I’ve been thinking about writing this article about home workouts during a lockdown for a while, but I wanted to approach it in a way that worked for all.
I’m a personal trainer, so I’ve got more kit for home workouts than most. Saying that though, I was sent a video of my local home fitness shop on the announcement of the lockdown and they’d sold out of literally everything of use, so there’s lots of us with kit for home workouts.
Interesting – it shows where fitness lies in the order of priorities of people. Knowing they were going to be forced to miss the gym, they bought up home exercise kit in droves. Good sign for the fitness industry!
But a good article on home workouts during a lockdown has to be more inclusive. It can’t just cater for those of us with a wide variety of exercise kit. Furthermore, the prices on Amazon for home training kit have gone seriously crazy – I’m seeing home weight training sets that used to cost £50 going for 8-10 TIMES that! Other suppliers of home workout kit have sold out – I’ve never seen anything like it in over 15 years working in fitness.
When places started to sell out of stock, I had people contact me asking where else I suggested. I told them about a few industry places which typically sell mostly to the trade and even they’d sold out!
Thoughts around home workouts…
Despite a whole load of personal trainers telling you how great bodyweight home workouts are, the reality is that they’re not as good as you can do in the gym or with resistance kit, especially if your fitness aims are strength based.
You just can’t replace a heavy squat with air squats. It doesn’t work like that.
I don’t have the equipment to do weightlifting movements as the moment, so I have to adapt. Who knows how long it’ll be until I can do these again…?
Does that make home workouts a waste of time?
Absolutely not – you still should perform home workouts, you just need to change your approach and adapt your focus to make sure you still benefit from the change in training. You have to be creative with home workouts, thinking about how you can vary a challenge or adapt exercises to suit kit you have available.
Taking an overall breakdown of aspects of fitness, let’s address the three big areas…
- Resistance Training
- Cardio Training
Under the current lockdown laws you can perform your cardio and stretching home workouts easily – for the most part you can actually do them better, certainly when it comes to stretching, because you’ve got more time to focus on them.
I myself have done more cardiovascular exercise than normal, simply because I can’t get out to the gym, so I’ve had more time to ride my bike. I’ve cycled more times in the last 4 weeks than I have in the last 4 years I bet. It has been a good thing, forcing the change in training. By doing home workouts I have been forced to be more creative because there’s less kit available.
I’ve even done some running – I was nominated to do a 5km run recently for the NHS, so I did it and have then since done some sprint workouts in my local park. Sprint workouts burn a LOT of calories – as I pointed out in this article a while back.
Resistance Training Home Workouts
I approach this differently to most, in that I think about movements first, then exercises second. In this section I’ll cover the personal trainer approach to exercise programming. This is evergreen content that will allow you to programme effective home workouts (or gym workouts for that matter) forever.
Essentially, there are 7 human movements…
My approach means that by thinking of movements rather than exercises, I can cover everything I need to with minimal equipment. I’ll think of upper body pulls, lower body pulls, upper body pushes, lower body pushes etc etc. This means I don’t have to think “how am I going to train the long head of my triceps?” It’s a question of movements over aesthetics, which is a less restricted way to train in home workouts.
Once you break down the movements, basically you need to think of 9 exercises to ensure an effective workout at a base level. You might be thinking why 9 exercises? Here’s why…
- Upper Body Push
- Lower Body Push
- Upper Body Pull
- Lower Body Pull
This is the bare minimum you need to cover to keep you ticking over. You can always add more to this base, but this is the absolute minimum you’ll need.
I then take the framework a step further, by adding variety to each movement. With the upper body push and pull for example, I’ll add a horizontal and vertical plane to it which will help from a muscle balance, form, function and recruitment perspective.
In English, rather than just rely on say, push ups for an upper body push movement, I’ll include shoulder presses to cover a vertical element to the exercise.
Exercise Examples for Each Movement
In this section I’ll run through the common versions of each exercise so you can put something similar together yourself. Furthermore, if you already have a workout plan written you can look at this and cross reference what you’ve done, so you can see if your home workout is balanced enough….
- Squat – Bodyweight Squat, Goblet Squat, Back/Front Squat
- Lunge – Standard Lunge, Step Up, Reverse Lunge, Split Squat
- Upper Body Push – Push ups, bench press, shoulder press
- Lower Body Push – Squat, prowler push, jumps
- Upper Body Pull – Bent over row, high pulls, pull ups
- Lower Body Pull – Deadlift variations, Hamstring curls
- Hinge – Kettlebell swings (all), deadlifts (all)
- Rotation – Russian twists, barbell rotations, medball rotations
- Gait – Walking, running, sprinting
A good overall workout programme will incorporate all of the human movements, with special attention being paid to the nuances of the person and their goals. These can include areas of weakness, areas needing rehabilitation, movement or physical requirements of a sport.
If your workout plan doesn’t include all of these movements and you’re completely able-bodied… improve it.
Adding Resistance for Home Workouts
So now you have movements covered, we have to start thinking about how we add resistance to the exercises in our home workouts. There are different ways to do this, including using your bodyweight, using weight training equipment (barbells, dumbbells, kettlebells), bands or unconventional methods such as wearing a heavy rucksack.
Bodyweight exercises are fantastic – they can form the basis of a workout with or without gym equipment. Push ups, pull ups, bodyweight squats, lunges, ab work, burpees etc. They all have their part to play. What limits them in terms of their effectiveness is their lack of resistance. To make them more effective, we have to add weight or resistance in some form.
Ideally you want to get hold of a barbell/dumbbells, a pull up bar, a decent weight (16kg women, 20+kg men) kettlebell and a suspension trainer as a basis for a solid resistance training base. Bear in mind that prices at the moment are through the roof, but given I want this content to be useful far after the lockdown has ended, here’s some of the kind of things I suggest…
Once you have this kit, there is a huge variety of resistance training you can do. You’re limited in terms of out and out strength training (you simply don’t have access to enough weight here), but for the most part you can have a fantastic workout with this kit and will be able to cover 95% of what you’d need to do with your fitness.
Other ways to add resistance…
If you don’t have any weight training kit or can’t afford/are unwilling to buy some, you can still add a bit of resistance to your home workouts. Here are some of the more common ways to do it…
Grab a rucksack and fill it with anything heavy – water bottles, books, tins of food etc. The bigger the bag, the more weight you can add obviously. Once you have filled the bag you can then wear it as a form of weighted vest. Wearing this will add an element of difficulty to squats, lunges, planks, push ups, pull ups etc.
Most people will have a rucksack handy and enough things to put in it. Even rocks will work just fine – anything you can put in the back will add to the weight.
Alternatively, you can also purchase a weighted vest to further push your home workout. If this is of interest to you, then discover more about the multiple benefits of a weighted vest from Force Fitness.
Weighted carrier bags
If you have good quality carrier bags (bag for life type things – even better if made from cotton) you can fill them up with tins of food etc to turn them into makeshift dumbbells. It actually works really well and can be adjusted really easily, just by adding or removing food tins.
A couple of weighted carrier bags are an excellent way to do curls, shoulder presses, lat raises, upright rows etc. They even come ready-made with their own handles, so are comfortable to use from the start!
I’m not suggesting you commandeer your kids for the purposes of working out, but they make an excellent additional weight for squats, lunges, push ups and the plank! My (at the time of writing) 5 year old loves to lie on my back whilst I do push ups and planks and at 25kg or so, he makes it much harder!
Putting my (at the time of writing) 8 year old on my shoulders for squats, lunges or weighted carries makes the workout much tougher as well!
Adjusting Rep Ranges
The rep ranges you need to work at are relevant to the training outcome you want to achieve. If you are looking for a strength increase, it’s going to be difficult to achieve if you don’t have access to a lot of weight, unless you get creative.
Muscle building is absolutely achievable though, because you can increase the volume of training – more sets and reps will increase the training volume and help you to build muscle very effectively.
If you don’t have much in the way of weight available, you’ll have to increase your training volume significantly with much longer sets than you’re used to. If you typically train in an 8-12 rep range, don’t be surprised if you have to push it to 15-25 because you have lighter weights. You’ll still benefit, don’t worry about that!
Rest periods can also be adjusted. If you’re used to resting for a long time between heavier sets, you can reduce your rest periods between sets, which also has the effect of increasing your workout density, the cardiovascular effect and the overall intensity of the workout. This one adjustment alone can be the difference between a workout being legitimately effective or an easy recovery session.
Cardio Training During a Lockdown…
This is a pretty easy one to follow. In the UK at least, our lockdown rules permit us to go outside for daily exercise. There’s a guideline that suggests an hour, so I’ve been sticking to this. I’ve kept my cardio to three different types of workout during the lockdown…
Unless you have your own pool, live by the sea or are into wild swimming, most of us won’t have access to swimming or other bits of gym kit. My usual cardio is a couple of football matches per week, so I’ve had to dust the bike off and use that instead. Now isn’t the time to go into detailed cycling training approaches, so I’ve broadly set out the kinds of workouts I’ve done in the hour on my bike…
Cycling Workout Approaches
I live near the Peak District and we’ve got a few decent hills on our relative doorstep, so I’ve sometimes done workouts where I’ve headed out directly into the peaks and climbed the hills up there on the bike. An hour of heavy climbing is tough going if you’re not a regular cyclist (like me!)
This is as simple as it sounds – pick a fairly flat route and just go as fast as you can for the hour. It’s a nice way to spend the hour on the bike because you get to see quite a lot of places. We basically live on the edge of the Cheshire plain so can ride around the lanes, which are fairly flat and quiet.
The bike is a really easy way to do HIIT sessions – you can do them by either attacking short, steep hills regularly or by mixing up periods of fast and slow riding. If you can do both, even better. That’s what I’ve been doing most of and it’s a great way to burn through over 1000 calories per hour!
Running and Sprinting Workouts in a Lockdown
Like cycling, I’m not going to go into a detailed section on different approaches to running workouts, I’m going to show you what I’ve done (which is basic to say the least!)
Steady State Running
For me running isn’t something I enjoy, which is why I shoe-horn it into football because it doesn’t feel like exercise! I was nominated to do the Run 5 Donate 5 Nominate 5 challenge for the NHS, so I ran a 5km at a steady state pace (same pace the whole way around). In doing so, I found a great route that is going to form the basis of other workouts, which will combine resistance training cardio, a bit like the famous CrossFit workout ‘Murph‘.
You could do the same for your own training – pick a distance (or time) and go for it. Manipulate the route, the speed or the inclines and adjust your running workout to suit.
I haven’t done any hill sprints in the lockdown, but I’ve done plenty of them before and they are BRUTAL! In fact, they feature as one of the days on my Active Retreat holidays in Fuerteventura, where my guests and I run up a 40m dune 10-15 times in the workout. Here’s a video to give you an idea of what it’s like…
They may seem easy, but trust me when I say this… they’re super tough. Especially on sand.
Shuttle Runs and Flat Sprints
A few times a week we head to a local park so the kids can run around, kick a ball and get into a wide open space. We use the chance to hang the suspension trainer off the goalposts and do some training. We use the markings on the football pitch to run shuttles. I’ll typically run 5 rounds of…
- Goal line to 6 yard line and back (12 yards)
- Goal line to penalty spot and back (24 yards)
- Goal line to 18 yard line and back (36 yards)
- Goal line to half way line and back (100 yards)
I’ll usually do a couple of lengths of the pitch as well, which in this case is a small pitch of 100 yards or so in length. When added alongside suspension trainer work, step ups, feet elevated push ups etc, this is a serious workout.
The benefit of cardio in the fresh air can’t be underestimated either – it really does freshen you up after a day of working. It’s much preferable to running on a treadmill in a gym for 20 minutes or longer, that’s for sure. I’ve said I don’t like running, but I’m certainly going to find more time for runs in my general exercise after the experience of running outside on a sunny evening.
Stretching and Flexibility Home Workouts
I’ve put this in here because I believe that stretching and flexibility is a key principle of true health and fitness – one that most people neglect. We live in a world where we’re sat down constantly, we don’t move enough and often our exercise habits of repetitions of the same movement (especially in running and cycling).
All of these manifest themselves into poor flexibility which can lead to muscle imbalance, joint pain and in the worst cases, serious soft tissue injuries. With that in mind we should spend more time on our flexibility – a yoga practice, a prescribed stretching approach or even a regular general stretch is important to do.
I won’t give you specific guidelines on that (we’re all different), but what I think most people can benefit from at home is following something like this…
By adding a regular 10 minute stretch into your day – whether you do this in the morning, afternoon or before bed doesn’t really matter, just that you’re getting some kind of flexibility work into your day. With a lockdown forcing us into home workouts and (in lots of cases) reduced working hours, we really could indulge in a bit of extra stretching.
You don’t even need equipment to stretch – you can literally do it on your living room floor, in front of the TV. It’s the least effort required of any type of workout, but it has benefits that go much further than you know, helping you exercise more effectively, improve your form and function and most importantly, protect yourself from injury.
Final Thoughts on Home workouts…
Thanks to the lockdown, more of us are doing home workouts than every before. Rather that looking at the with a limited mindset, focussing on what you can’t do, we should look to approach them with a mindset of what we can do.
If you get creative with your home workouts, you’ll be able to do a huge amount of good to your health and fitness. If you’re struggling for ideas, you can even take a look at my Ultimate HIIT Workout Book – it has 52 home workout friendly options in there! Click the image and it’ll take you to a buying page…
Find ways to adjust your training, to use the circumstances to your advantage. Use it to plug holes in your fitness – increase the amount of cardio you do, work on flexibility, improve your strength endurance, add more volume to your workouts. You can use these enforced home workouts to your advantage if you get them right.
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