When I think of “at-home” workouts I can’t help but imagine flashbacks from my youth of Shaun T’s voice coming through my living room TV. Oh P90x, what a time that was.
But now, the age of the DVD workout program is long past its prime, replaced with apps and online training programs. And a lot of those are great, but they still come with the issue of getting yourself to do the program. That’s where most at-home workout regiments go wrong.
While true for any exercise program, at-home programs are even more difficult to follow because of the proximity of your gym to your couch, where you’re tempted by the soft sofa, the new season of The Mandalorian, and your favorite snack. One moment of second-guessing is all it takes to halt your workout plan in its tracks and tell yourself you’ll do it tomorrow.
3 Keys to Effective Home Workouts
Most home workout programs can be great, but they don’t acknowledge the reality that the hardest part about home workouts is doing the workout. The best workout program on the planet is useless if you don’t do it. On the other hand, an average program done consistently will give you extraordinary results. That’s why these three keys to effective home workouts have nothing to do with the latest or greatest training ideas, but focus on finding the right routine for you.
1. Find The Right Time
Consistency starts with establishing a routine. And a routine starts by finding the time of day that’s best for you. There’s a lot of debate in the fitness industry about whether it’s better to workout in the morning or the afternoon. And sure, they each have their benefits.
In the morning you have your peak cortisol levels, priming your sympathetic nervous system to train, but in the afternoon you’re best suited to align with your body’s natural changes in temperature, leading to a steady cool down into the hours of the night as your body prepares for sleep. But none of this matters if you don’t do the workout. The best time to workout is the time that works best for you.
I’ve found with myself and most of my clients that the morning works best specifically for home workouts, because it’s usually easier to establish a routine. Before you go to bed, prepare everything you need to workout in the morning. Lay out your gym clothes with your shoes nearby. That way when you wake up you’re ready to start. In the morning, you won’t be sidetracked by work or leisure because none of that has started yet. Wake up, put on your gym clothes, brush your teeth, and get to work.
Of course, try what works best for you. But for home workouts, when you don’t have a clear distinction between home and gym, morning seems to work best for most people.
2. Save The Grandiose Plans
Okay, you’ve set your time to workout. On Monday, you jet out of bed, throw on your clothes, and pull out your home workout program. It has four sets of ten exercises. After two sets of your first exercise, you’re exhausted. After all, you’re just getting back into a routine. After three exercises, your motivation wanes as your muscles burn, and you decide to end your workout early. Within minutes, you feel like crap about yourself, frustrated that you couldn’t even get through the first day. “What’s the point,” you tell yourself the next day, discouraged by the daunting task of yet another workout.
That’s why your first few weeks should be the opposite. It’s better for your workouts to be underwhelming but leave you with a sense of accomplishment. Remember, you’re just getting started. There will be plenty of time to ramp things up as you get stronger and your conditioning improves. Cut those ten exercises down to three to start off. Do those three as well as you can, then call it a day. Also, when starting a workout program it won’t take much for your muscles to be sore. And if you’re too sore right off the bat, that will impede your future workouts (and discourage you from training at all).
3. Stick To The Basic (And Most Effective) Exercises
Developing great home workouts should be simple — you likely don’t have much for equipment, after all. So, stick to simple and effective exercises.
As the maxim goes, “Success lay in the ruthless execution of the basics.” The most effective exercises are what trainers would usually call “compound” movements or movements that involve more than one major joint. A squat, for example, requires movement of the ankles, knees, and hips, and therefore involve more of your body for the exercise. With compound exercises you get more “bang for your buck.” The good news is that most compound movements also happen to be the movements people are most familiar with. For the lower body, we’re talking about squats, lunges, and deadlifts. For the upper body, push-ups and rows. You can make a deceptively effective program with just these major exercises.
Design Your Own Home Workout
Now that you have all of this in mind, we’re ready to actually design the workout, and arm you with the tools to make your own plan based on what equipment you have.
Balancing Muscle Groups
A common mistake among home workout programs is they don’t balance the major muscle groups. For example, if you do a ton of push-ups, which work your front shoulder and chest muscles, and don’t do any upper back and rear shoulder exercises, your front muscles will get disproportionately stronger, causing your shoulder joint to roll forward, which can later cause other postural problems and lead to injury.
Doing 200 push-ups a day is great, but it’s going to cause issues with your shoulder if you don’t balance it out. The same goes for your legs with your front leg muscles (quads) and posterior leg muscles (glutes and hamstrings). These groups don’t need to be balanced every day, but over the course of a week they should be.
For home workouts, bodyweight is a great place to start, but then you can add load by putting heavy household objects (like old textbooks) into a backpack. If you’d like to invest in one piece of equipment, a kettlebell is a great place to start for its versatility.
3 Week Beginner Home Workout Program
When getting back into the swing of working out, just like I’d recommend starting with short workouts, you can also start with just three (or even two) workouts a week and then work your way up. Below is a sample 4 week home workout program with 3 workouts per week.
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For all exercises, do 8-12 reps with 30 seconds rest in between, or if you’d like more of a cardio effect you can do them without rest in between.
Perform A1-A3 then rest 90-120 seconds between rounds. Do 2 rounds the first week, 3 the second, and 4 the third and fourth. Perform B1-B2 then rest 90-120 seconds between rounds. Do 2 rounds the first week, 3 the second, and 4 the third and fourth. Do 10 minutes of cardio for week 1, 15 minutes for week 2, and 20 minutes for week 3 and 4.
Home Workout Day 1
|A1. Bodyweight Squat or Backpack Goblet Squat||1||8-12|
|A2. Backpack Bent Over Row||1||8-12|
|A3. Plank||1||30 seconds|
|B1. Backpack Stiff-Leg Deadlift||1||8-12|
|B2. Push Up or Push Up w/ Backpack||1||8-12|
|C. Cardio||1||see note above|
Home Workout Day 2
|A1. Glute Bridge w/ Backpack or Single Leg Glute Bridge||1||8-12|
|A2. Pull Up or Backpack Bent Over Row||1||8-12|
|A3. Side Plank||1||30 seconds each side|
|B1. Forward Lunges||1||8-12|
|B2. Backpack Overhead Press||1||8-12|
|C. Cardio||1||see note above|
Home Workout Day 3
|A1. Push Up or Push Up w/ Backpack||1||8-12|
|A2. Split Squats||1||8-12|
|A3. Medicine Ball Roll Outs||1||30 seconds|
|B1. Single Leg Stiff-Leg Deadlift||1||8-12|
|B2. Single Arm Dumbbell (or Backpack) Row||1||8-12|
|C. Cardio||1||see note above|
For other home workout resources, you can check out 100’s of home workout programs right here at Muscle and Strength.
Final Thoughts On Home Workouts
There’s no best way to organize your at-home workouts. While I find this a good template for people getting back into a routine, the best workout program is the one that you do.
Figure out where home workouts best fit into your life, plan for it, design simple and effective programs for easy wins, then watch the magic of consistency and hard work lead to results over time.
If you’re looking for more fitness tips and in-depth articles and programs, head over to Roman Fitness Systems.