Women's strength training: No barbells, no plyometrics
February 14, 2016 8:56 AM   Subscribe

What are the best power/speed-enhancing strength training moves I can do that a) are not plyometric and b) don't require barbells (as opposed to dumbbells)? I KNOW I KNOW. It's like asking "How do I not get spaghetti sauce all over my face and clothes if I eat it blind-folded with my hands tied behind my back?" As always, snowflakes.

I am on a second floor apartment. Plyometric exercises require jumping around, which will understandably irritate my downstairs neighbors. (They are retired and at home a lot.) This is not a question about "How do I tell or ask my neighbors if it's okay to be a noisy upstairs fitness freak" - this is just a question about alternative exercises and strategies I can do for strength training that may come close to plyometrics, without jumping or creating a lot of noise.

Also, neither of the two (thankfully free) gyms I use (my apartment complex gym, my company's employees-only gym) have barbells. Meh. Dumbbells yes, barbells no. Again, purchasing a fancy gym membership, or purchasing and making space for a bench and barbel equipment in my apartment are not options here. I do own a dumbbell set, a few kettlebells, and a 10lb medicine ball.

I recognize that I could do plyometrics at the gym instead of in my apartment, but there isn't always enough floor space. In fact, it's been quite crowded even when I go at non-peak times. When it isn't crowed, I do try to work in as many plyometric exercises as possible. I just don't have enough opportunities to do them on a consistent basis. I want more exercises I can do consistently and without worry that I'm disturbing my neighbors or others around me.

My fitness goals:
- Increase speed/power (which I know plyometrics are great for... )
- Improve my core strength
- Improve my balance
- Improve my coordination (using lots of muscle groups together, not always just in isolation)
- Despite not having access to barbels, work on exercises that come as close as possible to deadlifts. I've seen people do dumbbell deadlifts but for some reason I don't trust dumbbell deadlifts as a valid exercise. If I'm wrong, please point me in the direction of how to do dumbbell deadlifts with proper form.

Currently, I do a lot of 1:1 HIIT (tabata) intervals on the treadmill - about 3-4 times a week - and try to increase the intensity of them at least every other session. I've added incline, or increased speed, or mixed up longer high intervals (1 minute to 1 minute instead of 30 seconds to 30 seconds, or 1 minute to 30 seconds).

I also do circuit training and try not to allow more than 10-15 seconds in between each strength training exercise. So, that could be something like "as many sumo squats as possible in 30 seconds" - 15 seconds rest - "as many tricep dips as possible for 30 seconds" - 15 seconds rest - "as many russian twists [using 10lb medicine ball] as possible for 30 seconds" - 15 seconds rest - "as many planks-with-arm-lifts as possible for 30 seconds" - and so forth with a variety of other exercises, usually trying to break them up so I'm not wearing out the same muscle group twice in a row. I try to cycle through all of the exercises 4-5 times total. This has worked well for me, but I get bored verrrrryyyy easily and wonder how much I'm actually just stagnating or plateauing now. I would like to note here that I do incorporate cross-training (usually power yoga and road cycling) once a week.

Note that I'm also good (and getting better) about my protein consumption post-workout, as well as making sure I have just enough carbs in there for energy. And a jar of creatine arrived in my mailbox yesterday. So learning how to properly creatine load is going to be part of this, as well...

- So, based on the above, what non-plyometric/non-barbel requiring strength training moves can I do for power and speed?
- How should I alternate them/group them/implement them for maximum benefit?

Ideas I've come up with: barre work and pilates, rock climbing (I want to do this but haven't tried it yet, and remember I don't belong to a gym with a rock wall), chopping firewood...

I am a visual and kinesthetic learner. Describing an exercise to me, with words only, usually doesn't compute. Please provide links to Youtube videos demonstrating said exercises/concepts, when and if possible. Emphasis on proper technique (you know, spelling it out) is also really helpful.

Many thanks in advance!
posted by nightrecordings to Health & Fitness (14 answers total) 27 users marked this as a favorite
You need Jen Sinkler.
She does a lot of fitness blogging and is a writer and editor by trade. She's a former US team rugby player, and now does some powerlifting.

Her main blog is Thrive as the Fittest but she shows you everything you are asking for at Lift Weights Faster.
posted by littlewater at 9:05 AM on February 14, 2016

Convict Conditioning is a collection of 6 types of bodyweight-based strength-building exercises you can do in a very small space. You do need a pull-up bar if you're going to do the whole series. Videos.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 9:15 AM on February 14, 2016 [2 favorites]

Deadlifting dumbbells with the weights at your sides may be acceptably close to a trap bar deadlift. You might try elevating the dumbbells, for instance by placing them on stacks of plates, so that they are roughly as far off the ground as a barbell would be and you don't have to reach down unusually far to grab them. If you are picking dumbbells up off the floor, you may also consider farmer's walks for core and grip strength, if your space would allow.
posted by egregious theorem at 9:18 AM on February 14, 2016 [1 favorite]

Try the book You Are Your Own Gym for bodyweight exercises. The book covers just about every muscle group. Little to no equipment is necessary and no jumping around. Someone already mentioned Convict Conditioning, which is another great source.
posted by atinna at 9:30 AM on February 14, 2016

If price is the reason you don't want to get a gym membership, do you have a local YMCA? I spend $30/month for a membership that includes nearly everything you could ever want in a gym (including a pool and group classes). It is a lovely and affordable place.
posted by Gymnopedist at 9:34 AM on February 14, 2016

You mentioned you have a kettlebell... you can do a lot with a kettlebell that doesn't require jumping around, as long as you have enough space and a bell of the appropriate weight for you. As long as you put the bell down gently, it barely makes any noise, and you shouldn't ever need to drop it. With the right bell you can do deadlifts, double- and single-arm swings, goblet squats, presses of all sorts, rows, Turkish get-ups, snatches, carries... all highly-effective exercises for developing strength and stability. The downside is that some of them are pretty technical and difficult to learn fully without an instructor, though I think that's probably true of most exercises worth doing.

There are tons of instructional videos covering techniques and progressions for all of these on YouTube if you search around a little bit.
posted by Kosh at 9:47 AM on February 14, 2016 [1 favorite]

If you get yourself something to do box jumps on to, I think you could do them with no noise.
posted by entropone at 9:47 AM on February 14, 2016

Check out http://gmb.io for gymnastic exercises, especially their paralletes program ("P1" and "P2"). That will cover most all of your requirements except the raw deadlift strength, though they also include an optional legs program you can do at the same time.

With your kettlebells, don't forget about Turkish Get-ups, a great all-around movement.
posted by jpeacock at 9:56 AM on February 14, 2016

I think various resistance band exercises will be apartment friendly.
posted by oceano at 11:08 AM on February 14, 2016 [1 favorite]

Why not do the box jumps outside?
posted by zippy at 11:38 AM on February 14, 2016

If you've got kettlebells, take a look at StrongFirst's kettlebell techniques. Swings and Turkish getups will help with most of your goals, and swings in particular are great for cross-training with deadlifts. (As Pavel says, "kettlebells and deadlifts go together like vodka and pickles".)

(Here's another video that covers hardstyle swing basics.)
posted by asterix at 11:47 AM on February 14, 2016 [1 favorite]

My personal trainer brought over this TRX thing that hooks over any door and we did bodyweight resistance exercises with that. No jumping around necessary! I liked it so much that I'm considering buying it -- on Amazon it costs $200ish. I think doing that would meet all of your goals except increasing speed.
posted by aaanastasia at 1:11 PM on February 14, 2016 [1 favorite]

I can't use a barbell anymore because of spine problems and the positioning required to use it. I'm slowly working my way back to similar exercises substituting heavy kettlebells. You can deadlift a kettlebell in the center, or one on each side. You can do clean and presses with kettlebells. You can do goblet squats, or put one in each hand. You can do walking lunges with a kettlebell in each hand. You can do single leg deadlifts with kettlebells. The list goes on and on.

Also seconding TRX. I've seen them for as low as $100, though I don't own any. My gym trainer has me do everything in them from rows to assisted pull-ups to pikes--which is excellent for the core. The straps adjust in length, which creates more/less level of effort on your part. Almost completely silent, except for any grunting on your part.
posted by ImproviseOrDie at 4:46 PM on February 14, 2016

Best answer: I think doing everything with as little impact as possible is altogether better from a risk management perspective, anyhow, so this is no bad thing, imo!

You can do movements explosively (plyometrically) without using impact - see the bit under the heading "Classification Of Plyometric Exercises" here for an explanation. I'm sorry I couldn't find a good video description of what this means - it is basically doing the first part of the movement quickly, with a good amount of force and precision, and doing the return part of the movement in a slightly more relaxed way. (Imagine you wanted to knock the daylights out of an attacker - as if your life depended on it. You'd kick or punch *hard*, and let your hand or foot come back more naturally.) If you do a set of any exercise this way, and add a 5-10 second hold to the last rep, you can add two different kinds of stress to the targeted muscle (which will support muscle growth and strength).

For deadlifts - yeah, it's hard to know how to do these correctly! I think these sites (also, this pdf) offer some good ideas on getting the basic pattern of movement - the hip hinge - down, initially without weight, if you need to (e.g., the exercises with a dowel).

If you want ideas for alternative exercises to target the posterior chain, for hamstrings and lower glute max, I like

- the supine hip leg extension with curl (good instruction [imo] here, with progressions)
- any leg curl (e.g., standing with band, lying with band)
- cable kickbacks (you could use a resistance band as well. While I'm on that link, you can find instructions to many exercises there, filter them by muscle group worked, and rank them by reviews.)
- Reverse lunges with slides (you can just put a paper towel under your back foot). These also get the quads; you can target the posterior chain more by driving your weight through your heel. And by just thinking all the time about which muscles you're wanting to work (developing a mind-muscle connection - by focusing on/visualizing those muscles, and activating them in advance of the exercise you aim to do.)
- step-ups - to add intensity, you can add a knee-up or kick at the top of the movement. This exercise also works quads, as well.
- split squats and skater squats (again, also get the quads, but focus on the posterior chain).

(Lying hip hinge movements like bridges (regular or single legged) and hip thrusts - good instruction here imo - and hip abduction exercises (clam, side-lying hip abduction, get most of the glutes working more or less equally, with more of the upper and medial glute involved than with the other ones I mentioned).)

But in terms of putting those ideas together - there's a whole lot involved in programming that I don't feel able to answer. There are lots of different views on how to approach sets and reps (frequency, volume, and intensity) in a single session and over the week. You also want to address muscle groups in a balanced way. In general, you'd want to do these early in the workout: larger muscle groups (vs. smaller ones); muscles you want to emphasize (e.g. if glutes over quads, would do deadlifts before squats. But also, the hamstrings can take longer to recover if you hit them hard with intensity. Which you might want to do, to meet your goal of increased power.) If doing supersets to increase the calorie burn, you might want to alternate lower and upper movements, or if you want more strength/size you might want to really fatigue a single area with a few exercises targetting the same muscle group. And if you do fatigue an area, that might mean a bit of a longer recovery period.

SO I really think it's advisable to find an existing program that looks at all these factors. Bret Contreras has a comprehensive glute training program, in case that's of interest. His blog is a fantastic resource for more general information on strength and conditioning - and programming routines. I also like Zuzka Light's new channel for balanced routines (which often involve dumbbells) - I believe that she releases videos that are meant to be followed in sequence, with rest in mind.

For most of your specific goals, I actually think martial arts conditioning would be ideal. (E.g. something like this or this, which looks a lot like what happened in a kickboxing class I took years ago. I think a lot of Billy Blanks' old tae bo videos are on YouTube.)

If you find a good routine and see that something like a jumping jack is called for, you could do a) a squat or lunge immediately followed by a high kick or b) a burpee, instead. A search phrase that may help: "low impact high intensity".

Sorry if this is rambly!
posted by cotton dress sock at 8:46 AM on February 15, 2016 [1 favorite]

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