Exercising from Home: Optimise Exercising Using Bodyweight & Limited Equipment

Asian man doing yoga

Stay Active: Not having access to a gym is not the end.

With many gyms temporarily closed and an explosion of bodyweight workout routines popping up on social media, we want to help you figure out what you should be doing. Keeping active is important during this time for many reasons including for physical health and mental health (1), and to make sure you can stay on track with your fitness goals. If you are uninjured and otherwise healthy, and want to keep active and busy, do whatever is fun and enjoyable to you. However, if you have specific goals you want to stay on track with, here are some guidelines to help you continue to reach your goals without being able to get to a gym.

If you have chronic or acute injuries that require special consideration for the exercises, or if you cannot find a way to exercise without pain, please contact us to set up a training session (virtual sessions via Ace Virtual Care are available!).

DO NOT DO ANY EXERCISE THAT CAUSES PAIN.

Why are you working out?

It is first important to understand why you are working out so that you can make sure you are exercising in a manner that is appropriate for your goals. It is also important to understand the restrictions of working out with limited equipment and/or bodyweight only. The old adage of “if you don’t use it you lose it” is quite appropriate for these circumstances. Your body develops fitness specific to the format in which you exercise. Therefore, while random workouts you see on Instagram are potentially great ways to keep active and healthy, they may not help you continue progressing towards YOUR fitness goals.

General Health & Fitness

If your health and fitness goals are non-specific, and instead are to reap the general benefits of physical activity, then here are some guidelines for how you can maintain cardiovascular health and develop muscular strength-endurance for healthy living and aging.

1. Cardiovascular Health Workout

Accumulate at least 30 minutes of steady state activity with an HR of 135-155 BPM 3x a week. These 30 minutes can be accumulated in either 3x 10-minute or 2x 15-minute bouts.

  • Run or power walk on a treadmill
  • Use a stationary or recumbent bike
  • Climb the stairs continuously
  • Use workout rubber bands for tempo runs

2. Muscle Strength & Endurance for “Functional Tasks”

Perform muscle strengthening exercises at least 2x per week (1). Use weights or resistance bands if you have access to them. Try to incorporate all of the fundamental movement patterns;

  • Squat
  • Hip Hinge
  • Push
  • Pull
  • Carry

Try the workout format outlined in the “Weight loss Workout” section.

Weight Loss – Don’t Lose Momentum

Key considerations for staying on track for weight loss goals without being able to get to a gym include: maintaining/increasing lean muscle mass and exercising to increase caloric expenditure.

Maintain Lean Mass & Exercise to Increase Caloric Expenditure

Strength training exercises that create a high-tension stimulus are required to maximise muscle mass retention (2). This means that you must find a way to increase external load creatively or modify the tempo of the exercises you are doing.

  • See muscle gain section for ways to increase tension during the strength exercise circuit listed below.

We also want to stimulate protein synthesis and elevate it as high as possible to increase or at the very least, maximize muscle mass retention. The circuit training format outlined below will work both to maximise caloric expenditure through short rest periods, and to drive protein synthesis via metabolic pathways (5).

Circuit Training:

  • Choose 6-10 Exercises.
    • Alternate between 1 lower body and 2 upper body exercises.
  • Set a repeating timer for 30s.
  • Try to do 15 reps with full range of motion in the 30s.
  • The next 30s are a rest period to get ready for the next exercise.
  • Do 15 reps in 30s of each exercise.
  • Repeat this circuit 3-6 times without resting between rounds.
  • Do this type of circuit 3-4x a week.

Aerobic Exercise:

Do some form of aerobic exercise at least 2x per week; see cardiovascular health workout guidelines above.

Muscle Gain & Building Strength

To grow muscles, we need to recruit/stimulate as many muscle fibres as possible AND fatigue those fibres (2)(5). To fatigue as many fibres as possible with bodyweight exercises, exercise as close to muscular failure as possible (4). To simply maintain muscle you have developed, continue exercising with approximately 30% of the volume (weight*reps*sets) you were using (3). You must be realistic with what you can accomplish from training at home. To give yourself the best chance to continue building muscle, you must work very close to muscular failure. This is difficult and uncomfortable and can take a lot more reps than you think. When working towards or close to failure, technique also starts to break down, making it important to be cognisant of your posture and positioning to avoid injury. If you are newer to exercise, working to failure may not be safe or necessary.

Beginner & Intermediate Exercisers

If you are a beginner or intermediate exerciser, you will likely be able maintain muscle that you have gained for up to 32 weeks if you just keep exercising (3). You may even be able to make progress in muscle mass if you are now doing unfamiliar exercises consistently, (exercises you have not done before, but repeating them over the next few weeks) and working hard (probably close to muscular failure) (4).

Advanced Exercisers

If you are an advanced lifter (>3 years training), there is a good chance you will lose some muscle mass and that strength will regress. This is simply because the more trained you are, the more tension and volume is required for further muscle growth. However, that muscle will come back relatively quickly when you begin retraining (3). In order to maximize increases and retention of muscular strength and mass, you will need to present a high-tension stimulus to the muscles (5). Simply working to failure is likely insufficient at bodyweight due to the amount of volume and muscular tension required for advanced adaptations.

Maximise Muscular Tension:

There are a few things you can do to influence muscular tension, and to present some external load to maximize your ability to retain muscle mass. 1) Emphasize working close to failure, 2) exercise your full range of motion, 3) modify tempo, 4) lift heavy objects around the house, 5) emphasize technique to increase muscular tension. These strategies may help to increase muscular work through higher tension and muscular recruitment.

Increase External Load:

  • Spare tire – hold a squat or lunge, press it overhead.
  • Bag of garden soil/pet food/bag of sand – hold and squat or lunge.
  • Find random heavy objects or weights around the house that you can lift and hold during exercises to add external load.
  • Use isometrics (muscular contraction without muscle length change) during warm up/muscle prep to increase muscular recruitment.
  • Use slow, controlled eccentrics (muscular contraction while the muscle is being lengthened, loaded stretching) to increase muscle tension during working sets.
  • Work close to failure when it is safe.

Circuit Training:

  • Choose 6-10 Exercises.
    • Alternate between 1 lower body and 2 upper body exercises.
  • Do all 6-10 exercises for 10 reps with a tempo of 4.0.4.0 or slower.
  • Repeat this circuit 3-6 times.
  • Do this type of circuit 3-4x a week.
  • Use methods listed in the “Maximize muscle tension” section for exercises where you can.

Just like in the “weight loss” workout format, we are going to take advantage of circuit training. Use weighted objects from around the house to increase muscular tension and stimulate muscle retention and growth (4). We will also use metabolic stimulus of the circuit format to drive protein synthesis for growth (5).

If you experience any pain during exercising, do not continue without consulting a professional. If you have exercise equipment at home and would like a more personalized program, please contact us to set up a virtual training session so we can help you.

Download the Ace Home Workouts

DO NOT DO ANY EXERCISE THAT CAUSES PAIN.

Written by: Josh Downer, Strength & Performance Coach


(1) “ACMS’s Guidelines for exercise testing and prescription 10th Ed.” (2018). American College of Sports Medicine. Wolters Kluwer. 

(2) “Scientific Principles of Strength Training” (2016). Dr. Mike Israetel, PhD., Dr. James Hoffmann, PhD., & Chad Wesley Smith.

(3) “Exercise dosing to retain resistance training adaptations in young and older adults” (2011). Bickel CS., Cross JM., & Bamman MM. Journal of Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise.

(4) “Muscular adaptation in low- versus high-load resistance training: A meta analysis.” (2016). Schhoenfeld BJ., Wilson JM., Lowery RP., & Krieger JW. European Journal of Sports Medicine.

(5) “Mass 2” (2017). Dr. Pat Davidson PhD & Dr. Ben House PhD.