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Level Up Your At-Home Workout With These 4 Tweaks

Lockdown does not have to mean kissing your gains goodbye. A little creative thinking and implementing some tried-and-true techniques can elevate your training while you’re at home.

Get ready to crush your fitness goals and give these tips a try!

at home workout

1. Lead With Unilateral Exercises

Many programs have you perform your big-move bilateral exercises early on in the workout. When you have the run of a full fitness facility with equipment, this is a smart training choice. You're able to use maximal loads to challenge yourself on exercises like deadlifts. Then when you've completed those big mover exercises, you often finish up with unilateral moves requiring less resistance.

Right now, many of us do not have access to racks, barbells and endless plates. It can be difficult, and in some cases impossible, to perform our working sets this way. The loads we have available to use are simply not heavy enough. Flipping your usual order of exercises is a smart option. Begin your workout with unilateral exercises and finish with your bilateral moves. Take a leg workout for example. Lead with your Bulgarian split squats, your various lunges and your step-ups, and save your squats for the end.

Unilateral exercises require less resistance than their bilateral counterparts do. This means that you're more likely to have the loads on hand at home needed for a working set on a unilateral move. By the time you complete your unilateral working sets, you're going to be tired. The loads needed now to complete your bilateral working sets will likely be reduced.


2. Increase Time Under Tension

Time under tension simply refers to the length of time that the muscle (or muscles) are put under stress. Exercise tempos are outlined in 3 or 4 digits and show the amount of time (in seconds) that should be spent completing each portion of an exercise.

The first number is the eccentric portion, the second number is the midpoint of the lift, the third number is the concentric phase and the fourth number (when listed) is the top of the lift. A tempo of 2-0-2-0 for a push-up would then mean spending two seconds lowering your chest towards the ground. There would no pause before spending two seconds pushing to return to the high plank position. Each push-up at this tempo would take four seconds to complete. If I was performing 15 push-ups, it would take 60 seconds to complete my set.

Time under tension involves slowing down to increase the amount of time that the muscle is under stress. Decelerating your movements – yes, this includes the overlooked eccentric portion – and even adding isolation holds at the midpoint of the move, are an excellent way to challenge yourself right now. 

exercises lunges

3. Increase Range of Motion

One easy way to make an exercise more challenging without increasing your current loads, is to take the muscle through a longer range of motion. Increasing your range of motion increases the amount of work you must do. This makes the exercise more difficult and allows you to continue progressing with your training and your goals.

For exercises like lunges or Bulgarian split squats, the solution is easy. Elevate the front foot (working leg) on a surface, such as a thick textbook or short step stool. Those extra inches will certainly increase the intensity and difficulty of the move.

Many people are using items like ottomans in place of a weightlifting bench. The issue with some of these pieces of furniture is that they’re wider than a typical bench. This limits your range of motion on exercises such as the flat dumbbell press. A simple solution is to perform the exercises unilaterally. Position your torso slightly to the working side off-center. This will allow you to move through the full range that you’re accustomed to at your local gym with a bench.

For back exercises like table inverted rows, ensure that you're using the tallest, sturdiest table that you have at home. The added height will allow your arms to be fully extended at the bottom of the movement and take you through the full range of motion. 

If you've been tackling exercises from a plank position, like the plank row or plank shoulder raises, then it's time to get your step stool or textbook back out again. Place the hand of the non-working arm onto the surface. Now you're able to perform a full row, or full-shoulder raise, from a plank position.

bicep curls

4. Decrease Your Rest Time

There are countless ways to reduce the rest time in your workouts to make them more challenging. As an added bonus: Reducing your break times reduces your total workout time.

Anyone that has tackled a tough workout knows that having even a few seconds shaved from their usual break time between sets, makes the subsequent set more difficult. If you haven't tried shortening your rest periods between sets, now is the time to do so. If you typically leave a minute between your sets of walking lunges for example, try reducing that break to 45 seconds. The key is to perform your sets using the same resistance while still completing all of your reps.

When we alternate our reps during an exercise, we are essentially giving the non-working limb a mini break after each and every rep. If your heaviest weights are no longer a challenge, work your limbs in unison. Rather than performing 30 alternating reps of bicep curls, perform 15 reps with both arms at the same time. The key is to use the same resistance while still completing all of your reps.

If you're performing your workouts using straight sets only, consider giving compound sets a go. Compound sets pair two exercises that target the same muscle group. Both exercises are performed in a row with no break in between. For example: Rather than performing 3 straight sets of bench dips and 3 straight sets of skull crushers, you would combine the two exercises.

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