I have written this post because I want to share with all of you the workout that I am recommending the most lately. It is designed for beginners who want to start working out at home with the minimum equipment necessary, although it is very similar to the one I would recommend to someone who starts going to the gym but with some exercise modifications.
The problem with most home workouts
To maximise success in creating a new habit it should be as simple and feasible as possible but not more. In our case, which is creating the habit of training and strengthening our bodies, we don’t want to sacrifice results, balance or health for convenience or comfort. This implies we are going to train the full body in order to avoid imbalances, including the back, which means we will have to incorporate an upper body pull into the routine. I am specifically talking about this because most home workouts are done without any equipment and almost always fail to include pulling exercises, which creates muscle imbalances.
This problem can be easily solved by buying an adjustable dumbbell for one arm dumbbell rows or a suspension trainer that can be secured to the door in order to perform australian pull ups (APU). Note that though this may be good enough to start training, in this last case you will only be able to progress to a point since the door limits how much you can move your feet forward, which is the main way to progress in APU besides switching to one arm APU. When possible, what I recommend is finding a place to hang the suspension trainer, preferably gymnastic rings, near your place if not at home. Read this post to get some ideas about where to hang your suspension trainer or rings from.
Now that we have already solved this issue, let’s start talking about creating the habit to work out and the actual routine you’ll be doing.
Creating a new habit
In my opinion, the keys to creating a new habit are the following:
- Know why: You have to be sure why you want to add that habit to your life, why it is important and specially why it will be worth of all the resources you will have to put into it, like time, energy, effort, discomfort, sweat and tears (I hope not blood ;-) ).
- One habit at a time: The more habits you try to do at once, the less focus you will have on each of them and the greater the chances you will fail at creating and maintaining that new habit. I recommend one new habit a month even if one new habit every two weeks could work if your are very motivated and your previous habits already feel natural to you and do not require your focus, willpower and energy.
Even if one habit a month seems like too little, failing and remaining as always is much less. In a lifetime of self-progress, slow and steady wins the race. And hey, imagine how much you could progress in a year if you changed/added 12 new beneficial and positive habits to your life.
If you want more info about creating new habits, read Essential Zen Habits by Leo Babauta.
- Make it sustainable for a lifetime: Forget about eating 37 times a day 24,5 grams of fresh steamed broccoli and going every two hours to the gym. Unless you live for that, it is practically impossible to do it and have a life, but more importantly, that is not the habit you want to create (or be a slave to) for the rest of your life.
Create a habit that you want to be doing forever, or at least for years, because that is what habits are for, significant results require time and you want to enjoy the process of transforming yourself and not suffer it.
- Start small: Start with a habit which you are sure you will be capable of sticking to. If currently you are not doing any exercise at all, partly because of your busy life, to start going to the gym 6 days a week for an hour is a bit unrealistic and may seem impossible to you. However, doing 10 minutes of exercise at home before your daily shower or training 30 minutes at home twice a week may seem more feasible and practical.
Similarly, instead of trying to suddenly change your whole diet, cook all of your food and carry it with you to work, you can start changing your breakfast, the next month your dinner, and then if you want to you can start bringing healthy tasty home-made food to work.
- Make it clear and measurable: In order to create a new habit you need to do it everyday. In order to know if you have succeeded doing so, it has to be clear and measurable.
If your goal is to exercise everyday, does walking count? What about doing only one push up? If your goal is to train your squats in order to improve them, how many are enough? What level of resistance is enough?
Having a clearly defined and measurable habit like doing this routine these days of the week, eating less or more than X calories, running 10 kilometers in less than 50 minutes or being in bed with lights off and eyes closed by midnight allows you to be accountable and honest with yourself and stops you from cheating on those days you are not feeling like doing what you have to do.
There are going to be two different days. Start with Day A until you feel comfortable enough to start alternating Day A and Day B.
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- The description of the exercises are linked to their name on the table. Sometimes more than one way to progress is possible, choose the one that you prefer.
- Perform 3 sets for each exercise in a circuit fashion, this means 1 set of exercise A, 1 set of exercise B, and so on till exercise E, and then repeat for 2 more rounds for a total of three rounds
- Min Reps is the minimum of reps that you should be able to do in the first set of each exercise with good technique. If you can’t do as many reps, lower the weight or regress to an easier variation of the exercise and get stronger. In case you have mastered one step but you find the next step too hard no matter what you do, please leave a comment and I’ll help you find an intermediate step.
- Max Reps is the number of reps that you should be able to do in the three sets before progressing to a harder variation or a bigger weight. If you don’t know how to progress please leave a comment and I’ll be glad to tell you how.
To warm-up and prepare yourself to train, first you have to regain enough mobility to perform the exercises. Doing some circles with every joint in your body and spending a little bit of time stretching your tighter areas is a good way to start loosening up. Focus the most on opening your hips with deep squat holds, hip circles and hip flexor stretches, and loosening your shoulders in every direction with all sort of arm circles.
In my opinion, the best and simplest way to gain mobility and flexibility in order to perform and feel great is to create the habit of moving your body for 5 minutes every day, ideally after you wake up. I got this idea from Max Shank, check it out here.
After you feel loose enough, it is time to actually start getting warm. Some people like to start with an aerobic exercise, like jumping rope or jumping jacks to bring up their body temperature. This is not my case but it ain’t a bad idea either, so do as you wish.
To prepare yourself for the exercises, you want your muscles warm and flexible, as well as your joints feeling warm and ready. The best way to do this is to perform an easy variation of the exercises you will be performing for high reps in order to fill your muscles with blood and warm them up. Spend more time on the areas you have trouble feeling, warming up, on old injuries and joints that are not feeling that great or that need more preparation for the high resistance exercises.
The warm up is also the best time to perform your corrective stretches and exercises, prehab/rehab movements as well as exercise that help you activate your sleeping muscles.
In my case for example, even if I warm up my whole body, I always start by performing various prehab movements for the shoulders and forearms to prevent muscles imbalances. I also like to pump my elbows and knees with blood, specially my triceps and quads, to avoid discomfort and damage when doing high resistance exercises. Most people also may need to activate their glutes in order for them to fire properly during the exercises.
After you’ve done easier variations of the exercises you’ll be doing that day, keep increasing the resistance without getting tired until you’re ready for the actual workout.
Technique and Tempo
The aim of the workout is to get stronger and gain muscle, even if it will also help you “get in shape” and lose fat, provided that you eat well. This is why you must focus not on moving or completing the reps in the easiest way possible but on the opposite. Make each rep as hard as possible, focusing on the muscles you want to work, and making the movement smoothly, with a brief pause both at the bottom and at the top of each rep.
This doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to do it slowly but neither explosively, just be in control of your body at every moment. It is muscle tension that counts and not resistance.
You are not going to need a watch with you to control the rest periods. Just rest as long as you need to complete the next set, which usually is the time you need to catch your breath.
If you are out of shape at first you may need more time between sets, which shouldn’t be longer than two minutes. Eventually you won’t almost need to rest between sets, but you will want to rest about 30 to 60 seconds so you can recover more of your strength and execute better the next set.
It’s important that you keep a training log where you record the main variables from each session. This will allow you to reflect on it and see if you have been making progress or not, to see how far you have come, and within years, what kind of training or programming have worked best for you.
Below you can see a template of what a training log should look like, even if you could add other variables like how you are feeling that day, your body weight, etc.
8, 7, 6
12, 12, 12
12 kg KB
12, 12, 10
8, 8, 8
8, 6, 5
12 kg KB
12, 12, 12
5, 4, 3
9, 7, 5
16 kg KB
8, 7, 7
Do as many reps as you can with good technique and control on each set, but no more than the “Progress Reps”. Progress to a harder variation or to a higher weight only when you can do three sets of the amount of reps written in the “Progress Reps” column with good technique and control.
If you can do this but still find it hard to perform, stay a few sessions doing this same amount of sets and reps for that exercise while focusing on the movement, on making it hard but controlling it and specially on owning and mastering it. This will help you get more out of this progression step, improve your technique, while giving more time to your body to adapt to the stimulus and thus will make you stronger and prepare you for the next step while avoiding injury.
Remember that you get stronger by making your muscles work harder and not necessarily by performing harder exercises.
With this program, don’t train your full body 2 days in a row. Rest the day after training, even if you may still be active and go play sports.
Initially, if you are not working out at all, one day a week is much better than nothing and a good place to start! Training twice a week is a good stimulus and allows to recover fully each week. Ideally you would train three times a week without training on 2 consecutive days. Training on M/W/F is the most common schedule but just one of the possibilities.
The more often you train the better you must eat and sleep in order to recover from workout to workout. Know that we don’t get stronger when training, and neither when eating after training. We only get stronger when, after we have stimulated the body to grow stronger through training and eaten the necessary nutrients and calories to rebuild our bodies, we go to sleep and recover from the training. So remember, if you are not recovering from your training you are not growing stronger and you may be even getting weaker.
Having said that, the more often you train and recover, the faster you’ll grow stronger and bigger (and sexier ;-) ).
Now get busy!
If you’ve read this far I feel grateful, thank you for doing so. I hope you’ve learned how to start training at home and transforming your body and your life. But please don’t stop there, now it’s time for you to start applying this information and creating new personal experiences. It’s time for you to know your body and what it is capable of.
I wish you luck, but more importantly, I wish you determination, patience and persistence. Feel free to ask me any question on the comments and please share this post with anyone you think would benefit from it.