Jake Boly: Building Muscle and Strength At Home (Podcast)

If you’re training in powerlifting or weightlifting, nothing can perfectly replicate the stimulus of a barbell. But smart at-home training with minimal or no equipment CAN make an impact. And in an extended period away from the gym, many athletes can actually add muscle mass and improve their mobility. 

BarBend Fitness Editor Jake Boly joins the show to talk about strategies to preserve gains and even improve your lifting patterns while at home, using common household items and or just a few pieces of exercise equipment. 

In this episode of the BarBend Podcast, David Thomas Tao and Jake Boly cover:

  • Am I going to lose my gains?! (2:06)
  • Why we’re not going to lose as much as we think (3:50)
  • Working on positional stability and mobility during time away from the gym (6:30)
  • Building resistance at home with household objects (9:00)
  • Back training at home (11:15)
  • Training frequency with bodyweight exercises (15:20)
  • Entry-level items for home fitness (and while Jake would start with a kettlebell) (16:55)

Relevant links and further reading:


Jake BolyJake Boly

It’s OK to be a little bit selfish and mad about it, but at the end of the day, it’s up to us to be creative and to make something out of nothing, especially if we have no equipment at home.


I think this is a time that’s really unique because as athletes, as lifters, as people who genuinely love to train, we’re presented with a unique opportunity to take a step further out of our comfort zone, to still work towards adaptations we want, still work on weaknesses that we know are present when we don’t have a lot.

David TaoDavid Tao

Welcome to the “BarBend Podcast” where we talk to the smartest athletes, coaches, and minds from around the world of strength. I’m your host, David Thomas Tao, and this podcast is presented by barbend.com.


Today on a special at-home fitness episode of the BarBend Podcast I talk to BarBend’s fitness editor Jake Boly about strategies, movements, and workouts you could do to stay strong when stuck at home, or anywhere with minimal equipment.


We talk about which bodyweight movements can provide the maximum bang for your buck when it comes to hypertrophy, along with how to modify common household items for use as fitness equipment. We also touch on bodyweight workout frequency, modifying bodyweight movements for extra challenges, and how to incorporate mobility into your daily routine while working from home.


Also, we’re incredibly thankful that you listen to this podcast. If you haven’t already, be sure to leave a rating and review of the BarBend Podcast in your app of choice. Now let’s get to it.


On this very special episode of the BarBend Podcast, which we are recording remotely like most people around the world, I’ve got our fitness editor Jake Boly. We’re going to be talking about gains and fitness at home, when maybe you can’t get access to a gym, like a lot of people are facing right now.


Jake, the question on everyone’s minds, I can’t get to the gym, I have to train at home. Am I going to lose my gains?

Jake BolyJake Boly

I think that’s a really loaded question because I think it’s how we define gain. That’s a topic I’ve been talking actually to a lot of my clients about, and they’re panicking about. They’re like, “Oh, no. All the progress we’ve made. We’re going to lose it.” I think we all need to accept that, yeah we are going to lose a little bit of our strength.


We’re all going to lose a little bit of size if we’re not training to the same capacity in which we were before. A lot of us don’t have home gyms, so we’re not getting that same neural stimulation on top of what we were loading the muscle and the body with before. Are we going to lose gains? Yes.


I think we can be creative in the sense of how we’re using our time efficiently at home, and how we’re loading the body, and trying to deter the rate at which we’re losing it, and just thinking about adaptations in a different way.


I think when people say losing gains, they only associate those gains being with strength gains made, and not necessarily maybe focusing on stability aspects, cardiovascular aspects, all of the things that you can train at home still.

David TaoDavid Tao

I think too when we talk about losing gains, we’re talking about a very elite level of athlete, maybe the competitive powerlifter, or a weightlifter, or someone like that. I think for a lot of folks who might not be at that elite level, they might not see a decrease in gains at all.


In fact, they might actually be able to make gains while they are training from home, especially if they still have some beginner adaptation left in them. What do you think about that?

Jake BolyJake Boly


I completely agree, and I think that’s a lot of the point I’ve been trying to get across at least, hopefully.

David TaoDavid Tao

To your clients who are upset and just coming to you desperately, “Help, help.”

Jake BolyJake Boly

Seriously. No. I think that’s what it really comes down to. I think coaches and trainers can do a better job on social right now, in making it known that, a lot of us aren’t going to lose as much as we think. We might have to change our training to a large degree.


We might not be able to get that same level of excitement as a heavy barbell gives us, but at the same time, I don’t think we’re going to see as much drop off as we think, especially if we get creative with our training. Again to your point, if you are a strength athlete and dedicated to one sport if you’re not training that specificity for that sport, then yeah you are going to lose a little bit.


Once you’ve gotten to that level before, it becomes a lot easier to get back. You have to remember that the more elite you are, the faster you tend to lose. For those, like you said, who are meddling around in the beginner or let’s call them intermediate phase, they’re not going to really lose too much, especially if they’re not really dedicated to just one sport.

David TaoDavid Tao

I’ve seen a lot of coaches online, and actually a lot of the content we’ve been producing on BarBend since a lot of people started going into self-isolation or practicing social distancing, is focused on hypertrophy. It’s higher rep ranges on bodyweight movements for things people can do at home. It’s a lot of time under tension. You’ll see that acronym TUT used a lot.


I know it’s something you use in your clients, in the content you produce. Do you think that we are going to see more and more strength athletes focusing on that at home hypertrophy work, as opposed to the progressive overload lower replate ranges that they might be used to utilizing for a competition prep cycle?

Jake BolyJake Boly

100 percent. I think that really comes down to just equipment limitation, too. When you have limited ways to externally load the body, hypertrophy is often the first thing that gets segued into. It’s like, “OK. I know how to get stronger. I know how to get more powerful. I know how to grow. How do I facilitate that if I don’t have much equipment?”


Often, when equipment is gone, power and strength kind of go out the window because you need equipment to train those efficiently especially if you are more of a bit of, let’s call it, elite level. Yeah, I think hypertrophy is going make a big cake. Hopefully, we’ll come out of self-isolation nice and juicy.

David TaoDavid Tao

Some people have been saying this. Actually, it could be the best thing for some strength athletes when it comes to longevity because people are cooking at home, they’re eating healthier, they’re better able to track their macros, they’re working on hypertrophy and mobility.


Everyone’s going to come out feeling great having nursed those lagging injuries, and ready to set a ton of PRs. A year after the age of social distancing, we’re just going to see people looking better on the platform than ever. Would you agree with that?

Jake BolyJake Boly

I, 100 percent, agree. One of the big things I’ve been working on now is just working on positional stability. My tight hips limit me in a lot of ways. Doing a lot of [inaudible 6:45] squats, for example, or classic squat, like lateral lunges, and really focusing on being able to create stability in some of these positions that I’m not so friendly with working with, especially when I have a barbell readily available.


I think it’s going to force a lot of athletes to finally address areas that they’ve been neglecting. It’s not that they’ve been meaning to, and it’s not that it’s always ignorance, but I do think it’s tougher at times to focus on some of these, let’s call them, boring aspects of training when you do have a playground of weights in front of you.

David TaoDavid Tao

 One thing I want to ask, Jake, you’re a competitive powerlifter and you have a knowledge base around across all strength sports, but powerlifting is what you actively compete in yourself. What are some movements that you are finding yourself going to for at-home training most readily right now?

Jake BolyJake Boly

Right now, I’ve been playing around with assisted isometrics and eccentrics. I think those are super great. Honestly, when you only train the big three for so long, you have to be a little bit more creative with your at-home workouts because nothing really is the same.


We have pushups, we have squats, that are similar to squat, and, obviously, bench press. When it comes to creating a high demand on the muscles, how do we do it, especially when we don’t have a barbell? One of the ways I’ve been playing around with is having a friend take a towel or a pillowcase, and I’ll assume a prone position.


I’ll lay flat, and then I’ll do hamstring curls with them holding against that. Then I’ll do isometrics, where I’m maximally contracting while they’re pulling against. That’s been an awesome way, in my mind, to soak up some of that contraction that I might not be getting from some of the other bodyweight movements that are unweighted, and so forth.


That’s one way I’ve been trying to still match the high demand my body wants and craves, but also just understand that I’m not going to be able to do it in the same way.

David TaoDavid Tao

What are some weighted implements that you’ve been using around? You live in New York City, so you might not have access to as much space as a lot of people who might be stuck at home and might have a full house or something. What are some weighted implements or adaptations you’ve looked to for resistance when it comes to household objects?

Jake BolyJake Boly

Oh, totally. I’ve successfully hoarded 70 cases of toilet paper, so I’ve just been moving that around my apartment. No.


One of my favorite ways to create an external load especially when you don’t have equipment, like myself, is taking a backpack and just filling it with stuff. For me, it’s books. I can get that thing, like 20-ish pounds, 30-ish pounds, I would guess. For me, that’s pretty good when it comes to working through tempoed movements or working through unstable positions.


That’s one way that I think is really easy that everybody can essentially do. Obviously, if you have lighter human beings around, you can lift them. People joke about that but it’s actually a pretty great way of externally loading the body in some ways.


Those are my two go-tos especially if you do not have weight vests, dumbbells, kettlebells, or any other form of weights laying around.

David TaoDavid Tao


One thing that I’ve seen you reference that is definitely underestimated in just normal training, the Bulgarian split squats. Fill a backpack with some books, find a chair to elevate that rear leg, and do some real tough high rep sets of Bulgarian split squats. I know it’s not a heavy back squat, but it sure is going to feel like it the next day, right?

Jake BolyJake Boly

100 percent. Also, if you want to take it up a notch even more at a tempo and then add one-and-a-half rep in there. Form that full rep, come up halfway, contract, go back down, and then come back up. I can burn from those just doing body weight, let alone even loading the body at all.


Little things like that. That’s where people can really start to dive into their creative training brain. When you have nothing in front of you but you need to get somewhere, how are you going to do it? It’s using these little tricks that I think are going to make or break a lot of athletes.


You’re going to see which coaches are willing and able to adapt, versus those who just sit in the sand and don’t have any idea what to do once they don’t have their unlimited list of resources in front of them.

David TaoDavid Tao

We know that the squat is something you can do at home with just your body weight or minimal equipment adaptations on leg exercises. The bench press, push-ups, variations on push-ups, at home dips using chairs and other implements, it’s something we’re seeing people produce a lot of content around.


The one muscle group people are freaking out more about than any other is the back. How do you work out your back when you don’t have a pull-up bar at home? Some people do have pull-up bars.


They might have one installed, they might have one of those that you jimmy into a doorway or something like that, or they might have dumbbells or kettlebells where they can do rows. Let’s talk about some strategies for exercising the back musculature with minimal equipment. What are your thoughts there?

Jake BolyJake Boly

That’s always the challenge, especially if you do not have a pull-up bar which stinks because I do not have one either. Some things that I’ve been doing are inverted rows on a table or other stable surfaces that are not going to topple down. Obviously check to make sure whatever you’re performing your inverted row on is stable before doing so.


You can have a friend hold a wobbly desk down and have you do it on the end of that, or you can do things like grabbing the towel, placing it around let’s say a beam or a banister that’s pretty sturdy and doing more of let’s call them like a TRX inverted row. Where you can lean, and you could pull that way.


You can find a tile or a hardwood floor that you can slide it on, place a towel on the ground, then what you’ll do is you’ll lay prone on the ground. Bring the chest up slightly, put the hands out in front of you, as if you’re making a touchdown on a platform, then you’ll pull yourself up thinking about really driving those lats down.


Similar to how you do a rope pull-down when you’re standing up trying to focus on a little bit of lat contraction. Obviously it’s not going to be the same as loading up a heavy barbell and performing deadlifts, but those are some ways you can help the back. You can also try doing the elbow push-ups.


When you lay on your back, you drive the elbows down and you squeeze the ROM voids to create a slight lift with the upper back. If you have another human being, you can perform some form of good morning, or some other form of actually lifting the human off the ground and doing some modified RDL or deadlift work.


If you really want to focus on the glutes and the lower back, you can lay on a more firm surface. I wouldn’t recommend using a bed for this, but you can, but doing a reverse hyper almost in lifting those legs up, causing a nice level of contraction on the glutes and lower back, or the glutes for that matter and not lower back.


The back is tough because if you are limited to weight, there’s not so much you can do when trying to match that same load you would get from a barbell on a deadlift, but there are ways you can train around it.


I just think it’s going to come down to most accepting that if you do train the deadlift a lot and your deadlift is very strong, you’re likely going to lose a little bit of strength there, but it will come back once we’re out of isolation.

David TaoDavid Tao

When it comes to just a few other ideas I want to throw out for back workouts, we actually just published a piece on BarbBend. One of our contributors, Jay Polish had some really, really good ideas for how to train the back with minimal equipment at home. I love all those ideas you presented, Jake.


What I want to throw out there is, if you’re loading a backpack full of books, if you can get up to 20, maybe 25 pounds, you can do some high rep bent-over rows and other mid-back accessories there, potentially, depending [laughs] on how many books you have and the stability or strength of your backpack.


Some other ideas that Jay Polish had in this article that we just published on BarBend, superman’s, reverse snow angels. If you check out the article on BarbBend, just google BarbBend plus reverse snow angels, we’ll show you what those are.


Cat-cows for some T-spine mobility, inch worms, and then another one that I thought was really good that you’ll see in a lot of CrossFit classes, but it’s something that none CrossFitters might not be as familiar with wall walks for good shoulder stability, core activation, and also definitely some back and lat activation.


If you do wall walks under fatigue or if you’re doing a high number of reps, you’re definitely going to feel that lat that upper back engagement. Just some more ideas for back exercises at home from contributors over at the BarBend team.


Jake the next question I wanted to ask you about was workout frequency. if you’re not lifting heavyweight, if you’re doing more time-under-tension high rep, hypertrophy based, body-weight based workouts at home, is that changing the frequency with which most people will be able to train?

Jake BolyJake Boly

Yes, It’s tough because with bodyweight training and limited resources, it’s tough to gauge when you are reaching a point of real fatigue or even soreness or leading into an area that murkies the water of when you should actually take it into recovery.


Because a lot of these times it’s how intense some of these athletes’ trainers look to restrain. Bodyweight training is going to take a sick amount of frequency to get to the same levels. When it comes to frequency, we should all up it a little bit.


This doesn’t mean that you’re upping your frequency in the sense of how long you usually work out, but maybe just shorter bouts more sporadically throughout the day. You need to do two or three little mini-workouts throughout the day just to keep moving, especially if you are homebound.


Also, if you’re going to do a little bit more of a longer workout, upping the rate at which you do it so four or five times a week is usually good. Obviously, scale your frequency based on how you’re feeling. If you’re feeling run-down, if you’re feeling excessively sore take a day of rest, no fault there.


Frequency should be upped a little bit just based on the rate in which we’re probably going to be loading. If we’re not loading as heavily, then we can train a little bit more frequently, especially if we are not doing as much throughout our day, and we’re a little bit more inactive sitting at home working.

David TaoDavid Tao

That makes a lot of sense. Now, let’s talk about equipment. Obviously, we’re talking about a lot of these movements as if you have basically no dedicated workout equipment at home. What are some entry-level items that people might be able to order for home fitness that might be good to have and that they could build workouts around without breaking the bank?


What’s the first thing if you had a budget of call it $50 or so you would order to be able to strength train and do some of these hypertrophy workouts at home?

Jake BolyJake Boly

100 percent, I would order a kettlebell. For anyone who’s going to go looking for one, good luck because Amazon is actually is close to being sold out. I was searching last night actually. There weren’t a lot of options, which is freaky.


I’m sure all the home gym fitness companies are just clapping their hands selling out of all their equipment, but kettlebell for sure because you can do everything you want to do with a dumbbell with a kettlebell for the most part.


You have the added benefit of being able to do swings. You have the added benefit of being able to do bottoms-up movement, which is going to work on stabilizers of any movement and so far. Kettlebell would always be my first bet.


Then, if you want a dumbbell or a pair of dumbells would be great or resistant bands, maybe even a weight vest, but I would always go with kettlebell as my number one. What about you?

David TaoDavid Tao

Yes. I’m looking that I have a few kettlebells at home. I have a set of dumbbells at home. Weirdly, my dumbbells are 27.5 pounds. I don’t know why I ordered that strange weight increment. They’re not heavy enough to feel like they’re heavy, but they’re not light enough to feel light.


It’s just I ordered the wrong weight increment. My 24-kilogram kettlebell is getting a lot of work right now. Even before we knew where we were going into virus lockdown, I had challenged myself to do 10,000 kettlebell swings in March. I’m still keeping at that. The timing probably couldn’t have been better.


A few people have reached out to me about, “Hey, what do you think the one piece of workout equipment I should get is?” It’s definitely kettlebell before anything else if you’re looking for at-home fitness.


The range of movements you can do, goblet squats, bottoms-up work like you said, rose, swings, snatches, overhead, windmills. My windmill game is getting much better. Definitely, something I probably should’ve been working on with a little more frequency than I’m doing now, but yeah, kettlebell. If you’re having trouble finding a kettlebell, we do have some great content in the BarBend.


If you google BarBend plus kettlebell or BarBend plus bell, best kettlebells, we have an article that Jake put together about a lot of good sellers of kettlebells, just trying to find the best feature. If you’ve got maybe smaller hands, if you’ve got a floor that isn’t the best place to rest on all metal kettlebell, what are the rubber-coated options?


We highlight a few different places you could buy kettlebells. Not to guarantee that anything is going to be available because you’re definitely right, Jake. A lot of these workout equipment is selling out fast. Let’s talk about mobility a little bit. What is your strategy for addressing and prioritizing mobility during this period of social distancing?

Jake BolyJake Boly

I’ve been trying to implement some form of mobility every hour, every hour and a half, and that is like holding a bodyweight squat in the hole for a couple of minutes at a time.


I’ve been trying to work through that lateral lunges a little bit more, doing a lot of thoracic mobility. That’s been just because we’re Internet people. We work on the Internet all day long. I’ll sit down all day. I will be so tight before I go to bed. It’s just a repeated process for the next day since we don’t even know when we’re going to be out of the social isolation.


For mobility work, I’ve come up with a string of three to five movements that I’ve been trying to do every hour. I get up and I’ll do bodyweight squats, pushups, something a little bit to get the blood moving.


Once I work through those, I’ll do a little bit of mobility work depending on the areas that I feel tight. That’s usually around my packs from typing all day and then around my hip flexors because we sit all day and so forth.


With mobility work, if you want to get extra work in on top of the extra frequency your bodyweight training, I would say create a time focus goal, create a string of three to five movement that you would want to perform and improve on, and then work on trying to hammer those in.


Every time you do them, get a little bit better. It helps you check in with your body too throughout the day, and just to see how you’re feeling and how you’re moving.

David TaoDavid Tao

Yeah, definitely a good way to combat some of the tightness and poor positioning that might come from working from home. Well, those are my questions that I had for you, Jake. We want to keep this nice and short. A little extra something to get folks motivated who might be stuck at home without equipment and still want to stay active and fit.


Anything else you might say that to that crowd, people who might not be able to go out to the gym right now, people who might be a little cloistered up in the age of social distancing however long that lasts?

Jake BolyJake Boly

Yeah. The main thing that I have to keep reminding myself and my clients is that it does suck. It’s OK to be a little bit selfish and mad about it. At the end of the day, it’s up to us to be creative and to make something out of nothing, especially if we have no equipment at home.


This is a time that’s unique because as athletes, as lifters, as people who genuinely love to train, we’re presented with a unique opportunity to take a step further out of our comfort zone to still work towards adaptations. We want to still work on the weaknesses that we know are present when we don’t have a lot.


This is a really interesting time because, one, we don’t have an idea of the timeline of the scope of what’s going to happen with the social distancing. That being said, get comfortable with the idea of being uncomfortably stuck inside.


Time to get creative with this stuff. It stinks and it’s not ideal obviously, but what are we going to do? We’ve got to keep moving. We’ve got to keep progressing.

David TaoDavid Tao

Yeah, doing something at home is better, certainly, than doing nothing at home. Jake, thanks so much for joining me. Really excited to publish this and continue publishing some at-home and accessible fitness content for folks who are needing it, who might get a lot out of it. I appreciate you taking the time.

Jake BolyJake Boly


Thank you. It was a pleasure.