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How to train effectively without the gym part 1

As we speak the world is facing a crisis that we’ve not seen before. Necessary social distancing and curbing of free movement has led to massive restrictions on our lifestyles.

For sure the gym being shut is ‘small-fry’ in the big scheme of things BUT it is still important to many (both for physical and mental well-being).

Therefore we are now forced to train from home. Without the vast array of costly gym equipment how do we get a decent workout?

Fear not, this article aims to give you a few pointers towards an effective home workout.

For those that haven’t trained before you can definitely make improvements in ALL areas. Even for experienced lifters there are areas on which you can still improve (stretching, cardio, smaller muscle groups being such examples) whilst looking to effectively maintain muscle across the whole body.

There is a lot to get through so I’m going to split this into a two part article:

Part 1 will deal with no equipment.

Part 2 will focus on both minimal and a decent amount of equipment availability.

So, without further ado let’s look at what you can do to have an effective home workout, get fitter, harder to kill and…….

More able to survive the next phase, the zombie apocalypse……..

No equipment:

This is the default position for many. But, fear not you can still have an effective workout.

Cardio can be performed easily via sprints as a form of HIIT measured between cones/jumpers/sticks). Use hills for increased difficulty. Easier, steady state cardio can be achieved by walking, cycling or slow jogging. Just be sure to observe the social distancing protocol and train in a quiet area.

For the Chest and Triceps:

Resistance training with body weight can be very effective. Push ups can be regressed to knees on floor to take the load of much of your body-weight. As you get fitter you can move to regular push ups. Those more advanced can elevate the hands on a stack of books or elevate the legs to increase the range of motion (ROM). Another variant is the clapping push up used to develop power. You need enough of a push to get sufficient ‘air-time’ to clap and get your hands down without smashing your face. Progress this with multiple claps per rep when you can or prematurely if you don’t value your face.

Even more advanced is the single arm push up. This is simple out of reach for everyone but the light, super fit callisthenics enthusiasts.

More difficult than regular push-ups is the close hand version. Make a diamond with both thumbs and forefinger. This position is a lot more tricep and less chest making it harder. Therefore your rep range is likely to be lower.

It is worth reiterating all push up variants can be regressed by using your knees to reduce resistance. They can all be advanced by a larger ROM through elevation or alternatively a backpack full of books, full milk cartons etc for added resistance.

Dips are another good option. Use a chair for hand placement. Feet on the floor close to you is the easiest option as it takes most of your body-weight. Legs stretched out further away is slightly harder. For the more advanced, placing your feet on another chair make it harder still, whist the ‘granddaddy’ of chair dips is with elevated legs and added resistance. I alternate low and high rep sets with my 3 and 5 year olds on my lap (who incidentally love being part of the session.)

For the Shoulders:

Consider filling a backpack full of books or other heavy objects. (4 pint milk bottles filled with water work well, either in the backpack or directly in your hand). This way you can do lateral/front or rear delt raises effectively. Shrugs can also be done, although you will need some serous resistance for this. Large water carriers (the type you use for camping with a handle) would be effective. Shoulder hand-stand presses are another advanced body-weight exercise. Make sure you perform these against a wall for added stability. The last thing you need is to be hit with a fractured neck COVID-19 combo.

Back and Bicep:

Training the back is more tricky. Chair rows are a good option with a relatively heavy weight in a backpack rowed to mid torso unilaterally. Reverse table rows may also work if you have a sturdy dining room table. (WARNING- first ensure it won’t tip). For pull-ups, door frames work well if you’ve strong fingers. Alternatively use a strong tree branch or cross bar of a goal post. Biceps will get an element of work through any of these back moves as a secondary muscle group but you could consider throwing in a few ‘curls to get the girls’ via the weighted backpack method in one hand at a time.

(As a disclaimer to this back session pull ups will be off limits to all but the strongest. With a few pieces of inexpensive equipment back training becomes a lot more accessible to all and this will be covered in part 2).


Core training can be done quite easily. From advanced moves such as toes to tree branch/goal crossbar and replicated ab-wheel roll out work using a football, to simpler moves. These include crunches, reverse crunches, Russian twists and leg raises. Body-weight core work options are almost unlimited.

Plank work, done properly, is also a great personal challenge to undertake. Most people won’t be able to hold a neutral pelvis with their glute squeezed and transverse abdominals ‘vacuumed’ against the diaphragm. Aim to master this by aiming for 1 min holds. The benefits of increased core strength from this exercise alone are immense. Side planks will also provide benefit to the often forgotten oblique muscles.

Last, but not least, to the relatively few advanced callisthenics trainees. You could be working on perfecting your human flag. If you manage this, ensure you tell me how.

Lower body:

Lower body home based training can range from being super effective for beginners to very difficult to progress for the advanced lifter. For example if you can squat/deadlift 200kg in the gym it is near impossible to replicate that degree of load.

What we can do however is ramp up intensity through time-under-tension (TUT) and use of partials/isometric holds. This will achieve an element of muscle building stimuli without the usual weight on bar.

For beginner quadriceps work I favour rucksack weighted front/goblet squats (heavy resistance in backpack worn on chest) for high reps and partial reps. 3/4 of full ROM at the top should be sufficient to minimise knee lock out and maximise TUT. You may well find these very humbling. The more advanced may do better with the same added resistance but legs done separately through split squats and step ups on a chair or good old fashion walking lunges.

Pistol squats will also work well for those advanced enough to do them. If these are currently outside your capability and you fancy the challenge work towards them by supporting your weight with a post/door frame.

Hamstrings can be most effectively worked through Nordic curls. The easiest way is with a partner holding your ankles. However any heavy furniture that can hold your ankles in place CAN work. (WARNING- Ensure the furniture has no sharp edges and is heavy enough not to tip/is attached securely to a wall).

With Nordic curls it isn’t all about rep count but the quality. The slower you lower your body by fighting gravity and the deeper you can maintain hamstring control the more effective the rep.

For glute training, bilateral glute bridges are suitable for the untrained individuals, whereas single-leg glute bridges are a more difficult version to suit the intermediate and up. These can of course be progressed with resistance worn on the chest through a backpack.


No gym access doesn’t have to mean a drop in fitness. Beginners with time on their side can certainly end the COVID-19 pandemic fitter than they started. The more advanced will need to be more creative with their training and utilise various intensification methods but rest assure gains can still be made. For a little added expense a few items of equipment can make life much easier for effective exercise selection and I will discuss this later in the week.

I am available for help putting together your own home workout or for effective online coaching to guarantee progress during this work hiatus. Just drop me a message via my website or via any of my social media channels.

Stay safe, Sam.