I compete in Powerlifting, my fiancée knits — our levels of and outlooks on fitness couldn’t be further from one another. But, like millions of people around the globe, our lives have evolved over the course of the last month due to a pandemic and an order encouraging us to “stay at home.”
After only a week of social distancing, I was greeted by a string of words I never dreamed of hearing: “Can you help me with a workout?” Although it was music to my ears, it also presented a challenge: it had to be simple enough to do at home, but demanding enough to catalyze results. And as if that wasn’t enough, she asked if I’d do them with her — I can’t go to the gym, after all. Now, these workouts had to be strenuous enough to make me sweat. Challenge accepted.
I started with a few guiding principles: working with time instead of reps will increase intensity where we couldn’t use weights, and specifying rest time between sets would hold us accountable for keeping our heart-rates up. The duration of each exercise can be increased in increments of 10 seconds as the movements become easier, and the length of each rest should be decreased by increments of 5 seconds as you acclimate to the demands of each workout. The demands can continually become more challenging to match improvement.
With a bit of resourcefulness, we could use an old book bag full of hardcover books for things like squats, rows, and pushups; with a little creativity, we could use laundry detergent for Russian Twists and solid bricks for Renegade Rows. I got tunnel vision, beginning to see all the ways the mundane objects around our house could be used as weights.
Each workout begins with a jog around the block (come on, I’m a Powerlifter…) to get the heart-rate up, blood moving, and muscles warm. This can be increased to match anyone’s cardiovascular capability, or changed or something like burpees, jumping jacks, or mountain climbers if they loathe running (like I do). Take a short break, no more than a minute, before beginning the real work. Let’s do it.
Day 1: Lower Body Workout
On your lower body day, you’ll begin with lunges. Lunges are a great way to stretch the hips, engage both the quads and hamstrings, and create some pre-exhaustion in the muscles before squatting. Though you’re working for time instead of reps, this does not mean speed them up! Make sure that each rep is controlled, allowing for a good stretch and muscle engagement. The better you get with these, the more stable they’ll feel.
After lunges, you’ll squat — either with just your body weight or as goblet squats with some of the creative approaches to adding weight mentioned above. Remember with squats that your depth is only as good as your positioning; never sacrifice your form. As you descend, push your knees out to make room for your hips, keeping your chest as upright as you can. Spread the ground apart with your feet as you push back up from the bottom. Keep these squats as controlled as your lunges. Speaking of...
Side lunges are a variation that allow you to still work your quads and open up your hips, with the added benefit of targeting the adductors, one of the muscles along your inner thigh. Like the basic lunges above, you want your reps to be controlled, stable, and deep, making sure both heels are planted during each rep. Again, try to keep your chest up. You’ll feel these quickly.
With your quads pretty well worn, you’ll move on next to stiff-legged deadlifts, or Romanian Deadlifts. Many people take the name “stiff-legged” too literally and keep their knees locked for the duration of the lift, adding undue stress to the lower back. In order to hit the hamstrings more directly, put a slight bend in your knees and shift your weight further onto your heels. As you bend at the waist to reach toward your weight, like a book bag filled with books, you should feel a deep stretch in your hamstrings — that’s how you’ll know you’re doing these correctly. Finish each rep at the top by pushing your hips through before hinging back once more and loading your hamstrings again. Perform these as slowly as you need to in order to feel the correct muscles doing their job; it’s not a race.
Now that your hamstrings are warm, finish them with leg curls on an exercise ball (or a chair with wheels if you don’t have one). Begin by lying on the ground, your ankles up on the ball. Initiate the leg curls by first pushing your glutes through, much like a glute bridge, then using your legs to curl the ball toward you — remember, your hips should reach toward the ceiling during each rep. The key to making it through your time with these is to work slowly, squeezing at the top and pausing at the bottom. These are deceiving, so tread lightly. (If you don’t have an exercise ball or a chair with wheels, you can do single-leg RDLs instead.)
Complete your lower body day with Russian Twists to finish off your abs. Now seated on the ground, take something simple, like the laundry detergent mentioned above, and find a solid plane of balance on your glutes with your feet up in front of you. Begin the lift by taking whatever object you’re using and moving it from side-to-side, gently tapping the floor as you go. Keep your feet together and try to stop your body from turning as you move to each side. Three sets of these and you’re done!
|Workout A: Lower Body Focus|
|Jog Around the Block 2||1||-||1 min|
|Lunges (Alternating) 3||3xAMRAP||40s||45s|
|Goblet Squats 3||3xAMRAP||40s||45s|
|Side Lunges (Alt.) 3||3xAMRAP||30s||45s|
|Stiff-Leg Deadlifts 3||3xAMRAP||45s||45s|
|Leg Curls w/ Exercise Ball 4||3xAMRAP||30s||45s|
|Russian Twists (Abs) 3||3xAMRAP||1 min||45s|
Day 2: Upper Body Workout
After your warm-up, your upper body day begins with push-ups. There are dozens of iterations of the push-up, so you have some agency here, but I suggest starting with the basics: hands slightly wider than your shoulders, a straightened back and core, and your elbows near your sides. Keep a solid rhythm, lockout each rep, and don’t stop moving. If you can’t make it through all 40 seconds, there’s no shame in moving from your feet to your knees, but beware — moving to your knees will require you to add 10 seconds to the clock!
With three sets of push-ups under your belt, your chest and triceps should feel very awake; capitalize on this by finishing your triceps with some dips. You can use a coffee table, firm couch, chair, etc. as your “bench.” Your hands will be behind you, propping up the rest of your body. Keeping your arms as parallel to one another as you can, lower your body — you should feel a stretch across your shoulders and pecs — and then push your body back to its original position. You can control the intensity of these by moving the position of your legs: the further they are, the more difficult the dips will be. You can even add weight to your lap, too! Your goal should be to get your arms within an inch of failure; the next exercise will take them out.
In order to finish your triceps and begin building your back, you will do Renegade Rows next. Think about Renegade Rows as planks meet dumbbell rows — that’s really all they are! You’ll begin in a plank position, but on your hands. In a controlled and stable manner (easier said than done), shift your weight to one hand and bring the other up toward its respective lat, squeezing each muscle through to process. As that hand moves back down to its starting position, you will do the same movement on the other side. You will be tempted to twist your body as you do these, turning your chest from side to side to make it easier, but you must keep your chest parallel to the ground. As you’re able, challenge yourself to add a bit of weight, even some bricks from the backyard. Though they may not be heavy, their larger-than-dumbbell diameter might even help you improve your grip strength!
Now that your back is warm, let’s hit it more directly. If you have the means, a doorway pull-up bar or a beam on your porch, you’ll do pull-ups. If you’re like most people, and you struggle to do more than a couple of consecutive pull-ups, work up to them by doing controlled negatives during your sets. Use a jump to create momentum that carries you to the top, then descend as slowly as you can. This tactic will help you build the muscle and skill necessary to hit 30 seconds worth of pull-ups in no time. If you don’t have the means to do pull-ups, just do bent-over rows instead! Get into a position similar to that of a stiff-legged deadlift, insofar as you have a slight bend in your knees and tension in your hamstrings. Keeping your back as parallel to the ground as you can, grab something like that old book bag filled with books, and pull it toward the upper portion of your abdomen. Keep your elbows near your side, squeeze your back, and give it a momentary pause at the top to challenge the muscles. I love bent-over rows because they also hit your biceps in the process!
At this point your chest should be tired, your arms should be shaking, and your back should have a solid pump — this is the best time to hit the shoulders with little interference from larger muscle groups. 3-Way Shoulder Raises, or T.r.I. Raises, are one of the best ways to exhaust your shoulders with little to no weight. Pausing at each stop, you will raise your arms from your side, turning your body into a “T,” move them slowly around the front so you become a lowercase “r,” and then slowly overhead until you’re an “I.” From this overhead position, you will move back through the positions until your arms are at your sides; these are more challenging than they sound! Push yourself by grabbing those bricks (or whatever you used for Renegade Rows) once more and throwing them in the mix.
Finish your upper body day with the Gold Standard: Planks. You will move from one set with both arms on the front, through one set on each side. It’s imperative that you keep a strong, neutral spine for the duration of each, keeping your body long and all of your muscles engaged. Planks are very no-frills when it comes to performance, but there’s a reason they’ve stood the test of time. Congratulations, you’ve made it through your upper body day!
There you have it: an at-home upper/lower split that can be tailored to a variety of levels of experience. This split is meant to be done twice a week, like Monday/Tuesday and Thursday/Friday — write it into your schedule. Ultimately, you are in control of the difficulty, so challenge yourself. As each exercise becomes easier, increase its time, and as your conditioning improves, decrease the length of your rests. If you have bands at home, use them; if you have weights, add them in. If you don’t, walk through each room in your home and find objects that could be used in place of those mentioned above; necessity is the mother of invention, as they say.
You don’t need a gym to get stronger, just a burning desire to improve. Now, get up and get to work!
|Workout B: Upper Body Focus|
|Jog Around the Block 2||1||-||1 min|
|Push Up (knees + 10 sec) 3||3xAMRAP||40s||45s|
|Tricep Dips 3||3xAMRAP||30s||45s|
|Renegade Rows 3||3xAMRAP||40s||45s|
|Pull-Ups or Bent Over Rows 3||3xAMRAP||30s||45s|
|3-Way Shoulder Raises 3||3xAMRAP||40s||45s|
|Planks: Front and Sides||3xAMRAP||45s (front), 30s (sides)||45s|
- As you adapt to these workouts, challenge yourself to decrease the amount of rest time between each set/workout and increase the amount of set time. Both can be done gradually in increments of 5-10 seconds.
- 2 Can be replaced with (3 Sets of 45 Sec.) Burpees, Jumping Jacks, Mountain Climbers, etc.
- 3 Weighted, if possible, even if it’s unconventional (i.e. bookbag, paint can, laundry detergent — get creative)
- 4 If you do not have an exercise ball, any chair with wheels can work; if you do not have a chair on wheels, sub these for Single-Leg RDLs — control each rep