We know this is hard to believe, but you can get the same muscle-building results from at-home exercises as you can from the gym. Great news since most of our nation is stuck in lockdown with COVID-19 protocols. If you were an avid gymgoer, you’re probably working with a much smaller arsenal of equipment and space. That’s okay.
For the turn of the new year, we’re arming you with a list of minimal-equipment moves. These are perfect at-home exercises because they make the best use of your body weight or easily attainable equipment. You can even arrange them into their own intense muscle-building workout.
You’ll notice they’re a league above typical bodyweight exercises. There’s nothing wrong with pushup variations or chinups using your door frame rack, but innovating classic moves and making a program more challenging is a great way to breathe new life into workouts. Light up your whole body with these muscle-building at-home exercises.
The Best At-Home Exercises to Build Muscle Without the Gym
1. Bear Dogs
What it works: Total body
Why it’s effective: Bear dogs force the core and lumbar to create anti-rotational stability to protect the spine. Put simply, they help stabilize the trunk while maintaining balance through the entire body as you remove limbs from the ground, removing that stability. They make for a serious conditioning exercise and jack the heart rate up in a hurry.
How to do it: Assume a bear stance, which means on all fours (quadruped), with knees hovering a couple inches off the ground. You should be on your toes and hands only. Slowly, raise one arm straight in front of you as you simultaneously raise opposite leg off the ground, foot flexed. You’ll have to fight hard to keep hips square. Keep the movement slow and controlled. Lower to starting position, and repeat on opposite sides.
Perform 3x 5 alternating reps per side (10 total reps)
2. Reverse Lunge From Deficit
What it works: Glutes and quads
Why it’s effective: Doing reverse lunges (instead of traditional lunges) save your knees from strain since the body doesn’t have to stop forward momentum. Adding a deficit to the front leg (by way of a step or platform that’s 8” or less) makes the glutes work harder to complete the lunge due to the added range of motion. It also makes for a great hip stretch to boot.
How to do it: Holding a dumbbell in each hand, stand on the platform with both feet entirely on it (heels too). Choose a foot, and drop step into a reverse lunge. As you descend, keep more of your weight in the front leg, and smoothly drop the trailing knee toward the floor. Next, step back up to the platform and alternate legs.
Perform 3 x 10 reps per side (20 total reps)
3. Back Plank
What it works: Rhomboids, lower traps, and rear deltoids
Why it’s effective: This isometric exercise really challenges all the postural muscles of the back with nothing but your bodyweight serving as resistance. It can expose a weakness in muscular endurance—especially in muscles you thought were strong.
How to do it: Set up two chairs or benches just outside shoulder-width apart, and sit on the ground between them, feet planted flat. Put your elbows and triceps across each bench, and point fists up in the air (you should look like you’re about to do a shoulder press). Next, press hard into the benches with your elbows and raise your body into a tabletop position. You’ll be in a full hold with only your feet touching the floor. It’s okay for your knees to be bent at 90 degrees. Press hard and keep your body at bench level. Don’t let it sink below.
Perform 3 x 20- to 30-second holds
4. Archer Pushup
What it works: Chest, triceps, and front deltoids
Why it’s effective: Archer pushups add a new dimension to your pushup game by emphasizing one side at a time since you’re shifting your weight from one side to the other. These are a great conditioning exercise and stepping stone toward performing single-arm pushups.
How to do it: Set up for a typical pushup, but choose a side you’ll work first. For this explanation, we’ll choose the left. Set up so the right hand is slightly in front and a lot wider than the left hand while in the starting position. Then, pressing hard into the floor with the right hand, lower the torso into the left hand, so the left elbow bends completely, and the right arm remains straight as the torso lowers to the floor. Return to the start position and repeat on the same side before performing the same amount of reps on the opposing side.
Perform 3-4 x 6-8 reps per side
5. Banded Leg Extensions
What it works: Quads and abs
Why it’s effective: These create a massive pump for the quads and spike the heart rate without a machine or any equipment other than a simple band (a skinny loop band works best).
How to do it:: Set up in a bear stance position with knees hovering a couple inches off the ground. Keep the band looped around the backs of your knees, secured on the ground by your planted hands (wrapped across the palms and hooked by the thumbs). Next, kick knees back as far as they’ll go to extend your legs. Try to focus on pushing the knees back rather than raising the butt up, and you’ll really isolate the quads.
Perform 3-4 x 15-20 reps
6. Banded L-Sit
What it works: Quads, hips, core, triceps, and upper back
Why it’s effective: With the help of a skinny band, these make it possible to recreate a gymnastic staple, even if you don’t have the strength to weight ratio of a gymnast. It’ll be one of the hardest total-body movements you’ve ever done.
How to do it: Sit flat on the floor with your feet out in front of you, and hook your loop band around one foot. Loop the entire band around your back and hook the other side around the other foot. Straighten your legs entirely to stretch the band, and plant the hands flat on the ground. Point your toes hard, dig palms into the ground, and keep straight knees (try to lift the feet!) until your body leaves the ground. Stay as far off the floor as you can.
Perform 3-4 x 15- to 20-second holds
7. 2-to-1 Swiss Ball Hamstring Curl
What it works: Hamstrings, Glutes, Spine Erectors
Why it’s effective: Performing hamstring curls with this simple twist doubles the working load for one leg at a time during the eccentric phase—great for building strength and triggering muscle growth.
How to do it: Lie on the floor, face up, with a Swiss ball positioned under the heels. Plant hands into the floor and raise hips off ground. Next, curl the ball in with heels without dropping hips. Once the ball reaches your glutes, carefully raise one foot off the ball (it’s okay to keep the knee bent). Slowly return the ball to the start position with one leg. Place the free leg back on the ball. Repeat.
Perform 3-4 x 6-8 reps per side
8. Prone Weight Transfer
What it works: Rear deltoids, rhomboids, lower traps, and lats
Why it’s effective: This movement is a great way to torch the postural muscles for conditioning and endurance, but also doubles as a way to develop mobility at the shoulder joints. For people who suffer from poor posture, performing this well will be easier said than done.
How to do it: Lie on the floor, face down, with any maneuverable object that weighs 5 pounds or less in one hand (weight plate, dumbbell, or any object in your home). Engage your core and glutes to lift your limbs off the floor, then pass the weight behind your back to the other hand. Don’t let it touch the floor. Now pass it over your head from the second hand, back to the first hand.
Perform 3 x 8 -10 reps in each direction
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