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Dublin: 10 °C Wednesday 20 February, 2019

How to put together an effective home workout training programme

If you can’t make it to the gym, there is always the option of training in the comfort of your own home, explains personal trainer Dean Merton.

IT’S SAFE TO say that we’re all looking to be a little fitter, a little leaner and a little stronger but sometimes life gets in the way. We leave ourselves short on time, overbook ourselves with too many work or social obligations and leave little or no time to get to the gym.

It happens to us all, right?

What would be really useful in a situation like this would be your very own at-home personal gym, but that would take a lot of space and a lot of equipment. Wrong.

Let’s run through what you need to do to make sure you can get a really awesome home workout in with minimal space and minimal equipment.

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Make some space

So first things first, stand up straight with your arms stretched out by your side so you look like the letter T.

Do a twirl with your arms held up like that. Go on and do a twirl, this article can wait. Bet that felt pretty nice.  Did you hit anyone in the face or knock over a piece of furniture?

If no then you probably have the space to workout. If yes apologise and/or replace what you have broken.

Ideally you want to have a little space beside a sturdy wall and a door, with carpet flooring, and enough room for you to stretch out on the floor.

If you have all those things, and let’s be honest here most homes will, then you can get a pretty good workout going in the comfort of your own home.


There are options for home workouts that include absolutely zero equipment, or options that include makeshift equipment like bags of sugar or tins of beans, but the reality is that with 1-2 kettlebells and a suspension trainer (such as a TRX) you can open up a plethora of options to keep you strong and healthy.

The good news is that in the past few years the world has woken up to the need for cheap, easily available exercise equipment so you can pick up a suspension trainer and some beginners weights from your local Argos, sports shop, or occasionally in the special offer aisles of Aldi or Lidl.

Make a plan

Once you’ve found your battlefield and chosen your weapons you need to draw up a strategy; bouncing around your sitting room aimlessly flailing your limbs was great back in the day, however times have changed and now we train a lot differently.

Here are some things you may need to consider when planning your workout:

1. Tempo

This refers to the speed at which you move through the range of motion of each exercise, while you lift the same amount of load in a squat regardless of speed, a slower tempo lift will always tax the metabolic system a lot more due to the increased time under which the muscle is placed in a stressful position or being made to do work.

This is important in a home training programmw as a lack of equipment may make it so that you run out of options to progress after you become used to moving your bodyweight around.

While you don’t want to slow down to the point where you are barely moving, a general rule of thumb for my trainees is to employ a 2-3 second eccentric (usually lowering), and a 1-2 sec controlled concentric (raising).

Your tempo is also heavily reliant on your choices for your rep ranges:

2. Rep Ranges

Again, these are super important when a lot of equipment is not available. Generally a home training programme will keep reps medium to high (8-15ish), as the external load (i.e. weights) just isn’t available to do a really challenging 5 or 6 reps on anything.

For a complete beginner I would recommend staying in the lower rep ranges and refining technique, as you become stronger and build a little familiarity with your movements you can begin to increase the reps.

Generally on any given exercise the highest I will allow a trainee to go in terms of reps is 12-15; after that the option for progression must be to add external load to the trainee, as any more reps than this and our quick at home workout just became a marathon.

3. Exercise Selection

When you’re selecting exercises for your workout it can be really tempting to flick on Instagram and see what your favourite “fitspo” has been doing in their back garden lately.

However, bear in mind that many of these people are doing advanced exercises to draw curious eyes to whatever they’re trying to sell that particular month, and as a result a lot of their training regimes should not be attempted by anyone, at any time, ever.

Here’s the cheat sheet of what you need to do to get a balanced workout done in your own home, which ensures you won’t develop one area at the expense of another and become imbalanced.

  • At least one squat variation
  • At least one pulling motion for upper back
  • An upper body pushing motion
  • A bridging motion
  • A plank hold

Keeping all of these in mind a balanced at home workout may look like this:


4. Progressive Overload

Once you have figured out what your home workout should look like you will need to figure out ways to make it a little bit tougher over time.

While it’s nice to boss your workout and feel like you’ve gotten used to something that previously felt pretty tough it pays to remember that smart training is hard training, and your body only really adapts to a stimulus that it perceives to be slightly outside its comfort zone.

If you want a fitness cliché to describe this I like the expression:

“What doesn’t challenge you, doesn’t change you.”

There’s a bunch of different ways that you can progressively overload your system, they usually come down to the simple act of addition:

  • Additional time under tension via slower tempo
  • Additional reps per set
  • Additional sets per exercise
  • Additional ROM (range of motion) in each exercise
  • Additional load per exercise
  • Additional workouts per microcyle (going from 2x week to 3x week)

And after you have tried all of that, you simply start the journey all over again with a new set of exercises and reap the rewards of all the DOMS (delayed onset muscles soreness) that a novel exercise will give you.

While we’re on the subject of DOMS and progressive overload though; it’s really important to realise that being sore does not always equal making progress, especially if you’re sticking to a methodical plan where your aim is to get the very most out of limited equipment or space; the DOMS will come and go, but as long as you make each workout a little harder than the last you will make progress.

Dean Merton is a Dublin-based strength coach and personal trainer. You can follow his work on Facebook or his website

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