The traditional gym does not have to be the end-all, be-all in climbing whatever your fitness mountain is. You can push and train yourself just as well without ever stepping outside the door, all in the comfort of your own home. You’ll not only save time, but you’ll save plenty of money on that once-pricey gym membership.
If you’ve been thinking about transitioning toward more of an at-home training regimen, you’re not alone. A TD Ameritrade survey found that almost 60 percent of Americans said they did not plan to renew their gym memberships once the COVID-19 pandemic concluded, for example. And more than 56 percent of people noted that the pandemic helped push them toward more affordable and accessible training methods (as of January 2021).
But there’s always a trade-off. When you’re alone at home, in the middle of a convenient bodyweight workout, you might be prone to letting your technique slip. Or you might be choosing programs where you’re not addressing your specific fitness needs. And in the long run, these programs could be harming you — whether you know it or not. Here are five common mistakes you may be making while training from home and how to address them.
Your Workouts Are Random
Do you choose your workouts on a spur-of-the-moment? Or, are you rolling with a trendy regimen that a fit influencer posted on their Tik-Tok or Instagram, with otherwise little thought as to whether it’s right for you? We’ve all been there, and the occasional random workout isn’t the end of the world.
However, when you choose a random workout program without thoughtful consideration, you’re putting yourself at risk of overtraining a specific body part. You’re probably neglecting other essential muscle groups, too. That overtraining can lead to overcompensation, with your body adjusting to its new demands while placing extra strain on your already overworked muscle issues. Research shows that such overcompensation in training can sometimes end with a chronic injury. (1) Once you reach that point, you’re fighting another uphill battle entirely.
How to Fix It
You should base any training program — at home or in a gym — around progression which means you’re challenging yourself with either more weights or more reps on a weekly basis. At the same time, the program should be balanced — taking care of different muscle groups with varying intensity from day to day. For example, you don’t want to overload your glutes while forgetting your hamstrings. You could dedicate separate days for each group in one week.
Start by identifying a workout split that aligns with your goals and availability. Even if you can train just two days per week, there’s a split option for you. Then, choose your exercises, sets, reps, and rest times. Once you have those, simply pick a mode of progression — like adding one rep to each movement each week, and stick with it for about a month (four to six weeks). Then, reevaluate your goals and start the process over.
Related: Everything You Need to Know to Build Your First Workout Program
You Neglect Strength Training
The all-too-easy assumption to make when you don’t have access to heavy-duty equipment at home means there are restrictions on what you can accomplish. Without access to a squat rack or bench, you might think you can only take an earnest dive into bodyweight work, leaning heavily on a mix of air squats, lunges, and burpees, before hitting your abs at the end and calling it a day.
While you might still be getting a good burn, that program can only take you so far, especially strength-wise. As great as those 100 burpees and lunges might feel in the immediate aftermath when you’re out of breath on your mat, they’re not helping you maintain your lean muscle mass strength training. And if, say, your at-home goals involve trying to lose weight in a healthy, gradual fashion while building and maintaining muscle, research indicates that the best way to do so is by getting involved in a program that involves strength somewhere. (2)
How to Fix It
Contrary to popular belief, you can still train strength at home. As one potential route, there’s never been a better time to increase your pushing strength. Working on your pushing strength at home can be accomplished through a mix of isometrics, handstand push-ups and a good, intense tempo. (When it comes to bodyweight training, there are typically more pushing exercise options than pulling options.)
Feel free to attack your legs with a skater or elevated split squat if you feel like your pushing strength is up to par. Skater squats will not only help you correct muscle imbalances in your legs, but they’ll also improve your leg drive too. Meanwhile, elevated split squats, which only require a steady place to put either foot, will recruit and work out more parts of your leg.
Not to be outdone in the at-home strength realm, your explosive power can also still be taken care of from your living room/office/den/garage. If you don’t have a plyometrics box, provided you have a few inanimate objects such as a chair or old packaging that you’re comfortable launching your body on and off repeatedly, with the soft landings that plyometrics demand, the world is your oyster.
You Over-Push, and Neglect Pulls
Another unfortunate side effect when you don’t have ready access to equipment is how often you’re pushing but seldom pulling.
The math here is simple: Your healthy body and a clean spot on the floor are all you need for pushing exercises like push-ups and burpees. Variations of pushes are possible essentially anywhere, and as a result, are pretty convenient.
On the flip side, pulling becomes tricky when you don’t have, for example, a Smith machine or a mounted bar to use to pull yourself up. Pulling requires a little more than your body and one open space in your house. Down the line, if all you’ve been doing is pushing with a minimal amount of pulling, a study shows that it will lead to a problematic imbalance with your shoulder muscle, potential poor posture, and eventually, injury. (3)
Even if you’ve chosen to reach your fitness goals with your couch and pet in the same room, it’s crucial to keep different pulling methods embedded in your workouts.
How to Fix It
It might be more challenging than pushing, but you can find means to pull at home. You don’t need a bar. You don’t need a machine either. You just need your imagination and somewhere to start.
An excellent way to make sure you keep pulling at home is by leaning on bodyweight exercises where feasible, as you have with the rest of your regimen.
These three pull methods will be sure to activate your pulling muscles and keep your shoulders, among other muscles, happy:
The prone T-Y-I will help you round out your upper back’s smaller but still essential muscles. The different T, Y, and I motions target your supraspinatus, infraspinatus, teres minor, and subscapularis — known together as your rotator cuff (or S.I.T.S. muscle). These motions stabilize your rotator cuffs, facilitate improved shoulder mobility, and as a result, can preemptively prevent future injuries of the area.
How to Do Prone T-Y-Is
- Lay face down, prone, and spread your arms out to your sides. Then keep your elbows straight and raise your hands off the ground, like you’re making the letter T with your arms and body.
- Next, while in the original prone position, lower and raise your arms so that they’re at a 45-degree angle, which should form a Y.
- Finally, come back prone again and bring your hands straight overhead. Raise your arms off the floor and keep your elbows straight. This motion should form a capital I.
Hold each of these motions for at least five seconds before moving onto the following letter in a set.
Seated Towel Row
Whereas the letter motions focus on your forgotten back muscles, the seated towel row centers on the larger areas of your upper back.
This arm and back extension will primarily target your latissimus dorsi (or lats) — the big muscle found in your middle back — along with your rhomboids, which rest between your respective shoulder blades. As a bonus, you can also expect to see strength benefits for your trapezius — the muscle consisting of your neck, shoulders, and the middle part of your upper back — and your biceps brachii, which sits under your biceps. Both should see an increased thickness.
Like the prone T-Y-Is, the main goal behind the seated towel rows is the promotion of a strong upper back and shoulder stability, which can lead to better posture.
How to Do Seated Towel Row
- Your best bet for these rows will be to use a beach towel that’s longer than you are standing tall.
- Sit on the ground and pull your knees to your chest. Then wrap the middle of the towel around your feet, and grasp each end with your respective arm.
- Now, pull your elbows back as far as you can with max effort. Hold this position for 10 seconds before release.
- Straighten your legs more and give it another max effort pull with your elbows back. Once more, hold for 10 seconds before release again.
- Finally, straighten your legs to a point where they’re almost entirely straight. Go for one last, glorious max effort pull before relaxing.
Be sure to keep your shoulders nice and square while rowing while your sternum stays neutral and broad. Don’t let your shoulders round forward.
Reverse Scapular Push-Up
Last but not least, there are reverse scapular push-ups when it comes to at-home pulls for your upper body. What this exercise focuses on is in its namesake — your scapula. This muscle rests on and supports your shoulder blade (or scapula) and is responsible for helping you move and rotate your arm.
As with each of these pulls, the name of the game with the reverse scapular push-up is shoulder and upper back muscle balance, along with stability. Yes, there’s a theme here. The more pull maintenance you perform on your shoulders and upper back, the more your body will assuredly thank you.
How to Do Reverse Scapular Push-Up
- Begin face up in a reverse bridge, with your arms extended and hips in an open plank position. Use your scapula to retract and protract your shoulder blades, making a push and pull motion. Repeat as necessary.
You Don’t Hip-Hinge Enough
Another common problem many run into at home is disregarding the hinge and bend motions. Like the push and pull dilemma, it’s easy to fall into a pattern of squats and lunges for a leg workout while forgetting you still have to find time to incorporate a healthy amount of hinges and bends. A study showed that a fair amount of hinging correlated with someone having a tight, strong core; Meanwhile, neglecting to hinge often led to persistent lower back and hamstring issues. (4)
You can indeed mitigate those pesky lower back problems that you might have from sitting in your office chair, believe it not. And if you’re an athlete who wants to attain peak performance, you’ll want to bolster that good old core as much as you can.
How to Fix It
The solution stays the same for you to fortify your at-home hinge routine — your best tool is yourself and your body weight.
These three exercises should be music to your lower back and core’s ears, as far as they’re concerned.
Bodyweight Hip Hinge
Since, as mentioned, the hip hinge targets your posterior chain — your hamstrings, your glutes (or your bottom), and your erector spinae (or your lower back) — you must focus on perfecting your form. You’re working on a foundational part of your body, after all.
The beauty of the bodyweight hip hinge is that it can be just as effective and beneficial without any dumbbells or dowels involved. There’s no reinvention of the wheel in play.
How to Do Bodyweight Hip Hinge
- Stand and have your feet positioned about shoulder-width apart. Your toes should point outward slightly.
- Your head should be neutral, looking forward, and your ears, for guidance, should be aligned with your shoulders.
- Now that you’re here and ready to roll, contract your abs, thighs, and glutes and push your shoulders down for a solid posterior pelvic tilt. Keep your head and neck steady through each hinge rep.
- Next, push your hamstrings and hips back as far as you can (as if you’re trying to sit down in mid-air) until your core is parallel to the floor and there’s a slight arch in your lower back.
- Hold this bottom position briefly while your body remains contracted before standing up.
For perfect reps, always be sure to contract that posterior chain, push your hips back well, and keep your back flat and knees soft.
Do 25 of these as part of your warm-up to get your body accustomed to that bending motion.
If you’re up for it, you can also include a single-leg version of the bodyweight hip hinge, which follows precisely the same steps, except it’s on one leg.
The main distinction between single-leg and regular hip hinges is that the single-leg hip-hinge works on strength in your leg and your balance simultaneously. If you want to dig deeper, you can’t go wrong with a few hearty single-leg sets.
With either version of the hinge, the generous, if slightly uncomfortable stretch you feel in your back, hips, and bottom at once, specifically, is your body already en route toward that elite athletic performance and a fortified foundation for your daily life.
Sure, hip thrusts aren’t a hinge motion, exactly.
But, they can still be a fantastic means for you to optimize your lower back, your core, and definitely — your glutes. Firmer glutes, in particular, can act like a butterfly effect on the rest of your fitness. A sturdy butt often translates to less stress and pull on other fundamental parts of your body, such as the lower back and knees. Funny how that works.
Since you’re already at home, all that’s necessary for a vigorous hip thrust routine is something to position your upper body on, like your couch. The same one you’ll be recovering on when you refine your at-home workouts, yes.
How to Do Hip Thrust
- Place your shoulder blades and upper back on the couch, with your butt and feet flat on the ground.
- Now drive your hips up until you’re extending them completely, and you can squeeze your two butt cheeks together. Hold this position for two seconds.
- Once in the extended position, your lower body should be parallel to the floor.
How to Do Single-Leg Hip Thrust
There is a single-leg version of hip thrusts if it suits your fancy.
- In this version, one leg stays stationary to help balance, while the other becomes the working leg with the knee thrust in the air back toward your face.
- Return both legs to the starting position and alternate after finishing your working leg’s thrust motion. Then, alternate.
The single-leg hip thrust is an even more pronounced way of developing hip-extension strength. A strong hip extension means you have good flexibility when moving your thigh away from your torso and when you move your leg behind your body, like, say, from a standing position.
It’s a motion that’s in practice countless times a day. Whenever you’re getting up from a seat or even taking a stroll, you’re extending your hips. There’s no reason you can’t use this single-leg exercise to make these everyday movements easier on yourself while working out at home.
Look, someday, you might consider doing hinge workouts with loaded-up weight again. It won’t have to be at your neighborhood gym, either. When that time comes, you’re going to want to be ready for everything. A hinge with poor form and weight in tandem can lead to trouble you’d best steer clear.
Along those lines, hamstring bridges are one more useful exercise to bolster your posterior chain and prepare you for a fitness life where hinging is the end and the means.
How to Do the Hamstring Bridge
- Lay on your back and place your feet and lower calves on the couch.
- Keep your knees straight and drive your hips up until they’re fully extended and forming a bridge. Hold at the top of each rep for max effect.
How to Do the Single-Leg Hamstring Bridge
Don’t stop thinking about boosting your hamstrings just yet. There’s a single-leg variation of hamstring bridges to consider, as well. On this occasion, you won’t need your couch.
- Lay on your back with your knees bent and your feet flat on the ground.
- Extend either leg toward the ceiling, squeeze your glutes, and lift your hips off the ground to create the bridge.
- Do a few reps on one side before repeating the steps and alternating.
You Never Decompress
What’s a common first impulse to compensate for the absence of our free weights and machines?
A glut of reps predicated on the idea that more reps equal the same level of fitness and strength achievable with dumbbells and kettlebells back at the gym. A high-rep at-home routine isn’t necessarily the worst plan to assist in reaching your goals. But maxing out on reps in every workout has diminishing returns in the long run. It can be a symptom of a more significant, underlying issue you’re not addressing.
A glaring drawback is doing too many reps and the inherent stress that creates in your body over extended periods. One study indicated that cortisol levels were significantly higher in individuals who regularly participated in high-volume workouts. (5) The more these people stayed on a diet of high-rep exercises over time, the more cortisol their body in turn produced.
That does not mean that someone partaking in a more balanced workout plan can’t experience excessive stress levels. On the contrary, the subjects using high-intensity workouts in the same study still had high-stress levels — even if not as much as those of the high-volume participants.
It’s not surprising that the more we push ourselves to the edge through our exercise, without variety, it’ll mean more stress. With what we juggle and navigate daily — work, relationships, and of course, our general fitness, among numerous other things — we can ill-afford to endure any more stress.
How to Fix It
Sometimes to reduce stress altogether, you have to take a measured step back.
Next time you put in a round of max-effort of push-ups, pulls, and hinges push-ups lying in bed, consider meditation. You’re conveniently already home, and the session doesn’t have to take long. A few minutes before sleep to unwind, reflect, and let go of the day’s stress is a lot more impactful than you’d think. If you’re carrying your baggage from one session to the next day, you’re doing a disservice to yourself and your overall plan.
The state of your mind is just as crucial as anything rooted in technique and physical capability. Think about it. If your head isn’t in the game as much as it could be, why would your body be? Paying attention to what your body and mind tell you about your limits and needs can mean the difference between the next massive step-up in your training program or the start of a rut.
The comfort and convenience of your at-home workout status isn’t a free pass to stop considering your mind and the effects it has on your training.
- Brad, Roy. (2015) Overreaching/Overtraining; More is not always better. ACSM’s Health & Fitness Journal: March/April 2015 – Volume 19 – Issue 2 – p 4-5 doi:10.1249/FIT.0000000000000100
- Cava E, Yeat Chien N, Mittendorfer B. Preserving healthy muscle during weight loss. Adv Nutr. 2017 May; 8(3): 511–519. Published 2017 May 5. doi:10.3945/an.116.014506
- Rodney J. Negrete, William J. Hanney, Patrick Pabian, Morey J. Kolber. Upper body push and pull strength ratio in recreationally active adults. Int J Sports Phys Ther. 2013 Apr; 8(2): 138–144. PMID: 23593552
- Ronald L. Snarr, Ashleigh V. Hallmark, Jason C. Casey, Michael R. Esco. Electromyographical Comparison of a Traditional, Suspension Device, and Towel Pull-Up. Sensors (Basel). 2021 Aug; 21(16): 5487. Published 2021 Aug14. doi:10.3390/s21165487
- Mangine T. G, Hoffman R. J, Gonzalez M. A, Townsend R. J, Wells J. A, Jajtner R. A, Beyer S. K, Boone H. C, Miramonti A. A, Wang R, LaMonica B. M, Fukuda H. D, Ratamess A. N, Stout R. J. The effect of training volume and intensity on improvements in muscular strength and size in resistance-trained men. Physiological Reports. 2015 Aug; 3(8): e12472. doi:10.14814/phy2.12472.
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