“Building muscle is not the about the exercises you do, it is about the specific stimulus you create”
Pre Quarantine for a lot of us finding the time to workout was never easy. With the increased time on our hands now due to the lockdown (in most major countries), home workouts could be a great way to get started on your fitness journey.
On the other hand there is a large group of people; the regular “gym goers” who have had to resort to home workouts. With the lack of travel to gyms and fitness centres and their fees, the popularity of home workouts is now more than ever.
Some of the more frequently asked questions these days is, Can i build muscle while working out at home ? Now that I cannot go to the gym what should I do to continue making gains and progress? Will I get the benefits of exercise from home workouts?
In our blog, we shall address the question of: Can one build muscle from home workouts? from a training point of view. We are not in any way discounting the importance of nutrition when it comes to fitness and improving body composition, by losing fat and building muscle and all the byproducts of maintaining an active and healthy lifestyle. For simplicity with regards to “Home Workouts” and to ensure you do not fall asleep halfway through, we will be focusing on one side of the equation.
Training or working out is an external stimulus; an external stress that we place on our bodies, as a result of which the body reacts by adapting to the stress by increasing the resistance to the stress placed.
Let’s begin with how our body initially reacts to training. When we workout, a lot of our bodily systems work together (musculoskeletal, neuromuscular, cardiovascular, endocrine to name a few) react off of each other, to not just facilitate the current activity, but also set up the bodies for future workouts (recovery). Training or working out is an external stimulus; an external stress that we place on our bodies, as a result of which the body reacts by adapting to the stress by increasing the resistance to the stress placed. By doing so we get a higher baseline of resisting / tolerating stress. Hence, those 5kg dumbbells become light for you after a point, or your own body weight is not as challenging as it was when you started. We become stronger as a result of progressing our workouts and training methods. Increase in Strength is a byproduct of training adaptations that occur. The most primary & important adaptations are:
(To know more, look up General Adaptation Syndrome (GAS) by Hans Selye)
- NEURAL ADAPTATION: Improvement in neuromuscular coordination, Muscles are slaves to the nervous system. To pick a load, contract a muscle, perform an exercise our brain needs to send a signal to the particular muscle(s) to stretch, contract, produce force, resist force and control force.
- MUSCULAR ADAPTATION: Increased cross sectional area of muscles (aka hypertrophy). This is the more common and visible muscular growth that occurs as a result of training or working out. 18 inch biceps, 40 inch chest etc.
Why is it important to know about this reaction to working out? Well for starters, it will help you with programming your workouts better, be it at home or in the gym. For someone just starting out any sort of exercise will provide you a stimulus, creating an environment for muscle growth. Hence, exercise technique and form will play a larger role in helping you resist force, create force and control force. As you become more experienced, the technical know-how will allow you to maximise your neural adaptations and create a strong base of motor patterns (how your muscle fires, produce force, are recruited by the brain etc) by better being able to express force production and force absorption.
Contrary to popular belief we do not need to pump iron to build muscle. What we need to do is create a training stimulus that elicits the 3 mechanisms of muscle growth/muscle building.
At this point, you must be thinking “Oh, I just want to know if I can build muscle by doing home workouts? Or, Will I lose my gains that I made in the gym now that I have to do home workouts? Well to answer questions like these we need to go back to the basics and understand how training plays a role in building muscle tissue. And then, apply those principles to our workouts to get the desired effect.
Contrary to popular belief we do not need to pump iron to build muscle. What we need to do is create a training stimulus that elicits the 3 mechanisms of muscle growth/muscle building as hypothesized by Brad Schoenfield (1). Thus for someone who has been to the gym but needs to know what programming workouts at home would look like can use these basic principles of muscle building:
1- Mechanical Tension: Refers to the tension exerted on the muscle to reduce, produce and/or control force. Can be achieved by using
A- Heavy loads at lower volumes, Ex: Bench Press 80kg for 5 sets of 3 – for a person weighing around 80kgs, just starting out, push ups in a similar rep-set range, could have a similar effect. OR
B- Light loads at high volumes, Ex: 5 sets of 20 reps Push Ups for whom their 1RM is almost or above 2x their bodyweight (switching to home workouts).
Your past training experience, current fitness levels and goals are extremely important while preparing a training program for you and how doing the same thing your friend does or an influencer you follow does may not be the best thing for you. For instance:
For a newbie, your own bodyweight will probably be challenging enough on most movements, creating a heavy load low volume stimulus. Hence a lot of the regular gym goers could use the other method of light loads at high volumes to create an environment for muscle growth from a mechanical tension point of view.
2- Muscle Damage: Mechanically caused when the performing muscles begin to fatigue and we are training closer to failure and even exceeding failure with forced reps, due to the increased difficulty in resisting load, when the muscle fiber is lengthening/being stretched (eccentric).
Chemically caused during repetitive effort exercises or high rep sets that cause Reactive Oxygen Species or free radicals to form.
3- Metabolic Stress: Increasing time under tension TUT (eccentrically, isometrically and/or concentrically) causes metabolic stress that results in an increase in protein synthesis and a decrease in protein breakdown. You might have heard of tempo training? Wherein we perform movements slowly or more controllably using a particular tempo/speed for the three muscular actions. Research shows that increasing time under tension during lighter loads and performing exercises to failure elicits similar hypertrophic response that lifting heavy loads to failure does (2). This can apply to not just a particular set but also the total time under tension placed for a particular muscle group during a workout.
What’s best for you or most optimal for you is dependent on a lot of factors. To put it into simple words, a bodybuilder, a long distance runner and an athlete under our “Online Coaching Programmes” are going to have very different training methods and protocols to achieve their desired fitness goals.
Using training variables like volume, intensity, exercise selection, exercise speed, rest periods and muscular failure we can manipulate and modify our workouts at home or in the gym to create a training stimulus using the principles of hypertrophy, aka building muscle to:
- Develop new muscle tissue
- Maintain muscle tissue
- Increase muscle size and volume
- Keep making gains and progress even with home workouts.
Resources available and individual’s goals along with your past training experience and current fitness levels all help in programming a workout plan for you. Whether you coach yourself or are working with a coach you can use these principles to ensure you are getting the most out of your workouts relative to muscle building and improving your body composition. Understanding training principles and using some examples above we can see that a beginner can definitely build muscle using home workouts. Whereas more advanced trainees will need to experiment and get creative with their workouts in order to create that stimulus and an environment that is conducive for muscle building. So is it possible to build muscle using home workouts? Of Course it is. Provided we create the necessary training stimulus and follow it up with a good nutrition and recovery protocol. What’s best for you or most optimal for you is dependent on a lot of factors. To put it into simple words, a bodybuilder, a long distance runner and an athlete under our “Online Coaching Programmes” are going to have very different training methods and protocols to achieve their desired fitness goals.
DISCLAIMER: These blog posts are a medium for us to share our approach to fitness (training and nutrition) with you.
We do not own the following images:
- The 3 keys to muscle growth
- GAS Syndrome
1..Schoenfeld, B. J. (2010). The mechanisms of muscle hypertrophy and their application to resistance training. The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, 24(10), 2857-2872.
2. Burd, N. A., Andrews, R. J., West, D. W., Little, J. P., Cochran, A. J., Hector, A. J., … & Phillips, S. M. (2012). Muscle time under tension during resistance exercise stimulates differential muscle protein sub‐fractional synthetic responses in men. The Journal of physiology, 590(2), 351-362.