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8 ways to make an at-home workout more challenging

Tips for mixing up your workout to add interest and create new paths to strength gains.

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Sometimes going to the gym can be a hassle. Just getting out the door and commuting to the gym can feel harder than the workout itself. Working out from home has become more popular than ever in the last 18 months. People are converting spare bedrooms and garages into their own personal gym space. But, gym equipment can be extremely expensive.

      Also read: 4 soothing yoga stretches for cyclists

The good news is, that with a few simple tips and tricks, you can make an at-home workout, without any equipment, extremely challenging and effective. Sometimes you just have to get a little more creative. Here are eight ways to make an at-home workout harder:

1. Lengthen the lever

Whenever you bend or twist a part of your body you create an axis or a pivot. The arm or arms coming off of the pivot are your levers. If you are attempting to move the lever during a strength workout, the longer the lever, the more challenging it will be.

Much of the time we lengthen or shorten the levers by simply straightening or bending our arms or legs at the hip, shoulder, knees, or elbow. If you want an even greater challenge, you can hold something in your hand to make the lever even longer.

Example: In a hollow hold, you can place your arms by your side to make the lever shorter, or you can place your arms up by your ears to make the lever longer and to make the exercise more challenging. 

Hanna Finchamp demonstrating a hollow hold.
Hanna Finchamp demonstrating a hollow hold. Photo: Hannah Finchamp

2. Limit the base of support

When you limit the base of support you will add an element of balance to your workout as well as adding more weight on the remaining base. This will make your workout more mentally and physically demanding. Balance will not only require you to stay mentally present, but it will force you to activate some of your smaller stabilizing muscles as well.

Example: Try turning a standard squat into a single-leg squat. If you want an even bigger challenge, try doing a pistol squat. The weight that was originally transferred through two legs is now transferred through only one. Another example would be a plank. A standard plank has 4 points of contact, two hands and two feet. Try limiting the base of support by picking up one arm and one leg. 

Hanna Finchamp demonstrating a pistol squat
Hanna Finchamp demonstrating a pistol squat. Photo: Hannah Finchamp

3. Multi-joint and single-joint exercises

Most of your workouts should have both single and multi-joint exercises. A multi-joint exercise is any exercise that requires movement of the body at two or more joints. These workouts are generally considered to be more functional and more adaptable to real-life strength.

A single joint exercise, on the other hand, is any exercise that only moves a single joint. While these exercises are very good for isolating a single muscle, they are less adaptable to real-life demands.

Example: An example of a multi-joint exercise would be a squat because both your knees and hips are bending. An example of a single-joint exercise would be a bicep curl since the elbow is the only moving joint.

      Also read: 10 best injury prevention exercises for cyclists

4. Isometric and dynamic movements

Isometric exercises are exercises in which your muscles do not shorten or lengthen. In an isometric exercise, you will flex your muscles but you will not actually move. These exercises are great to help form stability within the body. Try using these exercises in between dynamic exercises in order to allow yourself a moment to catch your breath, while still continuing to progress your workout.

Dynamic movements are exercises in which you are moving and are more typical within a strength workout. Dynamic movements can help with muscle strengthening and cardiovascular improvements.

5. Slow down

I know it’s tempting to blast through your workout, especially with your busy life and schedule. A slower approach, though, will help to create greater muscular tension. This is particularly beneficial in the eccentric phase of each exercise. The eccentric phase of an exercise is when your muscle lengthens. The eccentric phase of a push-up or a squat is the lowering phase.

Example: Try slowing down by counting to 4 on the way down, counting 4 seconds at the bottom, and counting 4 on the way back up. 

6. Superset

Create a superset in which you switch back and forth between two different exercises without resting. You can do this by selecting two exercises that work different muscle groups so that you engage one muscle group while you rest another. You can also create a superset that targets very similar areas of the body to create additional fatigue.

Example: 6 x (30-second plank + 5 push-ups)

7. Limit rest

Move slowly through each exercise of your workout, but the transition from one exercise to the next with little to no rest. This will require you to write the workout ahead of time so that you don’t have to stop and think during the workout. Try timing yourself and see if you can beat your time by taking less rest the next time you do a similar workout.

8. Use an unstable surface

Force your body to use a little bit of proprioception and stability in your workout by doing a couple of exercises on an unstable surface. This could be as fancy as using a Bosu Ball or Swiss ball or it could be a simple as doing squats on a pillow or very soft mat.

30-minute at-home workout:

Circuit 1:

  • 30-second plank
  • 6 squat jumps
  • 5 x 4-count push-ups
  • 6 squat jumps
  • 30-second plank

Circuit 2:

  • 20-second hollow hold (10-second hands by sides/10-second hands by ears)
  • 60-second plank (20-second normal/20-sec right arm plank/20-second left arm plank)
  • 10 push-ups
  • 15 air squats
  • 20 calf raises
  • 15 air squats
  • 10 push-ups
  • 60-second plank (20-second normal/20-sec right arm/20-second left arm)
  • 20-second hollow hold (10-second hands by sides/10-second hands by ears)

Circuit 3:

See how many sets of the following you can do in 3 minutes:

  • 15 tricep dips
  • 10 jumping jacks
  • 5 V-ups