Gym vs Home Workouts: How to Get Identical Results
Resistance training is key to building a great physique. But can you achieve good results without going to the gym? Check out what you can expect from home workouts.
Is Gym Training More Effective than Home Workouts?
Getting in shape comes down to a few simple things:
- sufficient muscle stimulation
- adequate recovery
- proper dieting habits
Nutrition and recovery shouldn’t be affected by your training environment. However, providing sufficient muscle stimulation may be a challenge at home. Gym equipment makes that far easier. But this doesn’t mean home workouts are a waste of time.
The primary driver of muscle growth (hypertrophy) is mechanical tension. How you generate tension is largely irrelevant.
You get identical results training with bodyweight, resistance bands, free weights, machines, or cables. Provided you match the muscle stimulation.
Author's comment: if want to get in the best shape of your life don't avoid the gym. Home training should be a temporary solution when you can't go to the gym. Not your default option.
The Benefits of Working Out In a Gym
Training in a commercial gym or in your garage can produce similar results. But only if you apply the hypertrophy principles (more about that later).
However, there are a few major advantages of training in a dedicated facility.
- Convenience: Equipment availability is a massive advantage. Gym equipment opens up many exercise options. Some muscles are hard to target at home. Also, overloading is a challenge without a good selection of external weights and machines.
- Singular focus: You probably don’t associate your garage or living room with working out. Family members, house chores, and other tasks can be quite distracting. It’s hard to stay focused on your workout. You can easily fail to complete (or start) your training on time.
- Financial investment: When you sign up for the gym you want to get value out of that investment. That’s loss aversion. You’d rather put yourself through the discomfort of a workout than waste money for nothing.
- Peer pressure, accountability, and social support: Your gym buddy or a coach can help you stay on track. Especially when you feel like slacking off. A few encouraging words or a harsh reality check can make a difference.
- Inspiration and competition: Comparing yourself to other people is normal. That serves as a reality check. You see how far you can push yourself. Friendly competition can also boost your motivation.
How to Workout at Home and See Good Results?
Just because you can achieve great results at home doesn’t mean you will.
To make great gains you need to maximize muscle stimulation. Apply these principles to get the best out of your home sessions:
Note: Follow the links for additional information and examples.
- Specificity: Select exercises that can generate sufficient tension to cause growth. Many movements are not great for building muscle (e.g. burpees or jumping jacks).
- Work volume: Do enough sets and reps to get the maximum benefits of each exercise. Quick and easy workouts may not lead to optimal results. Needlessly long training sessions may cause burnouts.
- Overload: Make sure training remains challenging without getting overwhelmed. Your body will adapt to the initial training stimulus. You need to find ways to keep things harder over time. But not so hard you can’t progress past a certain point.
- Recovery: Prioritize rest management and adequate sleep time to maintain peak performance. Muscle growth happens when you rest. If you neglect recovery you may render your workouts a waste of time.
Make Bodyweight Exercises as Effective as Free Weights
Knowing the key muscle growth principles doesn’t solve all problems.
Training has to push you close to your limits to stimulate adaptation (hypertrophy). Maintaining high intensity is not a challenge in the gym. When training gets easy you simply add more weight.
Home training presents a unique problem. Bodyweight training uses a fixed “load”. You have to increase tension without changing the weight. Or make use of secondary growth pathways that don’t rely heavily on mechanical tension.
There are a few solutions:
- Find other ways to add more weight by using everyday items: For example, you can fill a backpack with some heavy items. Or use water bottles and jugs. You're technically using free weights.
- Shift your leverages so the same weight generates more tension: For example, go from a standard to a wide grip push up. The distance between your hands and the chest changes. The exercise gets harder while your weight stays the same.
- Increase the range of motion: For example, go from a regular to a deep squat. Let your upper legs go below the horizontal line. Your quads will move your torso weight through a longer distance. The overall work (tension) per rep will increase.
- Increase the time under tension: For example, slow down the tempo. You can even implement pauses. This will make light weigh feel more challenging. The strategy relies on other secondary hypertrophy mechanisms.
- Reduce rest times: For example, rest just long enough to catch your breath. You can even stack similar exercises into supersets. Just make sure both exercises engage the same muscle. This approach is similar to the previous point.
How to Train Whole Body at Home
Some muscle groups are notoriously hard to isolate without access to weights or basic equipment. Overloading your back muscles, hamstrings, glutes, biceps, and shoulders at home is not an easy task.
Here are a few ideas on how to train those muscles.
- Get a pull-up bar. If you're serious about training that’s a must.
- Alternatively, find an outdoor pull-up or monkey bar station.
- Get resistance bands and do vertical and horizontal pulling exercises.
- Do inverted rows using a table.
Hamstrings / Glutes:
- Get free weights. A single 40-50lbs dumbbell is better than nothing. The hamstrings and glutes are strong muscles. Bodyweight workouts rarely provide enough resistance.
- Get resistance bands. Not as good as free weights but still very useful.
- For the hamstrings, do wall (nordic) hamstring curls with bodyweight.
- For the glutes, use a loaded backpack or something heavy to replace heavy gym exercises.
- Check the section about back training. Most back exercises stimulate the biceps.
- Find something at home that is 20-30lbs and convenient to curl.
- Resistance bands are a good idea.
- Find a ~30lb item at home you can shoulder press with one arm.
- Band lateral raises and overhead presses are also effective.
- Pike push-ups and handstands are great bodyweight exercises.
For more options check out “Home Training When Gyms Are Closed”. We’ve covered all major muscle groups. Bodyweight, free weights, and resistance band options are all included.
What’s the Best Way to Get in Shape Without Gym?
Getting in shape comes down to:
- Increasing muscle mass:
- Proper training has a top priority. Working out stimulates growth.
- Diet is a multiplier. It affects the rate of progress. A great diet without training doesn’t increase muscle. But a poor diet will render training a waste of time.
- Losing body fat
- A good diet has a top priority. You can’t out-train a bad diet.
- Training can speed up fat loss. However, calorie expenditure is a sluggish process compared to consumption. Hence it’s better to control consumption.
We’ve already discussed the training part. Follow the main hypertrophy principles highlighted above. Muscle growth shouldn’t be affected by your training logistics.
But let’s see how nutrition targets change.
Muscle Gain: Diet Changes When Training at Home
Muscle growth is an energy-intensive process. To maximize the gain rate you have to consume plenty of nutrients. But there's a limit to how fast you can increase muscle. Going over that sweet spot causes excess calories to be stored as fat.
Bulking is generally easier when training at home:
- Energy waste for non-training activities (e.g. commuting) is reduced.
- Food availability and access to nutritious options tend to be better.
Let’s assume home training means more time at home. Maximizing the gain rate shouldn't be a problem. However, rapid body fat accumulation can become an issue.
Your weekly gain rate should be equal to 0.5% of your bodyweight. For example, a 150 lbs individual should aim for 0.75 lbs a week. That will allow you to maximize muscle growth. You’ll also avoid gaining weight so fast that most of it is fat.
Note: Skinny people can gain weight faster. Going up to 1% of your bodyweight may be acceptable. If you’re 120lbs, then gaining 1.2 lbs a week may be a good target.
Fat Burn: Diet Changes When Training at Home
Maximizing fat comes down to mostly reducing energy intake. However, aggressive dieting can lead to stress, burnouts, and eventual weight regain. Needlessly dragging out the process is also not a great option. Nobody wants to spend several months on a diet.
Dieting is generally harder when training at home:
- Energy expenditure for non-training activities (e.g. walking) is reduced.
- Exposure to highly caloric and palatable options tends to increase.
Let’s again assume home training means more time at home. When stuck inside you may move less. Also, have easy access to a full fridge. Not ideal conditions for an aggressive diet.
Weight Loss Is Extra Hard When Stuck at Home
The main rule of fat loss is “eat less, move more”. But when activity decreases you have to diet harder and smarter. Often home training is not as hard as heavy gym exercises. Hence you may burn even fewer calories with bodyweight exercises.
Your usual diet strategy might not balance out the reduction in energy expenditure. However, reducing intake may increase hunger. Hunger spikes can have a negative impact on consistency.
Tracking becomes super important. It helps you stay consistent. Seeing progress on the scale can be motivating. And when your weight starts going up, you know you messed up. You can learn from your mistakes. Then get back on track.
Your weekly fat burn rate should be equal to ~1% of your bodyweight. For example, a 200 lbs individual should aim for 2 lbs a week. If you have 50 + lbs to lose you can aim for 1.5% to 2%. But when you start seeing your abs you can go down to 0.5%.
Note: You can also make dieting easier by doing cardio at home. You’ll burn a few extra calories and speed up fat loss.
Is a Home Gym a Good Investment?
We already discussed the benefits of commercial gyms. But is it possible to combine the best of both worlds? Train at home using gym equipment instead of doing bodyweight exercises.
Here are a few questions to consider first:
- How serious are you about building a great physique?
- Do you prefer working out alone or with other people?
- Are you changing your location often?
- Do you have enough free space?
- Is that space suitable for heavy weight training?
- Do you have the budget to invest in quality equipment?
Building a home gym can be a huge investment. Consider your unique life situation and training preferences.
It’s a good idea to do some research as well. Check equipment prices and additional costs. Investing in your own gym shouldn’t be an impulsive decision.
Garage Gym vs Commercial Gym: Pros and Cons
Let’s go over the similarities and differences.
Similarities (most of the overlap covers the technical aspects of training):
- You have access to various types of equipment.
- There are multiple exercise options for each muscle group.
- It’s easy to overload different lifts.
- Gym equipment leads to better gains than bodyweight training (in the long run)
Differences (most of the points cover the social and mental aspect of training):
- Group training and socializing are easier in a commercial gym.
- Flexible training schedule when training at home.
- Equipment limitations can be solved by moving to a different gym.
- Motivation to train can be hard to muster when working at home.
You can build a muscular physique regardless of your training environment. The key lies in the proper application of the training and diet principles.
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