MacGyver Training

The following is a guest post from fellow UW undergrad, Eric Bowman. His article offers some simple and effective exercises that can be performed from the comfort of your own home. For those of you that have ever worked out at home, or plan to in the future, this one’s for you. Enjoy! – Austin

Interested in doing a guest post? Check out our contribution page!


Ηome gyms have their advantages: no lineups, no long drives to get there, and you can play whatever music you want. However, unless you have a ton of money, you likely don’t have a prowler sled, a power rack, or a collection of kettlebells to work with.

As someone who’s trained at home for many years, I’ve had to come up with alternative options to perform certain exercises.

The purpose of this article is to give you exercises that you can perform whether you have weights or not.


1. One armed bench press on a chair

A big disadvantage of training at home is that you likely don’t have any spotters or a power rack. This limits your ability to safely perform certain exercises such as back squats & bench presses. In addition a weight bench is very difficult to store in many houses.

1 armed bench press is an exercise where you can lie on a bench (or even on a chair or table) and position half your body off the bench. The challenge is to use your core musculature to keep your body from rolling off the bench (Waterbury, 2012).

Here’s a great link to a video of the exercise:

2. Plyometrics

With the recent emphasis on sports specific training, lots of athletes are doing plyometrics to build speed and explosiveness. However, it is difficult to perform these exercises in most households which lack a plyometrics box and often have a low ceiling.

A good alternative to a plyometrics box is to use a staircase or a porch instead. Long jumps in the backyard or on the sidewalk are also great exercises.

3. Farmers Walk

Another new development is the use of strongman training in athletes. The farmers walk is a badass exercise for your grip, conditioning, core, and posture. Check out my friend David Wu’s article Farmer’s walk: the hardcore corrective.

However, farmer’s walk implements are very difficult to obtain and awkward to store. EZ Curl bars (which you can purchase at a nearby Sportchek) make an inexpensive substitute implement.

Even purchasing 1 EZ Curl Bar and performing 1-armed carries is a terrific way to challenge the core musculature with the assymetric load (McGill, 2009).

4. Chinups

In my opinion, no exercise measures pound-for-pound strength and muscular endurance like chinups do. However, chinup bars can be an issue to setup and store in most places.

Some individuals use strong, steady tree branches as chinup bars. Personally I use strong basement beams.

Disclaimer: You must ensure that whatever you are using for a chinup bar is able to hold your own weight.

5. Dumbell swings

From my personal experience, doing deadlifts and olympic lifts with a non-olympic weight set is a royal pain in the ass. The plates always come loose and the bar doesn’t come high enough for you to pull from the floor without rounding your back.

The kettlebell swing is a popular exercise that works the bum, hamstrings, and core; but this exercise works great with a dumbell as well.


Below are some examples of exercises that hit all the major body parts:

Push: Pushups, Clap Pushups, 1 Armed Pushups, Knuckle Pushups

Pull: Chinups, Inverted Rows (with a partner)


Inverted Rows with a partner

* I know these look perverted but they really are a great exercise.


Legs: Bulgarian Split Squats (with 1 leg elevated on a bench or chair), 1 Legged Squats, Lunges


Bulgarian Split Squat



1-Legged Squat


Core: Front Plank, Side Plank, Birddog


Agreed, nobody wants to spend hours doing calisthenics. A technique you can use is to perform exercises in a circuit style fashion where you can increase the repetitions that you perform, the number of total circuits, or decrease the rest periods between circuits.

The possibilities are endless.

Another trick you can use is to intersperse them with other exercises such as punching bag training or sprinting. For instance sprint 40 yards, do 10 pushups then rest for a bit.

Disclaimer: When performing bodyweight exercises at a high intensity, it’s always important not to push yourself to the full 100% failure (ala Crossfit) and to watch your technique. Research shows that when you become tired your exercise technique breaks down and you’re more susceptible to injury (McGill, 2009). Therefore, it’s always best to monitor your form and leave a little bit in the tank to ensure you’re exercising safely.


Going to a gym and training at home both come with their pros and cons. However, if you’re strapped for time, cash, and even space, you can get a good exercise program going even with everyday home equipment!


Have you worked out at home before? What kinds of exercises did you incorporate in your routine? Comment below and remember to “like” us on facebook!


Eric Bowman is in his 4thBowman year of the BSc Honours Kinesiology program at the University of Waterloo. His interests encompass all aspects of kinesiology  and include injury & disease prevention & rehabilitation, exercise management, and nutrition. He is also interested in performance training. Questions? Comments? Email him at:


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