upper end position, they should not get even too close to each other; do not take a bit of a rest at the uppermost position, have yourself loaded all the time.
  • Inclined flyes: 3 sets similar to the way described above. This sounds a bit foolish as we don’t have an inclined bench. In case you have an adjustable bench, then use that, and everything is fine. But if you have an abs bench only, set it to the max. inclination, and there you go. What a trick! It sounds ridiculous at first, but as I said: we use what we can. If you have your back supported properly, you can use heavier weights without any problems, a common abs bench will not collapse under you. Sit on the floor, and lean to the bench with your back. Ensure that the legs of the bench are propped at a wall or a surface that prevents the bench to move – otherwise you can get crashed pretty hard.
  • Inclined bench presses: 4 sets with 10 to 12 reps. Now that we have already introduced this ‘abs bench lore’, it is time to throw this exercise in. There is nothing out-of-this-world about pressing even 30-35 kg weights in one arm on an inclined abs bench, all you need is enough weights. Getting them up might be a bit more tricky when they are at level with the butt, but you can grow strong enough for that too.
  • Lateral raises: Do 3-4 sets of this exercise.
  • Alternating forward raise: Do 3 sets of this exercise.

Legs and biceps

Your options are pretty limited at this. As you don’t have a squat rack or frame, you can only deal with weights that you can lift onto your neck. Moreover you need to get rid of that weight too after getting tired – and preferably not by dropping it behind (unless it’s okay to demolish the floor or kill the cat).

  • Squats: Do 4-5 sets paying respect to the things described above. If you feel like it does not really work, or that you exploited all options, you can introduce sissy squats.
  • Lunges: Do 3 sets.
  • Stiff legged deadlifts: Do 3 sets. You can use one-arm or two-arm weights too.
  • Standing calf-raises: Start with 3 sets of 30 bodyweight reps, later you can use weights too. Number of reps can be increased as seems fit – there is no general formula to tell what is the inpiduals capacity.
  • Standing biceps curls with barbell: Do 4 sets.
  • Alternating biceps curls while sitting: Do 4 reps. Tip: You can botch up a Scott bench from an abs bench or any other home stuff that has a hard surface and can be inclined, e.g. an ottoman in the living room. (“Ottoman”? What a dumb word... Lol!)

Back and triceps

  • One-arm dumbbell rows: Do 4 sets leaning on a hard, and stable surface, e.g. a chair.
  • Bent-over rows: Having a two-hand weight allows for 3-4 sets at different inclinations. You can also use one-hand weights, only they might get tiresome to load.
  • Shrugs: Do 3 sets, preferably of high reps. Forget about the 4 rep headbanging with 100 kg, even if you have that many weight plates. There is more sense to just loading the bar to that weight. This exercise is probably easier to do at home using one-hand dumbbells.
  • Bent-over lateral raises: It is a deliberate choice from me to list this here, and not at the shoulder exercises. And the reason: Just because. Don’t ask questions. Do 3 sets of this exercise, and move on.
  • Triceps extensions from the forehead: Do 4 sets. Just lay down on your back, and have the weight by your head. You might want to tuck a small pillow under your head unless you like the feeling of having your scull crushed in. Lift the weight over your head, and do the exercise as if on a bench.
  • Alternating triceps extension: Do 3-4 sets.

You can do your abs and calves any other day too as your capabilities or demands tell you. You can also use an abs wheel as an option. It can really work your abs, and we are talking about a low-cost alternative. As you can see, all the workouts contain an average of 20 sets. These can be varied as seems fit, and you can also replace elements using your creativity. If these exercises are performed with appropriate intensity, maximum effort and focus, your muscles will definitely get the stimulus that makes them grow.

The program described above is just one example of a classic 3-day program, so it can be adjusted in many ways as necessary. You can include aerobic sections (e.g. fast pace walking, or some indoor cycling if available) to lose some fat, or to gain weight with less fat accumulation, and you can do cardio stuff in order to improve stamina (run like there was no tomorrow... you don’t need any equipment for that).

Diet regime

And this is the point where eating kicks in. Many of you ask about the diet to be followed when working out at home. Let’s just think about it for a second. If you do very similar exercises to the ones you would at a gym, can your muscles tell the difference between the locations? Not really. If they received the stimulus from the home workout to trigger development, that is pretty much the same as they would get in a gym, then you need to provide your muscles with all the required nutrients of proper quality and amount; just as if you did the workout in a gym. You can follow weight-gaining or dietary regime besides home workouts just as if you went to a gym.

There’s no place like... the gym?

We remonstrated at the beginning that home workouts will limit your options to develop (depending on the equipment and creativity), as many of the exercises that can be done in a gym are out of scope in such circumstances. A home workout program can also lead to nice results on the long run, a good physique can be achieved paying respect to the things mentioned above. But let’s face it: variety is the spice of life, and it can be very nice to replace any of the free weight exercises with another, and not having to think a lot or load/deload equipment all the time – by using a machine. So if you have the opportunity, chose a well equipped gym as a place to suffer in, but if you are okay with the possibilities available at home, or if you don’t feel comfortable about the buzz in a gym, don’t just crap around, start to rearrange your apartment!


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