3 At Home Exercises EVERY Lifter Should Do (Plus a Program!)

How an elite powerlifter stays in shape at home!

Okay, let’s face facts: you’re probably not going to have a lot of gym access this month. Hopefully, you have a nice home setup where you can still squat, bench press, and deadlift. But let’s say you’re not quite so fortunate, and you’re stuck doing bodyweight training. Does that mean you’re SOL? Of course not! You’ll just need to be a bit more creative and flexible.

In fact, if your goal is related to aesthetics or general fitness, you could even benefit from some time away from barbell movements. It’ll give your joints and mind a rest from the strain of heavy weights, and you can still progress using other forms of resistance training.

pistol squat
thedesailifestyle/Shutterstock

Of course, if you’re a competitive powerlifter, there’s no real substitute for the competition lifts, but by training the major muscle groups involved in those movements, you can maintain most or all of your strength during a month-long gym layoff.  You’ll still need some time to practice your technique before you’re up and rolling 100% when gyms reopen, but it’s a lot easier to do so if you’ve stayed strong in the meantime.

So, without further ado: here are my top 3 movements to hammer at home.

Instead of the Bench Press, Perform Pushups

Look, you already know all the benefits of a pushup. They’re pretty much a global go-to, for everyone from your basic weekend warrior to your “hardcore” Westside advocate.

If you do need a primer on the push-up, BarBend has you covered with their push-up guide.

Instead, I’d like to focus on push-up progressions.  After all, if you’re just doing set on set of endless reps, you’re training more for muscular endurance than for size and strength.  Fortunately, it’s easy to make the pushup more challenging. Here’s the progression of my choice:

  • Begin by doing sets for as many reps as possible, aiming to accumulate 100 reps in as little time as possible each training session.
  • Once you can work up to 100 reps in less than about 10 minutes, start trying to hit more reps per set. 10×10 is a good place to start out, and from there, slowly try to progress to 5 sets of 20, then 4 sets of 25, and finally 3 sets of 30-35.
  • When you can do sets of more than 25 reps in a row, it’s time to get progressive. Start by adding mini bands (probably the lightest bands you’ll find) and drop to 10-15 reps per set.  Keep the rest of the progression format the same.
  • Once you can do sets of 25 with the mini bands, jump up to light bands and repeat the process.

By the time you’re doing sets of 30+ reps using a light band, either quarantine rules will be relaxed or you’ll be an absolute beast.

If you want to continue using pushups as a core movement (which I do recommend), you can always continue to increase the difficulty by trying different variations such as close grip pushups, elevated/stretch pushups, or even clapping pushups.

Build Your Back Strength With Banded Chins

The chin and pull-up are about as ubiquitous as the pushup, so again, I won’t waste time rehashing the benefits of these movements.  If you need a refresher, be sure to check out this pull-up guide.

In contrast to push-ups, we’ll actually use bands to make these easier by helping out of the bottom position.  I strongly recommend that you always perform very strict chins or pull-ups to prevent unnecessary strain on the shoulder and rotator cuff, so even if you’re able to crank out sets of 10 using a little body English, I still advise starting out with the band and keeping all of your reps clean.

Again, I do have a progression I prefer for chins and pull-ups:

  • Begin with banded chins, and, just like with pushups, performing sets for as many reps as possible. This time, I suggest working up in sets of 5 until you can accumulate 50 total reps in about 7 minutes.
  • From there, start increasing reps per set, aiming for an eventual 3-4 sets of 15-20 reps.
  • Reduce the band tension until you can do those 3-4 sets of 15-20 reps in strict form without using a band.

Test Your Limits With Pistol Squats

Finally, by far the most challenging core bodyweight movement: the one-legged or pistol squat. Besides requiring a ton of leg strength, this movement also requires a ton of balance and mobility, but I firmly believe that it carries over quite well to the traditional barbell back squat.

I’d be willing to bet that, like me, many of you will struggle to perform even one clean pistol squat.  If that’s the case, here’s my recommendation:

  • Begin by just performing bodyweight squats, using a post or a band for support if necessary. (“Support” means that it’s okay to use the post or band to actually help pull yourself out of the bottom position). Just do as many reps as possible; don’t shoot for any particular target numbers just yet.
  • When a bodyweight squat is pretty easy, go ahead and switch to one leg using the movement cues in the article linked above, again using as much support as needed.  You’re still just trying to get a feel for the movement.
  • When you can perform sets of 10 passable reps with one leg, gradually start to reduce the amount of support you’re using, until you don’t need it at all.

For a muscular guy weighing over 200 pounds or so, even a single pistol squat is pretty impressive, and developing the balance and strength to perform one will almost certainly benefit you when it’s time to return to the gym!

Other Exercises to Consider

As I’m sure you’re aware, there are plenty of other movements you can perform using just bodyweight and resistance bands.  Here are a few of my favorites:

  • Pushdown
  • Curl
  • Lateral Raise
  • Upright Row
  • One-Arm Row
  • Pullover
  • Leg Curl
  • Leg Extension

One way you might combine these with the above “major” movements into a routine could be something like the following.

Three Day At-Home Workout Program

Day 1 – Push

  1. Pushup progression
  2. Lateral Raise/Upright Row superset: 5 total rounds of max reps
  3. Pushdowns: accumulate 200 reps in as few sets as possible=

Day 2 – Pull

  1. Chin/Pull-up progression
  2. Pullover: 4 sets of 20 reps
  3. Curl/Reverse Curl superset: accumulate 100 reps of each in as few sets as possible

Day 3 – Legs

  1. Pistol progression
  2. Leg Extension/Walking Lunge superset: 3 rounds of 20 extensions followed by 20 steps per leg on lunges
  3. Leg Curl – 5 sets of 20 reps

I would use the following on a six-day rotation (Push/Pull/Legs/Repeat/Off) also train abs and do some light cardio (30-45 minutes total) every day. I think that would be a great way to maintain body composition and strength until you can get back in the gym!

Feature image from Microgen / Shutterstock

Ben Pollack

Ben Pollack

Ben Pollack is a professional powerlifter and holds the all-time world record raw total of 2039 in the 198-pound class. He has won best overall lifter at the largest raw meets in the world, including the US Open, Boss of Bosses, and Reebok Record Breakers.

Ben earned his Ph.D. in the history and management of strength and fitness from the University of Texas at Austin in 2018, and has published articles in a number of scholarly publications, including The Journal of Sport History, The Journal of Sport Management, and Iron Game History: The Journal of Physical Culture. He also coaches strength athletes of all skill levels, including several internationally-elite powerlifters and world record holders. You can contact Ben through his website (phdeadlift.com) or via email at [email protected]

1 thought on “3 At Home Exercises EVERY Lifter Should Do (Plus a Program!)”

  1. Awesome Ben – relieved to hear that even seasoned powerlifter like yourself struggles with a pistol squat…I thought it was just me lol

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