One of the most significant challenges in undertaking a home gym training program is finding a complete range of movements you can perform with limited equipment.
It’s never been easier to find a great workout program. Hop online, find a reputable training resource, and pick from the thousands of available workouts from around the internet. But, of course, you’ve got to filter out anything that requires specialized gym equipment you don’t have in your garage or workout room. That experience can be frustrating. Just when you think you’ve found the perfect 5-day split that perfectly fits your schedule, you find one or two workouts in it calling for cable crossovers or alternating one-armed Hammer Strength presses.
My goal with this entry is two-fold: I’d like to share some of the substitutions I find to be useful when presented with movements you don’t have the equipment for, and I’m also soliciting you for your ideas. I will never claim to have thought of everything, and the purpose of this blog is to help guide people, so all sound advice is welcome.
Remember: I’m not a personal trainer! I will never give a suggestion to try something I haven’t done myself – these are all things I have tried that work for me. You may also discover that many of the changes I make are in favor of function vs. strict bodybuilding-style lifts.
Leave your suggestions in the comments, either on this page or over on Facebook.
Usually the most frustrating analogs for me to come up with when I find new workouts are lower body-related. If you use some commercial gym machines the way I used to – as complementary pieces to free-weight-based workouts – it can be a real challenge to swap them out. Sure, you did you squats, but now the program calls for heavy leg presses to finish off your glutes or seated leg extensions to get extra quad work in.
My tendency in these situations is to try to hash out what the purpose of the listed movement is, and try to replicate that movement with the equipment I have. I don’t have a leg press sled; few home or garage gyms do. But when I see “Leg Press, 5×5,” it’s fairly obvious that the plan is calling for me to put heavy resistance on my upper legs. I can achieve that with squats, changing the variation if I’ve already done back squats beforehand (wide-stance squats, front squats). Or, if I’ve already done heavy squats, I may work in some max-effort dynamic movements instead of the leg press – 5×5 broad jumps, box jumps or jump squats. If you’re leg pressing 700 pounds, of course you won’t get the exact same kind of resistance you would with a broad jump. But launching your full body weight through the air as far as you can will help you build floor-up strength and explosiveness. (And, for what it’s worth, I believe free-weight movements are always safer than anything you can do on a machine, unless you’re rehabbing an injury).
Here are a few commercial gym movements, with my substitution ideas listed for both muscle-building or athleticism/function (keep in mind I usually choose to swap out single-joint exercises for dynamic or compound lifts):
- Leg Press*:
- Muscle-building: Dumbbell lunges (forward & reverse); squat variations; split squats; wall sits
- Dynamic: Power cleans; box jumps; jump squats; broad jumps
- Leg/Quad Extensions:
- Muscle-building: Dumbbell lunges (forward & reverse) variations – weight overhead, in front, at sides; single-leg squats
- Dynamic: Box jumps; vertical leap for reps
- Hamstring Curls
- Muscle-Building: Dumbbell Leg Curls; Swiss ball or TRX lying curls; Romanian deadlift
- Dynamic: Cleans; sumo deadlifts; barbell hip thrusters; body-weight floor hip thrusters
- Seated Calf Raises
- Muscle-Building: Barbell seated calf raises (use the safety bars in the squat rack and adjustable bench, with barbell over your knees); standing barbell platform calf raises
- Dynamic: Heavy jump rope; dumbbell calf jumps
As you can see, there are options (and maybe quite a few I haven’t tried or thought to list) for when you find that nearly perfect new workout that just includes one too many machine lifts for you to do in your garage gym.
If you’ve got a suggestion for other good replacements, I’d love to hear them.
*One such suggestion comes from my friend Chris Wood, who has a wonderful replacement for the leg press. You know how I frequently make it a point to say “I’m not a personal trainer?” Well, he is a professional one. Here is his comment:
A good replacement for leg press, which is used primarily to bring heavy load under a full ROM (albeit an unnatural one) would be ‘BBW Squats’. ‘Back-Ball-Wall’ Squats can performed with a medicine ball in between your back and the wall. Put weight against the ball by leaning against it slightly and moving your feet away from the wall (always keep these parallel to the wall, perpendicular to the floor).
Squat up and down, get used to the ROM. Note that the ball will move up and down your back and you are squatting, so get used to the feeling. When you are, add weight. Have a partner give you DBs in each hand, use a weight vest, hold a DB in a Goblet Squat position, you can have a partner give you a BB and hold that in a front rack position.
This exercise will allow heavy loading and keep your knees safe, as they start behind your ankles.