Right now, as COVID-19 continues to spread across the globe, pretty much everyone is working out at home instead of at the gym. Some folks have fully equipped home gyms to satisfy their craving to pump some iron, but most are struggling to make do with limited equipment or bodyweight-only options.
If you've been having a hard time feeling like your bodyweight workouts are effective, the problem might be the way you're structuring them. You can absolutely make great progress with bodyweight workouts, but you have to plan them in the proper way.
Explained below are some tips that will help you create an at-home bodyweight workout that helps you see results.
1. Don't Underestimate Bodyweight Exercises
In some parts of the fitness community, bodyweight workouts have a bad rap. A lot of people assume that they're too easy and are not effective. This mindset is especially prevalent among folks who are avid gym-goers.
It's true that some bodyweight workouts are easy and won't be particularly effective for someone who's been training with heavy weights for a long time. That's not the case for all bodyweight workouts, though. With the right planning and attention to detail, you can easily put together a bodyweight workout that will challenge you just as much, if not more, than a workout you'd do in the gym.
Keep in mind, too, that if you've been exercising at the gym for a long time, many bodyweight exercises will be novel for you. They'll challenge your body in new ways and can send the exact signal you need to break through a plateau, build muscle, and improve your physique.
2. Find Ways to Add Intensity
Let's say traditional bodyweight exercises like squats, lunges, and push-ups feel too easy for you. Does that mean you just shouldn't do them? Not necessarily.
There are lots of ways to add intensity to these and other bodyweight exercises. Here are some of the most effective options to try:
Increase Sets and Reps
When you're doing bodyweight exercise, you might have to do a higher number of reps or more sets than you normally would. This is a good place to start if you feel your bodyweight workouts aren't getting the job done.
Shorten Rest Times
If you want to get your heart rate up while you're working out at home, consider shortening your rest times. Since you're not moving as much weight around, you might not need to take as long to recover.
By changing the tempo of your exercises and spending more time focusing on the eccentric (lowering) portion of the movement, you can make movements much harder and increase muscle growth. Try lowering slowly when you do bodyweight squats or take your time lowering to the ground when you do a push-up.
Adjust Your Position
Consider adjusting the position of your feet or hands while doing bodyweight exercises, too. For example, instead of doing push-ups with your hands and feet on the floor, try elevating your feet on a chair or step to do decline push-ups.
Add Resistance with Everyday Objects
You can also get creative with the way that you add resistance. You might not have access to dumbbells or a barbell right now, but you could try holding heavy objects from around your house like a jug of water or a container of laundry detergent. You can also fill a backpack with books and wear it like a weighted vest.
3. Train in All Planes
Most of the time, when we're working out in the gym, we're training only in the sagittal plane. There are three planes of motion in which our bodies move: sagittal, frontal, and transverse.
Think of the sagittal plane as a line that splits the body in two vertically from top to bottom. Sagittal plane exercises move along that line. Exercises like squats are an example, as are lunges and bicep curls.
To get the most out of your workouts and to avoid injuries, it's best to train in all three planes. The frontal plane divides your body in half from front to back, and the transverse plane divides the body in half horizontally from top to bottom.
Exercises like lateral raises and lateral lunges are good examples of frontal plane exercises. Exercises that involve rotation, such as a rotational step-up or a curtsy lunge, move along the transverse plane.
4. Focus on Progressive Overload
A big mistake that a lot of people make when exercising at home is forgetting about the principle of progressive overload. If you want to see consistent progress, you need to consistently and gradually overload your muscles. Otherwise, you'll start to plateau.
Progressive overload involves gradually taking steps like adding weight or reps to an exercise, making adjustments to the tempo, or shortening rest times to continue challenging the body.
Most gym-goers know that any good workout program will involve progressive overload. At the same time, though, plenty of people throw this concept out the window when they workout at home. They just start slapping together random movements and don't think about how they're going to progress them from one week to the next.
If you want to see results from your workouts, make sure you're keeping progressive overload in mind when you're planning them out.
5. Warm-Up and Cool Down Properly
Remember, you can make your bodyweight workouts as intense as you want by making a few tweaks to the way you do each exercise. If you were going to do an intense workout at the gym, wouldn't you warm-up first? The same rule applies to working out at home.
Take yourself through a full, dynamic warm-up before you begin exercising. Otherwise, you could be setting yourself up for an injury. Taking the time to warm-up and go through a pre-workout ritual also helps you get motivated and mentally ready to tackle your workout.
Be sure to cool down afterward, too. Go for a walk in the neighborhood or around your house to bring your heart rate down, then do some static stretching to relax your muscles and get into a parasympathetic state, which is better for post-workout recovery.
6. Allow Adequate Rest
It's true that shortening rest times is sometimes required during at-home workouts to increase the intensity. However, this doesn't mean you should never rest.
Your body still needs opportunities to recover when you're working out at home. This is especially true if you're taking other steps to make your workouts more intense, like slowing down the tempo or changing your body's positioning.
When you're designing a workout program for yourself, be sure to factor in some adequate rest times. Your body will thank you, and you'll be able to get more out of each exercise.
7. Be Realistic
Finally, remember to be realistic when it comes to setting goals and expectations for your at-home workouts.
During normal, non-pandemic times when you had a solid routine in place for yourself, it might have been easy for you to exercise five or six days per week. Now, though, you might not have the energy or motivation for that many workouts (especially if you're trying to work from home while also taking care of kids).
Instead of beating yourself up because you can't do five or six training sessions a week right now, consider adjusting your expectations and try to fit in three or four good full-body workouts. You can still see great results and make progress if you exercise less but plan appropriately.
Sample At-Home Bodyweight Workout
ProSupps athlete Cameron Sowder has been doing a great job of putting together effective at-home bodyweight workouts, as well as workouts that require minimal equipment. Here is a lower-body bodyweight-only workout he shared recently on Instagram:
- Step Up x 6-12 each leg
- Archer Squat x 10-15 each leg
- Single-leg Glute Bridges x 8-12
- Jumping Lunges (or normal lunges) x 8-12 each leg
- Deep Squat x at least 60 seconds
- Single-leg Calf Raises x AMRAP (As Many Rounds As Possible)
All of these exercises are meant to be performed as a giant set or circuit. Do each exercise back-to-back without resting, then rest at the end before completing the next round.
Cameron recommends doing 3-6 rounds depending on your skill level and the amount of time you have to exercise. Check out his Instagram video for a demonstration of each movement.
Get Fit from Home Today
During a pandemic, you might be limited when it comes to the fitness equipment you have available. That doesn't mean you have to put your goals on hold, though. As you can see, it's totally possible to put together an at-home bodyweight workout that is challenging and helps you see progress.
Remember the tips outlined above (and use the sample workout as a guide) as you begin restructuring your workout routine, and you'll have a much easier time staying motivated to exercise and feeling like your training sessions are effective. Feel free to check out some of our other at-home workout blog posts as well for more inspiration.