“You have to go to the gym if you want to make any progress.”
You’ve likely heard this statement before, along with many others like it questioning the effectiveness of home workouts. But, are they true?
Are Home Workouts Effective?
Really, it depends on your overall goals. If gaining as much strength as possible is your primary goal, then you can make progress to a point. However, gaining strength requires that we are continually increasing weight lifted over time.
So if the weights that you currently have are a challenge, and you have the ability to increase weight, you will continue to make progress, until you reach a point where the equipment that you have available to you, no longer challenges you, and the load becomes too easy.
But as long as you have the funds and space to facilitate enough weight and equipment, you can absolutely workout effectively at home, without ever needing to step foot in a gym. Now, there are different kinds of strength training as well. What I have already mentioned is specifically, weight training.
Weight training isn’t the only way to get strong.
Effective Ways to Workout at Home
Calisthenics is another very effective means of training for strength. It requires less equipment, but depending on the baseline strength, conditioning, and level of fitness you are starting from, it can take longer to see progress. Calisthenics also demands a higher degree of control over one’s body and technique. Both styles have their pros and cons, but both are very effective.
Now, if shaping and sculpting your body, and simply achieving a balance of aesthetics, and overall health and wellness are your desire, then it is much easier to make progress, even with fairly little equipment, from home.
Whereas strength requires us to work with heavier loads, and increase these loads fairly consistently, building muscle is more a matter of increasing our overall volume of training over time.
This doesn’t mean that you won’t get stronger as you build more muscle, it just means that strength will come secondary to muscle size, when working with lighter loads but higher volumes.
Volume of training would be the total amount of training you would perform, and can be manipulated and increased by adding weight, repetitions, sets, or frequency. This is why we can get by with less equipment when the goal is building muscle size.
Even with less weight, so long as we increase reps performed with the same weight, whether that be by increasing how many reps in a set, or how many numbers of sets we do, we will be increasing volume.
We do still want to challenge ourselves, and working with lighter loads may mean we need to perform more reps per set to sufficiently do so. Contrary to popular belief we can build muscle over a very broad range of reps.
Volume = Sets x Reps x Weight
It used to be believed that we had to work in a range of 8-12 reps with a weight that challenged us in that range. But over the past couple of decades, research has shown that we can build muscle using heavy loads and low reps, all the way through to using lighter loads and much higher reps.
How we choose to do so will depend on, again, the equipment we have available, secondary goals such as strength or muscular endurance, and practicality. Because it can be somewhat tiresome doing sets of 30 or more reps for multiple sets, and doing so can make for some very long training sessions.
If joint health is poor or we have had previous injuries, that may also be another consideration for using lower loads, but higher volumes and frequency of training as well.
Working Out at Home with Limited Equipment
Let’s illustrate what progression of volume to build muscle might look like when using limited equipment and weight at home. The following progression principles could be applied to any movement .
Using a flat dumbbell bench press as an example, let’s say you have a set of 20 pound dumbbells you are using and these are your heaviest dumbbells. You can currently perform 3 sets of 8 repetitions with good technical form.
Without the ability to add weight, you could increase volume and continue to challenge yourself each week, by aiming to increase the number of repetitions performed each week, maintaining good form of course.
Before adding sets, continue to increase reps. On this principle alone, you could continue to challenge yourself for quite some time, depending on how many reps you want to perform as your upper limit.
You could still increase reps and see progress just fine, but as we said, it can be tiresome performing very long sets, and if you have the attention of a squirrel like myself, then by the time you get to 30, you’ll have lost count.
A couple months pass, and at this point you are able to perform 3 sets of 15 reps with good form, and it is enough of a challenge that you could maybe get a few more reps if you pushed hard, but you may miss the last one.
So for the sake of brevity and our attention spans, this would be a great time to just add a set. Now our aim is 4 sets of 15 reps. Often this extra set, because we are demanding a bit more from ourselves we may even find that we are unable to perform all 15 reps that last set. Once we can, we can either continue to add reps if desired or sets.
At some point, just as with those high reps, doing many sets, can become impractical. If this is the case, it may be more feasible to consider splitting up your training to increase the frequency that you train each body part. You could even drop the amount of sets performed per session and through increased frequency, still increase your overall training volume for the week.
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Increasing Workout Frequency
Say you drop the amount of sets back down to 3 sets but perform that exercise 2 times per week instead of 1, you will increase up to 6 total sets per week for that body part. 2 more sets per week than you were performing previously.
The other benefit of this is that due to needing less sets per session, this may actually greatly decrease the amount of time it takes to train each session, making it easier to stay consistent with training, as it isn’t as much of a time commitment.
Utilizing Exercise Variations
When increasing frequency, you can even mix it up a little and start adding in different variations of movements, to keep it interesting. Rather than doing a flat dumbbell bench press 2 times per week, you could do a flat bench one session, and the next do an incline bench press, or a dumbbell pec fly.
Just as you can add reps and sets, you can still increase frequency over time as well. Once you have been training for quite some time, you could increase to 3 times per bodypart per week.
And there are several ways to do that as well, from 3 full body workouts per week, to 6 days per week, of alternating between an upper and lower workout, with each a different workout, giving you 3 different upper workouts and 3 different lower workouts.
So yes, you can definitely work out effectively at home, and with some creativity, you can do so fruitfully for quite a long time. This is by no means a comprehensive or exhaustive article on the subject, but hopefully the next time someone brings up the subject, it will equip you to respond with a confident, “I’m doing quite well with what I’ve got at home, but thanks for your concern.” 😉
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