Owning my own facility and having access to all the equipment for my clients is awesome. But that's not where I started, nor is it necessary.
In fact, the first weightroom I was exposed to was in a walk-in converted storeroom at my high school. After that it was a converted racquetball court. I'm sure most readers are familiar with this type of "gym" – the kind where none of the dumbbells match and you have weight plates from about seven different companies lying around. In fact, most of the equipment is from donations.
But in terms of what works, the physiology doesn't change based on what equipment you have. Quite simply, your gains have nothing to do with what equipment you have access to, but everything to do with the work you put in. I like to think of most of the equipment we have now as "nice to have, not need to have."
Also, every week I seem to get emails from guys who, due to work, school, or other responsibilities, need to train for a while in their home gym or basement. These guys need to get in, get out, but get the job done.
I've also noticed with interest the popularity of the recent "prison training" articles that have appeared here. It seems that right now, you guys are looking for no frills, no equipment, basic, effective workouts.
With that in mind, I've listed a few very simple, no frills workout routines that require very little equipment, will take 15-20 minutes to get done, and will hit your muscles in a way you've likely never experienced.
Workout One: Chest
I've designed a no-frills chest workout first. Why? Because no one in their right mind will ever miss a chest workout! Guys will do whatever it takes to get a chest workout in. But legs? Well, if something comes up on leg day, then missing squats is no big deal, right? But chest? Hell no.
Equipment needed: One pair of heavy dumbbells, an adjustable bench, and a dip station.
1A: Incline Dumbbell Press: As heavy as possible for 6 reps. Take 5 seconds to lower the weight each rep. No rest. Move right to 1B below.
1B: Using the same load, change to flat dumbbell presses and rep out as many as possible. This is what we call a "mechanical advantage drop set." Instead of dropping the weight and going lighter, we adjust the angle of the exercise to make it easier. No rest.
1C: Dips: Either at the dip station or between two benches. Again, just get as many reps as possible with your bodyweight. No rest.
1D: Wide Grip Push-ups: Rep out with bodyweight. If you can't get at least 15 reps, then put your knees on the floor and perform "bitch-ups" until you hit 15. If 15 reps is easy for you, then get your feet up on a bench or Swiss ball and rep out from there.
Rest two minutes and repeat.
Workout Two: Back
Equipment needed: Chinning bar, barbell in power rack.
Here's the order of exercises: Wide grip pull-ups, underhand grip chins, neutral grip chins, overhand grip inverted row (using a barbell in the power rack).
Every minute on the minute (i.e,, you start each set when the second hand is on the 12) you're going to perform a set of the first exercise to failure.
Once you can't do half the reps you did on the first set, switch to the next exercise.
So, for example:
Minute One:Wide Grip Pull-Ups – 12 reps. Rest the rest of the minute (until the second hand gets to the 12 again).
Minute Two: Wide Grip Pull-Ups – 8 reps. Rest the rest of the minute.
Continue in this manner until you can't get 6 reps of wide grip pull-ups. At this point, switch to underhand grip chins and see how many reps you get. Record this number. Continue performing one set every minute until you can't hit half the reps of the first set.
At this point, switch to neutral grip (palms facing each other) chin-ups, continue in the same manner, and then finish with inverted rows.
Once you begin the inverted rows, the rules change. Just keep going with the inverted rows until you're unable to perform a single rep.
Workout Three: Legs
Equipment needed: One pair of moderately heavy dumbbells (optional).
This routine needs to be done to be appreciated. You won't truly "get it" by reading about it.
Start the stopwatch:
1A: Squats (hold the dumbbells at your sides): Perform 24 reps, making sure to break parallel with every rep.
1B: Alternating lunges: 12 reps each leg. Make sure to use a maximal range of motion.
1C: Drop the dumbbells (unless you're psycho) and switch to alternating lunge jumps. Do 12 reps per leg. Get as high as you can and switch legs in the air. King Kong didn't just jump on your back, although it might feel like it!
1D: Squat jumps: Make sure you still get below parallel and get off the floor as high as you can. Perform 24 reps.
Stop the clock! You should be under two minutes for the set.
Rest half the time it took you to complete the circuit and then repeat it. Cursing me and my entire Scottish heritage is normal at this point. If you're able to complete the entire circuit in under 90 seconds, then start doing two circuits back to back.
Workout Four: Total Body Complexes
This workout hits every muscle in your body, but is actually more of a metabolic workout than a direct muscle-building workout. We use this type of workout quite often as a finisher, especially with some of our combat athletes. It's also just a great ass-kicker, and it's popular with my overworked staff if they need to get a workout in and have only a short amount of time to do it.
Equipment needed: A barbell with plates (moderately heavy).
Perform the following complex. (A complex is literally a giant set where you don't put the bar down between exercises.)
The Power Clean
Here's where we get nasty:
Perform 6 reps of each (48 total reps). It should take about 60 seconds. Rest 90 seconds, then perform 5 reps of each; rest 90 seconds, 4 reps of each; rest 90 seconds, 3 reps of each; rest 90 seconds, 2 reps of each; rest 90 seconds, and then do 1 rep of each.
The entire workout should take about 12 minutes, not counting the time you spend sobbing like a little girl in a frilly dress.
Sometimes life gets in the way of your workouts. If that happens, move to plan B and slot in one of the workouts above. Simple, time efficient, and brutally effective.