Working out at home has been one of the biggest fitness trends of the last couple of years. With gyms closing during the pandemic lockdowns, it was the only realistic option for many of us to stay fit.
Even though the world has reopened, many people are choosing to continue exercising at home. Whether you have a fully kitted out home studio, a makeshift garage space, or just a yoga mat in front of the TV, you can save money on costly gym fees, avoid getting stuck in rush hour traffic, and enjoy the flexibility to train at any time of the day.
A common question is how to progress your workouts to keep advancing your fitness. In the gym it is simple – you pick a heavier dumbbell, or add another plate on the barbell. But this doesn’t always work at home. Many of you will have limited resources – lack of storage space and a finite budget mean you can’t keep buying more and more equipment. And of course if you’re training by yourself, you will probably (and rightly) have safety concerns about lifting increasingly heavy weights without someone to spot you.
So how can you keep getting stronger and fitter? Here are 5 ways to make your workout harder just using the equipment you already have.
1 – Change the number of reps and sets
This is fairly self-explanatory – by performing more reps and sets, you increase your workload. However it is important to ensure you are still working within the recommended rep ranges for your fitness goals (3-5 reps for power; 5-8 reps for strength; 8-15 reps for hypertrophy; 12+ for endurance). Once you reach the top of your recommended rep range, you might need to consider some of the other points on this list, to continue progressing without additional weights.
2 – Change your rest interval
Decreasing the amount of time you rest between sets can be a simple way to increase the difficulty of your workout. It’s easy to pick up your phone between sets for that irresistible scroll through social media, and rest too long before your next set. If you are guilty of this, it’s a good idea to set a timer on your phone so you know when to put down your phone and pick up the dumbbells again!
However when you are lifting weights or performing high intensity cardio intervals, it is important that you stay in the ‘sweet spot’ – rest too long and your workout will lack intensity; rest too little and you will run out of energy very quickly. As a general rule, the length of your rest will be in inverse proportion to the intensity of your ‘work’ interval – if you are working on explosive power, you will have a short work period followed by a longer rest interval. If you are working on endurance, you might have a much longer work period with short periods of rest.
3 – Change the tempo
Once you have mastered the basic technique on an exercise, and can perform it consistently well, you can change the tempo to increase difficulty. This can be done in one or two ways:
Lifting slower will increase the ‘time under tension’ – literally the amount of time the muscle is working per rep. If you have to work harder per rep, you may find that you can’t perform as many reps, but you may get greater physiological benefits, so your workout will be more efficient. This is particularly good for anyone who tends to rush through their reps using momentum. For example, you might lower slowly into a push up to a count of 3, before pushing back up; this is much harder than ‘falling’ without control into the low position of a push up. Or try for yourself to see how much harder it is to slowly lower into a squat. It might seem counter-intuitive, but slow down to speed up your progress.
On the other hand, more advanced lifters can increase their rep speed to work on power and explosive strength.
4 – Superset for Success
The term ‘supersets’ simply refers to performing two or more exercises one after another, with no (or minimal) rest in between. Supersets often fall into two main categories:
- You can combine exercises that target opposing muscle groups (think of opposing push and pull movements if it’s easier), such as pull ups and an overhead press; or push ups and a row. While one sets of muscles are ‘resting’, you target another muscle group, which makes for an efficient (if challenging) workout.
- The other option is to superset exercises that target similar muscles – a classic example might be a core superset, in which you might perform a hollow hold, then straight into a set of ab twists, followed by a plank. You might be able to perform each of those exercises individually, but combine them in one continuous effort, and the difficulty will skyrocket!
Make sure you maintain good form throughout to keep reaping the superset benefits.
5 – Increase the Range of Movement
You can also make an exercise harder by increasing the range of movement. Often you will find that as you get tired (or lose concentration), your movement will shorten so you are just working through the ‘middle section’ of an exercise: not squatting to full depth, not going as low in your push up, and not fully extending your arm in a bicep curl, are typical examples. If you focus on working through the full range of movement, you will get more benefit from every rep, and therefore more gains from your workout.
Start by picking just one of these techniques and implementing it into your training consistently for four weeks, and see how you get on.