Finding the right intensity while training at home

As the coronavirus pandemic spreads around the world, many of us have been or will be affected. This likely means self-isolation at home for at least two weeks. However, this isn’t an excuse to become a couch potato! Being inactive for weeks likely isn’t going to be good for your health or your sanity.

There are some positives of training at home. One is that you can take advantage of exercise novelty. According to Vladimir Issurin in his book Block Periodization 2: Fundamental Concepts and Training Design, there are three components of training load magnitude: volume, intensity, and novelty. We also focus on the first two, but training at home gives you a change to explore novelty. The training you perform in your house are likely to mostly be novel exercises that may help give good nudge to you or your athletes.

There are also some challenges of home training. First and foremost it can be hard to find the right intensity, especially for very strong individuals, by using only bodyweight or banded exercises. Below are a few ideas on how to find the right exercises and then vary those exercises to increase the intensity, plus some ideas for conditioning.

Finding bodyweight exercises to increase intensity

With some small changes in how an exercise is set up, you can easily manipulate the intensity of a workout. Here are some tips for upper body, lower body, and pulling exercises.

For upper body exercises you have three paths to more intensity: (1) remove limbs in contact with the ground; (2) move more weight over the arms; or (3) use extra ROM to increase intensity.

Removing limbs Shifting weight Extra range of Motion
Pushup with one leg
1-arm Pushup
Decline Pushup
1-leg Decline Pushup
Feet up Wall Pushup
Banded Pushup
Handstand Pushup
Hands elevated Pushup
Hands and feet elevated pushup

Similar to the upper body pushing exercises, we can remove limbs in contact with the ground and increase exercise intensity moving from two legged to one legged exercise. Pulling exercises are a little more difficult with minimal equipment to increase intensity. Using bands can help with variation and loading, and a pullup bar can help even more, although that’s harder to find at home.

Lower body Recommendations Pulling Recommendations
Lunge variations
Pistol Squats
Band Good Mornings
Glute Bridge (1 and 2 legged)
Hip Thrust (1 and 2 legged)
Calf Raises
Half Kneeling 1-Arm Band Row
Band Pull Aparts
Band Face Pulls
Seated Band Rows
Bent Over Band Rows (band anchored with feet)


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Finding exercise variations to increase intensity

Beyond finding new exercises, you can also search for intensity by varying the exercises. For example, modifying the technique of an exercise can make it harder and, therefore, more intense. The new technique also gives it a does of novelty. For example, take the basic bodyweight squat. It is simple to execute in its standard form, but playing with the tempo makes it something completely new.

Tempo Partials Isometrics Hypertrophy Ladders
Example: 4-6 seconds down and 4-6 seconds up. Example: 10 bodyweight squats followed immediately by 10 partial reps from bottom to midway. Example: Split squat isometric hold for 1 to 5 minutes.

Example: 10 bodyweight pushups followed immediately by a 10 second isometric hold in the bottom position.

Example: Isometric progressions with 10 reps of pushup with 10 seconds isometric hold at the bottom on the first rep, next rep 9 seconds . . . final rep 1 second hold.

Example: Cycle through seven sets each of three exercises, doing the first set of each, followed by the second set of each, and so on. The rep scheme would be as follows:

  • Reverse Lunge (each leg) x4, 8, 12, 16, 12, 8, 4
  • Pushup x5, 10, 15, 20, 15, 10, 5
  • Bent over band row x5, 10, 15, 20, 15, 10, 5

What about conditioning

I’m using conditioning here as a loose term for general aerobic/anaerobic energy system development. A great way of keeping some general conditioning at home is the use of circuits. Cal Dietz‘s contralateral circuit can be done with minimal equipment at home with a few modifications. An example of some of the exercises in the circuit performed in a 15sec on/10sec off protocol:

  1. Reverse lunge with contralateral band row
  2. Step up with contralateral band press
  3. Band RDL with band row

Another option are the use of mobility circuits, such as this one from Eric Cressey. You can keep your heart rate relatively high especially if you pair mobility exercises that are in different positions such on the ground then quadruped or standing, and then repeat in a back and forth fashion:

  1. Knee hug to reverse lunge with overhead reach 5×5/side
  2. Birddogs 5×5/side

Lastly, Vern Gambetta’s leg circuit develops a foundation of strength and power endurance. The basic requirement is to be able to perform five full leg circuits without stopping. It looks like this:

  • Body-weight squat x 20 reps
  • Lunge x 10 reps each leg
  • Step-up x 10 reps each leg
  • Squat jump x 10 reps


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Final thoughts

As bodyweight training doesn’t create the same systematic fatigue as heavy strength training, sprint training, or long duration endurance training, training at home can be done more frequently than you may normally train. You could perform full body workouts every day if planned well! Don’t let inactivity deteriorate your health or leave your athletes side lined during this time at home. Many of these strategies can be successfully applied with your athletes even when sports training goes back to normal. For example, hypertrophy ladders are a time efficient way to get extra volume and work capacity with development athletes. Or the use of mobility and contralateral circuits can provide extra aerobic work without the impacts of running or the monotony of other endurance exercise.