Home Training for Busy Entrepreneurs When Gyms Are Closed

by | Building Muscle, Exercise, Fitness

You don’t want to skip training but there are no working gyms near you? No need to waste valuable time exploring endless options.

Find instant solutions in our home training guide. Exercise alternatives for various situations. Learn how to train using your bodyweight. Or check out how to implement the limited equipment you have access to.

Note: Click here to go the exercise section immediately.

How Effective Are Home Workouts?

The same principles that apply to gym training also apply to home workouts. Mechanical tension is the primary driver of muscle growth. You can be lifting your bodyweight. Or training with free weights.

It makes little difference how you generate tension in the muscle. When you provide a sufficient stimulus muscle growth occurs. Proper recovery management is also important. But given the main topic of this article, we’ll skip that for now.

Unfortunately, home workouts may become less effective over time. Especially once you get more advanced. That’s mostly due to 2 reasons:

  • It may be hard to overload certain exercises. In a gym setting it’s easy to keep training challenging. Usually it comes down to increasing the external weights. In a home setting that’s not always possible. You may quickly adapt to the resistance provided by your bodyweight or limited equipment. Then it gets hard to sustain sufficient training stimuli.
  • The second problem is versatility. You have fewer options in terms of exercise setup, body positioning, grips, etc. Gym equipment can make life very easy. Training certain body parts at home requires a lot of creativity. The stronger you get, the more creative you have to be.

Despite all this, you can still get a hell of a workout at home. We’ll teach you how to overcome the most common obstacles. You’ll learn how to use your home (or temporary location) to train your whole body. Limited gym access is not an excuse to give up on your physique goals. Many of our clients get jacked even when training is not ideal.

Is the “Work From Home Workout” a Good Idea?

Unless you have some basic equipment, your home cannot replace the gym. If you’re serious about building a great physique you’ll eventually have to get back to the gym.

Home training is usually a temporary solution. Or a starting point. A complete newbie doesn’t need to do much to stimulate muscle growth. A simple bodyweight routine can do the trick. But as you get advanced you’ll need access to some training equipment.

However even if training conditions are not ideal, that’s still better than not training at all. Most people can continue to make gains. Or at the very least maintain what they’ve gained so far.

How Long Can You Maintain Your Gains Training at Home?

Maintaining muscle mass is much easier than making new gains. Most people can retain their body composition without much effort. Even if you don’t train for 2 weeks you won’t lose any muscle.

The harder you can train, the easier and longer you can retain muscle. Beginners can even expect to gain lean tissue. Smaller and skinny individuals benefit the most from simple workouts. Though even experienced lifters can make new gains if they have some weights at home.

Note: Diet also plays a huge role. It affects body fat and the ease with which you maintain or gain muscle. 

Should You Invest In Equipment or Do Bodyweight Exercises?

First, you need to ask yourself a few questions:

  • How long do you expect to be unable to access the gym?
  • How advanced/strong are you?
  • Do you travel often?

If you run your business from home it’s tempting to skip the gym. You can save time training in your garage or living room. But depending on your goals, that’s not always a great idea.

Answer the questions above. Then use the info below to evaluate the pros and cons of different home workouts.

Bodyweight Workouts

Bodyweight workouts and calisthenics type training can be very convenient. Most exercises require no equipment or even leaving your home. But having access to a pull-up bar, monkey bars, or dip bars can open up a lot more options.

Pros of bodyweight training:

  • It can be done in a multitude of different environments.
  • No need to invest in additional training equipment or gear.

Cons of bodyweight training:

  • Some exercises have a steep learning curve. Hard to implement if you only resort to bodyweight training occasionally.
  • Limited application for serious lifters. May be really hard to train certain muscles.

Resistance Bands

Resistance bands allow you to recreate many of the gym exercises. People not strong enough to do bodyweight exercises can use bands instead. Travel workouts are also easier to manage. Bands don’t take much space and you can bring them with you anywhere.

Pros of resistance band workouts:

  • It’s very easy to use bands even if you have limited training experience.
  • You can target almost all muscle groups.

Cons of resistance band workouts:

  • You may have to invest in a few different bands and additional attachments (ankle straps, door anchors, etc).
  • Band training can get stale quickly. Advanced individuals don’t benefit much from band workouts in the long run.

Note: TRX suspension training is similar to using resistance bands. Though it can be a more effective way to train. However, it’s usually harder to implement in a home setting. Also, the price for a suspension trainer is much higher than buying several bands.

Free Weights

Dumbbells, barbells, kettlebells, plates, etc. Anything that is relatively heavy and you can grip and hold it easily. A single pair of adjustable dumbbells can open up endless exercise options.

Strong and advanced trainees benefit the most from free weights. If you’re really serious about fitness you need external load.

Pros of free weights:

  • Free weights open up the most options in terms of exercises.
  • You can get great muscle stimulation, similar to a gym workout.

Cons of free weights:

  • Price-wise free weights are a big investment. You may also have to get a bench or a rack to be able to fully utilize your weights.
  • Not an option if you’re changing your location often. Especially if you travel by plane and there’s no way to bring weights with you.

Miscellaneous

Depending on your logistics you can invest in additional equipment. These are mostly non-essential options. But they can help make your workouts a bit more challenging. Or increase your training options.

Here are our top suggestions:

  • push up handles
  • wrist straps
  • a home pull-up bar
  • gymnastic rings
  • a dip station
  • a weighted belt
  • an aerobic step platform

Home Gym Basics for Building Bigger Muscles

If you want to build a home gym don’t worry about bodyweight or band exercises. Try to get some free weights. This way you can continue to make great gains for a very long time.

Here are the essentials. You don’t need all the items listed here. However, more equipment means more exercise options.

  • a pair of adjustable dumbbells that can go up to ~50lbs per dumbbell.
    • alternatively, you can get a couple of fixed weight dumbbells.
      • one light pair (~20 lbs) for isolation exercises
      • one heavy pair (~50 lbs) for heavy leg exercises
      • anything in between if you have the budget for that
  • standard (45lbs) barbell
  • several weight plates (total weight up to ~200 lbs)
  • an adjustable bench
  • an adjustable barbell rack that can be used for pressing, squatting, etc
  • pull-up bar (can be part of the rack)
  • bonus: cable station with multiple handles and bars
    • single stand with one pulley if your budget is limited
    • cross-over (2 stands) if you’re fine spending a bit more

Which Are the Best Home Exercises for Each Muscle Group?

There are many potential replacements for regular gym exercises. Here we’ve listed some of the most common ones. See what works for you based on your home environment.

Don’t be afraid to experiment. Try tweaking some of the exercises. Get creative with the setup. Google alternatives. And don’t forget to check YouTube for helpful tutorials.

Important: Be very careful when doing exercises at home. The risk of injury is higher when not using dedicated fitness equipment. The surfaces and objects used as support must be properly secured. Anything used to generate resistance has to able to withstand the forces applied to it. 

Chest (Pecs)

Training the chest comes down to 2 major types of exercises. Horizontal pressing (e.g. bench press, push ups, etc) and flyes.

Bodyweight chest exercises:

  • Push ups are your best friend. Regular, close grip, wide grip, one hand, etc. Use a loaded backpack or push up handles for extra muscle stimulation.
  • It’s hard to do flyes with bodyweight. But you can combine different push up variations to blast the chest. Don’t worry if you have to skip your flyes.

Resistance band chest exercises:

  • You still need to do push ups. That’s your bench press replacement. Though you can add bands to make the top part of the movement harder.
    • The band should be anchored on both sides below your hands. Going around the length of your arms and behind your upper back. At the top position you’ll be stretching out the band. Hence making the exercise harder.
  • The biggest benefit of bands is they allow you to do flyes. You can do horizontal flyes, top to bottom, or bottom to top. One hand, or both hands at the same time. Plenty of ways to target the chest.

Free weight chest exercises:

  • You can do regular barbell, dumbbell, or kettlebell horizontal pressing movements. However, doing them on the floor (or any wide flat surface) limits your range of motion.
    • Ideally, use a bench (or narrow flat surface) that allows you to reach sufficient depth. Elbows slightly below the torso. If that’s not the case, you may be better off doing push ups. You’ll get way more tension at the bottom.
  • Free weight flyes work differently compared to band or cables. You’re overloading a different portion of the chest. However, that’s still a great exercise. But similar to horizontal presses you need a bench to reap the full benefits. Otherwise don’t bother.

Back (Lats & Traps)

Black training can be divided into vertical pulling and horizontal rowing exercises.

Bodyweight back exercises:

  • Pull-up variations are by far one of the most effective back exercises. Add variety to your training by simply switching your grip and hand position. Overloading is also easy. Load a backpack with extra weight to make pull-ups harder.
  • If you don’t have access to a pull-up bar things get tricky. You’ll need to try one of the bodyweight pullover variations. Depending on your leverages you may have to experiment a bit. Some alternatives can be quite tricky to master. Check YouTube for an exercise variation you can do.
  • Rowing movements are easier to replicate. You can use a table to do “table inverted rows”. If you have access to an outdoor pull-up station, do monkey bar inverted rows. Elevating the feet (e.g. on a chair) will make the exercise harder.

Resistance band back exercises:

  • Vertical pulling can be easily replicated with bands. Attach the band somewhere high. Then do regular pull-downs or straight arm pulldowns. One or two arms at a time.
    • If that’s not an option, attach the band around hip level, somewhere in front of you. Then bend over so your shoulders are in line with the anchor point. Bent-over pulls are similar to regular vertical pull-downs.
  • Horizontal band rows are also easy to implement. Attach the band somewhere at chest level. Keep the torso upright and pull.

Free weight back exercises:

  • Ideally, you have a pull bar and you use the extra weights to overload your pull-ups. Use a weighted belt or a backpack to add extra weight.
  • Other replacements for vertical pulling include free weight pullover variations. Use dumbbells, barbells, etc. Get your hands low enough to get a nice stretch in the sides of the back.
  • Rowing exercises are very easy to do with free weights. Any bent-over row works. You can also use a bench or table for chest support. But that’s just a bonus.

Arms (Biceps & Triceps)

Direct arm training is not always needed. Most upper body compound exercises already train that part of your body.

Most pushing exercises engage the triceps. And most pulling exercises train the biceps. But if you’re used to intense arm training there are a few accessory exercises you can try.

Bodyweight arm exercises:

  • Isolating the biceps using bodyweight is a challenging task. You can try biceps push ups or door frame arm curls. You can even grab and curl your (bent) leg. The trick is to focus on the mind-muscle connection. Isolate the biceps while minimizing the engagement of other muscles.
    • If you have access to a lowly positioned bar you can do inverted bicep curls.
  • Triceps training is easier. Close grip push ups, dips, various bodyweight triceps extensions, and bodyweight skull crushers are all great exercises.

Resistance band arm exercises:

  • Any kind of band bicep curl does the trick. You have plenty of variety in terms of grips, band anchors, and arm orientation.
  • The same goes for the triceps. Most tricep extension exercises you can do in a gym can be recreated using a band.

Free weight arm exercises:

  • Similar to bands, free weights allow you to easily train the biceps. You don’t even have to bother securing the band to a heavy object. Just grab the weight and start curling.
  • Apart from pushdowns, you can do most other types of triceps exercises using free weights. No major changes compared to your usual workout routine.

Shoulders (Delts)

The shoulders have 3 main sections: front, side, and rear. Most pushing exercises hit the front (anterior) section. Most pulling exercises hit the rear (posterior) section. Usually you only have to worry about the side shoulders.

Targeting the middle delts comes down to vertical pushing and lateral raise variations (including upright rows).

Bodyweight shoulder exercises:

  • You can replace vertical pressing with handstand variations. You can try handstanding for time. If you’re stronger do handstand presses instead. But if you lack strength and balance, do one of the pike push up variations.
  • Lateral raises are generally hard to replace without external resistance. There are ways to do them at home, but overloading can be tricky. You’re better off focusing on handstands and pike push ups.

Resistance band shoulder training:

  • Band shoulder presses are easy to implement. Step on the band. Then use one or two hands to press up the end(s) of the band.
  • Lateral raises and upright rows can also be done with a band. Anchor the band by stepping on the middle portion. Then pull the ends similar to how you’d perform a free weight or cable variation.

Free weight shoulder training:

  • Shoulder presses are typically done with free weights. No major changes here.
  • The same goes for lateral raises and upright rows.

Front Upper Legs (Quads)

Quad training comes down to squats, lunge variations, and leg extensions. The biggest issue is providing enough muscle tension. Quads are big muscles. You need sufficiently challenging external forces to achieve proper muscle stimulation.

Bodyweight quad exercises:

  • Squat variations are easy to do. But hard to overload without external weights. It's best to use a loaded backpack. You may also have to do a high number of reps (e.g. 30+). Keep rest periods short. Maintain constant muscle tension, no locking out or resting at the bottom. You can even implement techniques like blood flow restriction or Myo reps.
    • A great bodyweight squat alternative is the sissy squat. Keep the heel hyper-elevated. Go deep and maintain constant muscle tension.
  • Split squats and other lunge variations also work well. Especially if you apply the squat tips from above. You’re working one leg at a time, so you don’t need as much external resistance.
    • Pistol squats are a very effective one-leg quad exercise. Similar to lunges, but more challenging. You can do box pistol squats if you can’t go all the way down just yet.
  • To replace machine leg extensions you can do natural leg extensions. It may take you a while to master the full range of motion. Which means you can progress for quite some time. No need for external resistance.

Resistance band quad exercises:

  • Most squat and lunge exercises don’t benefit much from the use of bands. Bands affect only the top position of the movement. This is the easiest portion of the lift and the least stimulating. You still have to apply the bodyweight tips highlighted above. Though you can add bands for extra resistance.
  • Leg extensions, if you have ankle straps, can easily be done using bands. Simple replacement for most people.

Free weight quad exercises:

  • If you have a good home setup you can do regular barbell squats. Dumbbells may not provide enough resistance for stronger individuals. And they are harder to hold in place once the weight get too heavy.
  • Lunges, step-ups, step-backs, and split squats are a great alternative. You don’t need as much weight. Also, no need for a squat rack or additional equipment. They work well for both advanced and beginner lifters.
  • Dumbbell leg extensions can replace the machine version. But if you can already do heavy squats and lunges, you can skip this exercise.

Back Upper Legs (Glutes & Hamstrings)

Most of the hamstring exercises train the glutes as well. Examples include deadlift variations and other compound hip hinge lifts. Some exercises like leg curls focus primarily on the hamstrings. While hip thrusts and glute bridges isolate the glutes.

Due to their size and strength, these 2 muscles are hard to stimulate properly. Similar to the quads it’s hard to overload them without external weights or equipment.

Bodyweight hamstring and glute exercises:

  • Compound exercises like deadlifts, good morning or hip extensions are hard to do at home. Without external resistance you’ll struggle to make those movements effective. In the case of angled hip extensions you may also need additional equipment.
    • You can try lifting heavy household objects to generate enough tension. Or use a yoga ball or your couch to perform 45° hip extensions. But these are not always practical solutions.
  • Wall hamstring curls and nordic hamstring curls can replace machine alternatives. Securing your feet/ankles in place can be tricky though. Also, the exercise is very hard. You’ll need to use your hands to control the movement. But at least you can progress for months before this exercise becomes ineffective.
  • Bodyweight hip thrusts and glute bridges are also a good option. To keep them challenging you may need to do single-leg variations. A high number of reps (e.g. 15+) works well for those exercises. You can also implement pauses at the top. Keeping rest times short helps maintain high muscle tension.

Band hamstring and glute exercises:

  • Doing your deadlifts, good mornings, and other hip hinge movements using a band is a good idea. Though you may need really thick bands. Note that bands are not nearly as effective as free weights. Strong individuals may have to do a lot of reps. Also, keep rest times very short.
  • Band leg curls are easy to do, especially if you have ankle straps. Though bodyweight hamstring curls generally result in better muscle stimulation.
  • However, band hip thrusts and glute bridges are better than the bodyweight alternatives. You can still apply the tips from the section above. Bands make it easier to progress without having to constantly tweak different training variables.

Free weight hamstring and glute exercises:

  • Free weight deadlifts and good mornings are a staple in most training programs. One of the most efficient ways to train the back of the legs. However, you may still need a lot of weight to hit those muscles properly.
  • Dumbbell leg curls work well for most people. That’s another easy replacement.
  • Weighted hip thrusts and glute bridges are a no brainer. The best way to do these lifts is by using external loads.

Lower Legs (Calves)

There are two types of calf exercises. Straight leg calf raises and bent knee calf raises. You can do the bent leg variations seated or standing. If you do them standing, keep your knee at about a 120° angle.

Here are a few universal tips. The less external resistance you can apply, the more useful these tips become. Calves are generally more resistant to growth than other muscles. They also respond best to more endurance-style training.

  • Use a high number of reps, at least 15 or much higher.
  • Keep the toes elevated, so your heel can go lower than toe level.
  • Full range of motion. All the way to the top, all the way to the bottom.
  • Short rest times between sets.

Bodyweight calf exercises:

  • Standing calf raises can be done using bodyweight. To make them harder, do a single leg version. Ideally, use a loaded backpack or hold something heavy.
  • Seated calf raises are not great without external resistance. You may be better off doing bent leg standing raises instead. Your upper torso provides more resistance this way. Again, do one leg at a time to increase muscle tension.

Band calf exercises:

  • Bands are very hard to implement when it comes to calf exercises. It's much easier to do them using bodyweight only. Or holding something heavy. Skip the bands and use the suggestions described above.

Free weight calf exercises:

  • Standing raises holding weight are very effective. You can progress easily without having to do a crazy number of repetitions.
  • Both standing bent knee and seated raises can be done with free weights. If you’re seated, just place the weights on top of your knee(s) to provide extra resistance.

How to Keep Progressing Once it Gets Too Easy?

The biggest advantage of gym training is weight overload. Muscles can quickly adapt to most training stimuli. Once this happens they stop growing. You can deal with that by occasionally increasing the external weight. This keeps training challenging. Growth doesn’t stop.

However, if you’re training at home you rarely have this luxury. The amount of external resistance is limited. You need to find other ways to keep things sufficiently hard. Also, don’t forget to track training progress to avoid spinning your wheels for months.

Overload Tips for Continuous Muscle Growth

Increase muscle stimulus by putting yourself at a mechanical disadvantage. Find ways to shift your leverages so exercises get more challenging. Increasing the range of motion also achieves a similar effect

  • For example, switch from knee push ups, to regular push ups. Then from regular to a hand elevated version (e.g. use push up handles). Your bodyweight remains the same. But by shifting your leverages and how low you go muscles tension changes.

Increase the number of reps and sets. If you can’t do heavy training, do more of the light training.

  • Overload by increasing the total number of reps. Don’t be afraid to go as high as 20 or 30 reps per set. When this gets easy, add an extra set or two. The weight you lift per rep may not be high. But the weight per session can easily surpass what you usually manage in the gym.

Decrease rest time. Short rest periods can activate alternative muscle growth pathways. Not as effective as training with normal rest periods and heavy weights. But it's a viable strategy when you don’t have other overload options.

  • Start with normal rest time. Then gradually decrease rest between sets. For example, start with 1 min rest periods. Next time go down to 40-50s. Then 30s and so on.

Combining more than one of these strategies can yield even greater results. Home training can be as effective as gym sessions. You just need to get a bit creative. And ideally have some basic equipment.

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