Building Muscle Mass
February 11, 2005 7:30 AM   Subscribe

I want to gain more muscle mass and strength. I don't want to look like a bodybuilder, but I do want to look very fit. (I'm a male nearing 40.) My problem is, I don't have a good gym nearby and I live in a small apartment. I don't have room for a free weight system. Can one build the sort of body that I want without weights or a machine, simply by doing exercises (pushups, etc.)? How reasonable is that approach? If that won't work, what sort of machine should I buy that doesn't take up much real-estate space and is pleasing to the eye. (I've looked into these, but they only go up to 52lbs. Is that enough?)
posted by grumblebee to Health & Fitness (19 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
One of those Maxim-style magazines did an article on this a while ago, comparing different workout routines. Next to hiring a personal trainer, the Burpee workout got the best results.
posted by atchafalaya at 7:37 AM on February 11, 2005

Go for a set of free weights instead of a machine and a collapseable weight bench. Almost no space requirement and the machines basically try to replicate free-weight exercises anyway.

Machines make focusing on particular muscle groups brainless. But you'll get better results by doing the exercises properly with free weights. Of course, the temptation to cheat and switch postures is an obstacle when you get tired, so the focus is on "properly". And the multiple function machines are generally less beneficial that the single motion ones anyway.

You can get good results just by doing situps/pushups and tension bands, but it takes a special person. Ricky Henderson, for example, did not use weights for most of his long career. He ran, did calesthenics and stretching.
posted by Mayor Curley at 7:48 AM on February 11, 2005

I've had some success with a vigorous pushup routine, especially by varying the width at which I hold my hands, and the height of my feet. And I agree with Mayor Curley, you'll get better results from good form than from lots of weight.

I'd also say that since your goal isn't size, 52 pounds will serve you well for a while.
posted by Doug at 8:03 AM on February 11, 2005

Second the vigorous pushup & chinups, dips, and various ab work suggestions. Could you install a heavy bag in the apt? Heavy bags can be installed in such a way that they can be taken down when you are finished working out and stored in a closet. Working the heavy bag (hands wrapped and in gloves) with intervals of pushups & crunches builds stamina and would definitely help you build the body you want.
posted by mlis at 8:32 AM on February 11, 2005

do stability exercises. it depends on your strength, but probably 52 lbs is enough. i agree that you probably want a bench.
but get an excercise ball and some space. get a mat or pad. and then get information on stability excercies and core strength. here's a quick link i found on some ball exercises . And do stability/balance stuff where you have to lift a little weight and keep yourself stable. And you really don't need much weight--trust me.
do push ups on the ball, do lots of abdominal and glut stuff. and benchpresses. and do lots of one legged squats and lunges.
one other word of advice if you're new to this all--make you sure you work out complementary muscles--if you do pushups and benchpresses, make sure you do some upper back stuff. If you do squats and lunges, make sure you do some hamstrings. (the hamstring rolls on the link above are great.if that gets easy, do them one-legged.)
posted by alkupe at 8:40 AM on February 11, 2005

Best answer: Check out this guy. Buried among the hype is the idea that by using your own body weight and moving is ways you normally don't, you can achieve fitness. I bought the book and I'm working on the "Royal Court" plus I'm hoping to incorporate some of the moves I learned while taking modified Wing Chun classes a few years ago!
posted by black8 at 9:05 AM on February 11, 2005

You can do a lot of stuff with just your bodyweight, as people have mentioned. For example, substitute:

Pushups for benchpress
Tricep dips (on a chair behind you) for triceps curls
One-legged squats or step-downs for squats with weights.
Pullups for pulldowns.

You might also look into elastic band workouts. Here's a Men's Fitness article about them.

For freeweights, you could do a lot better than $400 for dumbells. Just buy some 10s, 20s, 25s, etc., preferably used. If there's one item that isn't any better when new, it's a dumbell. A cheap but sturdy simple bench will be necessary if you want to be able to do all of the freeweight exercises.

Make sure you stretch well or you'll get tighter and tighter and possibly injured. I recommend Active Isolated Stretching. Here are two good books: The Whartons' Stretch Book and Specific Stretching For Everyone.
posted by callmejay at 9:29 AM on February 11, 2005

Ashtanga yoga. Works every muscle in your body with your own weight and is very challenging.
posted by scazza at 9:37 AM on February 11, 2005

Kettlebells. Seriously. Google it and see.
posted by fixedgear at 9:38 AM on February 11, 2005

Best answer: List of bodyweight articles here:

Get a chinup bar that hangs in a doorway.

Also, remember that nutrition is a vital component to fitness.

Finally, you will want a cardio component and the best low cost cardio is HIIT cardio with running/walking and/or stairs.

HIIT cardio is nothing more than warming up with some brisk walking for a few minutes and then alternating a minute of sprinting and a minute of light jogging over and over for about 20-30 minutes followed by a few minutes of walking cool down.
posted by jopreacher at 10:22 AM on February 11, 2005

Unfortunately, I can't think of any good, cheap, fit-in-an-apartment replacement for squats. They're not just for your legs -- most hard gainers don't understand to treat their muscles as one group. They think, "my arms are too skinny" or "I want a six-pack". That's not how your body works. You can do certain things to trick your body for a while (eating tons and tons of protien, for example) but you'll find you plateau quickly unless you "turn on the switch" in your body and get it to start thinking, "Oh, you wanted maaasss?" This is why squats are so important to mass gaining. With squats, you are really stressing your core, a whole range of muscles from your hamstrings all the way up to your shoulders. I can't think of any other single or group of exercises that could take its place.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 10:36 AM on February 11, 2005

Powerblocks are another set of "adjustable" dumbbells, but they go up to 80 pounds in 5 pound steps. 10 pound jumps are easy, just slide the selector. 5 pound jumps mean loading or unloading a pair of chrome cylinders - still pretty quick but too many steps for me.
posted by zanni at 10:51 AM on February 11, 2005

pullups work
posted by matteo at 11:46 AM on February 11, 2005

This is why squats are so important to mass gaining. With squats, you are really stressing your core, a whole range of muscles from your hamstrings all the way up to your shoulders. I can't think of any other single or group of exercises that could take its place.

Not to derail...but here goes. I've always avoided squats because I'm always riding and after doing squats my legs are just dead dead and useless. No snap at all. Track racers do really intense leg work and get really big and strong glutes and hip flexors. Would hack squats (or whatever that machine is called that does lying down leg presses) provide almost the same benefit? Or is it really a "free weights and must balance using core and so work the whole body" deal?
posted by fixedgear at 11:51 AM on February 11, 2005

Note on buying equipment for an apartment. If you end up with a lot of weight, check the floor.

Eg, I weigh ~ 80kg, I sometimes squat 120kg and I bet this would be in reach for any man of average size. 200kg pressed on to one part of weak floor = bad news.

However, from your description, bodyweight sounds like the way to go.

Civil_Disobedient, fixedgear - I reckon deadlifts do most of what squats would do for you, but don't require a cage or racks. If you alternated cycles of standard and stiff-leged deadlifts, you'd be 80% there, I'm sure. I've been moving away from squats because I'm starting to have mental issues about dropping things on myself, and deadlifts work great for me.

If you do end up with free weights, get some professional advice on form before you start squatting etc. It would be very sad to ruin your back or knees from poor form. From this perspective, bodyweight exercises are superior - much harder to hurt yourself.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 12:26 PM on February 11, 2005

zanni: I was in my neighbors apartment for a few seconds a while ago and I saw this thing in their living room. I couldn't even explain properly what it looked like, and I certainly didn't know what it was. Now I know it was Powerblocks. Thanks. :)
posted by Who_Am_I at 12:41 PM on February 11, 2005

Have you thought about Pilates? You can do a lot on a mat using your own body weight as the resistance. It's a much more potent workout than you'd ever think. You should be able to check out a video/dvd from your local library and try it out at home.
posted by glyphlet at 1:09 PM on February 11, 2005

I can't think of any good, cheap, fit-in-an-apartment replacement for squats.

Not to start an argument, but you can do squats in an apartment. You use an exercise ball and dumbells. Place the ball between yourself and the wall, with the ball at your lower back, hold the dumbells and squat. You should really have a full length mirror to keep watch of your form if you're exercising at home. I disagree that deadlifts replace squats.

after doing squats my legs are just dead dead and useless.

If your legs are virtually useless after you do squats, you're not using the correct weights and you're form is off.

Would hack squats (or whatever that machine is called that does lying down leg presses) provide almost the same benefit?

No. You're only working a couple of muscle groups and there is virtually no form involved in using the horizontal leg press. You really should do squats, and incline/decline leg presses, as well as deadlifts for a decent lower body workout.
posted by Juicylicious at 2:25 PM on February 11, 2005

Oh, and you can do lunges and calf exercises with dumbells at home as well.

Are you sure that there are absolutely no gyms near your apartment? If you haven't worked out for awhile and need to learn the exercises or even just to brush up, it's so much better to go to a gym (imho). If you're really stuck with working out at home, it would be really beneficial to hire a personal trainer to at least write a program for you. S/he would come to your home, talk to you about your goals, make recommendations on equipment, write a program, and show you how to do each exercise.
posted by Juicylicious at 2:36 PM on February 11, 2005

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