20 Tips to Make Your Home Workouts Harder (and Better)9/27/20
For some, training at home is the only way to train. For others, it’s what you have to do when the gym is closed or you’re pressed for time and can’t spare the hours and minutes to drive there, train, and then drive back.
Whatever the reason, home workouts are a great way to build muscle, lose fat, and get results.
In fact, many of our transformation challenge participants have experienced tremendous success training at home using the customized 8-week home workout programs we offer when signing up for our transformation challenge.
If you think that home workouts are too easy, then get ready as we present 20 ways to make your workouts at home harder (and better)!
Let’s get started!
How to Make Home Workouts Harder
Taking your workouts to the next level is all about forcing your muscles to do more work than they have done previously.
Typically, individuals take this to mean that you have to lift more weight (add plates to the bar), and while that certainly isone way to force your muscles to do more work (aka progressive overload), it by no means is the only way.
Furthermore, individuals training at home typically don’t have access to as much weight as they would at a gym.
So, does this mean they can’t progressively overload their training at home to get results?
Not in the least.
Progressive overload can take many forms as you’re about to see...
20 Tips to Make Your Home Workouts Harder
#1 Add Reps
One of the easiest ways to implement progressive overload in your workouts is to simply do more reps.
At one time it was believed that the only way to build muscle was to lift in the “hypertrophy range” of 8-12 reps per set. However, research has shown that hypertrophy occurs across a broad spectrum, from as little as 6 reps per set all the way up to 30 reps per set!
If you have limited access to weight, but still want to challenge your muscles, start increasing how many reps you perform each set.
#2 Add Sets
Another way to make your workouts harder is to increase how many sets you do for a specific exercise or body part.
For instance, if your upper body workout calls for three sets of dips and three sets of chin ups, you could increase the number of sets you perform of each exercise to four per session.
This increase in volume presents a new challenge to which your muscles must adapt, which spurs change and muscle growth!
#3 Increase Range of Motion
Work is defined as force multiplied by distance.
In the scenario of performing an exercise, taking a muscle through a longer range of motion increases the distance over which a load (force) is moved, which means your muscles have done more work and thus made your workout harder (and better).
One easy way to increase the range of motion is to elevate your hands on a pair of dumbbells or weight plates when performing a push up. This creates a “deficit” and allows your chest to travel below the level of your hands, creating a greater stretch on your chest and forcing it to do more work.
The same principle can be applied to leg training. For example, when performing split squats or reverse lunges, you can elevate your lead leg on a step, low box, or weight plate. This increases the amount of knee and hip flexion, placing a greater stretch on your quads and glutes, making for a great lower body muscle building stimulus.
#4 Use 1-½ Reps
Building off of the previous point, another way to increase the range of motion your muscles go through is to perform 1-½ reps.
The execution is simple enough -- you add a partial rep within the full rep.
Here’s how it looks in practice using the push up as an example.
- Begin in a high plank (standard push up position).
- Lower to the bottom of the push up where your chest barely contacts the ground
- Press up halfway, and then lower all the way back down to the ground.
- Finally, press all the way back up to the top.
For an even greater challenge, try performing 1.5 reps with your hands elevated on push up handles, dumbbells, or weight plates. This increases the range of motion in two different ways and is sure to push your mental, physical, and cardiovascular abilities to the limit!
#5 Increase Frequency
Still another way to increase the challenge of your home workouts is to increase the frequency with which you train.
For example, if you’re used to training each body part two times per week, you can start training each one three times per week.
This increases the total amount of weekly volume performed compared to what you have previously doing, which spurs overload, change, and growth!
#6 Add Pauses
Adding pauses and/or pulses during each repetition effectively increases the total amount of time that your muscles are under tension, which means they ultimately have to do more work.
For instance, instead of rocketing out of the bottom of a squat the instance you drop down, hang out in the bottom position for 1-3 seconds and then press back up to the top.
One big benefit of incorporating pauses is that it eliminates the stretch reflex, which makes your muscles work harder while also reducing stress on the joints, ligaments, and connective tissue.
#7 Decrease Rest Between Sets
Training density refers to how much work is completed in a given amount of time.
If you are able to complete the same amount of work as you did in a previous session, but took less time to complete it, you have increased your training density, which is another form of progressive overload.
For instance, if you completed 4 sets of 25 bodyweight squats with 90 seconds rest during your first week of training, and then completed those same 4 sets of 25 reps with only 75 seconds rest between sets, you have performed a higher volume of work per unit time.
Essentially, you’ve made your workout more challenging and continued progressively overloading your training without having to add weight or reps.
#8 Change Leverages
By simply altering the angle at which you’re performing a bodyweight exercise, you can greatly increase (or decrease) the difficulty of the movement.
For instance, by elevating your feet on a box, bench, step, or ottoman you increase the percentage of your bodyweight that you’re having to press up during a push up.
Conversely, by keeping your feet on the ground and elevating your hands on a box, bench, or step, you reduce the percentage of your bodyweight you’re having to lift, making the exercise easier. This version (hands-elevated push up) is a great way for individuals who do not possess the strength to perform regular or feet-elevated push ups to gain muscle and build strength. It’s also superior to the oft-used knee push ups since it more similarly mimics how you’ll have to create whole body tension to execute the movement.
#9 Perform Unilateral Exercises
Still another way to make your workouts harder is to swap in unilateral exercises for their bilateral counterparts.
For example, if bodyweight squats are becoming too easy for you, you can start performing single-leg exercises like Bulgarian split squats, reverse lunges, pistol squats, or King deadlifts (named after renowned strength coach Ian King).
Similarly if bodyweight rows are too easy, you can start working your way to performing single arm bodyweight rows.
Another benefit of performing unilateral movements is that it helps identify and correct any imbalances that may exist between the two sides of your body.
#10 Use Slow Eccentrics
The eccentric (negative) portion of an exercise occurs when the muscle is elongating and being stretched under load.
Most individuals simply use a 1-0-1-0 lifting tempo where they lower in one second and immediately press back up to the top. Then, they immediately lower again.
While this standard approach is all fine and good, slowing down the eccentric phase increases the time under tension and also creates more muscle damage and metabolic stress -- all of which increases the challenge of your workouts and supports muscle growth.
Next time you’re performing an exercise (push up, pull up, squat, etc.) take 3-5 seconds to lower to the bottom of the movement, and then explosively contract your muscles.
#11 Add Some Instability to Your Training
Any time you remove a point of contact from the ground, you increase the degree of instability and force your supporting stabilizer muscles to work harder.
For instance, during a conventional plank, you have four points of contact on the ground (two hands and two feet). Removing one point of contact increases the challenge on your core as well as all of the other stabilizing muscles involved in keeping your body in a straight line from head to toe.
Now, there are more “appropriate” ways to implement instability. A good example is performing a plank with only three points of contact on the ground (two hands and one foot or one hand and two feet). A poor example is squatting on a Bosu ball with a bar on your back.
#12 Use High-Intensity Techniques
High-intensity techniques have been a mainstay in the training programs of top-tier bodybuilders for decades due to the fact that they are a fantastic way to increase the challenge of a workout.
One of our favorite high-intensity techniques to make home workouts harder is a compound superset where you perform two exercises back-to-back that target the same muscle group(s).
For example, after performing a set of dips, you would immediately go into a set of push ups to failure. This increases the amount of work your pushing muscles (chest, shoulders, and triceps) are doing without necessarily having to purchase more weight. Compound sets also force a lot of blood into the working muscle group, generating a tremendous muscle pump!
#13 Change Your Grip
Performing the same exercise with a different grip will increase the difficulty of an exercise by challenging your muscles from a different angle and emphasizing different regions of the muscle.
For instance, performing a chin up with a supinated (hands facing you) grip is easier than performing a chin up with a pronated (palms facing away) grip. Part of the reason this is more challenging is that the pronated grip reduces the involvement of the biceps and shifts more tension onto the lats and teres. But, the different grip also emphasizes different regions of the back musculature.
Using a mix of grips on exercises (push ups, pull ups, rows, presses, etc.) helps ensure optimal development across the entire muscle group while also increasing the challenge and intensity of your workout.
#14 Don’t Alternate Reps
When performing unilateral movements (lunges, bicep curls, etc.), it’s incredibly common to rotate between the two sides of your body. While this is a perfectly acceptable method for performing the exercise, it also allows for added rest. One side gets to rest while the other works.
To increase the challenge on unilateral exercises, don’t alternate between sides.
Perform all of the reps on one side, and then switch to the other. This cuts the amount of rest there is between reps and forces more time under tension and metabolic stress on the muscles, which increases the difficulty!
#15 Use Offset Loads
Offset loads challenge are where you preferentially bias the weight towards one side.
For instance, when performing a bicep curl, you typically grasp the dumbbell in the center of the handle.
However, you can also grasp the dumbbell where either your pinky is in contact with the end of the dumbbell or your thumb is.
Depending on which type of offset grip you use on the dumbbell will affect which aspect of your biceps you’re biasing (both heads will still be stimulated, but one will receive a bit more tension than the others).
In the case of dumbbell lower body exercises, offset loads translates to only holding one dumbbell at your side with the other hand free. This not only changes the way your leg muscles have to work to perform the exercise, but it also places an added challenge on your core, hips, and stabilizers.
#16 Use Bands and/or Sliders
Bands and sliders offer a great way to increase the challenge of exercises without having to add more weight.
Adding a hip circle or lightweight resistance band around your knees and/or ankles greatly increases the demand on your hip muscles (especially the gluteus medius), which is an area lacking in most lifters.
Sliders also are a great way to make basic bodyweight movements like push ups more challenging. And, they’re also a phenomenal replacement for traditional leg curls performed using a leg curl machine. The added benefit of the sliding leg curl is that it trains both functions of the hamstrings at the same time -- hip extension and knee flexion.
#17 Alter Exercise Order
Changing the order of your exercises is yet another way to increase the challenge of your workouts.
Typically, individuals place the hardest (compound) exercises first in the workout and save the less-taxing (isolation) exercises for later.
However, if you have limited access to weight, you may not have enough weight available to challenge you on the compound movements early in the workout.
By reorganizing your workout and placing the isolation movements first, they serve as a way to pre-fatigue the muscles, which will make those lighter loads feel heavier when you get to the compound movements later in the workout.
An example of this could be performing a superset of lateral raises and rear delt flys before moving onto your overhead press variation.
Another example would be to perform a max hold wall sit before going into your squats.
#18 Try Different Exercise Variations
Spend enough time training, and you’ll invariably find certain exercise variations that you respond to better than others.
For instance, you might prefer incline dumbbell presses over incline barbell presses.
Just because you prefer one variation of an exercise doesn’t mean that another variation can’t provide some benefit as well.
If you’ve gotten “comfortable” in your training, try experimenting with other variations.
For example, if you typically perform chin ups first in your back workouts, try performing pull ups using a pronated, neutral, or wide grip instead of a supinated grip.
#19 Alter Your Stance
Altering your stance or setup is another way to increase the difficulty of an exercise.
For instance during a seated shoulder press or bicep curl, you’ll be able to lift more weight since you are more stable.
If you’re starting to max out your available weight selection, try moving from standing to sitting, or from bilateral to unilateral.
The slightest shift in set up can dramatically increase the difficulty of a movement.
#20 Experiment with Different Training Splits
Changing your training split can be another impetus for sparking muscle growth.
If you’re used to training full body three times per week, try switching to an upper-lower or push/pull/legs split).