5 Tips For Building Muscle Without A Gym
This article aims to dispel the myth, that a lot of people believe, that you can only build muscle by lifting stacks of heavy iron plates at a “hardcore” gym. Many people new to the world of fitness perceive someone with muscle mass to be a “hardcore” gym-goer, who (perhaps) abuses steroids and has done nothing but bench pressed many heavy iron plates for years to get to where he (or she) is now. This couldn’t be further from the truth.
1. It’s Your Diet (Not Your Bench Press) That Builds Muscle
The first step of any successful workout program is to eat the right food. You may have heard the phrase “abs are made in the kitchen” and written it off as a useless sentiment, but if you’re not going to be working out with heavy free weights in a gym, your diet is doubly important to build the kind of mass you want. How clean you eat will determine your success in building muscle, and there’s a reason this is my first tip in this list. If you’re not paying attention to your diet, you need to start now before starting your at-home workout program.
Bulking up requires a lot of lean protein and carbs, but everyone’s macro ratio is different. Macros, the amount of each type of nutrient that you need, are determined based on a lot of factors that are too complicated to explain here, but basically, you want to calculate your TDEE, or total daily energy expenditure, which is a simple calculation that many online calculators can tell help you figure out. Then, figure out how much of each type of macro you should be eating. Once again, there are some great online calculators you can use for this. Once you know the amount of protein, fat, carbs, and other nutrients you need, start logging your food in a digital food journal so you can keep track of what you’re eating and make sure you’re hitting your macros. Once you’re deliberate about your food choices, you’ll be able to make leaps and bounds more progress towards building muscle.
Buying protein powder to get more protein into your diet will help you bulk up faster if used in combination with a clean diet and a good workout plan, so consider adding that into the mix as well. I’ve calculated that there are approximately a billion different types of protein powder, so do your research before you buy to find the best fit for you.
2. Progression During Exercise Is The Key, (Regardless Of The Type Of Workout)
Alright, now that your diet is sorted out, the next step is to incorporate progressive exercise into your workouts. Progressive exercise means gradually ramping up the intensity of your workouts over time, and it’s the foundation of a successful at home workout program to build muscle. Without the benefit of heavy free weights that you can use at the gym, keeping your intensity steadily working up is key to bulking up and gaining those muscles you’re after.
To do progressive workouts, a little planning is helpful. Start out with a week-by-week plan of your scheduled workouts, and once you have a general idea of your sets and reps, then progressively add more reps to your count as you go through the weeks. The key thing is to keep things difficult so your body doesn’t get complacent.
If you’re working out at home, it’s easy to fall into a rut and keep doing the same thing over and over and this causes people to hit a plateau. By increasing the intensity, you continue to progress and build muscle at home without the use of a gym.
3. You Can Use Your Body Weight For An Equally Effective, Equipment-Free Workout
If you’re worried about not having any exercise equipment at home, don’t be! It’s definitely possible to still get gains and bulk up, although you’ll need to make careful use of bodyweight exercises. As the name implies, bodyweight exercises use your own mass as the weight instead of, say, dumbbells or free weights.
Let’s go over some of the body weight basic movements that will carry your at home workouts:
Ah, the squat. Loved by some, hated by many, the squat is a key player and absolute workout basic for your lower body workouts, and you can’t skip it if you’re working out at home without equipment. Squats hit your back, legs, and core, and can really help you gain muscle if you keep up with enough reps. Exercise as much as you can, but stop if you get so tired your form begins to waver.
There are a ton of variations on the basic squat, and you should try as many of them as possible to keep your body guessing and your muscle groups engaging at different times and strength. Try one handed squats, free squats, and burpees to get started, and keep increasing the reps.
Push-ups are great for pectorals and other chest muscles, and they’re a fantastic example of the body weight method of working out, because you’re quite simply lifting your body off the ground and lowering it back to the starting position. Key here is the use of control. A wild and uncontrolled push up is a lot easier, but it’s much less of a workout and sloppy form can lead to injuries. Slow up and slow down is a good rule of thumb, but the controlled return to resting position is the most important part.
To make it harder, experiment with different placement of your hands, or remove one hand altogether, and keep pushing your number of repetitions to improve your muscles.
This one does require you to find some kind of sturdy horizontal pole to use if you don’t have an actual pull-up bar, but don’t let that stop you! If you don’t have a bar, a tree branch, a sturdy metal rod mounted on something, or a local park’s monkey bars make useful alternatives if you’re willing to get creative. Just make sure whatever you choose can hold your whole body weight without bending or breaking.
Pull-ups make a useful at-home workout to exercise your arms, chest, and back, and they’re very foundational for muscle building. Make sure you’re consistent with pull-ups, because it’s harder to keep these gains than other types without doing them at least twice a week.
Your goal with pull-ups is pretty simple: see how many you can do until you get too tired to hang on any longer. Remember those fitness tests in elementary school? Think of it like that. Improving the number of pull-ups you can do is one of the most satisfying and easy to quantify fitness tests for an at-home workout, so I really recommend them, especially if you’re new.
4. Basic Exercise Equipment Is Cheap!
After relying on body weight exercises for a while, you may hit a plateau, or a frustrating period of unchanging fitness level. This is normal, particularly if you’re just ‘doing your own thing’ at home and not really following a specialized program. If you get to this point, it may be a good idea to dive into a challenging home workout program. Take a look at these home workout programs designed specifically for advanced users.
If you do hit a plateau and just want to carry on ‘doing your own thing’ without a structured program, it’s a good time to consider investing in some basic fitness equipment to improve your workouts.
You can outfit yourself with all the fundamentals for the same price as a month’s gym membership fees, so it won’t break the bank.
For some basic features, a great place to start is a set of dumbbells. If you’re aiming to bulk up through your home workouts, then you’ll need weights in order to continuously adding resistance. The weight you should begin with depends on your strength level, but if you’re only used to lifting your own body weight then perhaps start at 5lbs and work up to as high as you can afford or feel comfortable with using. Amazon has cheap, decent dumbbells that will greatly add to your strength training workouts, and they’re great because you can work up in heaviness.
As I mentioned, whether your goal is getting bigger, getting leaner or getting fitter “Progression” is key to change, there are many variable to consider of course, go faster, go slower, hold longer, less rest, more reps, more sets and of course more weight. If you are getting fit you will always need to add more weight, a full set of dumbbells is a great investment, they can be found cheaply enough and will last a long time, if your budget allows also consider other options, I strongly recommend a pair of adjustable dumbbells. They do cost slightly more but you won’t need to buy a new set when your current set are no longer challenging enough and you will have less clutter too.
This pair of adjustable dumbbells allows you to adjust the weight from 5lbs to over 50lbs. And they’re currently half-price!
A workout band is another cheap addition that will add some great resistance training to your workout, and they’re multi-functional to the extreme.
To go along with your dumbbells, it’s nice to have a weights bench. They’re not too costly, and you can buy materials to DIY one yourself for cheaper, but they’re pretty much a necessity if you own dumbbells and/or barbells. An adjustable bench, like this one, offers more flexibility in targeting specific muscles. For example, you can place the bench on a slight incline to target the upper portion of your chest muscles or have the bench in a vertical position to put more emphasis on your shoulder muscles.
A pull-up bar is a cheap luxury and essential for winter pull-ups if you don’t have an indoor substitute. Pull-ups (or chin-ups) are one of the best body-weight exercises for building all-round upper-body strength. For your own safety, it’s important you use a sturdy, quality pull-up bar.
I had one for a while which my Dad made for me some years back. It was perfect but too big to keep indoors. I have since used the P90X Pro-Grade Pull-Up Bar that you get as part of the P90X Deluxe and Ultimate kits.
I couldn’t resist adding that video to serve as a reminder of the hilarious, but painful, consequence of using a poor-quality pull-up bar!
Like I said before, you don’t need to buy equipment, but it’s a really good investment, will save you lots of time and energy, and will become essential after you’ve gotten to a fitness level where your body weight isn’t enough resistance to build mass anymore, so plan for adding in some equipment after a few months.
5. Try A Home Workout Program
If you want to add a bit of structure to your workout, you can try using a guided at-home workout program. There are a lot of options with these programs, and they have the benefit of taking the work out of designing a program and organizing a schedule. If you’re a busy person or someone who doesn’t know where to start, they’re well explained and often come with eating programs to help guide you through.
What kind of program should you choose?
- Well, if you consider yourself an advanced trainer, I would recommend Insanity.
Read my Insanity review here or check out other similar programs for advanced users here.
- If you’re goal is to specifically build muscle, then you should go with P90X.
Read my P90X review here.
- If you’re just starting out, P90 is your best bet or, if you’d like to avoid high-impact work, try PiYo.
Read my P90 review here or PiYo review here.
- If you’re on a budget, try BodyWeightBurn – currently on offer for only $19!
Read my BodyWeightBurn review here.
- If you’re a busy person and always pressed for time, I’d recommend Focus T25 or Insanity: MAX 30.
Read my Focus T25 review or Insanity: MAX 30 review here.
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