If you're like a lot of people who've transitioned their workouts to their living room, basement or garage, you might be finding it hard to target the same muscles you once did when you had access to all those machines at the gym.
But the exercises below are designed to maximize strength and power by targeting muscle groups your home workouts might be neglecting. Many of the exercises will replicate the same movement patterns as the workouts you perform at the gym with minimal to no equipment.
It's important to strengthen not just your large muscles groups — quads, hamstrings, glutes, abdominals and biceps — but the smaller stabilizer muscles that surround them and their associated joints. This ensures you'll be able to perform the same compound exercises when you're back at the gym without feeling stiff and tight.
1. Resistance Band Back Squat
- Take one end of the resistance band and stand on it with feet shoulder-width apart, securing the band just under the midsole of each foot.
- Bring the resistance band over your head and rest it behind your neck on your upper back. Keep your elbows at your sides and grip the band directly in front so that your arms are positioned 90 degrees to the floor.
- Maintain this position while bending your knees, pushing back with your hips and lowering yourself to the floor. Keep a strong grip on the band to keep your torso upright while engaging your core.
- Drive through your heels to return to the starting position.
Dumbbells are a great addition to body-weight squats, but they don’t distribute the load to your back and shoulders the way resistance bands do. The above variation mimics a back squat by resting the load on your upper trapezius (upper back), while also activating your core, lats (mid-back) and rear deltoids (shoulders), which regular squats (even front squats) don't.
Keep an elevated grip (arms positioned at a 90-degree angle or above) when completing every rep. This helps to keep all the above-mentioned muscles activated and increase grip strength, since you're performing an isometric hold with the arms.
2. Y Raise Squat
- Stand on one end of a light resistance band with feet roughly shoulder-width apart. Make sure to plant your feet on top of the band.
- Extend both arms diagonally over head until positioned in a Y shape. Keep your arms in this position for the duration of the exercise and try not to bend the elbows.
- Perform a squat by bending the knees, pushing back with your hips and lowering yourself toward the floor. Push your chest out slightly to keep the band over your head.
- Drive through your heels to return to the starting point.
If overhead squats are a mainstay in your gym workouts, this exercise is a perfect swap for your home sweat sessions. Using resistance bands increases the muscular endurance of the stabilizer muscles in the shoulders, hips and core, since they support the overhead position through multiple reps. It also requires a lot of stabilization in your thoracic spine (mid-back) and ankles.
3. Stiff-Leg Dumbbell Deadlift
- Stand with feet shoulder-width apart. Hold a pair of dumbbells in an overhand position and in front of your thighs. Keep your arms fully extended and close to the body for the duration of the workout.
- Slightly bend your knees and keep them stationary while performing each rep.
- Looking straight ahead, keep your core engaged and bend over with your waist while lowering the dumbbells toward your feet.
- Lower the dumbbells until you feel a slight tension your hamstrings.
- Drive your body weight through your heels to stand back up.
Without the weight machines and barbells at the gym, the hamstrings can be an awkward muscle group to target effectively. But the stiff-leg dumbbell deadlift mimics the action of the hamstrings, glutes and lower back during a standard Romanian deadlift — just without a barbell.
By strengthening these muscles in the posterior chain (back of your body), you'll improve your posture and enhance performance for other powerlifting exercises.
4. Resistance Band Triceps Extension
- Tie one side of the band to something stationary such as a bar or railing. You can also secure one end of a longer band under your back foot.
- With your back turned, hold the resistance band with an overhand grip at both sides of your head.
- Step forward approximately 2 to 3 feet until you feel a slight resistance between the band and the railing. Your elbows should be positioned at a 45-degree angle with both fists slightly behind the head at the start of each rep.
- One foot should be slightly bent and in front of the other. This is the starting position.
- Keeping a straight posture and locking your elbows at the sides of your head, extend your arms overhead and in front of your body.
- Slowly flex them back to the starting position and repeat.
While the basic triceps dip is one of the most popular exercises for isolating and strengthening your triceps, it also puts an enormous pressure on the shoulder joints and wrists.
By using a resistance band to do overhead extensions, you can still isolate the triceps without adding extra strain on your shoulders. Plus, when you perform the exercise in the split stance, you also activate the upper trapezius, lats and core as secondary muscles groups.
5. Banded Static Lunge
- Taking one end of the resistance band, step into it with your lead leg. Keep your foot planted, straight and aligned with your knee for the duration of the workout.
- Taking the other end of the band, bring it over your head until it rests on your upper back. Keep a firm grip of the band in both hands just above the waistline.
- Take a big step backward (approximately 2 feet) with the foot not on the band until you're in a lunge. Keep your torso upright and bend both knees to lower yourself toward the floor. Allow yourself enough room so that the front knee does not pass your toes.
- As you approach the floor, drive your body weight through the heel of your front foot to stand back up.
- Continue into your next rep without moving either of your feet. Do all your reps on one side before switching legs.
Performing this unilateral (single-leg) movement with a resistance band requires more stability and coordination, since you'll need to engage your core to fight the pull of the band. You'll also have a slightly varying amount of resistance throughout the exercise due to the stretching and contracting of the band.
That's especially beneficial for beginners or anybody looking to build muscle by putting more emphasis on the major muscle groups. You're training your quads, hamstrings, glutes and calves to push a greater load from a deeper position. Executing good depth not only targets these muscles better but also works the abductor and adductor muscles significantly.
6. Resistance Band Back Row
- Take a resistance band and tie it around a stationary object like a pole or railing. Place a box or pair of dumbbells against its surface. This allows your feet to rest approximately one foot from where the band is tied, providing enough space to fully extend your legs on the mat while feeling enough resistance between your body and railing.
- Sit on the ground, keeping your legs straight, torso upright and shoulders squared forward.
- Holding the band in neutral grip with both hands, pull it toward you until the sides of your body.
- Squeeze both shoulder blades together before slowly releasing. Extend your arms back to the starting position.
It's very tough to effectively target the rhomboids (between your shoulder blades), rear deltoids (part of your shoulders) and lats (mid-back) together with minimal equipment. But the resistance band back row perfectly mimics the seated row machine at your gym.
It's important that all these muscles work together repeatedly against strong resistance, since they're responsible for maintaining good upper body posture and preventing your shoulders from pulling or hunching forward.
7. Banded Hamstring Curl
- Place a mat on the floor approximately 2 to 3 feet away from a pole or railing.
- Take a resistance band and tie one end to this object.
- Tie the other end of the band around both ankles (or just above).
- Lie face down on the mat in a pronated position.
- Shift forward until you feel some resistance between your feet and the railing.
- Keep your upper body slightly elevated by resting on your elbows. Your legs should be fully extended before starting each rep. This is the starting position.
- As you begin, flex both knees and curl both legs toward your butt simultaneously.
- Pause for a second, then slowly extend your legs back to starting position.
It can be quite challenging to focus on the posterior chain of muscles, especially the hamstrings, during home workouts. But this exercise can stand in for the hamstring curl machine at your gym with just a resistance band.
And like the machine, there's equal emphasis on the eccentric (extending) and concentric (contracting) phases. Plus, you can add it to the stiff-leg deadlift (see above) to for increase your hamstring gains.
8. Dumbbell Chest Fly
- Lie down on an exercise mat. Make sure that your back is flat against the surface and plant your heels close to the body. This will help to protect your lower back during the workout. Holding each dumbbell, Keep your arms fully extended above the chest with a neutral grip. Both palms should be facing each other. Without bending your elbows, lower your arms to the sides in a lateral direction. Lower the dumbbells until in line with your chest, 90 degrees and parallel to the floor. Push with your chest to perform the movement in reverse and return to the starting position.
If your at-home chest workouts have consisted mainly of the bench press and/or push-ups, you'll want to add in the chest fly to target not only your pectoralis major, but the stabilizers if your deltoids, biceps and triceps as well.
Unlike regular push movements, the chest fly can also opens up the chest muscles, improves range of motion, reduces tightness and upper back pain.
- Lie down on a mat facing the floor.
- Start by bringing your arms into a Y position by diagonally raising them above your head. Both palms should be facing each other.
- Perform slow reps of raising your arms up and pulse up and down for 10 seconds in this position, never letting your arms touch the ground.
- Transition into a T position with your palms facing ahead of your body.
- Perform up-and-down pulses again for 10 seconds.
- Lastly, transition into a W position by keeping your arms positioned at a 90-degree angle above your head.
- Perform 10 seconds of pulses before ending the set.
One of the culprits of poor posture is an overactive upper trapezius and an under-active lower trapezius. A weak lower trapezius can also lead to shoulder irritation and pain. This can limit your performance when doing any strength exercises where the shoulder joint is needed to assist the movement (almost all upper-body exercises).
YTWs target these muscles to maintain a strong upper body and are a good way to finish out a workout (or warm up for one).
Looking for more functional workout programs? Try out the 21 Day Bench Workout Challenge or 21 Day Squat Challenge from Ben Walker's Anywhere Fitness.