How to Make Your Training More Intense with Limited Equipment


I recently travelled to Fiji for a holiday, where it was 30 degrees and sunny every day (sorry to rub it in).

Whenever I am on holidays, I like to check out the hotel gym for a workout, and compare it to various hotels that I have stayed at, over the years.

Many hotel gyms are quite limited in their equipment, and the Hilton in Fiji was no different. I quickly realised that I needed to modify my program to get the most out of my workout. This is also the case for those who want to work out at home, and have very little equipment.

Here are my top 7 ways to make exercises more intense, when faced with minimal equipment:

Increase the eccentric (lowering phase) of the exercise

Take 5 seconds to lower the weight – this will increase the time the muscle is under tension for. Be careful, as this form of training leads to greater muscle damage, and may cause greater muscle soreness – not an issue if you are lying by the pool all day.

Complete 1.5 reps

Lower the weight all the way down, come back up half the way, lower it all the way down, then finally move the weight back to the top. That is one repetition! Complete your designated reps this way This will again increase the total time that the muscle group is under tension.

Include isometric holds

Pause for 1 or 2 seconds at the bottom of an exercise. This reduces the elastic recoil of the muscle, minimising the momentum gained out of the bottom of the lift e.g. hold for 2 seconds at the bottom of a squat before coming back up.

Perform ‘Giant sets’

Combine 2 or 3 exercises back to back using the same muscle group to really fatigue that muscle group. E.g. perform a set of squats followed by a set of lunges, followed by a set of step ups.

Perform a pre-fatigue set

Complete a set of an isolation exercise before your main compound movement, to make the compound movement more difficult. E.g. perform a set of chest flies prior to a bench press.

Complete a drop set on your last

On your last set of an exercise perform an extra 3-5 reps using progressively lighter weights, to “metabolically stress” the muscle group. E.g. 1 arm row 20 kg last set, rest 5 sec then perform 5 reps with 15kg, rest 5 sec then perform 5 reps with 10kg.

Perform a ‘mechanical’ drop set on your last set

Perform a progressively easier version of an exercise, for an extra 3-5+ reps, at the end of the last set. Using the push up exercise as an example: perform 8-10 reps on your last set of push ups, with your feet elevated on a bench. Rest 10 seconds, then perform 5 push ups with your feet on the ground. Rest 5 seconds, then complete 5 push ups with your hands placed on the bench. This could also be used by reducing the incline of a bench and performing  bench press variations.

As you can see, there are many ways to achieve a great workout with minimal equipment, and to make certain exercises more intense.

If you are faced with a situation where you’re on the road, and are only able to use hotel gyms (or just the hotel room), your Optimum Exercise Physiologist can help design a specific program for you.

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