The Three Keys to Creating a Successful At-Home Workout

Two of the biggest excuses for not exercising are lack of time and not having access to a gym. Both of these excuses can be eliminated by creating an at-home workout program, but many people feel exercising at home requires the purchasing of expensive gym equipment – which is not case for most people. By using some creativity and exercise modifications, virtually anyone can see improvements using an at-home workout program, without the need for purchasing expensive gym equipment.


1. Get Creative

Unless you are fortunate enough to have a full gym in your basement, you are going to need to get creative with your at-home workout. With a little imagination, many everyday items (chairs, stairs, water jugs, etc.) can be converted into pieces of exercise equipment or used for resistance.

Pushing Exercises – For those that struggle with performing push-ups with proper form, elevating the hands by placing them on a set of stairs can be a great modification to build up upper body strength. As strength improves, you can walk your hands lower and lower on the stairs until you are finally doing push-ups from the ground.

To emphasize the back of the arms, you can perform dips using a fold-up chair. To increase the difficulty of the movement, you can place your feet on a step or chair.

To target the shoulders, one gallon water jugs filled with water or sand can be used as makeshift kettlebells for overhead presses. By adjusting the contents of the water jugs, you can increase or decrease the weight being lifted.

Pulling Exercises – Finding ways to target the back at home can be challenging, but purchasing a suspension trainer or an inexpensive tow rope can be a versatile tool not only for your back, but also for the rest of your body. Most suspension trainers can be attached to a door frame, but in a pinch a tree or any other sturdy object will work to perform inverted rows.

To perform an inverted row, simply lean away from the suspension trainer’s anchor point and walk your feet toward the object as far as you feel comfortable. Once in position, row your body towards the anchor point – focusing on using your upper back. To adjust the difficulty of the exercise, move your feet closer or further away from the object.

Another option for training the upper back is performing bent-over rows with the same one gallon water jugs mentioned before.

Core Exercises – Training the core at home is relatively easy as there is literally hundreds of exercises that can be performed at home, without the need for any exercise equipment. With this being said, I would still recommend buying a set of inexpensive furniture movers. These furniture movers, when used on carpet, can increase the intensity of your core workout and add many different plank and push-up options to your exercise list.

Leg Exercises – Legs are another area of the body with many different exercise options to choose from for your at-home workout program. Aside from the different squat and deadlift variations, you can also perform step-ups on a bench or chair (be sure to check the sturdiness of the bench or chair before stepping on it).

The biggest challenge with training the legs at home is finding enough resistance to stimulate a change in the body. Once again, water jugs can be held in the hands, but even that may not be enough resistance for some people. Once you get to this point, it is necessary to switch to unilateral variations of these exercises.


2. Go Unilateral

At some point in your at-home training, you will become too strong to continue using both limbs at the same time for some exercises. By switching to unilateral variations of these exercises, you can greatly increase the difficulty of your at-home workout, without the need of purchasing expensive weights. A few of my favorite unilateral exercises are the rear-foot-elevated split squat (RFESS), single-leg box squat, and single-arm inverted row.

RFESS – Using a chair, place the top of the rear foot on the chair, while the front leg performs a split squat – focusing on only using the front leg and allowing the back knee to bend on the descent.

Single-Leg Box Squat – Position a chair a few inches from the back of the legs. Lift one leg off the ground in front of the body. Slowly squat down onto the chair until the butt touches the seat and then stand back up to the starting position. To adjust the difficulty of the exercise, pillows can be placed on the chair to adjust the height of the seat.

Single-Arm Inverted Row – Using a suspension trainer, take both handles into one hand, and row the body up towards the anchor point as before – focusing on keeping shoulders and hips square throughout the entire movement.


3. Slow Down

Tempo control is often an under-utilized tool that should be used in at-home workouts. By manipulating the speed at which you perform an exercise, you can affect the body’s time under tension (TUT). By increasing TUT, a once easily performed exercise can become increasingly more challenge, without adding any reps or weight.

There are two ways to increase a rep’s TUT – increase the eccentric phase (going down) and it’s isometric phase (the period between going down and coming back up). It is also perfectly ok to combine both methods into one long and grueling rep.

Eccentric – When emphasizing the eccentric phase of an exercise, aim for a five or more second count on the eccentric portion of the exercise (ex. the going down portion of a squat).

Isometric – When emphasizing the isometric phase of an exercise, pause for a three or more second count in the most challenging point of the exercise (ex. the bottom point of a push-up or the top point of an inverted row).


Wrap Up

While not ideal, it is still possible to create a great workout program at home, with limited equipment. Even people relevantly strong and in good shape can see improvements when using the right exercises and tempo. The only thing stopping you from creating a successful at-home workout is a limitation to your imagination.