It is perfectly possible to get a gym body without ever leaving the comfort of your own home.
Working out in the house is often cheaper, quicker and may be more efficient for you than taking time out to travel to a regular gym.
In this post, I reveal all of the most effective methods for building muscle at home in 2018.
We’ll look at the basics of how muscle building works, and then look at some different exercises you can do with no equipment other than basic free weights.
Rest & Recovery
Muscular hypertrophy (muscle growth) occurs when stressed and damaged muscles repair themselves.
Exercise beyond what a muscle is used to will cause the muscle to run out of fuel and the small elastic fibres in the muscle will develop tears.
During rest, the muscles repair themselves — and grow back ever-so-slightly larger — using nutrients taken from food.
This is why a good diet, including plenty of protein, is crucial. Without it, your body won’t have the right amino acids to repair the muscle fibres. This is why many people use protein powders — they just make such a huge difference to muscle repair and growth.
Resting is the other essential component in muscle building.
That’s why I thought I’d start this guide with this under-appreciated area of fitness. Rest is so important, and this includes getting 8 hours of sleep each night.
If the same muscles are worked constantly they just don’t get the chance to recover and rebuild. Muscles grow during recovery, not during workout: that’s science.
This is why you should follow muscle-split routines if you’re working out multiple times a week, rather than just doing a full body workout every time. However, we’ll be looking at exercises a little later in this post.
I am a firm believer that diet is a simple equation of calories in versus calories out.
Yes, there are certain foods that are more likely to increase your body fat percentage compared to others, but if you’re looking to increase your muscle mass then you will need to put on weight if you are skinny.
If you are overweight, you’ll be able to still eat at a caloric deficit (eat fewer calories than you burn each day) and increase your muscle mass.
It’s very important to make sure you are getting enough calories, carbs, protein and good fats if you are looking to bulk up to a more muscular physique.
I personally eat lots of chicken, broccoli, rice and pasta — amongst a lot of other things, of course — for attempting to increase my weight and muscle mass. I also aim to eat around 500 calories more than I am burning each day.
If I am trying to lose body fat then I cut the carbs significantly.
It’s important that you don’t try to increase muscle and burn fat at the same time, unless you are already significantly overweight.
It’s just a really inefficient way of trying to do things.
Exercises for Muscle Building At Home
For building muscle at home, we need exercises that can be done in a small space with little-to-no equipment.
Whilst you can get decent bits of workout machinery like home gyms, I appreciate that most people want to work out from home due to two things: cost and motivation.
If you pick yourself up a home gym, it’s much easier to think of routines to do as there are often at least ten different exercises you can do on each machine.
Below, I’ve got some suggestions for bodyweight workouts, free weight workouts and cardio exercises, along with ideas on some basic equipment that could take your home-built muscles to the next level.
Exercises that use your own bodyweight — a workout style known as calisthenics — are a great place to start with at home.
These exercises use no complicated or expensive equipment and will teach you to listen to your body and align your main muscle groups.
Bodyweight exercises are what give martial artists their lean toned physique, so it’s perfectly possible to achieve great muscle tone and definition this way.
Focus on your form in the following exercises for the fastest way to build up.
I’ve listed some of my favourite bodyweight exercises for the home below:
One of the best exercises to target the chest, arms, and shoulders.
The push-up needs no equipment whatsoever, and there are plenty of ways to switch it up and make things more difficult once you can easily handle the basic version.
You should try to use many different variations of push-ups; regular, wide arm, narrow arm, single arm…
…You should also mix up your timings.
Instead of regular push-up timing, try to lower for three seconds, hold at the bottom for three seconds, and then press upwards slowly for three seconds, too.
You’ll find this much more challenging, and the time-under-tension should be more beneficial for building muscle.
Try to up it to ten seconds if you’re finding that too easy!
A staple of most workouts, the simple squat is highly effective at building the legs.
Keep your back straight with a neutral spine and your chest and shoulders up. Focus on keeping your knees over your feet as they point slightly outwards, and ensure your shoulders are also aligned.
Squats can be varied massively.
Try varying how narrow or wide your legs are, or try to progress to single-leg squats.
Hailed as a miracle exercise, the plank might not be miraculous but it is a simple and very effective way of working your core.
If you can hold a plank for 1 or 1.5 minutes, you’ll really start to feel the burn in your abs.
The challenge is to build up your time.
These crunches, in which alternate knees are brought towards the opposite elbows, are a popular exercise for working the abs, obliques, and core.
Mix it up by increasing the rep count, or trying to do slower, more pronounced reps.
The burpee is a monster of an exercise that will work every part of your body, including the cardiovascular system.
It is a good addition to a circuit training workout, but if you live in a flat, your downstairs neighbours might not be impressed.
To perform a burpee start from a standing position.
Drop down, placing your hands either side of your feet then jump back into plank position.
Do a push-up then jump forward placing your feet in between your hands. From here, jump straight up, raising your hands above your head.
Free Weight Exercises
If you’ve seen great results from bodyweight exercises but would like to go further you will need to invest in some equipment. Keeping the equipment to a minimum will keep costs low, avoid clutter and keep things simple.
With these basic pieces of equipment, you can do a large number of exercises that will take you past the point you can reach with bodyweight alone.
Using free weights has the advantage that you must use your core strength to stabilise during each exercise, working on a wider range of muscles than gym machines which restrict your range of movement. You can also use your new set of weights to add difficulty to the familiar bodyweight exercises — holding a weight to your chest when you squat for example.
The following free weight exercises should give you some ideas to start building your at home free weight routine.
Lunges using bodyweight only will work your glutes, hamstrings and quads, but adding weights makes them super effective.
To lunge, hold your dumbbells with your hands hanging down at your sides. Take a long step forward with one leg, bending the front leg to 90 degrees.
The back knee should bend and graze the floor.
Work your back and biceps with the barbell row.
With an overhand grip on the bar, fold forward around 45 degrees from the waist, keeping your back straight. Raise and lower the bar vertically to the ground, keeping your elbows tucked in.
Watch your form and if you have back problems, avoid this exercise.
The deadlift is by far the most effective full-body exercise in my opinion.
It is underrated by casual gym-goers and horribly neglected.
Deadlifts will work your hamstrings, your core, lower back, biceps and more. You’ll also be likely to feel your heart racing after finishing a set.
Be extremely wary of your form when doing deadlifts as it can be easy to put your back out — ensure you don’t round your upper back. It’s better to have good form than to lift a heavier weight with bad form.
To deadlift, you need a barbell and the process is very simple — lift it off the ground until you’re stood up straight and then put it back again.
You want to have your feet under the bar and the bar itself should graze your shins on the way up.
Your back should remain extremely straight and your hip should act as a hinge to get it up and down effectively.
Dumbbell Bench Press
Lie back on your flat bench and grip a dumbbell in each hand. The dumbbells are pressed straight up in front of the shoulders until the arms are fully extended, and lowered under control, towards the armpit area.
Dumbbell bench presses will build your chest and require you to use many smaller muscles to stabilise the exercise.
If you can change the angle of the bench you’re on, you’ll be able to target different muscles. If you give the bench an incline, you’ll start to work your upper chest.
If you increase the incline even more, you’ll now be doing a shoulder exercise — shoulder press.
This exercise is very similar to the bodyweight squat you learned about above, but uses the barbell to increase the difficulty level.
Your glutes, legs, and core will all get a thorough workout from this one movement.
During the normal squat movement, your shoulder blades are squeezed to form a rest for the barbell, with the hands facing forward as they grip the barbell.
The added weight will ensure you build more muscle than using bodyweight alone.
Trust Your Body
The path to building muscle at home might get a little lonely without some support. There’s no personal trainer or gym staff to question, and no induction process to make sure you’re doing things correctly.
Our advice is to trust yourself. Take things steady and listen to your body. If something doesn’t feel right, chances are it isn’t.
If this is the case then remember to stop and check out some advice online.
There are plenty of articles and videos demonstrating how to perform most exercises.
Once you’ve checked them out, try again, slowly, with more knowledge.
It can be easy to film yourself doing exercises whilst at home – and far less embarrassing than trying to do it at the gym.
By reviewing videos, you can analyse your form against the guides you’re looking at online to ensure you’re going about things the right way.