In the last several weeks, I have received a few e-mails from lifters wanting to know what kind of routine they should follow if they have limited equipment. As in very limited equipment; as in just a pair of dumbbells, or as in just—well—nothing but their bodyweight to be honest. And I don't think these guys expected much of a response from me, especially when you consider some of the ultra-heavy workout programs I've advocated in the past.
Little did these lifters know that I actually had some routines which could really help them. In fact, I'm going to give you—if you'll just be patient for a moment—a couple routines that require little more than just your own bodyweight.
But first a little detour (and a confession to make)...
About a year ago, my wife (of 12 years) and I separated. Now, apart from the usual angst such a thing can bring about, it was also upsetting because I had a whole slew of weight equipment at our house. In fact, our entire garage I had turned into a gym: squat rack, bench press, deadlift platform, 1,200 pounds of weights—and all that just for starters.
When I moved out, the only thing I took with me (as far as weight equipment goes) was a pair of dumbbells.
I had plans to occasionally go over to our (now her) house and lift weights. (We got along well enough.) However, I knew that most of the time I would just be lifting solo at my apartment with nothing but my dumbbells. And—in time—it got to where I would do mainly bodyweight-only training.
And I—considering the kind of workouts I had performed in the past—was certain that I would lose at least some degree of muscle mass.
Imagine how surprised I was when, six months or so later, not only had I not lost any muscle mass, I was now bigger than I had been in a long time.
My separation from my wife turned out to be a blessing in disguise (at least as far as building muscle mass went). Not only did I gain muscle mass with my limited equipment workouts, they also allowed me to train pain-free. (Due to a surgery I'd had a couple years ago, pain-free workouts had been a real rarity for some time.)
First, here are the rules you need to follow if you plan on performing limited equipment workouts or bodyweight-only strength training:
Rule #1: You must train frequently. And when I say frequent, I mean it. Two, three, or even four days per week will not cut it. Not one friggin' bit. You must train five to six days each week.
Rule #2: You must train each bodypart frequently. In other words, if you train five to six days a week, you can't do any of this one-bodypart-per-workout crap. You need to be training your whole body, or performing upper/lower splits.
Rule #3: Volume Rules!!! A couple of sets per bodypart isn't going to cut it, either. You need lots of volume.
Rule #4: Plenty of Reps. And I mean plenty! Unlike other workouts I've recommended in the past, you have got to do some high-rep training here. As you'll see from the workouts below, 100 reps per bodypart will be a minimum.
Now, on to the actual workout programs:
Workout #1: The Waterbury 100-Rep Workout
This is one I got from Chad Waterbury (which he wrote about not that long ago on the T-Muscle website). It's really simple.
This is an upper-body specialization program for those of you who just want to look good with your shirt off. It requires only two exercises. (Like I said, it's simple, but that doesn't meant that it's going to be easy.)
For six days per week—for the next 30 days—you are going to perform 100 reps of push-ups and 50 reps of chin-ups each day. It doesn't matter how many sets it takes to get the reps, or how many times you train throughout the day. In other words, you can do all 100 push-ups and 50 chin-ups in the same workout or you can spread it out over 2 or 3 sessions.
Just get the required number of reps.
And don't skip one single day.
Yes, you may be sore the first week—and by day three of the first week you might be having a hard time getting all of your reps—but your body will adapt.
Workout #2: The Upper/Lower Split
This one might be even simpler. And it also requires only 2 exercises. But it's also highly effective.
Train six days each week. (For the sake of this article, we'll assume you're going to take Sundays off—reserve it for plenty of meditation and devotion to Spirit.)
On Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays you will perform 200 reps of push ups. As with the Waterbury workout, it doesn't matter how many sessions it takes to get all these reps. It doesn't matter how many sets it takes. Just make sure that—by the end of the day—you have performed 200 push-ups.
On Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays you will perform 500 reps of squats. These can be hindu squats, bodyweight-only wide-stance squats, or you can use a light pair of dumbbells.
As with the push-ups, it doesn't matter how long it takes you, or how many sessions, just make sure you get 500 reps.
Perform this program for the next 30 days. And get better results in those 30 days than you have in any other 30 days of training before that time.
If you want to—once you have adapted to these programs as they are written—start adding abdominal work and extra dumbbell work. You could start adding several sets of dumbbells, some walking lunges, some calf raises, or whatever it is that you need to improve.
And one more rule—we'll make it the official rule #5: Once you have adjusted to the amount of volume in the above workouts, make sure you add more. Trust me, once you have reached the point where you can do several-hundred push-ups each day for six days a week, your lack-of-upper body gains will be a thing of the forgotten past!