The Ultimate Home Workout Guide
A home workout plan is a necessity these days, especially as you never know when gyms will be forced to close under lockdown rulings.
If you want to hit your fitness goals, you need to be able to stay consistent.
In order to stay consistent, you need a backup plan in case the gym is not an option.
This post will recommend some equipment to buy, show you some exercises you can do (and list some more) and give you an example home workout program you can use.
You don’t need significant equipment to make good progress. If you have a goal of gaining muscle you just need to be able to take your muscles close to failure. You can do that with bodyweight, although if you’re an intermediate or advanced lifter it’s going to be easier if you have some equipment.
What Equipment Do You Need to Have a Great Workout at Home?
Firstly, let’s talk about some minimal equipment that doesn’t take up a lot of space and won’t break the bank.
Something you can do pullups and chinups from is pretty essential. You need some way of training your pulling muscles through a vertical pulling motion (pulling down). Pullups and chinups are perfect for this.
You can get a pullup bar that goes in a doorway and it’ll work fine, but my favourite are these pullup handles that go in doorways. They’ll fit more doorways, they are designed not to damage the door frame and they fold flat for easy storage. They’re also ultra portable so you can bring them with you on trips and use them in hotel rooms – perfect!
You can get them for 15% off through this link (discount will be applied at checkout, use code ROB15 if not).
What if you can’t do pullups?
If you lack the strength to do pullups then you’ll need some resistance bands. You use these by attaching them round the pullup bar/handles and putting your knee or foot in the other end. The band will give you a boost up. Depending on your weight and strength, thicker or more bands may be required. Make sure you get this type and not the mini bands that are supposed to go around your thighs to train your glutes.
Another item that can be handy is Gymnastic rings. You don’t need these, but they are useful. You can hang them from your doorway pullup bar/handles and use them to do ring pushups, ring flyes, ring rows and ring dips. They’re really great for working your whole upper body without needing dumbbells. Just try doing a few sets of ring dips or ring pushups and tell me it’s not hard enough!
It’s more difficult (not impossible) to work your legs and shoulders effectively with just your bodyweight – so some dumbbells are still recommended.
You want to get some adjustable dumbbells. Adjustable just means that you can change the amount of weight on them. Fixed dumbbells are one weight that can’t be adjusted. These work too, of course, but you’ll need far more of them and they take up a lot more space. You can get adjustable dumbbells that can be changed with a quick twist of a handle.
Cheaper Dumbbell Options
You can get adjustable dumbbells with plates and spinlock collars, where you add/remove plates manually to change the weight – like these. These are much cheaper and still a good option. Weight is weight. It will just take you a bit longer if you need to change weights. You may also struggle if you need heavy weights. Most of them are only come as 20kg/45 lb pairs. You can buy extra plates and load them all on. This is what I have done and I’m able to make up to 42.5 kilograms (about 93 lbs) on each dumbbell, which is enough for my needs (I have a barbell and rack now for heavier work).
Home Gym – Full Setup
If you’re really serious about working out at home and going to make it a long term thing, I would suggest getting a power rack, a barbell, plates and an adjustable bench. If you get this, it pretty much makes a gym membership redundant. Below is my setup (I’ve got a safety squat bar and swiss bar as well, which are not essential but nice to have). If you’ve got this equipment, you could follow this 3 day full body plan or this 4 day upper/lower plan instead of the home workout plan I’m about to cover.
Simple Home Workout
I’ll include different versions of each exercise depending on the equipment you have available. The more minimal equipment options may not provide enough of a stimulus if you’re an intermediate or more advanced trainee.
In terms of sets and reps, beginners should be able to get a challenging workout in, even with minimal equipment.
If you’re more advanced, you may need to look at purchasing some more equipment, some heavier dumbbells, perhaps a barbell, some plates, etc. so you are able to still be challenged by the workout.
My suggestion is to do 2-3 sets of between 5 and 15 reps. Hopefully you have the right equipment to make that a challenging workout for you.
Don’t feel like your weights are too light or your bodyweight is not enough of a stimulus. As long as you’re able to reach muscular failure, any weight can provide enough stimulus to build muscle. Again I refer to this study which found strong evidence suggesting this (as have others).
The Main Movements to Cover
Any workout plan should cover these main movements that will see you use all of the major muscle groups in the body. You should train them all evenly, not having too much bias for any particular movement (hello horizontal push/bench press):
- Squat (this also includes exercises that mimic this pattern, like a leg press at the gym)
- Hinge (meaning hinging of the hips – any deadlift variation will work here, as well as good mornings and hip thrusts).
- Vertical push
- Horizontal push
- Vertical pull
- Horizontal pull
If you pick one or two compound exercises for each of those, and train each muscle group twice a week you’ll have a pretty well rounded program. Add in calves, forearms, abs if you like.
Squat/Goblet Squat/Barbell Squat
Beginners should be able to get a challenging workout in with bodyweight squats. Go close to failure, although if you need really high reps to get there you should start adding weight (e.g. more than 20 reps per set). Really high reps can cause repetitive strain injuries and you want to take care of your knees.
If you’re strong enough, you can progress to goblet squats using dumbbells. You can probably go up to 70lbs or more before the weight gets too awkward to make this an option. Most people won’t need more than this weight to reach failure with a set that isn’t ridiculously long.
If you’re lucky enough to have a barbell and rack at home with enough plates, you can do back squats and never run out of enough weight to get a challenging leg workout in.
You can also get a great leg workout with walking lunges, particularly focusing on your hamstrings and glutes.
Deadlift/Romanian Deadlift/Dumbbell Romanian Deadlift
You should definitely include some sort of hip hinge movement in your workout routine.
Depending on your level of experience, it might not be easy to get this done at home if you don’t have significant weight. You might need quite heavy dumbbells, or ideally a barbell and plates.
If you’re not experienced with this move, you can get a good workout in with dumbbells.
If you’ve got a barbell, plates and enough weight to do conventional deadlifts, you’ll want to make sure you’re doing this somewhere with adequate floor protection.
There is a single leg variation of this movement which may be a better option for you if you don’t have enough weight.
Working hamstrings with bodyweight
You can also work hamstrings using nordic curls or sliding hamstring curls – two surprisingly difficult bodyweight movements.
Sliding hamstring curls are easiest with a couple of floor sliding discs, these are cheap and available on amazon. Here’s a demo:
Nordic curls involve starting on your knees with your feet secured under something heavy, or held down by someone. You want to let yourself fall forward, using your hamstrings to control your descent, When you reach the floor, use your hands to push yourself back up before you smash your face into the floor!
Here’s a demonstration from Jerry Teixeira (bodyweight expert) – skip to 7 minutes for the Nordic curls demonstration.
Pullups/Chinups and Assisted Versions
This is where your pullup bar will really come into play. If you’re not able to do chinups or pullups yet, you’re going to want to get resistance bands to help you. Don’t just skip over pullups/chinups entirely. Put in work until you can do them! Losing fat will help MASSIVELY here. If you’re over 15% body fat as a man, or 25% as a woman, you might want to consider losing fat. It will make doing pullups much easier, then you can focus on building some muscle. If you don’t know how to judge your body fat percentage, see this post.
Aim for 3 sets to failure. No-one is strong enough to not be able to get a good workout doing that! You can add weight by holding a dumbbell between your legs if you’re more advanced.
If you need help, loop the resistance band around the bar, and put your knee or foot through it. Play with different weight resistance bands to give more/less assistance. Aim to reduce the assistance over time as you’re adding reps.
Pushups, Floor Press, Bench Press, Ring Dips
You’re definitely going to want to work the muscles of your chest at home. We have several options for this, even if you don’t have a bench (although if you do, dumbbell or barbell bench press are probably going to be the best options).
Pushups are a great option for a beginner and with good form will be hard enough at first. You can also do floor press, which is essentially the same thing as a dumbbell bench press, but you lie on the floor.
This reduces the range of motion (because your elbows can’t go any lower than the floor) so it is easier than a dumbbbell bench press. It will also focus more on the triceps and less on the chest compared to a bench press. For that reason, more advanced trainees may want to pick something else.
The best option here without investing in significant equipment (adjustable bench, heavier dumbbells or a barbell, plates and rack) is going to be harder bodyweight moves.
You have ring dips or single arm pushups. Both are challenging.
For ring dips, you’ll need to hang your rings from something (over the pullup handles works well for me) or use a trx secured to something overhead. To make it harder, you can add weight – but only very advanced trainees will need to do so.
For single arm pushups, start with your feet further apart (easier) and move them closer together to make it harder. If you can bang out 3 sets of 15 single arm pushups with great form, you’re incredibly strong!
If regular pushups are too easy for you, but you’re not able to do many single arm pushups, you can use a reverse pyramid approach.
You can also make regular pushups harder by elevating your feet. Just raise them up on a box, step or bench.
Using Reverse Pyramid Training to Make Home Workouts Challenging
RPT (reverse pyramid training) is where you do higher intensity (harder/heavier sets) first, then lower the intensity for subsequent sets.
With this example it would look like:
First Set – Single arm pushups x5 (each side)
Second Set – Regular pushups x15
Third Set – Regular pushups x 15
Normally 2×15 regular pushups wouldn’t be a challenge, but after the first set of single arm pushups (which is almost to failure) those additional sets can also achieve failure with relatively low reps. You can also apply this approach for your ring rows. Single arm rows to failure (low reps) followed by sets of regular double arm ring rows.
One Arm Row/Bent Over Dumbbell/Barbell Row/Ring Rows
You’re going to want to make sure you do some sort of horizontal pulling motion. This will work the muscles of your back (lats, rhomboids, amongst others) and biceps to some extent too.
This one is easy to do with minimal equipment. All you need is a set of dumbbells and you can do one arm rows or bent over dumbell rows.
Most people usually use too much weight for all of these movements too. Use a lighter weight, slow down, pull towards your hip instead of your chest, and really feel the lats contracting.
If you’ve got a barbell, barbell rows or t-bar rows are another great addition.
You can also use your pullup bar and your rings, to do ring rows using your bodyweight. Hang the rings from your bar (or from whatever will support your weight). Set them at a height so you can grab them when laying on the floor and pull yourself up to them whilst keeping your feet on the ground. Need to make them harder? Use just one hand (these are very hard!)
You can watch a video here showing how to do an inverted row using a bar set at a low height (you can also use a smith machine or a sturdy table at home to do this):
Seated/Standing Dumbbell/Barbell Press
Working shoulders at home is quite easy if you’ve got some dumbbells.
If you’ve got dumbbells that challenge you for single arm rows, then you’ve got more than enough weight to get an effective shoulder workout.
Standing single arm presses, or standing double arm presses are difficult with dumbbells. Being standing and using dumbbells means you’ve got to stabilise the weights more, so you’ll probably not be able to lift as much as you’re used to with the seated version or the standing barbell version.
Of course, both those options are available to you too if you have the equipment.
Some other exercises you’ve got the option of doing at home:
- Lateral and front raises (shoulders)
- Biceps curls and hammer curls (Biceps)
- Bulgarian split squats (legs)
- Hip thrusts (glutes and hamstrings)
- Rear delt flyes (rear delts)
- Upright rows (shoulders)
- Dumbbell overhead triceps extensions (triceps)
You could sub any of the above in.
Example Home Workout Plans Using Dumbbells and Bodyweight
Right, let’s put this all together into a simple plan you can follow at home. With all of these sets you should be working close to failure so you provide a good stimulus for building muscle.
As these are full body workouts, you should have at least one rest day between workouts. It’s designed for 3 workouts per week on an alternating schedule, like this: ABA, BAB, ABA etc. Monday, Wednesday, Friday makes sense, or Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday but any schedule will work as long as you’re not working out on consecutive days.
Example Full Body Home Workout A
- Goblet Squats 3×15
- Dumbbell Romanian Deadlifts 3×10
- Dumbbell Rows 3×10
- Single Arm Pushups 3×10
- Standing Dumbbell Single Arm Press 3×10
- Dumbbell biceps curls 3×12
Example Full Body Home Workout B
- Dumbbell reverse Lunges 3×15
- Dumbbell hip thrusts 3×12
- Pullups 3×10
- Ring Dips 3×10
- Ring Rows 3×10
- Dumbbell lateral raises 3×15
Each week you should aim to progress the intensity or volume in some way. Either 1 more rep on one or more sets, or using heavier weights/more difficult exercise variations.
If you’re struggling to progress because the minimal equipment you have at home means you can’t get a challenging enough workout, then perhaps it is a time you could be focusing on fat loss.
Simply lift at the maximum intensity that you can, and follow the correct protocols with your diet to lose fat.
Looking for help?
If you’d like some more help, including building a custom program for you, a plan, help with nutrition, messaging for Q+A and being held accountable with check-ins and goals, then enquire about my online coaching service!