Just as we had grown accustomed to training at the gym again, and the debilitating coronavirus restrictions were all but a distant memory for some, the inevitable has occurred: we have been plunged into another lockdown. It’s hardly surprising given the volatility of the pandemic, and for those even lucky enough to access the gym over the past few months there’s little reason to complain. The closure of gyms and indoor fitness centres means it’s now time to dust off the 4kg dumbbell set, bring out the booty band, and feel your housemates critically scrutinise your lunge technique as they stuff their face with Doritos. The damned home workouts are back. For those who were previously strength training at the gym five times a week and who were slowly seeing improvements in their training, it’s an unwelcome announcement.
The gym is undoubtedly the best place you can be if yours goals are to build muscle and increase your strength. The vast range of equipment and the motivation you feel surrounded by others allows you to find a reason to keep paying $20 a week for exercise, which some might view as sociopathic. If you become tired of working a muscle on a particular machine, there’s almost certainly alternative equipment or machines available that you can use to work that same muscle or muscle group. If you’re feeling unmotivated to exercise, the very fact that you’ve made it to the gym, thrown on your gym shark tights and ironically driven to a place with literal treadmills, provides you with the incentive you need to push through the workout. Speaking of visually appealing gym tights, what better excuse to exercise than to flash your new exercise gear at the gym and admire yourself in the huge mirrors that are plastered at every turn? Not only that, you can also sneak a peek at others around you for exercise ideas, form tips or just general motivation.
Then you have your “home gym”. You might have a couple of rusty dumbbells that look like they were used in a sports illustrated campaign in the 80s. As far as equipment goes, this is the extent of what you’re working with, except for a big exercise ball in which you’ll merely use as a pseudo-seat because, well, what the fuck else can they be used for? Your backyard might be 4×4 metres and the moment you try and do half arsed sit ups, you can hear your next door neighbours bickering loudly about how one of them failed to take the bins out the previous night. It’s not the ideal setting for a work out and you can’t see yourself doing this for the foreseeable future. But i’m here to tell you it’s not all that bad. There’s certainly some positives to home workouts that you might not have considered, and there’s ways to make them effective and enjoyable. I know people who enjoyed working out at home so much from the previous lockdown that they continued to do so even when they could access the gyms. Here are some tips to get the most out of the your lockdown home-workouts:
- Change your perception of them
Just after I spent two paragraphs explaining why the gym is gold and home workouts suck, I am going to urge you to change your perceptions of home workouts. Because the truth is that gym workouts are not necessarily better than home workouts, and you can very easily have an effective exercise regime at home. If your goal is to build muscle and strength and you cannot access a gym, the first thing you need to realise is that, yes, it’s absolutely possible to achieve your goals working out at home. Overcoming this mental barrier is essential if you want to see results. Even if you are at home, the principles of weight training remain the same: as long as you are progressively overloading your muscles through increased repetitions or weights, then it is very likely you will continue to see progress. Ideally you will have a small variety of weights and equipment for you to utilise during your lockdown period. At the very least, as long as you continue to use the your muscles in some way, ideally through whatever strength training you can do, then you won’t see much of a regression in your muscular physique.
Even if you have limited or no equipment, it is very easy to perform supersets of exercises in your own little space, whereas at peak hour in the gym it can often feel like you need to rush through your sets as quickly as possible. This brings me to another positive aspect of home workouts, in that there are no crowds to compete with, and no weird bloke staring at you in the corner with his mouth agape. We’ve all had that weird experience at the gym where you feel like someone is staring at you, whether it’s by mistake, to look at your form or because they are genuinely just a creep. Either way, it’s an uncomfortable experience and it’s one that many of us have just accepted is inevitable when you’re working out in front of strangers. At home, unless your neighbour is Harvey Weinstein or Herb from Family Guy, then you don’t have to worry about the creepy people in your vicinity. It’s just you and your UE boom. Without someone impatiently looming around you rushing you through your sets, you can spend as much time as you want and do as many reps or sets as required to feel as though you are fatiguing the muscle. By recognising these positive aspects of training at home, you can begin to feel a little more encouraged to start your home exercise regime.
2. Focus on form and mind to muscle connection
A lot of us, myself included, fall into the trap of doing as many exercises as we can at the gym under the misguided belief that this will bring the best results. It is often the case that by having access to a vast variety of machines and equipment, we focus solely on quantity of exercise as opposed to quality. A far more effective use of your time would be to stick to the basic, compound exercises and really focus on perfecting the movement – that is, to utilise the mind to muscle connection. The good news is that you can easily apply this tool to your home workouts, and arguably even more so because you are free to make as many hideous/focussed facial expressions as you need without the fear of judgement. The idea is to actively focus your attention on feeling your muscle work through a full range of motion, rather than quickly getting through your reps. You will notice your workouts will increase in difficulty by applying this approach,
Similarly to the above point, home workouts give us the perfect opportunity to perfect our form and fix any issues that we have been to embarrassed or rushed at the gym to address. A good way to fix your form is to film your workouts. You might be surprised at how you are performing a particular movement, and all it takes is a quick youtube tutorial to help you adjust anything. The difference between good form and bad form can be vital in preventing injuries, especially in big movements such as deadlifts and squats. Working out at home with limited weights is the perfect time to practice these movements without inadvertently over-doing it and messing up your lower back. Again, it might be too impractical to film yourself at the gym (or you’d rather stick pins in your eyes than have people observe you setting up a tripod), so it’s a perfect opportunity to bring out the camera and critique your form.
3. Get creative
You’ve probably seen all weird and wacky home work outs plastered over instagram and rolled your eyes in pity as you rocked up to your gym with perfectly stocked equipment. If you have some knowledge of resistance training, you might scoff at fitness influencers doing booty band workouts in their living room and question why someone might perform two unrelated exercise in the one set. I can see the point of view from both sides of the argument, but the fact is that if you want to make money on instagram it’s absolutely essential that you post pointless videos performing banded exercises and claim thats what made your glutes the size of Guetamala. juuust joking. Beyond aesthetics, the reason these types of exercises are good for home workouts is because they are easy, require minimal equipment, cause muscle fatigue, and are a fun way to mix it up. I am of the view that any exercise is good exercise, (unless you’re sprinting away from a pack of ravenous wolves. Unfortunate), so rather than criticising someone for doing something that makes them feel good and might have some physical benefits, you may as well join the booty-band movement. There are plenty of ways you can be creative with home workouts, like mix and matching exercises, using random household items for resistance, and changing your workout split weekly to reduce boredom. You might even consider joining a fitness challenge, with most of the ones i’ve seen offering home workout options. There’s so many different exercises you can emulate from youtube and instagram and now is the perfect time to get creative and mix it up and try them out.
Let’s face it, for those of us wanting to build strength and increase lean muscle-mass, home workouts are not ideal. We are limited in the equipment we have, we aren’t surrounded by other people who can motivate us, and it can grow tedious doing the same three exercises. To make matters worse, the reason why we are working-out from home is because of the coronavirus pandemic, so our anxiety and mental health probably aren’t in an ideal state. Arguably, however, it is more essential than ever that we focus on moving our bodies in any way we can to increase our mental health and well being. In any event, home workouts might not be perfect but they can certainly be effective, and there’s no need to overlook them as a form of exercise as you wait for lockdowns to be lifted. By viewing home-workouts as a privilege because we are still able to move our body, and understanding the basic principles that underpin muscle-building, we can ditch the negativity and creative a fun and effective home work-out routine.