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What You Need to Know for Working Out at Home

Updated: Sep 22, 2023

This year has brought new hurdles for everyone to overcome. One hurdle that many people reading this article had in common was trying to figure out what to do while exercising at home. Is a home workout as effective as a workout at the gym? Well, it really depends on what your goals are, but they can certainly be effective even with limited equipment. What I can say for certain is they are 10000x better than not working out at all for all goals. So, if you're avoiding gyms at the moment, there's not really another option... You have to workout, but how might that training look?

What did I do, and what would I recommend? Well, I was fortunate to have a squat rack and equipment that I can use, but that doesn't mean I always wanted to, because it was either a 30 minute drive to Waterloo, or I had to set up my squat rack in the parking garage, which required some time. I was also dealing with some fresh injuries that made my normal training difficult to safely accomplish, so I often opted for the in home workouts.

THE BIGGEST and MOST IMPORTANT take away for at home training: make sure the sets are very, very challenging. Low load training (<30% 1 rep max) can be very effective at maintaining or growing muscle mass, but the kicker is it has to be taken very close to failure. A 2017 study by Haun et al. (which my good friend and mentor, Dr. Kephart was a part of) found low load training to facilitate growth to a similar degree and through similar mechanisms as higher load training, so long as both groups trained close to failure. We know from other studies that strength improvements are typically not the same with low load vs. high load training, but we can worry about that whenever people are comfortable returning to the gym. This is important, because this means you can do either styles of training, or both and essentially end up at the same location as far as hypertrophy (muscular growth) training goes. Interestingly, the recovery time for low load training was slightly longer, so if you're doing a lot of heavy and lighter training while you're at the physical gym, it would behoove you to consciously spread out your designated high intensity, heavy days from your lower weight days, or days where you do a lot of low weight training in conjunction to high load. For example, don't expect to hit a squat PR two days after a bunch of low load, high rep, high fatigue training. Maybe push that out 5 days to be safe.

My other recommendations are to: work in a lot of variations, and find a routine that works for you and stick to it, just like you would when going to the gym. I often find myself in a pattern when I lift. I like the same exercises over and over again. While this is mostly fine, it is probably a good idea to subject the muscles and joints to different stressors to improve your resilience to injury. If you can come back from your at home workouts and have a robust low back, robust shoulders, robust hips.... you can hopefully train harder for longer without hiccups on the flip side. It's also good for the brain to have some variations and challenge your coordination.

As to the second point: everyone knows a routine is crucial to success. Motivating yourself to workout at home can be very challenging, so if you just do it as part of your routine, then that's one less decision you'll have to make in a day. I struggled a lot with my routine at first, but I knew it was normal. Keep working through it, and you'll find something that works for you!

Kettlebells and barbells in low exposure room

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