Building Muscle With Minimal Equipment – 3 Workouts
Do you have an impressive collection of exercise equipment collecting dust in your home or apartment? Are you looking to purchase exercise equipment that’s cost-effective and doesn’t take up a lot of space? If so, then keep reading because this article is for you.
Don’t sell yourself short just because you don’t have access to expensive machines, dumbbells, and barbells. You can still build muscle, increase strength, and improve conditioning using minimal equipment commonly sold at sporting goods stores.
In addition to performing bodyweight exercises outlined in my previous article, incorporate some or all the exercises below based on your fitness level and equipment availability. The end of the article provides sample routines based on your fitness level – beginner, intermediate, or advanced.
The exercises below are organized by piece of equipment. They may focus on conditioning, upper body, lower body, or abdominals.
The jump rope is the mac daddy for equipment minimalists looking to burn calories, increase cardiovascular endurance, and improve coordination. Jump rope requires virtually no space and will safely jack up your heart rate faster than nearly any other form of cardiovascular activity. Those looking to perform as many skips as possible should use a lightweight speed rope.
Use a weighted jump rope if you want to increase their heart rate and train your forearms. In all cases jump rope will build your calf muscles, hand-eye, and eye-foot coordination. My favorite warm-up includes 500 jumps using a combination of single leg, double leg, alternating, high knees, and double unders.
Ab Wheel Rollout
If you hate, experience pain from, or are unable to perform the infamous floor crunch then the ab wheel is for you. The floor crunch is a flexion exercise that most folks butcher, resulting in the shift of muscular stress from the abdominals to the neck, lower back, and hips. The ab wheel rollout is an anti-flexion exercise that trains the abdominals through the conscious act of not bending your torso.
This inexpensive piece of equipment can build serious core strength which translates improved performance in the weight room and on the field. Begin each rep with fully extended arms holding the ab wheel with a pronated grip that are in-line with your shoulders. Beginners should perform the lowering only portion of the rollout from a kneeling position.
Intermediates can perform the lower and raising portion of the rollout. The raising portion is exponentially more difficult. Advanced trainees can perform the negative-only or full repetitions of the ab wheel rollout from a standing position.
Exercise bands are one of the most versatile pieces of equipment for the fitness minimalist. They weigh almost nothing, offer progressive resistance, and give you the ability to target muscles in both the upper and lower body.
When performing these movements, you’ll notice the highest resistance when the band is fully extended and the lowest resistance when it’s fully contacted. Below are a few of my favorite exercises using an exercise band.
Squats – An excellent movement for training the quadriceps, hamstrings, glutes, and calves. Place the band on the ground in a straight line, stand on it so that the band is directly under the middle of your foot and take a stance approximately shoulder width apart.
While keeping your feet on the band bend down and grab both handles. Beginners can keep the handles by their sides, intermediates can hold the handles at shoulder height, and advanced trainees can hold the handles overhead.
Pushups – Increase the intensity of bodyweight pushups by wrapping the band around your upper back and grasping a handle in each hand. Assume your normal pushup position – arms slightly wider than shoulder width, glutes tight, and feet together. The band adds extra resistance are you push up and reach the top of the movement.
Chest Flies – This exercise is great for strengthening and building the chest muscles without significantly fatiguing your shoulders. Wrap the band around a sturdy vertical pole, use the door attachment that comes with some exercise bands, or stand and wrap the band around your upper back and grasp both handles.
Take a neutral grip (palms facing each other), extend your arms, and if the band is wrapped around the structure or on to the door then take a few steps forward so that you feel a slight tension in the band. While keeping your wrists and elbows in-line with your shoulders flex your chest muscles and bring your hands together while keeping your arms extended.
Shoulder Press – A must-have movement for increasing the size and strength of your front, side, and rear deltoid muscles. Place the band on the ground in a straight line, stand on it so that the band is directly under the middle of your foot and take a hip width stance. Bend down and grasp the handles with a pronated (palms facing away from you) or neutral (palms facing towards each other) grip.
Stand up straight and while bending your elbows but keeping them close to your sides, raise the handles so they’re at shoulder height. Brace your abdominals, keep your chest up, and press the handles upwards until your arms are fully extended. Your wrists should remain in-line with your forearm. Slowly lower back to the starting position and repeat for the desired number of reps.
Curls – A staple exercise for building the bicep muscles. Place the band on the ground in a straight line, stand on it so that the band is directly under the middle of your foot and take a hip width stance. Bend down and grasp the handles with a supinated (palms facing away from you) grip. Stand up straight with your chest tall and arms fully extend by your sides. While keeping your elbows close to your torso flex your bicep and pull the band upwards until you feel a nice squeeze in the biceps.
For some this will be when the band is parallel with the ground and for others it may be when the band is nearly perpendicular with the ground. Squeeze at the top of the rep and then slowly lower to the starting position. Ensure your shoulders stay down and elbows you do drift behind your torso during the movement.
Lateral Raises – Target your lateral or side deltoid muscles with lateral raises. Place the band on the ground in a straight line, stand on it so that the band is directly under the middle of your foot and take a hip width stance. Bend down and grasp the handles with a neutral (palms facing towards each other) grip.
Stand up straight with your chest tall and arms fully extend by your sides. Initiate the movement by pulling your hands towards the ceiling while keep your arms extended and in-line with your shoulders. Pull the band until the handles reach shoulder height and hold for one second before lowering down to the starting position.
Band Pull Aparts – The band pull apart is a critical movement for building the often-neglected rear deltoid muscles, improving posture, and maintaining shoulder health. Depending the strength of the band grasp either the handles or the band itself with a pronated (palms facing the floor) grip slightly wider than shoulder width so that there’s a slight tension in the band. Your arms should be fully extended, parallel to the floor and in line with your shoulders.
Initiate the movement by retracting and squeezing your shoulder blades together while pulling your hands away from each other. Continue pulling until the band is fully retracted and almost touching your chest. Your hands, elbows, and shoulders should be aligned throughout the entire movement. Hold the top position for one to three seconds before lowering to the starting position.
Overhead Tricep Extensions – Place the band on the ground in a straight line, stand on it with one leg so that the band is directly under the middle of your foot and take a hip width staggered stance. Bend down and grasp one the right handle with a neutral or pronated grip.
Stand up straight with your chest tall, right elbow bent vertically in line with your shoulder, and hand behind you head. Initiate the movement by flexing your tricep and extending your arm until it’s fully overhead. Squeeze the top position and slowly lower back to the start position. Perform all reps with one hand before shifting to the other hand.
The at-home pullup bar has exploded in popularity over the past few years. Instead of finding a local playground with pullup or monkey bars you can simply purchase a lightweight, easy to setup, and somewhat portable pullup bar offering multiple grip handles.
Pullups – my favorite bodyweight vertical pull exercise for building back and bicep size as well as grip strength. Many pullup bars offer the ability to take a pronated (palms facing away from you), neutral (palms facing towards each other), or supinated (palms facing towards you) grip. Take your preferred grip, take your feet off the ground and set up at the bottom of the movement so that you feel a nice stretch in the lats but your shoulders are down and away from your ears.
While keeping your chest slightly elevated towards the ceiling, flex your lats, pull your elbows down, and squeeze your shoulder blades together until your head clear the bar. Hold for one to three seconds and slowly lower yourself down. Beginners can perform the negative or lowering-only portion of the rep while advanced trainees can implement pauses during the rep to increase intensity.
Handing Leg Raises – A great movement for stretching the upper and lower back, improving grip strength, and building abdominal muscles. Take your preferred grip and take your feet off the ground. Beginners should bend their knees at approximately a 45 to 90-degree angle whereas intermediate and advanced trainees can keep their legs straight so long as they’re off the ground.
Forcefully exhale, flex your abdominal muscles, and focus on pulling your knees to your navel. Those with bent knees should stop of the top of the rep with the knees almost touch the stomach whereas those with straight legs should ensure their feet are at least in line with their hips. Slowly lower back to the starting position and repeat for the desired number of reps.
Dead Hangs – This movement is extremely simple to perform and great for stretching the back and improving grip strength. Take your preferred grip and take your feet off the ground. Ensure your arms are fully extended, shoulders are down and away from your ears, and lats are slightly flared. Then just hang. Progress by increasing the amount of time you hang from the bar before your grip gives out. This exercise will play mind games so stay strong and focus on holding on for dear life.
The exercise ball was one of the first pieces of equipment to hit the market that appealed to fitness equipment minimalists wanting a tool to train the upper body, lower body, and abdominals.
Pushups – Pushups on an exercise ball not only work the triceps, chest, and shoulder muscles but also incorporate the extra element of stability. Beginners should place their hands on the ground slightly wider than shoulder width apart and ensure the forearms in line with the shoulders. Place the tops of your feet on top of the exercise ball and fully extend your legs.
Lower yourself down until your chest almost touches the ground, hold for one to two seconds and then flex your chest muscles to push yourself back up. Intermediate and advanced trainees can place their feet on the ground, hold either side of the exercise with their hands, and perform a pushup.
Hamstring Curl – Lay flat on the floor so that your glutes, lower back, upper back, arms, and head are in contact with the ground. Fully extend your legs and place your heels on the exercise ball. Contract your glutes and raise your hips off the floor. Flex your hamstrings and pull the exercise ball towards your hips using your feet.
At the top of the movement your hips should remain extended, knees will be bent, and exercise ball will almost be touching your glutes. Hold for one to two seconds before extending your legs back to the starting position.
Stir the Pot – This movement works the obliques, deep abdominal muscles, and trains stability. Take a stance narrower than hip width with your legs fully extended, spine in a neutral position, and elbows resting in a V shape on the ball. You can clasp your hands together or have them slightly apart.
At this point your torso should be at a 30 to 45-degree angle with the ground. Flex your glutes, keep your back straight, and use your abdominals to roll your elbows in a clockwise position. Once you complete the desired number of repetitions switch directions and perform counterclockwise rotations.
Leg Lifts – Legs lifts are an effective movement for training the abdominal muscles and with certain tweaks can also train the upper body. Lay flat on the floor so that your glutes, lower back, upper back, arms, and head are in contact with the ground. Spread your legs and place the inner part of each foot on either side of the middle of the exercise ball.
Squeeze your legs together so that the exercise ball does not move. Push your lower back in to the floor and lift your legs holding the exercise ball. Continue raising your legs until the hips come slightly off the ground and feet are pointing towards the ceiling. Slowly lower back to the start position.
To incorporate the upper body, you can perform the raising portion of the leg lift, grab the ball with fully extended arms, lower both the arms and legs so that the ball is now in your hands. Finish the rep by raising both the extended arms and legs and transferring the exercise ball back to the legs.
Rollouts – Exercise ball rollouts train both the abdominal muscles and stability. Set up for the movement as you would for an exercise ball pushup. Your legs should be extended with a narrow stance and toes on top of the exercise ball. Use your abdominal muscles to bend your knees and pull them towards your chest.
At the top of the movement your knees should be fully bent. Slowly lower back to the starting position and repeat for the desired number of reps. Intermediate and advanced trainees can perform the rollout by placing their feet on the ground and extending their arms and elbows to perform the rollout.
|Jump Rope||1||500 double leg jumps|
|Exercise Band Squats||3||15|
|Exercise Band Overhead Press||3||15|
|Lowering-Only (Negative) Pullups||4||5|
|Exercise Ball Rollouts||3||12|
|Jump Rope||1||200 double leg and 200 alternating|
|Neutral Grip Pullups||3||8|
|Band Pull Aparts||3||20|
|Exercise Ball Stir the Pot||3||5 clockwise and 5 counterclockwise|
|Kneeling Ab Wheel Rollout||3||AMRAP|
|Jump Rope (100 double leg, 100 single leg, 100 alternating, 100 high knee, and 20 double unders)||1|
|Exercise Ball Hamstring Curl||3||20|
|Exercise Band Squat & Overhead Press Combo||3||15|
|Exercise Ball Decline Pushups||3||20|
|Exercise Band Lateral Raises||3||12|
|Pullup Bar Hanging Leg Raises – 15 with bent legs or 10 with straight legs||3||10 or 15|
|Standing Ab Wheel Rollout||3||AMRAP|