How to train with limited resources and still make progress.


‘I don’t have the time. I can’t get to the gym. The gym is always so crowded. I travel too much. I’m so tired when I get home. I don’t have a barbell/bench/reverse-hyper/monolift.’

Excuses? It is simple enough to call them that, however doing so doesn’t help us move forward.

excuses-cloudMaking progress doesn’t have to be complicated and we don’t need a gym full of expensive or fancy equipment to do so. Wraps, straps, water bottles, belts, deadlift socks, squat shoes and ab wheels all have their place and if looking good in the gym helps you look and feel better and want to hit the gym frequently, there’s nothing wrong with dropping cash on some new workout clothes every now and then. They’re just unnecessary to make progress.

Go big or go home? The only ‘all-or-nothing’ required is ‘do something’. To make progress we simply need determination, to take action and the will to be consistent.

I went to school with a friend who got jacked with a spin-lock dumbbell set, a German army rucksack and a sturdy old farmhouse chair. We always thought there was something special about that chair. It was wooden, farmhouse style with flaking white paint. We all assumed it was magical (+1 Strength, +1 Size), that the paint was infused with Dianabol or maybe Arnold sat on it once. We all wanted one. It was legendary. In time, albeit reluctantly, we came to realise that the chair was just a sturdy old chair and our friend’s strength and physique gains might have had something to do with the countless weighted dips and elevated push-ups he’d been using it for.

He did go on to train in commercial gyms and by the time he hit the heavy iron he was one of the strongest and most well conditioned ‘beginners’ to set foot in the facility.

Focus on what you can do.

No equipment? Let’s start with four basic movements.

Push-ups, Sit-ups, Dips and Squats. Pre-existing injuries aside, there’s no reason almost anyone shouldn’t  use these movements regularly and if you are unable to perform them effectively without pain, find a variation or progression and start slowly.

If you’re looking for Push-Up variations you could explore: Traditional, Wide Grip, Narrow Grip, Spider-Man, Clapping, 1 Leg, 1 Arm, Hindu, Elevated and Hand-stand, to name just a few.

This is not a full routine, just an example of a way to make progress with something. For example, with traditional Push-ups, start with 5 sets of 5 Push-ups. Do them every other day and add just one push-up to each and every set each time you do the workout.

Workout 1, Day 1 – 5 sets of 5 reps

Workout 2, Day 3 – 5 sets of 6 reps

Workout 3, Day 5 – 5 sets of 7 reps etc.

Keep going until you can hit 5 sets of 10 reps. If you stall at any point simply add a single repetition on the first set, then the second, then the third until all five sets have clean reps. For example:. 8,7,7,7,7 then 8,8,7,7,7, then 8,8,8,7,7 etc. until you get all 5 sets with 10 clean reps. Once you can do 50 push-ups total, experiment with some of the variations listed above.

I lived away from home for a period of 18 months. I knew I might struggle with time and, because I was travelling, finding a regular gym might be difficult. I packed a short standard barbell and dumbbell set (less than 50kg), a skipping rope, a cheap door mounted pull-up bar and a 16kg kettlebell.

door gymKettlebell and Skipping Rope

I managed some drop-in sessions in a couple of Crossfit facilities during that time (big shout to Crossfit Connect in Brighton who deserve a mention for their hospitality), so I did manage to get in some heavier barbell workouts here and there, however – the majority of my training was with much lighter weights in comparison to a) what I was capable of and b) what I was used to. I still made progress.

In that 18 month period I became very familiar with Javorek Complexes (which I still fall back on to this day), pistols (single leg squats) and I progressed my max strict chin from 12 to 23 reps. I performed a lot of bench dips (using a bay window seat with a barbell in my lap) and because the weights were light, I often performed super-sets or drop sets or tried to get the same amount of work done in less time. I didn’t have my usual equipment. I still made progress.

We don’t always have the facilities we desire and this is easy to use as an excuse: ‘Once I find a proper gym, I’ll get at it.’, ‘Once I have an olympic barbell I’ll focus getting stronger.’, ‘I can’t get to a gym because I’m always looking after the children.’

You can still make progress. You simply have to focus on something you can do and a way to make progress doing it.

do something clayWhere there’s a will, there’s a way. Find it.

If you’re looking into buying some home gym equipment and are stuck for choice, you might not go far wrong picking up up a spin-lock dumbbell set, a German army rucksack and a study old farmhouse chair.


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