How To Build Strength Without Adding Weight
For many of us, the coronavirus outbreak has brought about quarantine. The gyms have now closed and most exercise is now restricted to the comfort of our own homes.
If you have a home gym that is equipped with barbells and weights, with a few adjustments, you will likely find that your training is relatively unaffected.
However, many people do not have a home gym or access to a range of weights. As a result, it is much more difficult to program your training and workout effectively.
This article will detail three methods that will help to effectively develop your strength without having to rely on weights.
The Importance of Intensity
By performing the same workouts continuously at the same intensity, your body will fail to adapt optimally as it can comfortably deal with the training stimulus.
With all physical training, you must gradually increase the intensity of the workouts which will consequently force the body to adapt and advance in strength (1).
The most evident method of increasing workout intensity is to increase the amount of resistance being lifted. However, with limited equipment, you will have to find other ways of doing this.
There are a number of manipulations highlighted below that can be used in your training to add intensity and facilitate strength and fitness improvements.
Method 1 – Increase Training Volume
The two most important training variables are volume and intensity. Intensity refers to the load that is being used while volume is the total amount of work performed.
With most training programs, the intensity is represented as a percentage of your 1 rep max whereas the number sets and reps constitutes volume.
It is very difficult to calculate the amount of resistance to use when the only training tools you have are bodyweight and bands. Consequently, the focus should shift to adding volume.
One great positive with this method is that it is very simple to apply to your training. Very simply all that you need to do is gradually add more reps or sets to each exercise.
With that being said, you may well reach a point where it may be counterintuitive to add more reps.
For example, if your goal is to improve strength, performing sets of 20 or more reps may not be best as a higher rep range appears to develop muscular endurance rather than strength (2).
If you do reach this point, it may be worthwhile finding another method that will increase training volume.
Alternatively, instead of adding sets and reps, you could manipulate training frequency which is simply the number of times that you train per week.
Adding in an extra workout per week will significantly increase the total training volume for the week and facilitate strength progress.
If you were in the gym lifting extremely heavy loads, high-frequency training is not sustainable for most.
However, with many home workouts, do not subject you to extreme loads and high intensities. Therefore, it would be possible to train much more frequently without the risk of burnout or injury.
The following is an example of how to effectively add volume over a three-week training period:
Week 1 – Start with a standard 4-day powerlifting split program that contains two upper and two lower-body days per week
Week 2 – Increase the frequency to 6-days – three upper and three lower sessions per week
Week 3 – Double up on either upper or low body days so that you now train nine times per week.
Method 2 – Increase Movement Speed
Adjusting the tempo of a movement can also alter intensity. While this method is a little more controversial, if applied correctly, it can be highly beneficial for strength.
If you are performing conventional bodyweight and band exercise, this method can be quite challenging to apply.
For example, performing sets of two or three push-ups won’t achieve much regardless of how quickly you perform the reps.
Therefore, it may be worthwhile incorporating something known as plyometrics into your training. Very simply, plyometrics are explosive exercises that demand speed.
One of the best things about plyometrics is that they typically do not require equipment and they can be effectively used to develop your big compound lifts like the squat, deadlift, and bench.
If you do decide to add plyometrics into your workouts, exercise caution. Considering the explosive nature of the exercises, the body is subjected to a great amount of force.
Consequently, the risk of sustaining an injury is higher, especially for beginners. Ideally, you want to start off with the basics and gradually build up from there.
Here are three basic plyometric exercises that are highly recommended for the beginner:
Single-Leg Running – This is a superb exercise to begin with as it is low-impact and very straightforward to master. As the name suggests, simply attempt to run using only one leg.
To start by performing 3-5 sets of 10-20 reps per leg. As you improve, considering increasing the number of sets and reps.
Squat Jumps – Descend into a squat and hold the bottom position for a moment before powerfully exploding into a vertical jump. Land safely with core tight and repeat.
Start with 3-5 sets of 15-25 reps. Once you feel proficient, consider moving onto the box jump or depth jump.
Clapping Push-Ups – Drop the chest to floor as you would with a conventional push-up. Powerfully drive to propel the body up, quickly perform a clap, and land.
In terms of volume, focus on a fixed number of sets and attempt to increase the number of reps performed with each set.
Method 3 – Modify Exercises
Many of us are having to make adaptations during this quarantine period and the same goes with our training.
The final method of making progress is to modify exercises. There are a number of alterations that can be made such as performing new exercises & variations and adjusting technique.
Studies have shown that varying the exercises used in your training is a highly effective method for accelerating strength progress (3).
Therefore, experimenting with different movements and positions can allow you to make great progress despite the limitations that you face.
When doing this, make adjustments that enhance your range of motion or change the emphasis of exercise to weaker muscle groups.
Here are some examples to demonstrate how this method can be applied:
– You may start with conventional push-ups. As the weeks progress, you may want to move onto variations such as diamond, wide-grip, decline, or paused push-ups.
– For those who have a barbell, there are a number of squat variations that can be performed including high-bar, low bar, and front squats.
– With resistance band exercises, you could move onto isolation exercises, such as flyes and pullovers, rather than performing compound exercises such as rows and presses.
You don’t need to have barbells, dumbbells, and weight plates to build strength; it is possible to make significant progress with limited equipment. However, if you are looking to make changes, it is critical that the intensity is gradually increased by using these three methods.
1 – Lorenz, Daniel S.; Reiman, Michael P.; Walker, John C. (2010-11). “Periodization”. Sports Health. 2 (6): 509–518. doi:10.1177/1941738110375910. ISSN 1941-7381. PMC 3438871. PMID 23015982.
2 – Schoenfeld, Brad J.; Peterson, Mark D.; Ogborn, Dan; Contreras, Bret; Sonmez, Gul T. (2015-10). “Effects of Low- vs. High-Load Resistance Training on Muscle Strength and Hypertrophy in Well-Trained Men”. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. 29 (10): 2954–2963. doi:10.1519/JSC.0000000000000958. ISSN 1533-4287. PMID 25853914.
3 – Fonseca, Rodrigo M.; Roschel, Hamilton; Tricoli, Valmor; de Souza, Eduardo O.; Wilson, Jacob M.; Laurentino, Gilberto C.; Aihara, André Y.; de Souza Leão, Alberto R.; Ugrinowitsch, Carlos (2014-11). “Changes in exercises are more effective than in loading schemes to improve muscle strength”. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. 28 (11): 3085–3092. doi:10.1519/JSC.0000000000000539. ISSN 1533-4287. PMID 24832974.