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How to grow muscle with limited equipment.

If you’ve ever skipped a gym session because you’re travelling, short on time or simply can’t access the gym (perhaps because of a COVID-19 lockdown) then you’re certainly not alone.


Being able to go to the gym is a privilege but it is also a sacrifice of your time and the fact of the matter is that despite your best intentions to manage time effectively it’s inevitable that occasionally factors outside of your control will interfere with your ability to get your session in.


When your plans are interrupted it’s likely you may try to shift your training days around to accommodate the clash, i.e bring your rest day forward or go for a run instead. This is a great solution to ensure you maintain daily movement habits but still relies on the gym environment to complete resistance training.


Problems arise when the factor limiting your access to the gym extends across a number of dedicated training days - COVID-19 lockdowns is the perfect example with gyms in some Australia's states under shutdown orders for 12+ weeks.


The good news - a resistance training session that is sufficiently stimulating to achieve muscle growth can still be achieved with minimal equipment and bodyweight movements.


Central to achieving muscle hypertrophy is the application of progressive overloading techniques that incrementally increases the stimulus applied to a muscle, thus forcing the muscles to adapt to the stress. In the context of the gym the most popular way to do this is by increasing the weights used week on week, however this isn’t an option with only one set of dumbbells or your bodyweight.


Fortunately there are other techniques that can be incorporated into your programming that apply the principle of progressive overloading without the reliance on equipment.


PRINCIPLE 1: Tempo training to increase time under tension

Tempo training focuses on increasing the overall “Time Under Tension – TUT” that a muscle is placed under by enforcing parameters that control the speed with which a subject moves through a repetition. Frequently increasing the ‘TUT’ will therefore allow you to progressively overload your lifts without having to increase the load (weight). Tempo training is also a useful method for learning control in movement patterns and can be used as an essential tool for breaking through lifting plateaus.


PRINCIPLE 2: Increasing repetitions and sets

Increasing the volume of reps and sets is a simple way to increase the volume week on week that you are applying to a specific muscle group. Traditionally the easiest way to do this is to increase the reps per set by one each week with the intention of still being able to work within the ideal muscle building rep ranges of 10-15 per set.


PRINCIPLE 3: Decreasing rest periods

Decreasing the rest time between sets in essence, will require you to complete the same amount of work in less time. Reducing your rest will also require you to become more metabolically efficient, as a result, improvements on your overall work capacity will be made. Increases in your work capacity will allow you to work through more sets and reps in less time, therefore increasing overall volume.


If you’d like to learn more about designing a program that incorporates progressive overloading techniques with minimal equipment be sure to check out the minimal equipment program.




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