How to Increase Workout Intensity With Limited Access to Equipment and/or Heavy Weights

In an ideal world, we’d always be within walking distance of a fully-stocked, equipment-rich commercial gym.

By the same token, however, some of us hate going to the gym, or even loath the idea of training with weights to begin with.

Either way, if you desire to maximize your muscle-building and mass-gaining potential, yet find yourself in a situation where access to the optimal equipment is limited (whether that be by choice or not), the implementation of workout intensifying techniques may help you reach this goal.

We all know that adding more resistance over time is how muscles grow—also called progressive overload—and when adding actual weight is not possible or perhaps desired, manipulating one of the variables below can instead act in place of additional weight on the bar.

Intensity Variables

(1) Add Additional Sets

—Example: Performing 3-4 sets instead of 2-3.

(2) Add Additional Reps Per Set

—Example: Performing sets of 12-16 reps, even going as high as 20-30 if necessary.

(3) Add Additional Exercises and/or Exercise Variations

—Example: If 3 sets of 8 chin-ups prove to be too easy, try performing 1-2 sets of pull-ups, then 1-2 sets of neutral grip pull-ups, then 1-2 sets of chin-ups—utilizing all different grip types to fully exhaust the lats.

(4) Implement Supersets, Tri-Sets, & Giant Sets

—A superset is when two exercises are performed back to back with little to no rest between them, or only a brief five-ten seconds rest period.

—Super Set Example: Two compound movements, a compound and isolation movement, or two isolation movements.

—The same or different body parts can be paired—a chest and back exercise, or two back exercises.

—A tri-set and a giant set are essentially the same thing, but with additional exercises. A tri-set will include, you guessed it, three exercises, whereas a giant set is anything more than three.

(5) Pre-Exhaust Work Sets With Isolation Movements

—Example: Performing a set of dumbbell flyes before performing the dumbbell bench press.

—Pre-exhausting can also be performed with supersets. There are no rules here. So if you’re limited with a set of 30 Lbs. Dumbbells, two-three supersets of push-ups and chest flys may be fatiguing enough to make 30 Lbs. dumbbell press difficult.

(6) Shorten Rest Times Between Sets

—Rest only 30-60 seconds or less between sets.

(7) Train to Failure

—Take each exercise set to failure—meaning until reps can no longer be performed.

(8) Training to Failure: Implement Descending Sets or ‘Drop Sets’

—Sometimes called ‘surfing the rack’ when discussed with respect to dumbbells, this means to train a particular exercise to failure, then pick up the next descending weight increment and perform it to failure, ad infinitum.

(9) Training Past Failure: Cheating


—Sacrificing form in order to continue performing reps. I highly recommend you do not do this unless you’re experienced and know what you’re doing. Otherwise, avoid this entirely.

—Moreover, cheating is really only acceptable with some movements, like curls or rows, where momentum can be safely used.

(10) Training Past Failure: Forced Reps

—If you’re training with a partner, have your partner assist you to complete additional repetitions once you reach failure, but helping only marginally so that the rep is still as difficult as possible.

(11) Training Past Failure: Negative Reps

—Once all positive (regular) and forced reps have been completed and the weight will no longer move, have a partner move the weight to the top position so that you can lower it to the best of your ability.

—End the set of negatives once the downward or upward movement can no longer be controlled.

(12) Rest-Pause Reps

—Rest-pause training involves performing one repetition with a heavy weight, then repeating after a ten-second or so rest, then again and again until failure is reached.

—Since heavy weights may be unavailable when training at home, this training method can come into use after a set has been taken to failure. Rest for a couple of minutes, then begin a rest-pause set with the same weight until reaching failure once more.

(13) Partial Reps

—Performing reps with a heavy weight where only part of the rep can be performed, hence the name, ‘partial reps.’

—Again, since heavy weights may be unavailable, try using this method after having already reached failure.

(14) Static Holds

—These can be performed at any point throughout the movement of any exercise, however, they are most commonly done at the peak contraction of an exercise.

—Example: Holding a Biceps Dumbbell Curl at the top of the rep for as long as possible.

Pour Conclure

If you’re stuck in a basement with nothing but a pair of 10 Lbs. Dumbbells and your wits, give one of these intensifying techniques a try—it may be exactly what you need to ensure progressive overload even if your resources are limited.

Likewise, if there are any other techniques or methods I missed, please let me know in the comments and I’ll be sure to add them.

Until next time, friends.

Alexander Smout

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