Weight lifting in a well equipped gym can drive huge changes in your body composition, tone, strength and athletic performance, more so than in most home gyms or boot camp situations. Whether you use a full gym or a few pieces of equipment at home, you can get a great workout with the basics: push, pull, squat.
Barbells, weight plates, and other specialized equipment give you much more opportunity to progress and improve over a period of time than improvised workouts with less equipment.
However, someday you will likely find yourself in a position to need a quick and dirty full body workout with minimal equipment. Voila! Here you go.
Weight Training with Minimal Equipment
This video was filmed at Hyde Park Gym in Austin, Texas, but can be done almost anywhere, including hotel and home gyms. Video by Becca Ewing.
Push, Pull, Squat
Pick an upper body push, upper body pull, and squat movement. I suggest the pushup, bent over row (if you have one dumbbell or kettle bell), and the squat.
Do each exercise 10-20 times, then repeat the whole circuit 3-5 times. Obviously, if you are stronger and more conditioned, you will do more rounds. However, your reps will depend on the weight available to you in relation to your strength.
Do these from your feet! No knees, no matter who you are! Pushups from your feet!
Place hands shoulder width under chest, not neck/face
Brace your whole body! Squeeze lats (under your armpit), abs, glutes, and legs
Take a big breath and hold it. (Unless you have high blood pressure, in which case, continue reading.*) Bend at the elbow, and press back up. Exhale and inhale at the top. Do not reach with your neck or chin! Reach with your chest.
Modification #1 – If Pushups are Hard (for Now)
If pushups are tough for you to start with, follow the above instructions for the descent, then lower your knees to the ground to press back up. Repeat.
TRY one first though! You might be surprised that you can do a couple!
If your pushups need work, here’s a great how-to on how to get a pushup!
Modification #2 – If You Need Extra Challenge
If you are knockin’ out the pushups from your feet and either don’t feel challenged by 10-20, or want a greater challenge for 10 reps, elevate your feet. All other instructions are the same. You can do this from a tire, park bench, stairs. Be creative!
Bent Over Row
Tripod yourself with staggered feet and one hand supporting yourself on a stable object about a foot in front of you. Grab your kettle bell or dumbbell, and row it by pulling your elbow toward the ceiling.
Brace your back into a very flat, neutral position.
Keep a lot of space between your shoulder and your ear. No shrugging.
Imagine your elbow is being pulled toward the sky
Pull your wrist past your torso elbow level, not up by your chest. Think of your arm from the elbow down as just an attachment. Focus on your back rather than your biceps.
Your shoulder can move toward the ground and away, but never up toward your ears. Focus on a big squeeze around your shoulder blade as you row, and at the top. Push your chest toward the ground.
Do your first round of squats with no extra weight. Stand tall, take a deep breath in, and send your hips behind you. Remember:
Pull your shoulders back and down. Tighten your midback but not to the point of flared ribs.
Stand with your weight heavy in your heels.
Break at the hips first, and send your hips behind you.
Keep heels flat and knees wide.
Do NOT dive bomb your squats! Even if you move fast, control the descent!
Powerfully drive up. Drive and finish with your hips.
Related: If you are lifting, how much protein do you really need to eat?
To make your squats more challenging, hold a dumbbell or kettlebell at your chest. Remember all of the above points while keeping your hands under the weight on your chest and the weight on your chest.
When you are holding weight while you squat, you’ll find it helpful to take a big deep breath, brace your core, squat, and then exhale and inhale at the top between reps.*
*Holding Your Breath
For most of your lifts, you will be stronger and more stable if you take a big deep breath before the lift, brace tightly, lift, then inhaled and exhale between reps. This is because holding your air in increases thoracic pressure and makes you more stable. When you are more stable, you can generate more pressure, and that means you can exert more pressure.
Also, as in the case of pushups, if your body is like a tight plank, it will be easier to move than if it were like a wobbly noodle.
The caveat is if you have high blood pressure. In this situation, you should breathe evenly throughout the lift to maintain safe pressure levels.
Push, Pull, Squat!
Go try this workout! It is simple but effective, and can be quick and fun. Do a round, rest a minute or two, and do it again. Not done by 5? Do more!
Email me – tell me what kind of equipment you used and how it was challenging. Have fun lifting!
About the author
Kathryn Alexander is a strength coach and personal trainer in Austin, Texas. She loves hiking, college football, and the feel of a perfectly knurled barbell. Read more about Kathryn here.