8 ways to boost strength without a gym

Young Adult Woman Exercising in Her Apartment

While going to the gym can be great for motivation and accountability, it isn’t always a realistic option for everyone. Consider some of the most common barriers that keep some of us away from the gym:

  • Lack of access to a gym close to home or work
  • Membership fees
  • Cold weather
  • Work and family obligations

And some people don’t like going to a gym—any gym—with lots of other people around.

According to Tyler Waclawski, a certified exercise physiologist for BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee, you don’t need a gym to exercise. You can boost your strength with some basic, but powerful, exercises that you can do at home without spending a lot money on equipment.

Strength-building exercises to try

Tyler Waclawski: The idea of being active often leads people to believe that they need to accomplish large goals. This could look like running a certain number of miles on a treadmill or reaching a certain weight on their bench press. While those can be great goals, they’re not required for living a healthy, active life.

Instead, try some of these exercises that you can do with a little bit of free space in your home. No equipment required, either. You’re using your own body weight to build both strength and endurance.

1. Squats

Squats work your hamstrings, quadriceps, hips and glute muscles. If you’ve ever sat down in a chair, you’ve performed the action at the heart of a squat. Spread your feet out a little wider than hip-width apart, then sink down into your heels and push your hips back. The goal is to have your thighs parallel with the ground. But you do not need to go that low if you’re just beginning or experiencing any knee pain. Make sure to keep your knees behind your toes and keep your back straight.

2. Wall-sits

A wall-sit looks like a squat that you do against a wall. Stand with your back against a wall, then bend your knees to a 90° angle and lower your body like you’re sitting in a chair. Hold, then straighten your knees and return to a standing position.

3. Push-ups

Push-ups can help you build upper body strength, as well as core strength. Some people with limited upper-body strength may find it easier to do a modified push-up. This is when they’re on their hands and knees, rather than their hands and toes.

4. Planks

Picture yourself holding a push-up position—except you’re typically balanced on your forearms, not your hands. That’s a plank. You want to keep your gaze down at the floor and don’t let your hips sag. Aim for holding the position for 10 to 30 seconds. Planks help you strengthen your core muscles, which can also help improve your posture.

5. Lunges

Lunges strengthen your leg muscles, glutes, and hips. Step one leg out in front of your body. Keep your torso straight, then bend your front knee and lower your back knee towards the ground. A variation of the lunge is the reverse lunge. You simply step backward into a standing lunge, instead of moving forward. You can also try walking lunges.

6. Calf raises

Work the calf muscles by doing calf raises. Find a step or stair that you can stand on, balancing on the balls of your feet. Hold on to a railing or handle, then drop your heels down as far as you can. Then raise up on your toes and squeeze your calf muscles.

If you do have any weights at home, you could also try:

7. Overhead shoulder press

Strengthen the muscles in your shoulders and arms with this simple exercise.  From a seated or standing position, hold a weight in both arms out to the side with your elbows at a 90° position and slowly push your hands overhead.  Hold for a moment at the top of the motion and slowly return to the starting position.

8. Forward chest press

Stand tall with one weight in both hands in front of your chest.  Slowly extend your arms and press the weight straight forward before returning to the starting position.  This exercise works muscles in the chest, shoulders, and arms.

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How to get started

Tyler Waclawski: Begin with a workout that builds a foundation of strength for most, if not all, the major muscle groups, without pushing them too hard.

Consider this sample workout plan to start with:

  • Standing marching knees: 20 total
  • Bodyweight squats: 2 rounds of 10 repetitions
  • Overhead shoulder press: 2 rounds of 10 repetitions
  • Reverse lunges: 2 rounds of 5 for each leg
  • Forward chest press: 2 rounds of 10
  • Low plank hold: 2 rounds of 20 seconds.

Try to complete your routine 2-3 times each week. You can adjust it as necessary by adding a round or two, if it starts to feel too easy, or you can remove a round if it starts to feel too challenging and you’re tempted to give up.

Make sure to include a day of rest in between workout days to let your muscles recover.

More from Tyler Waclawski on WellTuned.

Jennifer Larson

Jennifer Larson is Nashville-based writer and editor with nearly 20 years of experience. She specializes in health care and family issues.

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Get more information about specific health terms, topics and conditions to better manage your health on bcbst.com. BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee members can access wellness-related discounts on fitness products, gym memberships, healthy eating and more through Blue365®. BCBST members can also find tools and resources to help improve health and well-being by logging into BlueAccess and going to the Managing Your Health tab.