A lack of focus, motivation or energy are three of the biggest obstacles to overcome when working out at home – but some smart tweaks to how you train will help you build the stronger and leaner body you want, says New Body Plan editorial director Joe Warner
Here in the UK we are still awaiting news of when gyms can re-open. Wherever you are in the world, I don’t mind admitting to you that I’m itching to be back on the gym floor, getting to grips with all my favourite equipment and machines that have been behind locked doors for months. I never thought it would be normal for me to genuinely miss doing lat pulldowns, or be longing to test my back squat one-rep max, but I guess these are no longer normal times!
I was training at home yesterday, missing the gym, and struggling for focus. Instead of throwing in the towel I started playing around with my planned workout to try and “spice up” the session and stay motivated. It worked, so I thought I’d share my mini-successes with you if you’re struggling for time, energy, motivation or any of the home workout problems that can affect us all at times – give them a go and let me know how you get on!
The problem: You can’t maintain focus
The solution: Do circuits for shorter sessions
My biggest issue when the gyms first closed was spending too long resting between sets. I didn’t feel the same sense of urgency training at home. I didn’t have any weight-training equipment so was doing bodyweight moves and after a set of press-ups I’d spend far too long checking my emails, scrolling social media, or searching Spotify for the perfect track to get me in the mood. In short, I did anything and everything but focus on the upcoming set.
That’s when I started combining the six different moves of my session into a six-move circuit, rather than doing standalone straight sets. This smart switch-up gave me less time to rest, forced me to work hard for bursts of time, and – crucially – kept each session short so it was much easier to stay in “The Zone”. It worked so well it’s why we used this circuit approach – and measure work periods in time, so you count down your effort in seconds rather than count up in reps – in our 28-Day Bodyweight Blast programme, and expanded upon this fat-torching tactic in the Advanced Bodyweight Blast plan. It’s amazing how a simple switch of doing multi-move circuits, combined with counting time rather than reps, makes a session fly by!
The problem: You’re going through the motions
The solution: Use the smart rep strategy
It still surprises me how many training plans I see that never wander from the “do three sets of 10 reps for every exercise and that’s it” approach. Yes, it’s alright, and obviously better than doing nothing at all, but it’s a pretty boring approach that doesn’t exactly stimulate your mind. It’s a bit too close to “going through the motions” for my liking, because I think the very best (and worthwhile) sessions are those that challenge you physically and mentally, so you get the fat-loss and muscle-building benefits, as well as those feel-good endorphins that flow when you’ve really stepped up to plate and smashed it out the park.
Add some spice to your sessions by shaking up your set strategy by doing ascending-descending sets. Say you plan to do five sets of an exercise. In set one, do 8 reps. In set 2, do 10. In set 3, do 12 – which should be very challenging – but don’t worry because in set 4 the reps drop back down to 10. And then in the fifth and final set they drop back to 8! It’s a terrific tactic because your brain has to stay engaged, and you work your muscles really hard before then easing off (yet still work them close to their limit). We love this approach so much it’s why we used it in our 28-Day Dumbbell Blast programme, as well as in the Advanced Dumbbell Blast plan, because as far as “feel good” ways to workout go, there’s not many better than this!
The problem: You’re rushing your reps
The solution: Tinker with your tempo
Anyone who lifts weights will at some point come across “tempo”, one of the seven key training variables that combine to create a successful session. Put simply, tempo is used to determine the time, in seconds, you take to perform each one of the four stages of a rep. It’s expressed as a four-digit number: the first indicates the time in seconds you take to lower the weight; the second is the time you pause in the bottom position of that rep; the third is the time you take to lift the weight back up; and the fourth is the time you pause in the top position.
Most people only consider tempo when lifting weights, but that’s a mistake because it also works fantastically well for bodyweight moves. So, whether your home workouts include barbells, dumbbells or just your own bodyweight, change up the tempo to test your muscles in new and challenging ways to build more muscle and burn more fat.
For example, instead of cranking out 10 half-arsed press-ups, instead do five using a tempo of 4111, which means you lower your chest to the floor in a super-slow four seconds, pause in the bottom position for one second (to really engage your chest and core), press back up in one second, then pause at the top for one second.
If you think changing the tempo of your bodyweight moves will make little difference, try my suggestion above and see how much more you “feel” your muscles working – and if you do you’ll be safe in the knowledge that they’re going to grow back bigger and stronger!
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