How to Build & Maintain Muscle at Home Without Gym Equipment4/19/20
We all love hitting the gym for an intense workout, but we all have occasions where we simply can’t make it to the gym, or the gym is flat out closed.
Still others enjoy training at home and wish to avoid the clutter, chaos, and pools of other people’s DNA that reside at big box gyms.
Regardless of your situation or training preference, know this -- you absolutely can get results without every stepping foot in a gym.
It is entirely possible to build and maintain muscle at home without gym equipment.
And, we’re going to show you how.
But, first let’s put to rest any concern some of you might have concerning a hiatus from the gym.
How Long Can You Take Off Before Losing Muscle & Strength?
Many individuals avoid taking rest days or deload weeks for fear that it might cause them to lose progress or not achieve results as fast as they might if they were to train every day of the week.
But, the truth is that you need rest days and deload weeks...at least if you want to maximize your progress and avoid injury long term.
Remember, training breaks down and weakens muscle tissue. It’s the time spent outside of the gym when your body actually repairs itself and grows stronger. Resistance training provides the stimulusyour muscles need to change.
Now, back to the question at hand...how long can you not train and not lose your strength or muscle gains?
Well, it depends on quite a few factors, including age and training experience.
Research shows that experienced lifters can maintain their strength levels for up to 3-4 weeks, but will experience significant declines in strength and power output afterwards.[1,2]
Similarly, it can take up to 3 weeks (21 days) of missed workouts before you start to lose actual lean mass, not just glycogen and water.[3,4]
Sure, your muscles might look a bit smaller after one or two weeks off of the gym, but that is largely due to changes in glycogen contents and water storage within muscle. It’s not an actual loss of muscle.
The takeaway here is that you can go a full 21 days (3 weeks) without ever picking up a barbell, doing a push up, or so much as a hip thrust before you witness significant declines in muscle or strength.
But, if you’re anything like us, you’re not going to take three full weeks off from the gym. Most of you probably struggle with taking even a couple of easy days most of the time.
Rest assured, the rest of this article will explain how you can not only maintain your results, but build on them over the next few weeks of training at home.
Can I Build Muscle At Home Without Gym Equipment?
You absolutely can (and will) get results training at home (or on the road) without gym equipment.
Many individuals fear that because they don’t have access to their typical arsenal of barbells, machines, and heavy plates that they can’t make progress or get results.
But, the truth is that you can get exceptional results using light weights or no weights at all. Muscles don’t know whether they’re lifting a barbell, cable stack, dumbbell, or kettlebell. They only sense tension.
To create significant amounts of tension in your muscles when training at home without gym equipment, you just need to understand how to modify exercises (by manipulating your body in space) to make the exercises more challenging and conducive to your goals, which in this case is building strength and gaining lean muscle.
Additionally, while you might be used to completing only 8-12 reps per set, with bodyweight training, you’re not focused on a rep goal per set so much as taking each set close to muscle failure.
The reason for this is that research shows that when training with light weights (i.e. bodyweight) you need to train to failure to stimulate the same muscle gains as you would accomplish training with heavier weights.[5,6]
Plus, Training at Home Without Gym Equipment is FREE!
Perhaps the biggest upside to training at home is that it doesn’t cost you anything but a bit of dedication and “sweat equity.”
Once you understand how to challenge your muscles with bodyweight training, you really are liberated in your training. No longer are you confined to the equipment availability at the gym or which gym you can go to. You can train wherever and whenever you want, all while wearing whatever you want to!
Now, this isn’t to say that training at a gym is bad or a poor choice.
Quite the opposite, training at the gym can be beneficial, and many people have gotten great results from their time spent training day in and day out.
But, training at home can also yield equally great results, especially for those looking to build muscle and burn body fat.
With that said, let’s now discuss the do’s and don’ts of training at home without gym equipment, starting with the big one…
Avoid Silly or “Extreme” Workouts
Building and/or maintaining muscle really isn’t as complicated as many people make it out to be.
You really just need to focus on six primary movement patterns:
- Vertical Push (Overhead press, pike press, etc.)
- Horizontal Push (Bench press, incline press, push up)
- Vertical Pull (pull up, chin up, pulldown)
- Horizontal Pull (inverted row, dumbbell row, cable row)
- Squat (front squat, back squat, Bulgarian split squat)
- Hip Hinge (Deadlift, Romanian deadlift, single leg deadlift, etc.)
An argument could be made for adding loaded carries (i.e. farmer’s walks) to this list as well.
Regardless, structuring your workouts around these core movement patterns will deliver the results you seek.
There is no need to adopt extreme or wacky exercise routines when training at home.
The basics have been around a long time and continue to form the foundation of all serious training programs for one simple reason -- they work.
You don’t need to do endless reps of high impact plyos, complicated circuit training routines, or constantly “confuse” your muscles.
You DO need to hammer the basic movement patterns each week and focus on progressive overload in your training (more reps, more sets, more weight -- if applicable).
Do that and you will not only maintain your results but improve upon them.
How to Build and Maintain Muscle At Home
There are three main drivers of muscle growth (hypertrophy):
- Mechanical tension
- Metabolic stress
- Muscle damage
It is possible to address each one of these when training at home. As we said before you just need to get creative with your training and be willing to break convention.
Sure, you may not have a barbell and a stack of weight plates.
But, we’re willing to bet you have a backpack and/or suitcases you can fill with rocks or heavy books that can be used as a form of external weight.
Even if you don’t have those things, you can still create significant amounts of tension in your muscles merely by adjusting your body angle during an exercise.
For instance, if standard push ups are too easy, then you can elevate your feet on a box, bench, chair, or ottoman.
This change in leverage increases the difficulty of the exercise.
Other things you can do to increase the challenge on your muscles when only using bodyweight exercise is to manipulate rep tempo, time under tension, rest times, and range of motion.
Using the standard push up as an example again, in addition to elevating your feet on a platform of some type, you can further increase the challenge by slowing down the speed with which you raise and lower your body.
This increases the amount of time your muscles are under tension and generates greater amounts of metabolic stress -- hitting on two of the primary drivers of muscle growth.
Another option is to perform 1.5-reps where you lower your body all the way to the ground, push up halfway, lower all the way down to the ground again, before finally pressing all the way to the top.
Yet another option is to elevate your hands on some books or use push up stands (or even dumbbells if you have them).
Doing this increases the range of motion through which you can move your body, creating a greater stretch on the chest muscles which increases the overall amount of work they have to do.
And, still another option is to stack multiple competitive movements together in a compound superset, such as performing standard push ups immediately upon reaching failure with feet-elevated push ups.
Basically, since the whole idea behind progressive overload is ultimately “doing more work”, increasing the range of motion you perform an exercise through is an ideal way to build muscle at home without gym equipment.
Now, we’ve spent the vast majority of this article detailing how you can make great progress and obtain jaw-dropping results using nothing but your bodyweight.
But, that doesn’t mean that’s the only thing you have to use.
Every piece of equipment you have access to at home (or ones that you procure) expand the possibilities you have to include in your training.
Some of our favorite home gym equipment pieces are:
- Door-mounted pull up bar
- Adjustable dumbbells (power blocks, bowflex, olympic handles w/ spinlocks)
- Resistance Bands
- Suspension trainer (TRX, Jungle Gym, or NOSSK)
- Slider Discs (or furniture sliders)
- Weight vest
- Backpacks (filled with books, rocks, or weight plates)
- Swiss (stability) Ball
- 5-gallon water bottles (filled up with water or sand)
- Stationary bike
- 2 Sets of dumbbells
- McMaster, D. T., Gill, N., Cronin, J., & McGuigan, M. (2013). The development, retention and decay rates of strength and power in elite rugby union, rugby league and American football: a systematic review. Sports Medicine (Auckland, N.Z.), 43(5), 367–384. https://doi.org/10.1007/s40279-013-0031-3
- Mujika, I., & Padilla, S. (2001). Muscular characteristics of detraining in humans. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, 33, 1297–1303. https://doi.org/10.1097/00005768-200108000-00009
- Ogasawara, R., Yasuda, T., Sakamaki-Sunaga, M., Ozaki, H., & Abe, T. (2011). Effects of periodic and continued resistance training on muscle CSA and strength in previously untrained men.Clinical Physiology and Functional Imaging, 31, 399–404. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1475-097X.2011.01031.x
- Ogasawara, R., Yasuda, T., Ishii, N., & Abe, T. (2012). Comparison of muscle hypertrophy following 6-month of continuous and periodic strength training. European Journal of Applied Physiology, 113. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00421-012-2511-9
- Fink J, Kikuchi N, Yoshida S, Terada K, Nakazato K. Impact of high versus low fixed loads and non-linear training loads on muscle hypertrophy, strength and force development. Springerplus. 2016;5(1):698. Published 2016 May 20. doi:10.1186/s40064-016-2333-z
- Lasevicius, T., Ugrinowitsch, C., Schoenfeld, B., Roschel, H., Tavares, L., De Souza, E., Tricoli, V. (2018). Effects of different intensities of resistance training with equated volume load on muscle strength and hypertrophy. European Journal of Sport Science, 18, 1–9.https://doi.org/10.1080/17461391.2018.1450898