by Robert Maxwell
UPDATED 7SEPT2018 - Training for strength, fitness and health doesn't have to mean expensive gym memberships, and certainly doesn't mean you need to adopt "gym culture". For many guys considering getting strong and healthy for the first time, the swollen steroids junkies and treadmill-obsesses bundles of true grit they see at the average gym are major deterrents. It's hard enough mustering the motivation to get yourself to the gym in the first place, but facing those who live and breathe the gym life can make a daunting task seem nearly insurmountable to the new trainee. It doesn't have to be this way. Strength, health, and fitness are not exclusive to the gym.
Lots of guys ask me to write them a training program with one catch – they don't have access to a gym or proper equipment. For some the reason is distance, others money or time. Some are just making excuses, but many have legitimate reasons why they can't load up a barbell and and start benching. These guys aren't usually interested in growing huge muscles. Mostly they just want to get fitter and stronger. They always have some version of the same question: Can I do anything to get in shape without a gym? If you fall into this category, here are my four favourite strategies for improving your body without a gym membership.
Even if you don't have access to bars and weight plates, you have access to your bodyweight. Luckily for you, your muscles don't care where resistance comes from. Moving 200 pounds of iron is the same as moving your 200 pound body. There are plenty of bodyweight exercises you can use to get fit and strong. If you're serious about improving your body at home, you should be doing pushups, air squats, pull ups, dips, and if you're brave enough, upside down shoulder presses with your hands on the floor and your legs leaning against a wall. Pushups are a great substitute for bench press and can help build a strong chest and triceps. Squats are a must if you want strong legs. Pull ups are great for building a strong upper back and biceps. You'll need to find somewhere you can hang from by your fingers, and safely pull yourself up until your chin is above your hands. Dips can be done between two chairs, and are another great triceps movement. Don't attempt upside down shoulder press unless you've got great balance and a fair bit of upper body strength. Falling is a major risk, and you don't want to be on the next episode of FailArmy.
Resistance training isn't the only aspect of fitness. Cardio is vital too. Walking, running, jumping, skipping, and burpees are all great ways to get your heart pumping and improve your cardiovascular fitness. Even if getting strong is your main focus, you should still do cardio to improve your conditioning. There's not much point in being strong if you get out of breath walking to the bus stop. Try to evaluate yourself honestly, and decide how much cardio you should be doing. If you're in poor shape, don't push yourself too hard at first. Build up your stamina with walks or short runs, gradually increasing the distance as your conditioning improves. Like strength training, cardio should be done at least three day per week. Some people like cardio and others feel it's akin to medieval torture. Either way, it needs to be done. Not necessarily for hours and hours, but definitely with consistency.
Lifting Heavy Stuff
The average garage is full of potential training tools. Loaded suitcases, baby seats, paint cans, or even stones can be used for resistance training. Your body won't know they're not real gym weights. Use them for curls, bent over rows, lateral raises, tricep extensions, weighted squats, and any other exercises you can think of. Get creative. You'll be surprised how many everyday objects you can use to build strength. If you have a little money to invest, buy a good kettlebell. It can be used for dozens of exercises, and is probably the most versatile piece of fitness equipment you can get.
Building a Home Gym
If you've got some time, money and space, building your own home gym can be very rewarding. Treadmillfactory.ca sells lots of reasonable quality fitness equipment at good prices. Start with the basics: an olympic barbell, some weight plates, a squat cage or rack, and a bench. Later, you can add more stuff like a set of adjustable dumbbells, a leg extension attachment for your bench, and more weight as needed. Some coaches say that training in a home gym is a mistake, since you'll be tempted to quit early and flop down on your couch. I disagree. My brother and I built our home gym 7 years ago, and it's been my main training space ever since. Not once have I been tempted to quit simply because I'm lifting at home. It's also nice not to share equipment with a bunch of sweaty strangers.