Update: Here’s an old post I put together right quick for someone who just needs a quick workout at home. Originally posted on May 3, 2007.
At times you will find yourself unable to get to the gym or dojo. Things in life just happen. So we do we do in a time like this? Strongmen will find that keeping various equipments around the house such as a sled, a large tire, a yoke, a keg, a sledgehammer, or even a 10lb wedge for splitting logs, will keep us completely satisfied when we need to workout but can’t make it to the gym. Therefore, this article is targeted more towards the people that are vacationing or on a business trip away from home, and perhaps for those strongmen that want a change from log presses, keg carries, and truck pulls, for a week or so.
So you’ve gone away on business and you can’t find a gym within 100 miles
Instead of complaining and retiring to watch TV for evening, you are about to learn how to get a decent workout with just your body weight and some household equipment. Now get up off your ass and try these exercises as I am explaining them.Firstly, most people tend to “run” to get in shape, however the truth is that endurance running will improve cardiovascular health but will also break down (catabolize) the muscles that you have accumulated from your serious strength training program. Since typical strength training involves using your fast-twitch muscle fibers (type IIa, type IIb), we are going to discuss how to do that most effectively. Fast-twitch fibers utilize the anaerobic energy system, in that they split adenosine tri-phosphate (ATP) molecules at a fast rate, thus providing an abundance of energy, but also fatiguing quickly.In order to train these muscles properly we need to generate a lot of power, enough, in fact, to exhaust your target muscle within the first 10-20 seconds of exercise.
The Gym-Less Exercises
Exercise 1: Sprints; lower body.
OK, here is your chance to go for that run we were talking about earlier. Instead of running for 30 minutes however, you are going to sprint all out for about 20 seconds. The proper sprinting form involves keeping your chin up, kicking your knees up high in the front, and swinging your arms to generate momentum. After the sprint you may feel free to put your hands on your head and walk around huffing and puffing for about 2 minutes. The best practice is to pick two points, perhaps telephone poles or the length of the local high school track, sprint from one to the other, and rest by walking back to the original point. Even better, if you have a stopwatch you can try to beat your time. Six sprints should suffice. Don’t forget to go for a 5 minute jog first in order to warm up your body, and make sure you stretch for at least 5 minutes after sprinting.
Total Time: 15 minutes
Exercise 2: Clap pushups; upper chest, triceps, shoulders
Everyone loves a good set of pushups. But for strength training you want to avoid endless sets of 50 pushups at a time. In order to correctly utilize your fast-twitch muscle fibers, you want to push up as explosively as possible. Clapping push ups are the solution. The proper push up form to target chest involves positioning your hands just outside shoulder width, upper arms perpendicular to your torso, head up, and body straight like a board. Now, lower yourself down until just before your body and chin touches the floor. Push up as hard and fast as you can, your hands should leave the floor and you will attempt to execute a clap in mid-air.
If you are not strong enough to clap, place two books beside your hands and use the momentum to jump your hands up on top of the books. Climb back down to the floor one hand at a time. You should not be able to do more than 20 reps if you are pushing AS HARD AS YOU CAN off the floor, unless you are resting far too long between reps. Four sets should suffice; rest 60 seconds between sets, and don’t forget to do a set of 20 without a clap to warm up your upper body first.
Total Time: 8 minutes.
Exercise 3: Pull ups; back, biceps
I don’t really care where you are, you can find a place to do pull ups. Find a tree branch, a playground, a ledge, a flag pole, I don’t care, use a doorway if you have to. If you look hard enough you will find a place to do pull ups. Since most people can’t execute more than 20 pull ups with strict form, you don’t really have to add much to this exercise to get sufficient type II fiber training. If you need or desire extra weight just find something to hold between your feet. Proper pull up form means your hands should be 1 inch wider than shoulder width, and you want to get your chin OVER the bar on every rep. Your palms should also be facing away from your face (pronated).
If you can’t get your chin over the bar then maybe you should find a new hobby like stamp collecting, knitting, or perhaps curling (no, I don’t mean biceps curls, but I suppose that is also a viable alternative hobby if you don’t want to be serious about strength training). Four sets should suffice; rest 60 seconds between sets, no warm-up is necessary unless you plan on hanging a lot of weight between your feet.
Total Time: 6 mins
Exercise 4: Close grip, diamond push ups; triceps, lower chest
Basically the same exercise as regular push-ups, but you want to place your hands directly under your chest. Make an L with your thumb and forefinger on each hand, and touch opposing thumbs and opposing forefingers on the floor. The shape of the empty space between your hands should resemble a diamond. There is no reason to jump or clap since you should be significantly fatigued from the last two exercises. Bang out as many as you can for 2 sets, resting 60 seconds between. No warm up necessary.
Total Time: 5 mins
Exercise 5: Chin ups; back, biceps
Basically the same as regular pull ups, but you want your palms to be facing your body (supinated), and you can place your hands a bit closer; an inch inside shoulder width. This should be completed for 2 sets, resting 60 seconds between sets.
Total Time: 5 mins
Exercises 6 & 7: Standing heel raises
These should be performed in series with lying sit ups; calves and abs. No want wants to forget about those look-good feel-good muscles! For the heel raises you want to toss a book on the floor, standing with the toes of ONE FOOT on the edge of the book, drop down into a full stretch with your heel well below your toes, and pop up into a full flexion with your heel well above your toes. The flexion should be executed as fast as possible to stimulate the type II fibers. You may use a wall or a chair for stability, but don’t you dare lean on anything. This might be tough at first, especially if your balance leaves something to be desired. When you are done with the first foot, switch.
For lying sit-ups you will want to lie down flat, cross your hands over your chest or put your hands on your head to make it harder (hold something above your head to make it even harder). Pick a spot on the ceiling or wall to stare at, and sit-up so that your upper body is ALMOST perpendicular to the floor. Then lay back down until your body is ALMOST parallel to the floor. Keep tension on your abs at all times, and sit up as quickly as possible. These should not be slow, controlled sit ups, but rather explosive abdominal contractions which result in your upper body rising up off the floor to a sitting position.
The calf raises and sit ups should be executed without rest for a total of 3 sets each. Warm ups are not required.
Total Time: 12 mins
Now stretch for about 10 minutes and you are done. 60 minutes later you have just completed a full-body workout with stretching, and are now healthier for your efforts. This entire workout can be executed every other day as total body training workout. There are also other exercises that can be substituted for variation including bed/table/chair dips for triceps, plyometric jumping for the legs, curling furniture of various sorts for the triceps, pick anything heavy up and press it over your head for shoulders, or you can be creative and make something up on your own. Those of you that are serious about strength training will find a way.
Note: I originally wrote this article for Better Body Journal, before I really started getting into strongman training.