There have always been good reasons to avoid health clubs. If you worked during normal business hours, you encountered crowded gyms whenever you showed up. Besides enduring a pack of people, you suffered through the guy doing noisy clean-and-jerks in one corner while a jerk in the other never cleaned his bench. If you weren’t wiping off someone else’s sweat, you were dealing with a super-setting weight hog monopolizing an entire rack.
That was 2019. During the pandemic, gyms went from being open 24 hours a day to being closed sometimes and open on others––like the entire world had hung a “Gone Fishing” sign on the front door. In the United States alone, half of the three million jobs in health clubs disappeared, while 24 Hour Fitness Worldwide Inc. and Gold’s Gym International Inc. filed for bankruptcy. In just one year, the country’s 40,000 health clubs went from $35 billion in annual revenue, to around $15 billion.
For members, mask mandates meant doing cardio while trying desperately to breathe through an uncomfortable piece of cloth. Vaccinations and a return to “normal” doesn’t change the fact that most fitness centers are human terrariums––glass boxes with limited fresh air and questionable ventilation. It’s enough to make a fella want to stay home. You should–because there are plenty of challenging at-home workouts for men that will get you fit for summer.
If you have a collection of weights gathering dust in your closet, dig them out. Also, give yourself a pat on the back. That’s because last year, fitness equipment became nearly as scarce as TP and hand sanitizer. If you want a weight set, you can probably find one, but prices are up. During the pandemic, plenty of people turned to running or cycling–-which is great exercise. But ignoring strength training is a mistake, as one study pointed out, “Inactive adults experience a 3% to 8% loss of muscle mass per decade, accompanied by resting metabolic rate reduction and fat accumulation. Ten weeks of resistance training may increase lean weight by 1.4 kg, increase resting metabolic rate by 7%, and reduce fat weight by 1.8 kg.” Not only that but besides improved physical performance, weight training can help prevent type 2 diabetes along with reducing resting blood pressure.
Chances are you don’t have a lot of weights, and that’s okay. As BuiltLean founder Marc Perry, points out, “… it’s not necessarily the amount of weight that is used, or the number of repetitions that helps burn the most fat, but the intensity of the workout. The goal is to create muscular failure with less rest between exercises, which can have powerful hormonal, metabolic, and calorie burn effects.” A 2015 study bore this out with 18 young men put into groups that either did light weights with 25 to 25 repetitions or heavy weights with eight to 12 reps. The study concluded that there was no significant difference in muscle gains but lighter weights improved endurance while somewhat predictably heavier weights improve strength. The key with smaller weights is form. So as you do these exercises, focus on doing them slowly and correctly.
For many guys, the bicep curl is a popular starting point. Stand upright with a dumbbell in each hand, keep your elbows close to your body, and don’t move your upper arms as you curl first one arm, then the other. Remember to contract your bicep fully and exhale as you lift. A variation is the curl and press, where you curl both dumbbells at the same time, then press them up overhead into a shoulder press. Make sure to start this exercise with very light weights and work up to heavier ones.
Another great, fairly simple arm exercise is the triceps kickback. Use a lighter weight. Put one hand on a chair or bench, then with the other hand lift a dumbbell so that it’s hanging straight down from your side. Kick back –– keeping your upper arm motionless –– until your arm is straight.
Don’t neglect your legs. Lunges begin with a dumbbell in each hand, and your arms hanging down with the palms facing inward. Position your feet around shoulder-width apart. Take a long step forward, and bend at the knee bringing your thigh parallel to the ground. Inhale as you descend; keep the rear leg bent at the toes. Return to the beginning, then repeat with the other leg.
Goblet squats are great for anyone unsure of the exercise’s form. Pick up a dumbbell and hold it level with your chest. Both hands should grip it –– like a goblet. Stand with legs shoulder-length apart. Lower slowly, still squeezing the dumbbell. Exhale explosively as you rise up. Another leg exercise is to walk around your home with a dumbbell in each hand. It’s not as easy as it sounds.
If you have access to a bench, there are plenty of chest exercises you can do. Either way, a classic pushup should be a part of any at-home workout for men. Begin in a table position, with hands just a bit past shoulder length apart and your ring and index finger facing forward. Straighten your arms and legs. Slowly lower your chest until it almost touches the floor. Pause, then push yourself back up. Experiment with hand placement––bringing your hands closer together or further apart changes how the exercise hits your muscles.
A plank is another popular upper body exercise. Similar to a push-up position, you begin with your palms pressing firmly into the floor. As you lift yourself, your shoulder blades should be widening with the back of your neck lifted toward the ceiling. One hint is to picture a ball rolling down your body from the back of your neck to your heels without settling into your lower back.
Guys tend to focus on building muscle while avoiding stretching and flexibility exercises. That’s a mistake. Ignoring stretching can lead to injury, which doesn’t mean you have to do a bunch of stretches before you lift. Starting with light weights and increasing the resistance slowly is a sufficient warm up.
To build muscle and improve flexibility, yoga is ideal. There are a ton of free classes online. What you want is a beginning level session with an instructor who carefully explains breathing and each pose. Take your time, and don’t be afraid to stop and start the video. No matter how in shape you are, you’ll likely feel it––if you’re doing it right.
If you don’t have an exercise bike or other equipment (and don’t feel like running around the block), there are some at-home workouts for men that will raise your heart rate without all that equipment. Jumping jacks are a great option. So are burpees and jumping rope. Obviously, downstairs neighbors are a concern. It may be a light workout to you, but one story below, it’s more like a moderate earthquake. You may need to take this outside. Either way, not going to the gym isn’t an excuse for not working out.
- Resistance training is medicine: effects of strength training on health
- Effects of Low- vs. High-Load Resistance Training on Muscle Strength and Hypertrophy in Well-Trained Men
- Gyms Are Reopening, but Everything’s Different
- Here’s Why It’s Nearly Impossible to Buy Dumbbells Now
- High Reps vs. Low Reps: Which is Better?
- 14 Best Dumbbell Workouts and Exercises For a Full-Body Workout
- 25 of the Best Dumbbell Exercises for Building Muscle
- How to Do a Push-Up
- How to Do a Proper Plank That Works All the Right Muscles
- 30 min Beginner Yoga – Full Body Yoga for Strength and Flexibility
- Death By Burpees Workout – 15-Minute Full Body Fat Burning
John Bankston is a published author of over 150 nonfiction books for children and young adults including biographies of Jonas Salk, Gerhard Domak, and Frederick Banting.