Updated: Feb 3, 2022
Are you leaving gains on the table with your home workouts? When it comes to doing your workouts at home, it's vitally important that you understand how to perform them correctly to elicit proper muscle growth.
Making gains through bodyweight and light dumbbell workouts are not going to be as easy as doing them workouts in the gym. However, it can still be done, and just requires a little bit of extra thought behind it.
If you want to work out effectively at home, you need to make sure you're taking your sets extremely close to failure every time.
And by that we mean within 1-2 reps. Add as much difficulty as you possibly can, whether it's through a weighted backpack, a resistance band, increasing time under tension or altering the range of motion.
You also want to make sure you're picking the right exercises to do, and aren't wasting your time training other aspects of fitness without knowing. Let's look into what this all means and how you can make sure you're performing your workouts right.
At some point, we've probably all been under the impression that working out at home requires a similar process to workout out at the gym. You do a set number of reps for a set number of sets.
Once you hit that rep range, you stop and the set is complete. While this may work in the gym due to the ability to easily change weights, it's different at home. Unless we're actively adding external resistance, it's high unlikely that we happen to fall exactly where the home workout tells us to go in terms of rep goals.
No one rep goal will suit everyone (unless the workout says something like: Push Ups - 3 x 1-1000). Ideally when working out at home, you should be taking your sets to failure or very close to it every time.
Think about it this way. You have an advanced lifter who can do 50 push ups, and a beginner who can only do about 8.
They both follow the same bodyweight chest workout, which prescribes 3 sets of 15 reps of push ups.
First of all, the beginner wouldn't even be able to complete a full set, and he or she would simply be wasting energy doing sets of single reps trying to reach that rep goal, after hitting failure.
On the other hand, 15 push ups would be less than a warmup for the advanced trainee, and stopping there would likely cause very little to no muscle growth in that individual.
Instead, what each of these individuals and what YOU should be doing is taking their sets to or just shy of failure, whether that means doing 6 reps or 50 reps each set.
It doesn't matter, because that's what each person is capable of doing, and it' the most effective way to train using just your bodyweight. It's time to mostly disregard the rep goal you've been given, and just focus on achieving what's possible with your own capabilities.
Choosing More Difficult Variations
While you can train until failure, it might be tedious for more advanced lifters who could be doing sets of 40-50+ reps.
In that case, it can be a good idea to add extra resistance wherever you can. For instance, you could try harder variations of a bodyweight exercise or creatively make the exercise harder.
Let's use the push up as an example again. There are several alternatives and different variations to this movement. You could try decline push ups, paused push ups, archer push ups, etc.
You've got a lot of choice there. And some of those variations are much, much harder than the basic push up.
They'll work more or less the same muscles, but just give your body a different stimulus. Go try it for yourself! Take your max number of consecutive push ups and compare it to your max number of archer push ups. The number will probably be cut down to less than half.
So you're not just stuck doing basic push ups. Home workout don't have to be all that boring. You just need to be creative.
Adding External Resistance
If you don't want to do any variations of your basic movements, you could try adding resistance by wearing a backpack full of books, putting a weight plate on your back if you have one, or really putting anything stable on your back.
You'll have to get creative if you want that extra stimulus while you're working out at home.
Doing this will just make each rep that much harder, and you won't have to go through a painfully long set of 50 reps.
However if you are more of a beginner and have not yet mastered the push up, we'd recommend staying with bodyweight push ups. It might only be a good idea to add external resistance once sets of 20 push ups becomes too easy.
Push ups aren't the only bodyweight exercise of course. There are tons of others like pull ups, air squats, pistols squats, Nordic hamstring curls, Bulgarian split squats, inverted rows, etc.
There are bodyweight exercises to hit all your muscle groups, and there are ways to add extra resistance to them as well.
Decrease Rest Periods
Two other ways you could make your home workouts harder are by either decreasing rest times or increasing the time under tension on your muscles.
By decreasing rest times, you'll ensure you don't have to do as many reps per set in order to hit failure. While this might compromise some of the workout volume, it's a good way to avoid tediously long workouts that are hard to stay motivated in.
Decreasing rest periods may be slightly favored towards building muscular endurance, as you're really honing in on the metabolic stress placed on the muscle. You'll likely feel more of a burn, but it doesn't necessarily mean you're building more muscle.
Hitting enough workout volume is extremely important, and perhaps even more so than perceived effort. So unless you really have to, we'd recommend keeping your rest periods sufficient.
Increasing Time Under Tension
Or, you could increase the time under tension. This simply means to make the exercises take longer to complete. For example, a basic push up might take you about a second to complete.
Half a second on the way down, half a second back up. However you can make it harder by taking 3 seconds on the way down, and 3 seconds on the way up. We guarantee if you do them this way, you'll barely be hitting half the amount of reps you'd previously been doing.
Increasing the time under tension will no doubt cut down on the number of reps you end up doing in a set. However, it's been scientifically proven to be just as, if not more effective as using a fast tempo on your reps, as long as you're training to failure on both occasions.
A study conducted in 2001 linked HERE concluded in approximately a 50% greater increase in strength in both untrained men and women doing 14-second reps when compared to another group who were doing 7-second reps. The slow-training group saw a mean increase of 12kg in terms of strength gain, and the faster group saw a mean increase of 8kg.
However, the mean age of these tested individuals was 53.6 years, so result may vary with younger lifters. But it still does go to show that increasing time under tension can be extremely effective, and definitely has its time and place.
Plus, it's just fun to change it up sometimes and do something different. You could incorporate both training techniques into the same workout if you'd like, and it'll just shake things up a bit without you having to really change much.
Picking The Right Exercises
Often, you'll see home workouts online that include exercises like the jump squat or high knees. While these are great movements, they're there to primarily build up your cardio. Not your muscles.
You can include them if you want, but they shouldn't be a huge part of your main strength building workout. Remember, we're trying to replicate a workout in the gym as best as possible, not replicate a HIIT workout that's designed for more athletic purposes.
You'll see many home leg workouts include several exercises like the star jump and the lunge jump. These might create more of a burn in your muscles, but that doesn't necessarily mean you're building more muscle.
Think of a marathon run. Unless you're specifically trained for something like this, most of our legs would be completely on fire after the first quarter or so. Regardless of how fast we're running.
There would be the burning sensation there. But would it mean that we were going to build tons of muscle doing that? Most probably not. Just look at the legs of professional and elite marathon runners. We've included an image below.
Image courtesy of Chris Brown. License link. No changes made.
These are very experienced athletes who probably train hard on a very regular basis. However as you can see, they certainly don't have the biggest or most muscular legs. Now does this mean they don't train hard?
No of course not. Their legs are probably sore all the time form their training! It's simply because this kind of exercise doesn't have the same effect that most gymgoers are looking for.
Of course, athletes might benefit more from doing explosive exercises like this. However, most of the average gymgoers would probably get more of what they want from sticking to the strength building exercises instead.
The last thing we're going to discuss is keeping your focus. Look, we get it. Home workouts might simply not be as fun as workouts in the gym. Perhaps it's the absence of your workout partner, or the urge to go on your phone and lay on the couch.
Whatever it is that might be hindering the quality of your home workouts, you need to find a way to get rid of that. It might be setting a reminder on your phone so you don't forget or avoid it in the first place. It might be getting on a facetime call with your workout partner and doing it together.
Maybe it's time you switched up the room you did your workouts in, away from the couch, away from the TV, your bed, whatever it might be.
What we're saying is, it's important that you find a way to keep focused and motivated, otherwise you really will start to lose your gains.
It doesn't matter what else you might be doing, if you're not focused and just going through the motions, all the other things you do on this list will go to waste. You have to find your motivation.
In times when we're stuck training at home for one reason or another, it's important that we understand just how we should be training to elicit the most optimal growth in our bodies, and ensure that we're not wasting our precious time.
Do you currently train as optimally as possible?
Let us know in the comments down below!