Seven Keys to a Successful Home Workout Program

Recently, we have all found ourselves in a new and uncomfortable situation.  We have lost many aspects of our daily lives that we have taken for granted.  We no longer have the ability to sit and reflect in coffee shops.  We can’t turn to movie theatres or go out with friends to stave off the encroaching negativity.  We are in a time where many of the traditional outlets for our anxieties and our fears are not accessible.  Instead, many of us find ourselves with nothing but time to think about the things that we don’t have right now.  The things that we cannot do.  But in all of this turmoil we find opportunity.  This is a chance to reshape our old habits.  It is an opportunity to grow, and to come out the other side of this situation a stronger person than when we began.  We cannot control the world outside, but rather we can only control what we do with the time that we have.  I hope that you will join me, and we can grow together, mentally and physically.

Bodyweight training, also called calisthenics, can be wonderfully productive way to train  for strength, power, cardiovascular fitness, and many goals in between.  If done properly, this type of training can yield incredible results.  After all, what is more rewarding than learning how to use your own body in space?  Mostly, I want to tell you that just because you are stuck at home, even without all of the equipment that you typically train with, you can still keep moving towards your ambitions.  I am here to help. These are my seven keys to a successful home workout or bodyweight program.

  1. Think Outside the Box

We may not have access to the equipment that we typically use in a gym setting, but each of us has many tools in our homes that can be used to help facilitate growth.  You can do pullups on a doorframe.  You can do bodyweight rows using your door jam.  You can do bicep curls by pulling yourself up to your table.  If you have a backpack, you can throw some books in it and do squats.  You can use a towel under your feet and do hamstring curls.  As Andy, one of my fellow trainers has been doing a lot recently, you can even use bottles of laundry detergent as a substitute for dumbbells.  The point is, get creative!  There are many items that may be sitting just a few feet from you right now that can help you make those gains you were afraid you couldn’t achieve without the gym.

  • Progression

Many times, when we work out at home, we marry ourselves to rep ranges.  We say that we will, for example, do 4 sets of 12 sit ups.  However, if you are capable of doing 30 sit ups at a time, you aren’t taxing your body nearly enough for it to adapt.  You won’t get much stronger at all.  Instead, when you perform your sets, don’t become infatuated with a number, but rather gauge yourself with your effort level.  In an ideal world, this would take you almost to failure.  As exercises get easier, don’t let your body get comfortable! Make them harder.  Hold a book while you do your sit ups to add extra resistance, or maybe take less rest between your sets.  Whatever your method, don’t forget about the principle of progressive overload.  You must continually push your body to adapt to new stimulus to achieve growth, no matter what your goals are. 

  • Form, Form, and Form

Since bodyweight exercises like the push up or the bodyweight squat can be so easy compared to some of the heavier lifting, we have a tendency to leave form on the backburner.  Don’t fall into this trap.  All of the cumulative reps you do in your exercises, although individually easy, can still lead to muscle imbalances and leave you susceptible to injury without proper emphasis on exercise technique.  For example, if you have never been taught how to do a proper push up, take 5 minutes and look up how to do it.  You may be surprised to find the technical intricacies that can be involved in simple movements.  Which brings me to #3:

  • Use a Full Range of Motion (If Possible)

I can’t tell you how many times I have seen people busting out rep after rep of an exercise without taking it through its full range.  In the example of the pushup: get your chest down to the floor, and make sure you come all the way back up.  It can be humbling to see just how much this might decrease your maximum rep count.  This decrease is a good thing!  Even if you can only do half of the reps you could do before, when it comes to growth all your body cares about it effort.  The more effort you exert, the greater the stimulus your body has to change, and the faster your results will be.  Focus on the quality of each repetition, as opposed to the number of reps, and you will be amazed at your results.

  • Don’t Forget Your Back

I understand, barring pull-ups, it can be hard to find good bodyweight exercises that work your posterior chain.  However, I assure you that they are out there!  These include rows with a door jam, straight arm floor slides with a towel under your knees, and many others.  Do a quick search for bodyweight back exercises if you don’t believe me.  These are essential because most of the traditional bodyweight exercises do a good job working out the anterior (front) part of your body.  If you don’t find a way to include some exercises for your back, your newfound strength may come at the cost of compensation and muscle imbalances. Speaking of which:

  • Don’t Forget Your Corrective Exercises

Especially now, when we find ourselves sitting more than ever, it is important to work on our small muscles that effect our posture, such as the rotator cuff muscles and your mid back.  I realize that these exercises do not get you jazzed up to go work out.  They don’t get me particularly excited either, but they are vitally important.  A few examples include wall slides, super mans and if you have access to a band, a simple pull apart.  You don’t have to kill yourself with these; just a single set of a few exercises at the end will make a world of difference.  It is a three minute investment that will have a massive return.

  • Maintain a Schedule

Last but certainly not least, you need to be able to hold yourself accountable.  Set a goal for yourself for the week, and even set times if you have to.  This is the one that I struggle with the most.  Not only will this keep you honest and help to avoid skipping exercise days, but it will also provide a sense of routine and normalcy in a time when it may be desperately needed.

We may be stuck in our homes for the time being, but we don’t have to let that stop us from improving ourselves.  These are times when our character is tested.  I know that you are up for the challenge.  Keep working hard, keep improving, and I will see you on the other side!  I can’t wait to hear all about the progress that each of you has made.  Do it for yourself.  I’m rooting for you all.

Nate Sobeck,
Personal Trainer