Home Blog High Performance Training Without the Equipment: Installment 1

High Performance Training Without the Equipment: Installment 1

Written on September 28, 2010 at 5:42 am, by Eric Cressey

Based on feedback on Show and Go: High Performance Training to Look, Feel, and Move Better, one of the most popular components of this strength and conditioning resource has been the exercise modifications section.  This section features recommended modifications for everything from mobility deficits (e.g., can't squat deep without rounding the back) to equipment limitations (e.g., no cables or squat rack).

That said, I know it's never possible to use a single chapter to cover absolutely every equipment modification one will encounter, so I wanted to get a series going here that highlights some quick and easy substitutions that you can use in your strength training programs.  To that end, here is the first installment of High Performance Training Without the EquipmentToday's focus will be what to do in your home gym if you don't have access to dumbbells.

If we're talking about regular bilateral dumbbell pressing, the modification is quick and easy: just use a barbell, and get your variety by using a collection of floor presses, board presses, full range-of-motion presses, and various inclines and declines.

If we're talking about either unilateral or alternating dumbbell pressing variations, then try out the 1-arm push-up.  You can make the exercise easier by performing it off the pins in a power rack - and as you get stronger, gradually move the pin down lower.

On the "flip side," you can obviously use barbell rowing variations to replace dumbbell rowing variations.  One that I particularly like is the 1-arm corner row, in lieu of the 1-arm DB Row.  You just stick the end of a barbell in a corner.

Or, you can just do the 1-arm barbell row - which requires a ton more grip and forearm strength to keep the bar from tipping.

Of course, there are plenty more options in this regard; your imagination is your only limit!

For more exercise modifications like this - as well as a comprehensive program in which to include them - check out Show and Go: High Performance Training to Look, Feel, and Move Better.

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  • Yer nice post Eric, you dont need hardly any equipment to have a great training program, frankly most if not all bodyweight exercises are the best going around no matter what the goal

  • Joe

    Eric, first of all. I think your blog is great. I’m trying to get into the industry and luckily have some good mentors and a part time internship at a pro-rugby club over here.

    Just thinking about the exercises you have posted above, would you say that not only could these exercises be encorporated into a work out for those with limited equipment, but also for pre-habilitation purposes and rehabilitation purposes due to the extra stabilisation needed to lift a barbell compared to a dumbell. I have seen many 1 arm overhead barbell presses used for this purpose over here, what would be your take on it? Plus I would suggest it often stresses the trunk more comprehsively than using both arms referring to McGills work.

  • Hey Eric, why not use a bent over row instead of the one-armed row as a substitution?

  • Eric,

    Great stuff, absolutely love your blog.

    When it comes to working out and equipment I’m definitely a minimalist. A pull up bar, dip bar, and set of dumbbells and I’m all set… huge fan of body-weight related exercises as well.

    Keep it coming!

    Chris Cannon

  • If you grab the sleeve instead for 1-arm corner rows, you get a thick bar-esque feel.

  • Equipment modifications like this are absolutely key to an adaptable system that gets results due to the principles and science behind it, not necessarily the equipment. Thanks for taking the time to go into a few of these; this is very valuable information!

  • eugene sedita

    I love doing one arm barbell presses. The O bar is the best but if that’s too heavy a 6 ft. bar, which is what most folks have is only about 20-25 and i like the feel of the balance of a barbell better than a dumbbell.

  • Good stuff, as usual, Eric. People would ask me why I don’t use a dumb bell when I’d do stuff like that. Now I can add, “Hey, Eric Cressey does it” to my explanation. Thanks

  • I like to slide under a sturdy table and row!

  • TC

    Hey Eric great demo with the dumbebells alternatives. Thank you!

  • Ken

    Great post Eric! I love alternatives that show people they can do things with minimal equipment. Gets rid of those excuses 😉

    I’d love to see a post on suspension training! You may not be able to get the leg development you want without heavy deadlifts and squats, but for most people looking to get started, it is the most affordable and versatile approach I have seen to invest in home equipment. $40 at Walmart for a basic system that can travel with you!

  • Niel,
    Great addition with the thin to thick bar variation by grabbing the sleeve during a landline row. To build on that a delve further into the grip strength approach, you could also grab on to the plate itself on lighter loads to train pinching grip and convert it to a pronated SA row.

    Ken,
    Try some single leg squats, Rear Foot Elevated Lunges or side lunges with the TRX You’ll get both a tough and unique leg workout that challenges your hip abductors and stabilizing muscles of the knee throughout the motion.

    -SG

  • Steve

    Eric,

    I know you do not like Bent Over Rows for pitchers, so I would like to know if you feel the 1 arm corner rows are ok for this population. And if so, why?

  • Steve,

    They’re great because you can get some good thoracic rotation and rotary stability. Much harder to create humeral anterior glide, too, as the positioning of the plates will stop you short of excessive extension.


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