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How to build muscle at home

Whether you are hitting the road for the holidays, traveling for work or pressed for time, it’s possible to build muscle with at-home workouts. Inbar Naor-Maxwell, M.S., ACSM EP-C, EIM2, an exercise physiologist at Piedmont, shares her tips for a safe, effective home workout.

“Exercising at home is really good for people who don’t have a lot of time,” she says. “Many studies show that time is often the number one reason people give for not working out. If you only have 30 minutes, fitting in a workout at home can be time-efficient.”

Before you start an exercise routine at home, Naor-Maxwell highly recommends meeting with a certified fitness professional, ideally an exercise physiologist. A fitness pro can:

  • Help you determine the right exercise routine to meet your goals

  • Tailor your workouts to address injuries or other chronic conditions

  • Teach you proper form so you get the best results and avoid injury

Fitness equipment to build muscle at home

Naor-Maxwell suggests starting with your own bodyweight or resistance bands since they are lightweight and affordable. Moves like pushups, lunges, squats and planks require no equipment and can be done anywhere. You can advance the moves by adding the resistance band.

Once you have established a regular workout routine, you might consider investing in:

  • An exercise ball

  • A TRX strap

  • Dumbbells

  • Kettlebells

As you gain strength, you can challenge yourself by increasing the weight you lift or by decreasing the length of your resistance band.

“Bicep curls, for example, are harder to do with a shorter resistance band than with a longer band,” she says.

What to know before trying online workouts

“These days, anyone can post fitness videos online,” says Naor-Maxwell. “Be cautious with what you find online – not everything is safe and if you have injuries, you don’t want to make them worse. It’s really important to research your source and even run it by someone with exercise experience.”

The best exercises to build muscle at home

“I’m a big fan of circuit training,” she says. “Circuit training can give you a great workout anywhere, whether you’re at home, in a hotel room or at a park.”

She suggests choosing eight to 10 resistance training/strength exercises and performing each move for 30 to 45 seconds, or 10 to 12 repetitions. Once you’ve gone through all of the moves, repeat the circuit twice more for a total of three rounds.

How to get the best results from home workouts

“You can build muscle at home if you do it the right way,” says Naor-Maxwell.

To get the best results from your home workouts, she recommends to:

  • Start slowly. If you are new to exercise, slowly work your way up to higher reps or weight.

  • Warm up first. “Always warm up first with dynamic movements, such as high knees, butt kicks and arm circles,” she advises.

  • Wait 48 hours before working the same muscle group again. Try a total-body workout three times a week or target your upper body twice a week and your lower body twice a week on nonconsecutive days to get the best muscle-building results and prevent injury.

  • Incorporate cardio. While strength training is crucial for bone health and injury prevention, cardiovascular workouts keep your heart and cardiovascular system healthy, increase your endurance and can help you lose weight.

  • Work opposing muscle groups. Opposing muscle groups include the abs and back, biceps and triceps, and quadriceps and hamstrings. “We see lots of people working their abs because they want a six-pack,” she says. “But you have to make sure to work your back as well. We start to see lower back pain in people who have strong cores and weak back muscles.”

  • Stretch. “When you stretch, you increase your range of motion around your joints,” says Naor-Maxwell. “When you aren’t flexible, you won’t perform the moves correctly and won’t get the best results.” 

  • Change up your routine every three months. “Our bodies can get used to a workout routine and we might stop seeing results,” she explains. “I recommend changing the exercises, order, number of reps or amount of weight.”

  • Take at least one day off a week. This gives your body time to rest so you get more from your workouts.

Check out more fitness tips from Living Better experts.