weightlifting for strength, at home with not much equipment
May 20, 2011 12:30 PM   Subscribe

I want to design a weightlifting programme that can give me as much strength as possible, at home with not much equipment. I'm confused.

I've been doing weights for a while. Someone advised me to go for volume training at first - 10 sets of 10 and I moved a couple of months ago to 7 x 7, for apparently functional strength.

This is back squat, bicep curl, deadlift, overhead press, bench press, bent over row.

I've made pretty good gains, but I want to escape the gym and work in my own space, and also feel a need to change up my routine. I can do it, but I don't really enjoy that many sets.

I've read 'power to the people' by Pavel Tsatsouline, which is 2 exercises - deadlift + variations and side press + variations - 2 reps of each most days close to max weight.

Some things in it appeal to me - you only need a bar, Pavel claims that strength without mass is healthier and better which is quite appealing, and I like the simplicity for my life, Deadlifting feels more natural than squats and the side press seems to feel good, unlike the bench which I've never liked.

However the book is a bit gimmicky and has mixed reviews.

My main goal is to develop real serious strength. I'm don't care about putting on muscle for looks, but I'm not scared of it if it will actually help my goal if you see what I mean. I am dedicated to this, not just wanting average results.

One review on Amazon says

"The -reality- is that strength built without mass must recieve constant training to be maintained, and is very specific to the way it's trained, while mass is much slower to be lost,(along with its strength), and is applicable to whatever strength you apply it to, with a little bit of training. Unless you are training for powerlifting, the possible damaging effect of the heavy weight eventually needed in this method far outweigh the benefits."

I'm a bit confused about which way to go. Thanks for persisting. To clarify my questions

1) What sort of weights and reps will further my goal of getting strong? I have been told about periodising, changing between rep ranges and weights over the months, but don't know what to make of it all now.

2) What can I put together at home with little equipment? I could buy a decent bar and weights. I could potentially make other equipment rack, dip stations, chins etc, but not all at once and not much money. What would be a good routine?

Even if it's not the very best thing, I want something simple that will move me towards my ultimate goal of f-you strength, and still keep me healthy and posturally balanced.

Thanks for your help.
posted by Not Supplied to Health & Fitness (20 answers total) 20 users marked this as a favorite
What worked for me, years ago, was to do everything with dumbbells so I wouldn't have to rely on anyone else for support...but for any given exercise, I'd do a warm up set of ten or more (light, not to failure) then heavy sets of five, four, and three reps (getting heavier each set) with a lot of rest in between. Not countin warmups, three exercises at three sets apiece, and I was beat. I got goddamn strong, though.
posted by notsnot at 12:41 PM on May 20, 2011

Stronglifts 5 x5. I was doing it for a while in my house with a weight bench I bought on Amazon. It's based on compound lifts using a barbell with an emphasis on squats and deadlifts, so you get strong + big *fast*.
posted by dcotter at 12:53 PM on May 20, 2011 [1 favorite]

Thanks. Notsnot, not to get macho, but just to calibrate what you mean what kind of weights were you talking about? What were the exercises out of interest.

I should add that a bit of explosiveness would be nice eventually, so was thinking about olympic lifts as well at some point.
posted by Not Supplied at 12:54 PM on May 20, 2011

If you want strength, check out Starting Strength or Stronglifts.com. You've probably seen these already, as they're generally recommended ad nauseam. They're both big proponents of barbell-training and squats for building strength. Each plan is designed for 3 days per week, less than an hour per workout. You could get by with a barbell, weights and a bench, but you may want a squat rack for your safety. You can build one yourself for $50.
posted by trueluk at 12:56 PM on May 20, 2011 [1 favorite]

I'm a big fan of Ross Enamait. He's got a book called Never Gymless which doesn't require a lot of equipments at home. His other book Infinite Intensity has more dumbbell work. There's a bit of overlapping material in both. He also has a blog/forum with tons of homemade equipment ideas:
Homemade Equipment Links
Ross Training
posted by lucia_engel at 12:57 PM on May 20, 2011

The Workout From Hell
As bad as it sounds if done right, but it is geared for climbers and kayakers, people who need strength without excess weight
posted by kanemano at 1:17 PM on May 20, 2011

Pull up TRX or Jungle Gym XT on youtube. I am at work right now and can't link you. That product takes up little space but is a very good work out. Kettlebells are a nice alternative too.
posted by meeshell at 1:27 PM on May 20, 2011

Thanks a lot. Not to shoot down your suggestions - it's all useful stuff I may add in later, but just to clarify. I don't want so much 'strength for the average guy' or 'crosstraining', more how can I get close to powerlifter strength in an 80/20 rule, efficient healthy way, and what would be a good rationale for rep ranges.

Starting strength is pretty close to what I've been doing, but is it possible to skip the squats and bench and use standing lifts etc?
posted by Not Supplied at 1:28 PM on May 20, 2011

Volume training is not bad for beginners because you'll gain strength from doing pretty much anything. However, once you get stronger and aren't prompted to adapt by volume alone, you basically need to (1) stress your nervous system to prompt it to be more efficient in performing certain motions, (2) rest adequately to avoid getting burned out, and (3) achieve some level of muscle hypertrophy to back that up. Read up extensively on Starting Strength and similar programs, Westside for Skinny Bastards 1 and 2, EliteFTS articles, some content from Testosterone Nation, etc. Tune out the bodybuilding stuff and stuff closely geared to one sport alone.

You're going to have a difficult time proceeding with body weight exercises or (for example) dumbells alone because at some point you'll need both more weight and the ability to do heavy compound lifts with a barbell.

I would absolutely avoid that "Workout From Hell" posted above. It's just a silly Joe Weider-style body part split workout from the 80s taken to a ridiculous extreme without the benefit of the copious amounts of steroids taken by some bodybuilders. No heavy compound lifts, 30-rep sets, 40-gram a day protein recommendation (!), shitloads of curls and machine work, etc. If you want to end up with repetitive stress injuries, fatigue, and only the beginner gains you'd obtain from doing basically anything, then go right ahead with it. Otherwise, pick a program that strength athletes actually do. Endurance training adapts you to endurance.

how can I get close to powerlifter strength

Do powerlifter training (e.g. Westside barbell), but think about whether that actually corresponds to the goals you mention in your original post. I don't think it does.

is it possible to skip the squats and bench and use standing lifts etc?

You can get away, to an extent, with substituting the standard press for the bench press and the deadlift for the squat, and of course each of these exercises has its own school(s) of proponents of its superiority. Be aware, though, that getting good at bench pressing and squatting is going to require actually doing them; the press and the deadlift, likewise, are best improved by doing them.
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 2:00 PM on May 20, 2011

Westside for Skinny Bastards

Inspector.Gadget, this programme seems sound, will look into it more.

think about whether that actually corresponds to the goals you mention in your original post

Could you expand on this at all? In the Westside stuff he recommends 3-5 reps not 1 rep max for most people and I can buy that. Also that maybe you need some higher rep work to put on mass.

However, powerlifters are the strongest so my goal is still to approach what they do within my limitations, no?

I'm less bothered about general athletic ability for now I think.
posted by Not Supplied at 2:47 PM on May 20, 2011

I posted an FPP awhile back with links to homemade strength training equipment resources.

In my opinion, if you want to reach close to your genetic potential in terms of strength, you have to do what powerlifters/strength competitors do, which is get under/over a barbell. You can make a power rack for relatively cheaply, but investing in a decent bar and weights will probably be necessary.
posted by AceRock at 2:58 PM on May 20, 2011

Could you expand on this at all?

The Westside program generally is very focused on training people for powerlifting work, e.g. training to the bench, squat, and deadlift. There is a lot of variation among powerlifters following the general Westside protocol depending on what they feel has worked well for in the past, but they're basically on the same template. This template is probably not suitable for people not seeking to compete or get very good at those three lifts (and a specific variation of each at that) alone.

Westside for Skinny Bastards takes the Westside approach (max strength training plus bar speed training so you don't get stalled mid-lift) and adds hypertrophy components appropriate for generalists who aren't starting with a lot of mass, so you have some "dynamic" (speed) work replaced with volume work.

I think that leaves it roughly comparable to Starting Strength, but I believe that in addition to the 5 rep max-focused work WS4SB includes some accessory lifts that Starting Strength doesn't and of course trades one of the weekly 5x5 sessions for something more like 3x8 @ 65% max. I would see which one you prefer unless in speaking to experienced lifters who have done both as beginners there's a trend toward one or the other. My gut sense is that Starting Strength will be easier to keep up with working out by yourself.

Also that maybe you need some higher rep work to put on mass.

Higher rep work for mass is rarely going to stray north of 12 reps a set, I think. See what WS4SB recommends on the matter. If you're burnt out after pushing yourself through the 5x5 you can probably skip the rep work as you've already done more volume than WS4SB would have you do on a "strength day". When you see powerlifters doing high-rep work, it tends to be for rehabilitating injuries (cf. the "face pull" for trapezius muscles and reverse flyes with light dumbells for the rear portion of the deltoids). Dave Tate's training log had some good discussion of this a while back.
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 3:04 PM on May 20, 2011

Westside is a good program but you likely won't get great results as a beginner without some involvement from other serious lifters around you. And, I mean no offense, if you've just been doing sets of 10 and 7x7 stuff but your goal is raw strength then it means you're a beginner.

And it and Starting Strength could not be more different. If you can stay in the gym, I would pursue a straight linear-gains program like Starting Strength or Stronglifts or Bill Starr's 5x5, go as far as you can go with that, and pick up a program like 5/3/1 or the Texas Method.

If you're interested in building serious strength with minimal equipment, the best you're going to get is a mix of Ross Enamait's stuff and straight-up gymnastics--parallette work, ring work, etc. That is going to take a while, much longer than barbell work, and you'll likely never pull 600 or 700 that way.

Really, your best choice would be to see if you can find a serious training gym in your area and plug into the lifting community of people around you. If I knew where you were located I might be able to find some more specific recommendations, but in lieu of that use Powerlifting Watch's gym search. You might also post on Outlaws looking for a nearby gym, or on a Strongman forum like Marunde Muscle.

By the way--the Pavel book is quite good, yes, it's got hype, but Pavel is solid and his programs respected. My press is shooting up due to some set/rep schemes I cribbed from his stuff.
posted by schroedinger at 4:09 PM on May 20, 2011 [3 favorites]

Tangent here, but schroedinger, what kind of stuff are you doing to improve your press? I broke through a plateau there after incorporating ring dips into my programming awhile back, but have stalled on the press again.
posted by AceRock at 6:55 AM on May 21, 2011

AceRock, MeMailed you
posted by schroedinger at 7:13 PM on May 21, 2011

Out of interest, I'm going to do the 'Power to the People' programme for now and see how it goes.
posted by Not Supplied at 12:05 AM on May 22, 2011

Why weights, when one can do calisthenics?


The one book that I can recommend on the subject is Convict Conditioning. Read the reviews :-)
posted by dfreire at 3:50 AM on June 13, 2011

Thanks for the thoughts, but I think lifting weight builds massive strength not callisthenics. If you're in jail then you do what you can, but I don't think there's any 'lost secrets' there that the olympic power lifting teams of the world are not aware of : )
posted by Not Supplied at 8:14 AM on June 13, 2011

IMHO, Convict Conditioning's prison background story is pure marketing BS. Nevertheless it is an amusing read if you approach it for what it is: fiction. The value of the book is not in the prison fairy tales, but in the high quality fitness advice.

Being a calisthenics enthusiast myself, I must disagree with your "lifting weight builds massive strength not callisthenics" assertion. I guess anyone would agree that doing one-arm pullups, one-arm pushups, or one-arm handstand pushups requires a significant amount of strength. I'm not sure how strong can an average person be without the use steroids.

Anyway, since this is not your thing, I'll shut up now :-)
posted by dfreire at 1:31 AM on June 14, 2011

I'm not sure how strong can an average person be without the use steroids.

Quite strong, not world-record Magnusson 1000-lbs deadlift strong, but 600-800lbs deadlift strong. It takes time and dedication, but yeah, you can get strong.

Gymnasts use only their bodyweight and get very strong, but it will take you longer to hit a 600lbs deadlift through gymnastics than it would by doing deadlifts.
posted by schroedinger at 9:03 PM on June 14, 2011

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