This article highlights 5 top tips for completing strength training at home, allowing us to gain a meaningful strength stimulus with minimal equipment or load!
What is strength training?
Before digging into these top tips, let’s quickly outline what we mean by strength training. Often we think of people lifting weights in a gym environment, but this doesn’t have to be the case. It is the adaptation within the body that we are interested in, not the method that achieves this. Strength training therefore is any training that aims to increase the ability of the body to produce force.
We know from research that heavy strength training (>80% 1RM) leads to the greatest increases in the ability of the body to produce force, owing to the high levels of mechanical tension needed to move the load. It may be difficult to replicate the amount of force required to lift heavy weights in a gym environment, as we may not have the equipment needed when training from home. However, with some adjustments, we can get closer to the stimulus needed for changes in the muscular properties that allow for increased force expression.
Tip #1 - Be consistent
Athlete A completes 4 sessions per week for 6 weeks (24 in total).
Athlete B completes 2 sessions per week for 6 months (52 in total).
Who gets better results?
Clearly Athlete B is likely to be in a better position in the long run, even though Athlete A will likely achieve better short term results. The message here is to start with a programme that you can complete on a consistent basis, as it is the accumulation of work that will provide the biggest compounding results over a long enough time span. If you can only commit to two sessions per week, then it is better to do this than to beat yourself up because you set yourself an unrealistic target.
Tip #2 - The best programme is the one that works for you
A quick search on Google for ‘home workouts’ provides over a billion search results. Yes you read that correctly…
There is so much content available around training, which can be confusing and sometimes contradictory. The answer therefore is to find a programme that works for you. The truth is there is no such thing as a ‘best’ programme, it is entirely contextual based on your needs and preferences.
It is important to not just start a programme you’ve found without understanding the context behind it. Factors such as target demographic, requisite training age and movement competency all need to be considered when deciding if a programme is right for you or not. If you are not sure about what is right for you, contact me and I will point you in the right direction!
Now onto the specifics of strength training…
Tip #3 - Complete unilateral training
Unilateral training is using a single limb to complete an exercise, such as a single leg squat.
This provides value when access to equipment or a gym facility is limited, as it allows for a relatively greater load to be lifted. Research around segmental analysis (connective morphology of the body) highlights this. In a single leg squat, almost 85% of the body’s resistance is taken through the stance leg, compared with less than 70% per leg in a double leg squat, evenly distributed across both limbs. The end result being that we need less external load to a elicit the strength stimulus needed. An example is that the relative load experienced on one leg using just your own bodyweight is greater than the relative load experienced by each leg when using an external load of less than your own bodyweight.
To highlight this in clearer terms:
Athlete weighing 100kg - single leg squat with no additional external load = 85kg load on one leg
Adding additional load to this exercise can then create a highly effective strength stimulus, with as little as 10-15kg being a significant strength stimulus for most athletes.
Please note that this refers to a ‘truly’ single leg squat i.e. one leg on the ground, rather than a split stance squat where the load is more evenly distributed across both limbs. If loading a single leg squat is too advanced for you, then try some of these alternatives:
Other strength exercises requiring little to no equipment include:
Trunk exercises including leg lowers, side planks and plank variations
Hip hinge variations including RDLs, single leg RDLs and split stance RDLs
Bridge variations including single leg and double leg bridges
Pushing exercises including push-ups, overhead pressing and band presses
Pulling exercises including bent over rows, single arm rows and band pulls
Tip #4 - Use isometrics
Isometric exercises are where a muscle undergoes tension without changes in its length. If you imagine trying to push hard against a brick wall, you will experience high amounts of tension as muscles try to apply sufficient force to overcome the resistance, but will not be able to do so. Therefore the muscles remain in a fixed length, and the wall stays in place!
Isometrics come in two forms - overcoming (such as the brick wall example) and yielding (where you actively resist an external force such as when you hold a barbell at the bottom of a bench press for a few seconds). Typically we can produce more force in the overcoming form of isometric contraction, as this is a more active application of force.
We can use these types of contractions in home workouts to generate a helpful strength stimulus!
Using something like a towel (or even better, industrial straps with a very high load resistance), we have a great piece of equipment to resist high amounts of force. This means that we can apply lots of force without it being too much for the equipment to handle.
This video from Alex Bunt is a great example of how we can set up a deadlift/hinge position. Pull hard against the towel for up to 5 seconds at a time.
Other examples we can use include:
Calf raise towel isometrics
Single leg squat towel isometrics
Push-up towel isometrics
Pulling based towel isometrics
Tip #5 - Get creative!
The body doesn’t know if it lifting a barbell or a sofa, it only knows load and tension. Knowing this is important as it means we understand strength training principles over training methods.
Now we know how to adapt our strength training from home, we can use household items to load ourselves safely and effectively!
Some of my favourites include:
Rucksack filled with household items (can be used for squatting, push-ups and many other exercises)
Two chairs with a broomstick laid across for inverted row based exercises
Bottles of water for a very flexible approach to load (just fill up more or less dependent on the load you want)]
Someone else - ask a family member or significant other to manually resist exercises by pushing against you
Wall or fixed object for isometrics
Putting it all together
Here is a template training session that you could complete from home!
1) Mobility exercises (5-10 minutes)
2A) Single leg squats - 4 sets x 6-8 reps per leg with additional load if appropriate
2B) Pushups - 4 x 10-15 reps
3A) Hip hinge towel isometric - 3 x (4 x 5s) reps
3B) Copenhagen adductor holds - 3 x 30s per leg
4A) Single leg bridges - 3 x 15-20 reps per leg
4B) Single leg calf raises - 3 x 15-20 reps per leg
5) Trunk circuit (8-10 mins or 200-300 reps)
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