So, you want to get stronger but you’re bored of the gym.
The good news is that with very little equipment (and without ever setting foot in a gym again if you don’t want to) you can build lots of strength and muscle. Don’t believe me? Just take a look at pretty much any gymnast.
On the whole they’re stacked, with muscle development to rival that of many drug-free bodybuilders. They also have insane levels of strength (have you ever tried getting anywhere near an iron cross on the rings?) but don’t lift weights or do traditional gym training. I think these guys might be on to something!
If you want to get stronger and add more muscle, then all you need are a few simple principles and a little creativity and willingness to experiment. Once you know the basic principles of building strength, it’s just a case of hard work and consistency. Like most things when it comes to health and fitness, it really isn’t rocket science!
Unfortunately, as with everything else in the world of fitness, strength has been overcomplicated and ‘commoditised’. It’s time to get back to basics.
The rules of strength are very simple: lift heavy stuff (or just your own body weight) and use a moderate to slow tempo (3-4 seconds raising and lowering) and mid-range reps (3-8) and take 1-3 minutes in between sets, depending on how many reps you do (more reps equals less rest and vice versa).
If you’re creative enough you can get an amazing strength workout pretty much anywhere. I’ve used anything from rocks and logs, to my kids, my wife, wheelbarrows, trampolines, etc. Kids playgrounds are always great too, as are trees, staircases and a whole host of natural and man made obstacles.
Once you know the principles, you can apply them in many situations and you’ll never be limited by not having access to a gym or lots of equipment again.
Here are the exercises I’m doing in the video, with the acute variables so you can have a try. If you don’t have the right equipment, then use whatever you can lay your hands on and go lift heavy stuff! If in doubt, please use your common sense.
1. Strict Pull Ups – 5 reps x 10 sets / 3-0-3, 90-120 sec rest / sets.
In the full hang position (arms straight and fully stretched at the bottom) squeeze your shoulder blades together and imagine tucking them down into your back pockets. Holding this retracted position, lean slightly backwards and pull your chest up to the bar (aim to touch your chest to the bar, even if you can’t), pulling your triceps in to your lats at the top. Lower under control, reset your shoulder blades and repeat.
2. Frog Balance – 20-30 second hold in between sets of pull ups.
Hands on the floor about shoulder width apart, inside of your knees resting on your triceps above your elbows. Shift your weight forwards and lift your feet off the floor. Hold the position as steadily as you can for at least 20 seconds. Just one hold between each set of pull ups.
3. Trampoline Drag – 20 metres, all out, 1 min rest / sets.
Find a trampoline or something heavy to drag (that’s not going to plough up your lawn), take a firm grip, then a deep belly breath, draw you belly button in to activate your deep abdominals and then drag for 20+ metres. Keep your knees slightly bent throughout and a natural arch in your lower back. Keep your shoulder blades squeezed together and tucked down and your chest slightly lifted.
4. Trampoline Push Press – 8 reps x 4 sets / 3-0-3 tempo, 60-90 sec rest / sets.
If you don’t have access to a trampoline, you can do this with a big log, a rock, 2 kettlebells, etc.). Holding the trampoline in a clean position (kind of like the bottom of a shoulder press), take a deep belly breath, gently draw your belly button in, bend your knees a little (no more than a quarter squat), then drive up, forcefully extending your knees and hips and let the movement flow into a shoulder press. Lower under control and repeat. Keep a natural arch in your lower back at all times.
5. Single Arm Ring Row – 8 reps x 4 sets each arm / 3-0-3 tempo, 90 sec rest / sets.
Keep your body straight like a plank, with you belly button gently drawn in to activate your core. Pull yourself up, keeping your elbow close to your ribcage to fully contract your lats. Lower under control. Do all reps on 1 side and then swap and repeat on other side. Don’t cheat by thrusting your hips forwards or wriggling.
6. Ring “Roll Out” – 5 reps x 4 sets / 3-3-3 tempo, 1 min rest / sets.
This is very tough, so take it easy and really watch your lower back. If you have a history of back pain, don’t do this! Set the rings low, to about 6-8 inches off the ground (you can also use a TRX if you have one) and start off in a pike position, with straight arms and a 15-20 degree bend in your knees. Take a deep belly breath, firmly draw your belly button in towards your spine and then slowly roll out forwards as far as you comfortably can (building up to a full arms extended push up position). Stop before you feel your lower back wants to collapse through, hold the end position for 3 seconds and then slowly return to the start and repeat.
7. Two Kettlebell Uneven Carry (20 Kg bottoms up / 24 Kg farmers carry) –
Walk as far as you can before your grip goes (the upside down kettlebell at your shoulder is likely to go first). Use good form to pick up and put the kettlebells down.
8. Kettlebell Swings (24 Kg) – 20 reps x 2-3 sets, 1 min rest in between sets.
This is also very tough. Again, if you have any history of lower back pain or injury, be very careful with this or don’t do it! With a kettlebell in between your legs and behind your body, squat down and grasp the handle. Using your legs and hips only, slowly build up momentum until you’re swinging the kettlebell up to head height (don’t go too much higher as you can lose control). Explosively extend your legs and hips to drive the kettlebell, don’t use your arms. Sit down into the movement on the way down and keep your forearms close to your groin (don’t lean forwards as it will overload your spine), letting the bell swing through your legs, before explosively swinging upwards again. Keep your belly button firmly drawn in throughout and a natural arch in your lower back, never let it round out.
9. Kettlebell Handstand Balance? – I was just playing around with some gymnastic style holds that weren’t very successful as I was knackered!
Hope you enjoy the workout and leave me a comment below to let me know how you get on.