Ready to build some muscle but stuck at home? Forget a gym membership or a fancy home gym, because you don’t actually need ’em.
Just the weight of your body or a pair of dumbbells is enough to get your swole on at home.
Let’s start with the basics: Your workout routine should include a mix of cardio and strength training. Strength training can involve some hand weights or just your body weight.
As you get stronger and need more of a challenge, weights will be your new best friend. But don’t sleep on cardio. It’s still a necessary (and sometimes evil) part of any exercise plan. For optimal muscle-building, focus on HIIT cardio workouts a few times a week.
So how often should you work out? According to a 2016 research review, strength training at least 2 days a week is ideal to grow your muscles. So start with 2 or 3 days of full-body weight training, 2 days of cardio, and 2 days of rest.
As you get stronger, you can add a fourth weight day and try splitting the days between upper- and lower-body workouts. And be sure to reserve at least 2 days per week to let your body rest and recover. Your plan could look something like this:
|2–3 days a week full-body strength training + 2 days cardio
|3–4 days a week split strength training + 3 days cardio
|4–5 days a week strength training + 3 days cardio (3 days on, 1 day off)
You actually don’t have to pump iron to get stronger. All you need is yourself and some creativity to get those muscles moving.
1. Push-up: 3–6 sets of 6–12 reps
The push-up is one of the most efficient bodyweight exercises you can do to build strength in your chest and triceps. But it also gives your shoulders, core muscles, lower back, and lower body a workout.
How-to: Lie facedown and place hands on the floor, slightly wider than shoulders. Push up to lift shoulders, torso, and legs until arms are fully extended. Only your hands and toes should be touching the floor. Slowly lower your body until chest almost touches the floor, then repeat.
2. Burpee: 6 per minute for 15 minutes
How-to: From a standing position, lower yourself into a squat and put both hands on the floor, just wider than your feet. Jump feet back into a plank position. Do a push-up, returning to the plank position. Draw your legs back up into a squat, then jump up explosively with your hands above your head. Repeat.
3. Pull-up: 3 sets of 2–5 reps
The pull-up can be intimidating, especially when you’re just starting out. But it’s a great bodyweight exercise to work your shoulders, upper back, and biceps. Start with just a few reps and work your way up as you get stronger.
How-to: Grab the pull-up bar with an overhand grip, wrapping your thumbs around the bar. “Play dead” — start in a dead hang from the bar. Squeeze the bar with your hands and engage the muscles of your upper body and core. Pull up until chin clears the bar. Slowly lower yourself back into the dead-hang position. Repeat.
Pro tip: For pull-ups at home, you can buy a portable pull-up bar that fits in a doorframe.
1. Plank-up: 3 sets of 5–10 reps
Doing any type of plank exercise will make your arms stronger, but doing plank-ups is especially effective for strengthening the triceps and biceps muscles in your arms.
How-to: Start in plank position, with elbows and toes on the floor, core engaged, and torso elevated. Raise yourself into a push-up position by extending one arm at a time, keeping your body straight. Lower onto your elbows one arm at a time. Repeat.
2. Triceps dip: 2 sets of 10–12 reps
You’ll need a chair, box, ledge, bench, or staircase to do triceps dips. This move will quickly strengthen your triceps (and your pecs!), which tend to need a targeted workout to grow.
How-to: Start seated in a chair (or on a step, etc.). Grab the edge of the chair with hands on either side of hips. Lift up and out into a hovering position beyond the chair edge. Extend legs until mostly straight. Slowly lower yourself toward the floor until elbows are roughly parallel with shoulders. Push down into your hands to raise back up until your arms are straight again. Repeat.
3. Inchworm: 3 sets of 4–6 reps
This bodyweight move is (almost) as much fun as it sounds. This is one creepy-crawly exercise that will have you feeling like a little kid again while building your triceps, shoulders, chest, abs, glutes, and quads.
How-to: Stand with knees slightly bent. Bend at your hips and slowly reach down and touch your toes. Place hands on the floor, then “crawl” them away from your torso until you’re in a plank position. Take insect-size steps forward until feet meet hands. Repeat.
1. Step-up: 3 sets of 15 reps (each side)
How-to: Go to the stairs in your home or, if you don’t have a staircase, place a sturdy box in front of you. Step up onto the box or the first stair with your right foot, then your left. Reverse, stepping back down with right foot, then left. Repeat, switching the leg you start with each time.
Pro tip: For added difficulty, raise your knee toward your chest when you take the second step onto the box or stair.
2. Lunge: 3 sets of 15 reps (each side)
How-to: From a standing position, take a big step forward with one leg. Lower your body toward the floor until upper thigh of front leg is nearly parallel to the floor and back knee is just above the floor. Raise up by putting pressure on the heel of your front leg. Repeat by taking that big first step with the opposite leg.
3. Squat: 3–5 sets of 8–12 reps
Squats are popular with weightlifters, which can lead to the misperception that they can be done only with weights. But even squatting with your bodyweight alone can give you strong leg muscles if you do it with good form.
How-to: Stand with feet slightly wider than shoulder width. Extend arms straight with palms facing down. Inhale and push hips back slightly as you bend your knees. Look straight ahead and keep chin up, shoulders upright, and back straight. Squat as low as you comfortably can, aiming to have your hips sink below your knees. Engage your core to push upward explosively from your heels.
If you prefer to start with weights or you’re ready to step up your workouts, you don’t need giant gym equipment. Just a set of dumbbells will do it. But you can also switch things up with kettlebells or resistance bands.
1. Chest press: 3–6 sets of 4–8 reps
The chest press targets your chest, shoulders, and triceps — primarily your pectorals and deltoids. In a gym, you’re likely to see people doing chest presses with a barbell, but you can easily do them at home with dumbbells too.
How-to: Lie faceup on a bench or the floor with knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Hold the dumbbells at the sides of your chest, brace your core, and press the dumbbells straight up. Then lower the dumbbells nice and slow before repeating.
2. Lying dumbbell fly: 3–6 sets of 4–8 reps
Your chest strength will soar doing dumbbell flyes, which can be done on a bench or lying on the floor. You’ll hit your pectorals, deltoids, and biceps with this move.
How-to: Lie on a bench or the floor with your knees bent. Hold the dumbbells directly above your chest, with palms of hands facing each other. Lower the dumbbells in a slow arc to your sides, bending elbows as far as feels comfortable (or until they touch the floor, if you’re not using a bench). Keeping elbows bent, raise the dumbbells back above your chest again, then repeat.
3. Pullover: 3 sets of 10–12 reps
Build up your lats, pecs, and abs like a lumberjack chopping wood (without worrying about an ax or your aim). This dumbbell exercise can be done on a bench, the floor, or a stability ball. Just be sure to keep a good grip on the dumbbell!
How-to: Lie faceup with feet on the floor. Hold a single dumbbell in both hands and raise it above your chest. Slowly extend the dumbbell overhead while slightly bending your elbows, then bring it back to the starting position. Be sure to start this one with a low enough weight that you can manage it comfortably. Don’t risk dropping the dumbbell on your chest or head!
1. Biceps curl: 3 sets of 10–15 reps
This classic biceps exercise builds your arm strength and grows those arm muscles you want to flex in the mirror.
How-to: While sitting or standing, hold dumbbells straight down at your sides. Bend your elbows and bring the weights up toward your shoulders, rotating your arms until palms of hands face shoulders. Slowly return to the starting position and repeat.
2. Triceps extension: 3 sets of 8–12 reps
You’ll raise your arms in triumph with this triceps-building exercise, which requires some good concentration and form. You can do this move standing or seated.
How-to: Stand with feet hip-width apart, holding a dumbbell with both hands. Raise the weight overhead with arms straight, then bend elbows and lower the weight behind your head. Raise the weight back above your head, then repeat. Keep upper arms as still and steady as possible to maximize the workout.
3. Wrist curl: 3 sets of 12 reps
This move not only increases hand strength but also builds muscle in your forearms. This often-overlooked muscle group is used for everything from turning a doorknob to moving a computer mouse.
How-to: Sit on a bench or chair, holding a light dumbbell in each hand. Place your forearms on your thighs, with wrists on top of knees and hands extended beyond knees. Palms can face up or down. Slowly curl the weights up, then lower them. Move only your hands, not your arms. Repeat.
1. Dumbbell squat: 3 sets of 12–15 reps
How-to: Stand with feet hip-width apart, holding a dumbbell at each of your shoulders. Sit down into a low seated position, keeping weight in your heels. Pressing through heels, push hips forward and up to return to a standing position.
2. Dumbbell walking lunge: 3 sets of 10 reps (each side)
Dumbbells add an extra degree of difficulty to lunges, and so does switching it up with a lunge variation. Adding dumbbells to walking lunges helps you build up your quads and glutes like your standard lunge and also works your grip strength.
How-to: Stand, holding a dumbbell in each hand. Lunge forward with your right leg, lowering until your knee is at a 90-degree angle. Push through your front foot to stand. Repeat by lunging with the other leg.
3. Calf raise: 3 sets of 15–20 reps
Have you ever stood on your tippy-toes to grab something off the top shelf? Then you’ve done a standing calf raise—it’s really that simple. It’s also an easy desk exercise for WFH life.
How-to: Stand, holding dumbbells at your sides, right by your hips. Lift your heels, keeping toes on the floor and the weights by your sides. Lower heels back to the floor.
Pro tip: For a seated calf raise, place the dumbbells on top of your knees and lift your heels, either one leg at a time or both together.
Take these 18 exercises and work them into a weekly routine to kick off your monthlong plan. Here’s a schedule to help you build muscle while boosting your cardio and staying limber.
|upper body (arms, chest, and abs)
|lower body (legs and butt)
|rest or cardio
|upper body (shoulders, arms, and back)
|lower body (legs and butt)
|rest or cardio
|rest or cardio