Working Out at Home: Creating Tension

Recently, I have been getting a fair amount of questions about in-home workouts.  I have been reluctant to answer because my honest response is usually “join a gym”.  Depending on where you live, there is a gym in what seems like every square mile or so.  Gyms are good, even crappy ones are still pretty good because they have weights.  The science says weights make you sexy and strong.  My advice is usually go to where they keep weights and work-out there.  Upon disseminating this advice, a variety of excuses attack my eardrums with a violent fury: “I don’t have time, but my kids, my job, and what about Stranger Things Season 2?”.  The back and forth continues until someone is offended and we both go on our way, neither party getting anything out of the conversation.  Maybe it’s time I give in and really answer the question, here goes……

Creating Tension

What makes the gym so hard to beat with an in-home training session is that there are infinite ways to create tension in any targeted muscle group at the gym.  Take the quads for example, at the gym you have a leg extension machine, squat rack, leg press, etc.  At home, you really need to be creative to effectively target and exhaust the quads specifically.  Go down the list of major muscle groups and the gym holds a distinct advantage to all of them in terms of the ability to efficiently overload a specific muscle group.  In-home training over the past few years has been saturated by the P-Insanity90x Beach Body philosophy of training where you perform a series of push-ups, sit ups, jumps, thrusts, kicks, punches, and cartwheels that look more like a meth head during a grand mal seizure than a resistance training routine.  This may help you burn calories for the sake of burning calories, it may even qualify as conditioning, but it isn’t strength training.  To effectively train a muscle for strength or muscle hypertrophy you MUST overload a specific muscle or set of muscles with the appropriate tension until it approaches or reaches failure.

Tools of the trade

At home, unless you have furnished your own fitness facility in your spare bedroom, the goal is to do more with less.  Some key inexpensive pieces of equipment can go a long way to making your training more effective.  The more you can do with one item, the more valuable it will be for your training.  For the purposes of the exercises discussed in this blog post, you will want a few bands and ab sliders. (After researching Amazon, these were the best deals I could find for the items used. Links are at the bottom of this post.)


One advantage to working out at home is that you can tie up as much equipment as you want with multi-exercise circuits without pissing other gym members off.  There are many ways to design a competent circuit at home, to avoid making this article longer than the Bible, I’m going to discuss two that when done one after the other hit most of the major muscle groups.  Circuits are great for hitting a lot of muscles quickly and keeping heart rate elevated to give a slight metabolic conditioning benefit as well.  Try these for a solid in-home training session:

Circuit 1: 3-4 rounds with zero rest between exercises and :60 rest in between circuits.

1A) Banded lateral walk with “constant tension” squat: Place loop directly above the knees.  Stand in a half squat and take 10 lateral steps to one side and do 10-15 body-weight squats while keeping the knees out and toes straight.  Then take 10 steps back to the other side and perform another 10-15 squats.  Do not stand up at any point during the movement!  

Primary Targeted Muscle: Glutes   


Credit the bad lighting to the fact that I had just put the kids to bed in their rooms located directly next to the "video shoot"

1B)  Seated Banded Row:  Anchor the band around the foot of the couch.  Place your feet against the couch and grab both band loops at the end of the band with each hand.  Maintain upright torso and drive elbows behind you while squeezing shoulder blades together.  Flex and hold your lats for 1 second on each rep.  Perform anywhere between 10-20 reps like this depending on your band width and strength level.  If you need more resistance, place something between your feet and the couch to make the band stretch tighter.  If you aren't feeling an intense burn in your lats, you aren't contracting them hard enough, FOCUS!  

Primary Targeted Muscle: Lats/Rhomboids/Mid Traps    

1C) Body Saw: I describe this as a plank on steroids.  Do not attempt this if you can't hold a plank.  If that's the case, do planks until you can hold a rock solid plank for :30 seconds.  With the body saw, get into a plank position and brace your abs with everything you got.  With your feet on the ab sliders, push your entire body back as far as you can while maintaining a tight midsection.  If you feel lower back pressure you went to far.  There is no right or wrong range of motion with this movement just do the best you can with no back pressure.  Perform 10-15 reps.

Primary Targeted Muscle: Abdominals

Circuit 2: 3-4 rounds with zero rest between exercises and :60 rest in between circuits.

2A) Heel elevated squat with iso-hold:  Grab something to elevate your heels a few inches (I used a couple of kids books, for those of you with older kids, text books would be better).  Using a hip's width stance, place heels on the books and the balls of your feet on the floor.  Squat to your full depth and then come up about 75% of the way, do not lock your knees.  Use a controlled tempo similar to mine in the video.  Perform 20-30 reps and then hold the bottom of the squat for 10-20 seconds to finish the set.  You should build a serious fire in your quads.  For more resistance, hold something heavy at your chest (a gallon of milk or better yet a case of beer would work just fine).

Primary Targeted Muscle: Quads

2B)  Push-up mechanical drop set:  This is basically 3 clusters of push-ups.  The first push-up is with your hands on books increasing the range of motion of each push-up.  Perform as many reps as possible with good form and move on to regular push-ups.  Do as many regular push-ups as you can with good form.  Next up is hands elevated push-ups, I used my couch but should have used something a little more firm.  These should be the easiest to do but they will feel brutal after the other 2 types of push-ups.  Modifications: If you struggle with regular push-ups, focus on the hands elevated push-ups to build strength.  Do not resort to knee push-ups, using a hand elevated push-up is far superior for core stability and keeping tension through the hips, abs and shoulders.

Primary Targeted Muscles: Chest/Anterior Deltoid/Triceps

1C) Pallof Press: Anchor the band around a doorknob and close the door with the other end of the band on the opposite side of the closed door.  Stand a few feet away and hold the band loop with both hands.  With a slight bend in the knees and body facing forward extend and lock your elbows directly in front of you.  Make sure you are bracing abs tight throughout the movement.  Stand far enough away that 12-15 reps is about all you can get with good form.  Turn your body the opposite direction and do another 12-15 reps with abs tight.

Primary Targeted Muscle: Abdominals/Obliques

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