Written by Stephen Ball, Ph.D.
Muscular strength and endurance is a component of fitness that is necessary for optimal well-being and quality of life. Unfortunately, the cost of joining a health club or gym is a major barrier for many people who want to do resistance training. Membership costs vary depending on the city and facility’s services, but fees generally range from $25 to $100 per month. Additional initiation fees may run into the hundreds. In addition, the inconvenience of traveling to a facility and working out with strangers is not appealing to everyone.
A cost-effective and convenient alternative to a gym membership is turning your living room or basement into your own personal training facility. Of course your home gym will not have expensive strength training machines, such as hip sleds or assisted pull-up machines. However, with a moderate investment and a good imagination, you can get a great workout in the comfort of your own home.
What You Need
- Space. You’ll need an open space that allows freedom of movement and is void of hazards that you might step on, bump into or trip over. A rearranged living room or an open garage stall with adequate traction will work well. You will need about 100 square feet (10' x 10').
- Equipment. Invest in a few dumbbells (new about $0.50 per pound) or resistance bands ($10-$20) and a stability ball ($30). Most strength training exercises can be performed with this basic equipment. An adjustable bench that changes angles for your upper body is not necessary, but it would offer additional variety.
- Plan. Don’t begin resistance training until you have developed a plan. It is important that you have a structured program that includes 8-10 exercises to target the major muscle groups of the body. It is always wise to consult a local fitness expert and follow the ACSM guidelines for strength training. If you are a novice, a fitness professional will be able to give you advice beyond what is described here. Perform 1-3 sets of 8-12 repetitions at least twice a week. Make sure to do a brief warm-up before starting your session.
Tips for Strength Training
- Control the weight. It is important to perform each exercise in a controlled manner. Lower the weight slowly since you are working the same muscles as when you are lifting. To control speed of movement, try using a one-two-three count. The up phase (concentric or lifting) is completed quickly to a count of “one,” and the down phase (eccentric or lowering) is completed slowly to a count of “two-three.”
- Breathe. Ideally, you should exhale when the weight is being raised and inhale when the weight is being lowered. Don't ever hold your breath. It might help to count out loud the one-two-three count during the movement.
- Go to failure. An estimated 70 percent of strength gains can occur in the first set of training if performed to failure, otherwise called “rep out.” Failure or “repping out” means doing as many reps as possible for whatever resistance selected. Going to failure is challenging, but it will maximize your fitness response in a minimal amount of time. The takeaway is that you can get away with doing only one set if you perform that set to failure. Ideally, you should select a weight so that you fail between 8-12 repetitions. As you get stronger, you will need to increase the weight or the repetitions to elicit more gains.
- Progress slowly. The famous saying “Rome wasn’t built in a day” applies here. Don’t expect miraculous results immediately. Rather, work toward your goals slowly, and appreciate the process of being active. During your first few workouts, use a light resistance, focus on your form and don’t go to failure just yet. Also, be sure to allow time for recovery between sets (30-120 seconds) and between workouts (1-2 days). Your first few workouts might only last 15-20 minutes.
- Include variation. It is not unusual for workouts to become stale and for fitness gains to level off. These plateaus are expected and indicate that you are becoming more trained. Don’t get discouraged. If your workout gets old and boring, try different exercises and vary the number of repetitions, the weight or resistance, and the amount of rest between sets. These changes are likely to stimulate muscle adaptation and promote greater enjoyment of exercise.
- Add on. Creating your own home gym is not a massive financial obligation and will not take much space. Over time, add more equipment to your collection, and continue to expand the possibilities of your home training center. For example, build on to your collection with a medicine ball, Bosu® ball or additional free weights.
- Do something. When it comes to strength training—and exercise in general—doing something is truly better than continuing to be sedentary. Of course, more is better than some, and it’s possible to train too much. It is not necessary to join a gym to enjoy the benefits of strength training. You can definitely do some in the comfort of your own home.
Full Body—A Sample Home Workout Plan
Squat—for hips, thighs and buttocks
- From the sitting position with your feet shoulder-width apart and your toes in front of your knees, lean forward slightly and stand up without locking your knees.
- Slowly lower your body back to a seated position where your upper legs are approximately parallel to the floor.
- Alternative—Place a stability ball between your middle-back and a wall, and lean back into the ball while performing these same movements.
Chest Press—for chest muscles and triceps
- Lie on your back with your feet flat and knees bent.
- Grip dumbbells and extend upward but don’t lock the elbows. Slowly lower to the starting position.
- Alternatives—Sit on a stability ball and perform same movement. Simple pushups also work these muscles. A variation in push-ups could be putting your feet on a chair simulating an incline chest press.
Back Extension—for buttocks (gluteals) and low back
- Lie face down on the floor.
- Raise left arm and right leg off the floor with head and neck in line with the arm. Hold for 1-2 seconds, and then slowly lower the arm and leg back to the starting position. Repeat this movement for the right arm and left leg.
- Alternative—Perform the movement on all fours or lying face down on a stability ball.
Standing Lunges—for front of thighs (quadriceps) and buttocks
- With one leg, step backward until the thigh of the forward leg is parallel to the ground or as far as feels comfortable. Your back knee should come close to the floor but not touch it.
- Push with the front leg, driving your heel into the floor, to return to the starting position.
- Alternative—Using a regular-height chair, do bench step-ups from the floor in an “up-up-down-down” pattern. To increase resistance in this exercise, hold dumbbells in your hands.
DB Shoulder Press—for shoulders
- Perform this movement sitting in a regular chair, standing or sitting on a stability ball. Hold a dumbbell in each hand with an overhand grip. Make a 90-degree angle with your arms by raising the dumbbells so they are level with your ears.
- Slowly raise dumbbells over your head until arms are fully extended, but do not lock your elbows. Slowly lower the dumbbells to the starting position.
- Alternative—Perform a lateral raise by lifting the arms to the sides with a slight bend in the elbows. Keep the weights and arms below shoulder height. You will likely need lower weight for this exercise compared to shoulder press.
Pelvic Tilt—for abdominals and buttocks
- Lie on the floor with feet flat on the ground and knees bent. Keep arms at your sides with palms facing the floor.
- Raise your pelvis so your buttocks and lower back are off the floor. Pause, and then slowly lower your pelvis to the floor.
- Alternatives—Perform a standard crunch while sitting on a stability ball or on the floor. Try a reverse curl by lying on your back and place arms to the side with the palms face down and knees bent. Raise the knees to the chest lifting the hips off the floor.
Leg Curl—for back of thighs (hamstrings)
- Stand behind a chair, and with your foot flexed, slowly bend one leg at the knee, raising your heel up toward your buttocks. Keep your support leg slightly bent.
- Slowly lower your foot back to the ground. Add ankle weights to increase resistance or use a resistance band.
- Alternative—Perform a hamstring roll using a stability ball. Lie on your back with your knees bent and your heels on the ball. Raise your hips off the floor and roll the ball away from you until your legs are straight. Roll the ball inward and outward.
Dumbbell Row—for back musculature and biceps
- Stand with feet shoulder-width apart. Hold a dumbbell in each hand with elbows slightly bent. Bend forward at the waist and keep a slight bend in the knees.
- Pull dumbbells up to your sides until your upper arms are almost parallel to the ground. Slowly return the dumbbells to the starting position.
- Alternative—With resistance bands, stand on the band in its most middle section while holding the ends of the resistance band with your hands.
Biceps Curl—for biceps
- Stand with a dumbbell in each hand and your palms facing your thighs.
- Slowly lift the weights and rotate your forearm so that your palms end up facing your shoulders at the top of the movement. Slowly lower to the starting position so that your palms are facing your thighs.
- Alternative—With resistance bands, stand on the band in its most middle location while holding the ends of the resistance band with your hands while performing the movement.
Side Plank—for core
- Lie on your side with left leg on top of the right. Raise upper body and place right elbow beneath the right shoulder.
- Your elbow should be bent at a 90-degree angle and resting on the ground. Hold for up to 60 seconds.
- Alternative—Perform a standard plank by lying face down resting on the forearms with your palms flat on the floor. Rise up onto your toes and rest on your elbows, keeping your back straight and flat.
The exercise photos under “Full Body—A Sample Home Workout Plan” were provided by Stephen Ball, Ph.D., and the University of Missouri.
View the full winter 2012 issue of the ACSM Fit Society® Page online.