At first or all the time anyway…
Doing your workout at home is more popular than ever.
Who can blame anybody?
It’s convenient; It’s often cheaper in the long-term; It’s less intimidating; It’s free of criticism or judgement of others; and nobody is watching…
And all of that is precisely the problem with it too!
If you want to make leaps and bounds progress in anything, you need an objective eye to provide you with useful feedback.
I don’t care if it’s fitness, being a better manager, becoming a better employee, or being a better parent, we all need mentors or coaches to help model our behavior in better ways.
Some home-exercisers hit short-term goals quickly. Few stick with it in the long-term. Most spin their wheels for years wondering why they can’t make the progress they want.
It’s predominantly because when you workout at home, you have no feedback loop, endless distractions and a lack of access.
I’m not just saying that because I coach people for a living. You don't have to pay someone to get feedback. You just have to get feedback.
I coach people for a living because I came to this realization about top performers a very long time ago. They all seek out and get regular feedback.
Don’t Start At Home
I didn’t. I started in my high school gym with my basketball coach.
That doesn’t make me biased either.
The first time I did an actual workout at home, I had already trained in a lot of gyms and built some basic skills. You should too.
I’ll be honest, these days I often train on my own and yes sometimes I work out at home.
There is a great turf park less than a block away I can do all my Energy System Work at…
Personally, something about training has been an outlet for me.
I put my headphones in, turn Rage Against the Machine up, and just settle in to whatever the plan is for the day.
But I've also spent most of my life as a multi-sport athlete developing decent internal feedback mechanisms; I’m a well-trained fitness professional; I know how to use video to critique my own training sessions; and I have 23+ years experience executing most of the major lifts — not that I don’t have things to work on, we all do…
Even I have benefitted from colleagues and coaches in the last ten years. I get people to give me feedback all the time. Sometimes I pay for it. Sometimes I don't.
Think of it like this: You haven’t earned the right to train at home just yet.
You will, just not yet. I almost guarantee it.
Most people starting a fitness journey, do not my level of experience, level of practice, access, education or most importantly skill.
That all comes with practice.
There Will be Problems
Without a level of practice, there are some serious downsides to doing that workout at home:
- lack of spotter(s)
- potential safety issues
- lack of social support
- lack of feedback (mentor/coach)
- lack of equipment
- lack of a dedicated space
Ultimately you don’t develop good skills, good habits and good training practices.
Yes, you’ve likely heard me say, “something is always better than nothing.”
That's still a good mantra. The work you do at home, beats any work you meant to do in a gym. Hands down, every time.
Exercising at home will yield benefits but it’s rarely an ideal starting point and you could find yourself needing to undo bad habits down the road.
Do yourself a favour when you first start out: Get some instruction (one-on-one or group) or at least find a mentor and join a gym. 5 sessions, 10 sessions, something...
If if you're only option, it's your only option, but there are limitations you will need to work around.
Learn how to train before you start doing more of it at home.
Lack of a Spotter
Should be pretty self-explanatory. Some lifts benefit from the safety net of an individual in close proximity.
Whether that’s someone preventing you from crushing your throat with a bench press at home, or folding like a pancake during a squat.
There are benefits to having someone nearby to help if things don’t go exactly as planned. And without some experience under your belt, it’s more likely that things won’t go exactly according to plan.
When you workout at home, it’s harder to implement the buddy system.
You can mitigate this by choosing exercises that have easy ways to dump the weight.
Front squats instead of back squats if you’re using a barbell.
Dumbbell presses instead of barbell presses.
Floor presses instead of bench presses if you’re using a barbell.
Use a power rack with the safety bars properly set up at a bare minimum.
LEARN HOW TO DO THIS if you want to train at home on your own with any of that equipment.
Or choose equipment that might limit how much weight you can use – yes this might limit results – but increases safety.
That leads us into another major concern about safety. Safety isn't always about spotters and training partners or others in the gym to keep an eye on you.
A prominent business exec collapsed on a treadmill recently. No one else was in the gym and this likely contributed to his death.
Yes, that’s alarming, but had he received medical treatment in a timely fashion, maybe he survives. Had someone else been around, not even training or spotting, just around, maybe that disaster is avoided.
Now that's a highly usual case of a previously unknown, specific pre-existing condition. I believe is was an embolism, in a fairly "young" male, which is always surprisingly. They can attack at any time without warning, training or not.
Stuff like this is incredibly rare, the chances of such a thing happening to you is really really low, but it happens. In fifteen years of working full-time at gyms I've seen medical emergencies only a handful of times.
You know what else happens? Accidents. Injuries. Even fainting.
WARNING: Not Pleasant to Watch
Not pretty right? I don’t tell you this stuff to scare you. Merely to inform you.
Plus it's a little funny to get all jacked up about your accomplishment like you're a big tough dude and then faint. 😹 It was a pretty ugly deadlift in a non-competition situation, so there was little need to be a hero.
When you workout at home, alone, you simply increase risk. That's all.
This guy still managed to do this in a gym with a bunch of onlookers, because having the wrong kind of training partners in a gym setting can be just as problematic as not having any training partners.
It’s good to have people around or at least know where you are and how long you should be. At least someone was able to help him immediately. Probably once they stopped laughing and understood the severity of the situation (probably at least a concussion).
If you’re working out at home, invite a friend or spouse to join you. Tell people where you are if you have a gym in your garage, or you’re going to the park or something.
Don’t be a hero and be aware of your limitations. You should likely stick to more moderate to high rep ranges, rather than max lifts or max attempts.
You need a lot of experience with those to know how they will affect you and most lifters take years to develop that intuition.
Be alert, stay safe. Don't be a hero.
Lack of Social Support
When we workout at home, we also tend to workout alone. It’s even part of the appeal, especially for introverts!
Human beings have a natural inclination to compare ourselves to others. We also have a natural tendency to belong to social groups or tribes.
Fit people identify with other fit people. Republicans identify with other republicans. Democrats identify with other democrats. Fantasy football players never shut up about fantasy football.
Tribalism is a part of human existence. We relate to people who are like us.
Believe it or not, plenty of research shows that we are who we hang out with too.
If your friends are more fit, you’re more likely to be fit.
If your friends aren’t that fit, you’re statistically more likely to not be fit too.
We are what we repeatedly do. Having a supportive social group that helps us makes strides with our own personal fitness journey is a huge element of success.
Being around other fit people, rubs off on us. Where do you find people all chasing a similar goal of physical fitness? The gym…or at least something like it…
As we get to know people at a gym or health club over the course of weeks or months. You’ll generally find that a lot of them are just like you. You have something in common with them, or they’ve been been where you are now.
Gravitate towards those people, seriously, it will make a huge difference.
Not only that, everybody starts somewhere, and most people didn’t start at the gym fit, they had to become fit.
The best place to become fit is a place where people train. Surround yourself with that positive energy. Learn from people who have been through similar experiences. You don't have to (or what to) be a cheerleader to be generally positive and supportive.
It builds intrinsic motivation — which is a really good thing, people who are intrinsically motivated are FAR more likely to succeed.
This was left out of every diet or exercise book I’ve ever read:
Learning to do things on your own is marginally important too, but community brings about rapid physical change. Autonomy is a part of the process.
It’s possible to lose weight and feel great on your own, but not as likely in my experience. You don’t absolutely need a coach, but having someone in your corner sure helps.
Studies consistently show us that social support/influence can impact your chances of succeeding by as much as two thirds (67%)!
An online community like SBF might be helpful too. I didn’t say it had to be social support in person. Online works. Find a place you can get video reviews.
Caveat: Keep your distance from toxic people. They aren't always obvious at first, but three types that come to mind are the machismo 'no-pain, no-gain' types, the depressing or constantly negative 'Eeyore' types, and overly neurotic, incredibly vain, narcissist fashionistas who can't get enough of themselves.
Lack of Feedback
I’ll get to the point. I believe hiring a coach is the single most important thing you can do. At least for the first 6-12 months or so. Yes, that sounds biased, but…
An objective set of eyes is a legit shortcut to learning. A feedback loop is absolutely essential. How would you know if you’re improving if there wasn’t or isn’t a way to assess improvement?
Human beings are really really bad at giving ourselves objective feedback. We have a vested interest, that leads us to mental shortcuts and we don’t always have the knowledge to craft good feedback even for others.
When you workout at home, even if you have a full sized mirror you likely can’t give yourself good feedback based on what you see.
A coach or mentor can really help here. They can tell you, chest up, or hips back, or cue you into better positions. They can also craft programs that help you problem solve training towards an objective.
Get your feet under you before you start training at home on your own. Learn the basics, develop a foundation.
Use a digital coach at least. At a bare minimum join a group class or find a mentor.
Push comes to shove, at least find an online community and get some video feedback from someone in the know.
Need an Objective View?
Happy to do periodic form checks in our Facebook Group…
Just don't abuse it.
Lack of Equipment
Maybe I’ve just become reliant on the set of tools at my disposal at the gym.
More likely, I’ve seen the benefit certain pieces of equipment present. Having a variety has helped me coach people faster.
At our gym, we have a variety of boxes of various sizes. I can quickly/easily find the right size box that enables a client to nail a deadlift on usually their first attempt.
I don't like to use the word 'hack' very much in the context of training but I suppose you could call this a 'hack.' If someone can't deadlift a kettlebell from the floor with good technique, elevate the kettlebell until they can. Groove the pattern and then slowly lower the position again until they are on the floor.
Works 80% of the time and it's easy to implement in a gym environment. Less so at home.
Without that equipment at my disposal, I’d have to first improve your mobility over weeks, maybe even months and training the deadlift from the floor might otherwise increase risk without much payoff. You end up using some other lift instead in the meantime with less carry-over.
People are different sizes so they often need different starting points and assistance. At least at first.
Specific strength is mostly neuromuscular coordination, so the more specific a substitute can be, the more quickly someone's ability/mobility will progress towards the floor.
It’s a faster process overall but only because I have the right tools at my disposal to pull it off. Unless you're a serious home trainee with a well equipped garage gym, you probably aren't going to invest in boxes (or platforms) or a ton of plates (which also help elevate weights).
It just doesn't make economic or space-saving sense to purchase 3-6 different height boxes and a whole set of plates so that you can micro-adjust them in your home gym.
The lack of equipment occasionally adds complexity to your plan for progress.
It makes sense for us at the gym because of the scale at which we can operate (hundreds of different people come in weekly). Those costs are better distributed to a larger training space.
This is far from the only example.
We have a lot of different thicknesses of bands, a lot of different varieties of bands, cable machines, chains, weight vests, ankle weights, and a full rack of dumbbells no one in their right might should spend 12k on for a home gym.
There is a considerable amount of equipment that is prohibitively expensive for the individual but exceedingly affordable to the masses when the cost is spread out.
Your home gym will take plenty of time and a few dollars to reach the same level of availability. Start now by adding a few pieces at a time and learn what you can at the gym.
That way you minimize what equipment you may want or need later at home.
Learn how to use the tools at the gym, so you can justify actually purchasing things for your home too.
Whenever possible, purchase tools for your home gym space that serve multiple purposes. Adjustable dumbbells or kettlebells are amazing and take up very little space. Bands are cheap and easy to store. Stability balls can double as an office chair. You can get decent door mounted chin-up bars and suspension trainers that can go anywhere in a small bag.
Consider a power rack with a barbell, plates and a bench is great if you have the space (I don't). You don't need a bench though, I use the floor.
Tools like these are far more useful than individual dumbbells or machines. Even universal machines take up a ton of space.
Lack of a Dedicated Space
When Starbucks was becoming a coffee chain icon, it developed the concept of, "the third place," or, "the third space."
Basically people have their homes, their jobs/work and then usually a third place where they participate in an active hobby.
In the case of Starbucks, they want coffee lovers to come daily/regularly to enjoy coffee, some light reading or some interacting with friends. These people are often daily repeat customers.
Some people turn to pubs. Go to shops or music practice spaces. Others volunteer. What it is, doesn’t matter, the principle does.
Yes it’s good for business if a gym becomes your third place, but that habit is mutually beneficial. Most people don't go to a gym, "just to hang out."
Nor are there many distractions for you at most gyms (save your phone maybe some tv's in the cardio sections of some gyms).
When you create a dedicated space for an activity, you’re more likely to participate in that activity.
When you have a dedicated place to go to drink coffee, and they don’t bother you if you loiter/linger, you’re more likely to go back.
That’s why you can sit in Starbucks forever, in a real Italian coffee shop, you pay extra to sit and they will push you out the door if you overstay your welcome.
When you roll out a yoga mat and haul some bands or an adjustable dumbbell set out from a closet to workout at home?
This is not a dedicated space.
This is a distraction space. It’s still home.
It’s hard to turn off when you’re at home. Exercising in the living room, means you can see the dishes in the kitchen. The TV is right there. Kids and pets want to interrupt for a snack or attention.
Yes some gyms have TV's, but not in the weight room sections. There are few (if any) couches to lay your weary head on. Even when there are, you simply wouldn't crash on a public couch for hours on end instead of training.
It’s the same issue people working remotely (something I know a little bit about) or from home often fail to manage. They try to work from bed, the couch, or the kitchen table.
You need a dedicated work space for the same reasons and lot of people don’t have the space or don’t create one. Distractions take root and sooner or later your boss wants you in the office more and more.
Furthermore, out of sight is also out of mind. No one wants to keep gym equipment out in their main living areas, so we tuck it away in closets, storage spaces, the garage or spare rooms.
If you don’t have a dedicated space where you can leave equipment out, you’re less likely to feel the urge to train. The Catch-22 being, you're also less likely to be in a spare room or your garage to see the equipment out and feel an urge to train too.
That’s the same reason you shouldn't keep junk food in the house. And if/when you do, make it difficult to get at. When it’s out in the open, it becomes a temptation. Training can also become a temptation if it's top of mind.
A small training gym like ours is only about 3000 square feet. That’s about as big (or bigger) as most people’s houses in North America and it’s way bigger than most people’s houses outside of North America.
The work around?
Have a workout room dedicated to the practice. Or at least a significant chunk of one.
If you want to workout at home, carve a space out in the garage or in your finished basement if you have one.
Put a system in place so that people at home are either working out with you, or they aren’t disrupting you.
If you live in the city, opt to live in buildings with shared gym spaces. Yeah your building fees might go up a bit, but think of how much a gym membership costs by comparison?
The Gym Dilemma
100%, I can understand the appeal of the home workout.
I’ve been in hundreds of gym’s, so I know they can carry a lot of burdens. This isn't an article bashing home workouts and praising gym usage.
From the fashion show distractions, meatheads, cleanliness issues, and some grunting and groaning. Gyms can be intimidating. I also know that this can turn a lot of people off to the notion. I'm turned off by lots of gyms.
I’ve talked with many a person who tells me, "I’m going to lose 10 lbs before I join the gym." Months and years later, I'm still hearing that.
Most of the time it’s because we’re afraid of judgement. I get that. But you don’t experience judgement only at gyms, right?
Most of us deal with judgement daily, from co-workers, bosess, spouses, to kids, to family and friends.
Don’t wait to join a gym because you’re afraid of being judged. Join a gym because you understand the value of feedback, access to equipment, having a dedicated space, and/or you value your safety and social support.
Get started in the best environment you can find in your area.
Find your community. Don’t just choose a gym due to proximity, though it’s nice if you can find the ideal one within close proximity to work or your home.
Most importantly find people that think like you think and offer a good support system.
- A community (centre) oriented health club of some kind (YMCA?)
- A large gym chain (some like Planet Fitness pride themselves on being a safe place for all non-meatheads) with easy location access
- A small boutique gym (my general preference)
- A (good) crossfit box
- A martial arts gym
- A industrial area specialization gym (athletics/powerlifting/etc…)
Do some research, have a litmus test, do a trial run of a couple of weeks or a month. Buy day passes at first, if necessary.
Only 16% of the population in North America belongs to some kind of health club, gym, or similar styled club…
**I’m not a member of the gym illuminati secret organization trying to lure you into them. I’ve genuinely experienced what the right environment can do for a person.**
I also know that I like a certain gym and you may like a different one.
There are plenty of options these days, you should be able to find a supportive gym community that vibes with your personality.
Training at home feels really convenient because it is.
It can also be a hiccup for a lot of people, especially beginners.
Gyms can seem overwhelming and sleazy. Trust me, you can find good ones that aren’t too big and crazy.
Even if you combined some training at home, with a session with a trainer at a private gym once a week, you’d likely end up ahead in the game.
When you’ve got a social support network and feedback loops in place. The right environment, the right balance of equipment, and most importantly you’ve learned some skills.
Then there is some stuff you can do at home to maintain, build or supplement your training program.
I just think it takes about 6-12 months of training in a gym, or around others who know how to train to get yourself there.
Until you’ve developed those skills, I’d encourage you to suck it up for a moment, get to the gym that suits you the most and meet some new peeps!
If you can't do that, then take some the tips above to heart and do your best with them. Leave a comment if you care.