Joining a gym can be daunting, while joining a trendy fitness program like CrossFit or SoulCycle or Orangetheory Fitness can be especially dangerous for beginners and seniors. But do you need to leave home to get in shape? Building muscle at home is entirely possible if you’re committed to a strength-building regimen.
There can be significant health benefits to strength training at home if it’s done properly.
Gaining muscle mass can not only improve your quality of life every day, but it can also protect you from chronic conditions like osteoporosis, sarcopenia, high blood pressure, depression, and type 2 diabetes. Aside from these benefits, strength training can also reduce the chances of falls, improve balance, reduce the risk of fractures, and boost mood and mobility.
At-home workouts can save you money and allow you to overcome any potential fears you may have about working out in public. Although most towns now have age- and ability-centered exercise programs, you may be more inclined to pick up some equipment to do workouts at home. This is especially true if you’re pressed for time.
Some equipment you can use for at-home workouts include:
- Resistance bands (color-coated for various resistance)
In This Article:
5 Exercises for Building Muscle at Home
The biggest barrier to starting an at-home workout plan is, for many, the same as starting one in the gym: inexperience.
If you don’t know what you’re doing, home workouts will provide little benefit or incentive. Therefore, learning how to properly perform movements and program workouts, as well as eating properly, will be central to your progress and adherence.
To help with this, I highly recommend going to an introductory class at your local community center or hiring a certified trainer to come to your home to learn how to safely execute movements.
This is very important because, depending on your level of fitness and mobility, some movements may be problematic and put you at an increased risk for injury.
Take the squat, for example. The squat is the arguably the most important strength-building exercise while being a highly functional movement as well. That said, some people have mobility issues that may limit their ability to properly or safely perform a squat. As such, before squatting, an assessment should take place to ensure you are even capable of performing the move. This is true for almost any exercise.
The exercises and movements outlined in this article are general and do not take your individual limitations into account.
Every time you get up from the toilet or a chair, you’re essentially performing a squat. Now, to build strength, you want to work on performing it without the use of your hands and eventually add resistance.
Step 1: To get started, place a chair with its back against a wall. Sit in the chair first, to make sure sitting down requires you to bend your knees about 90 degrees to sit in it.
Step 2: Stand in front of the chair so the back of your legs touch it and take a step forward with each leg. Stand up tall with your chest high and head facing straight ahead; you should be able to draw a straight line from your ears to your ankles.
Step 3: Have your feet about shoulder-width apart and toes pointing slightly outward or straight ahead. Then, slowly bend your knees and hips to sit. During the descent and transition back up, ensure your knees stay out over your feet and do not bend inwards.
Step 4: Descend with your chest and head up until your butt touches the chair. When it does, use the middle of your foot to push down and outwards to engage your leg muscles until you are once again standing at the starting position.
In the beginning, it may be helpful to hold your arms out in front on you. You can move onto various modifications like goblet squats, band squats, and more as your strength and balance increase. At the bottom of the squat, make sure your hips are open.
2. Chest Press
A chest press can be performed as a push-up, with dumbbells or resistance bands. It is arguably the best upper-body exercise for strength building.
Step 1: Kneel and place your hands on the floor in front of you so that your back is essentially parallel with the floor. Extend your legs behind you so that they are close together. Arms should be slightly wider than shoulder-width apart with your hands near your mid-chest.
Step 2: Slowly lower your torso, keeping your elbows tucked and close to your body. At the bottom, you should be as close to the ground as you can get without touching or resting on it.
Step 3: At this point, with your shoulders back, engage your chest muscles to push yourself back up to the starting position.
A deadlift is another highly functional yet complex movement. When you’re told to lift things off the floor using your legs instead of your back, you’re essentially being told to perform a deadlift. Like the squat, this movement is best taught in person.
To perform a deadlift at home, you can use a resistance band.
Step 1: Stand on the band so that it runs underneath the middle of your feet. Grab it on either side.
Step 2: Bring your hips back so that your knees bend and are aligned with your feet. Try to keep the lower portion of your leg pretty straight and be sure that your knees are not extended past your toes.
In this position, your back should also be straight and your spine should be a straight line from your tailbone to your head. Your hips should be opened slightly.
Step 3: Once down in the starting position, pull your shoulders back tightly and create tension through your back. Push the floor away with your feet so that your entire body is tense.
Step 4: Once tension is achieved, push the floor down as hard as possible with your legs while thrusting your hips forward (in a controlled motion) and stand up, maintaining a straight back throughout.
At the top of the lift, the weight will transfer through your legs and into your back, where you should feel a squeeze in your lats (the muscles on either side of your spine that extend from the waist to the shoulders).
Step 5: Stand up so that you are completely straight—do not thrust your hips out of alignment with your shoulders or feet—and hold for a second before returning to starting position.
Deadlifts can be performed with dumbbells, kettle bells, or virtually any item in your home.
4. Overhead Press
Overhead presses can be performed with dumbbells, kettle bells, or resistance bands, and are a great strength- and muscle-building exercise for the whole body.
They can be performed in a seated or standing position; however, a standing position will offer greater benefits for overall strength and promote better balance.
To properly and safely perform this exercise, shoulder mobility is important.
Step 1: If you’re using a band, stand on it with both feet, and with one end in each hand—if your band has handles, even better.
Step 2: Raise your arms in a “freeze, hands up” position. Rotate your shoulders so that your elbows are pointing at the ground and your palms are facing in front of you. Hold the position tight by pulling your shoulder blades towards each other (scapular retraction).
Step 3: With your hands roughly aligned with your nose and keeping your shoulders back and body tight, push your hands above your head as far as you can. At the top, your hands should be slightly behind your head.
Step 4: Slowly return to the starting position.
Although the above exercises are known as “compound” exercises and are useful for total body strength—particularly, “core” strength—doing some additional core work can help you perform them a little better. Planking is one of the best core-specific exercises you can do.
Step 1: Get down on your knees and lean forward so that the backs of your forearms are on the ground. Elbows should be bent at 90 degrees so that your hands (I make fists) are touching to form a point.
Step 2: Extend your legs behind you about shoulder-width apart and on your toes.
Step 3: Pull your butt up and keep your back straight until you feel tension in your abs.
Step 4: Hold for as long as you can and repeat.
As your strength improves, you can add resistance by putting weight on your back.
To increase your overall strength and muscle mass, the above five exercises are likely the best ones you can do. Try doing between six and 10 repetitions for each exercise, waiting about two minutes between sets.
Other Muscle-Building Exercises
You may also benefit from doing smaller accessory movements that focus on isolated muscles. These include:
- Lunges, split-stance squats, or Romanian squats
- Single-arm rows
- Bicep curls
- Torso twists
Perform each of those exercises for eight to 15 repetitions, waiting 30 seconds to one minute between sets.
Building Muscle at Home: More Than Movement
It’s true that any kind of activity is good for you (if it’s within your limits). Walking, cycling, jogging, and swimming can all help contribute to a healthy preventative lifestyle.
But these cardio-focused activities won’t build a lot of muscle. Strength, muscle, and resistance training are often overlooked when it comes to a healthy lifestyle, but studies have shown that resistance training improves glucose metabolism, lowers blood pressure, contributes to strong and healthy bones, maintains muscle, and prevents or treats chronic disease.
It appears to be one of the best things you can do to improve longevity, and it’s recommended that you include some form of weight training in your routine two to three times per week.
To build strength and muscle, you’ll want to send nutrients to your body to repair tissue. Avoiding processed foods while eating plenty of vegetables, healthy fats, and proteins can help you get as strong as possible.
At-home workouts can be very effective in strength and muscle building. Any time you start a strength-training program, regardless of the venue, it’s important to be safe and informed.
Checking with your doctor and working with a fitness professional can help optimize your program and help you gain muscle mass while preventing injury.
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