The times of crowded gyms, working out in close quarters, and high-fiving your buddies between sets seem to be a distant memory in the current atmosphere. Safety measures mean keeping your distance from others, wearing masks, and being more careful than ever about cleaning equipment. So what does this mean? How do we navigate this new reality?
I, like many other avid gym-goers, was sure that the situation would settle down by mid-summer at the latest. Yet here in the USA we find ourselves in the midst of an ever-worsening pandemic. After almost 8 months of lockdowns, restrictions, and a sensible fear of contracting and/or spreading Covid-19, going to a typical gym may be out of the question for many. And it’s safe to assume that most people don’t have full equipment as in a gym. So what should we be doing to stay fit in these times? In this article, I’m going to be going over two things that will help you stay fit and improve your fitness without access to a gym:
- Affordable and versatile equipment
- Variations to common exercises
Affordable and Versatile Equipment
You can’t be expected to drop $$$ on full gym equipment just because you don’t have access to these machines anymore. There are a host of options out there that you can use to push you to the limit so that you can break a sweat without breaking the bank:
- Resistance bands are one of my favorite ways to challenge myself. There are so many kinds of resistance bands and so many ways you can use them to up the difficulty of any exercise. You can use them for everything from bicep curls to squats. And for those who love to travel (maybe not so much during a pandemic), they couldn’t be easier to transport!
- Adjustable weights are so handy. Instead of having to buy a dozen varying dumbbells, you can get one set that you can adjust and use for virtually everything.
- Doorway pull-up bars are useful for more than just pull-ups. Pull-ups and chin-ups are wonderful of course, but you can also use a pull-up bar to anchor your resistance bands for triceps pulldowns, lat pulldowns, face pulls, etc.
- Yoga mats are wonderful if you don’t have a carpeted floor or a rug that you can use as padding. No matter where you are, you’ll want to have something to keep your back and knees safe and comfortable for floor exercises.
- TRX bands are such an amazing way to challenge yourself, no matter your fitness level, and are so easy to set up and transport. They’re great for working on everything from core stability to power.
Variations to Common Exercises
I bet I’m not the only one who faced lockdowns with the mindset of If I don’t have a full power rack and bumper plates I’m never ever going to keep seeing results!… I admittedly freaked out, as I’m sure did many others. But one silver lining to gyms becoming obsolete was learning to be creative and learning to challenge myself in other ways. So while you may not be able to deadlift 400lb (not that I could ever lift that much–I wish), there are other things you can do to keep challenging those same muscles:
Deadlifts (and the various forms) are a compound movement that targets the posterior chain, namely the hamstrings, glutes, lats, and back. And there are lots of things you can do to target these muscles without a full barbell/weight plate setup.
- Something you may have seen people doing is getting cement blocks, attaching them to a strong pole, and lifting them just like you’d do with a barbell and plates! Genius, if you ask me. Just be careful, as these setups are only as safe as you make them!
- If you have dumbbells or even a heavy gallon bottle of water, do weighted single-leg deadlifts. This will allow you to focus on one leg at a time, meaning they’ll be getting equal resistance (sometimes while doing two-legged exercises we favor one leg or the other). It will also challenge your balance and stabilization, which will lead you to improved lifts, a stronger core, and greater proprioceptive stability.
- Perform isolated exercises that target the same muscles that a conventional deadlift would. For example: hamstring curls with a band, dumbbell glute kickbacks and glute bridges, lat pulldowns, kneeling squats with a band or dumbbell, and, as always, core exercises like planks, bear crawls, and palofs.
Barbell Squats are another common compound movement, which largely target glutes and quads. While deadlifts are performed by pulling the weight up off the ground, barbell squats are generally loaded on the traps. This makes it much more difficult to set up, as you need to have a sturdy place to set the weight that’s about shoulder-level.
- Now, you can always perform different variations of squats, such as goblet squats, dumbbell squats, and even squats with a weighted backpack on. But this might not be nearly as difficult as what you’re used to squatting at the gym. The trick here is to increase the challenge in other ways, like increasing the rep range, focusing on eccentrics, or focusing on power (jump squats).
- Do single-leg squats, and work up to pistol squats and dragon squats. These exercises will challenge your core and stabilizer muscles, which is a lot harder (and more important) than you might think!
- As I mentioned briefly above, you can work on power movements like jump squats and box jumps, if you have a safe place to do so. This will not only target those glutes, hams, etc.; this will work these muscles in a way that increases their capacity for work in a way that (if you’ve been focusing on strength and hypertrophy for a while) they’re not used to, and will keep you progressing so that you can continue to increase the weight once you get back into the gym.
Barbell Bench Presses
Barbell Bench Presses are another common exercise seen at the gym, and one that can be hard to set up at home without the proper equipment. So how can you mimic this exercise at home without buying a bench, barbell, and plates?
- Perform the exercise with a resistance band and/or dumbbells. This may not give you the same amount of tension you’d get with a fully-loaded barbell, but there are ways that you can challenge yourself further:
- If you have a stability ball or Bosu ball, position your upper back on it, and perform the exercise like that. This will challenge your core stabilizers as you’re forced to balance, which are extremely important in keeping your stabilization muscles strong to allow you to move more weight in the future. If you’ve been focusing on strength and hypertrophy for the last few months, this would be a great time to go back and work on this.
- Do weighted push-ups. Push-ups are very similar to your typical bench press. They also work the pectoral muscles and also work the core muscles and the entire kinetic chain. You can challenge yourself by placing weights on your upper back, such as a weight plate, sandbag, backpack, or even a friend/partner!
- Focus on power by doing exercises like: hop push-ups, plyo push-ups, and clap push-ups.
There are myriad ways to mix and match different exercises and different pieces of equipment to elicit the desired response from your muscles.
I only touched on a few options in this article, and the possibilities are honestly endless. You could spend ages thinking of all the different ways you could do things. But the most important thing is to stay active and to keep challenging yourself in a safe and effective way. How specific you are depending on your goals (are you prepping for a competition? Just working out for fun and to feel great?), so it’s up to you to decide how much time and money you want to spend on getting the right equipment and finding alternatives to your favorite exercises.
If you’re struggling to figure out how to navigate the options (or lack thereof), consider taking a class or hiring a coach that has experience in online training and training at home. Sometimes all you need is a plan and guidance to take the stress away and let you do what you love to do!