The Best No-Gym Workouts for Strength

Found yourself without a gym but want to get some strength training in? Don't fret: using a combination of the right body weight exercises and some burn-inducing drop sets, you can still work on improving your strength, whether you're on holiday or just in your bedroom!

The idea is that these workouts start with the hardest exercise, then progress without any rest to lower-intensity exercises, which is effectively what drop-sets are all about. Drop sets are an amazing way to build strength because they push your body further than normal - just as your muscles reach their limit with one exercise, you switch to an easier exercise and keep going. This recruits more muscle fibres and so induces hypertrophy (muscle / strength gain) even more than regular sets. 

If you're into weight training and you've found that your progress has plateaued, try switching things up by doing these body weight exercises for 4-6 weeks. You'll notice some really fast improvements in the number of reps you can do, and when you return to regular weight training, you should have the added endurance to push out a few extra reps. Most body weight exercises massively engage the core, which will also help with all the major weightlifting exercises. 

No Gym Legs Workout

This is a great session for getting a real burn in the legs, especially the quads and glutes. I was walking around like Bambi for a while afterwards! It's really great to use your holiday as an opportunity to mix up your training - doing this highlighted to me how focusing mostly on squats and deadlifts for leg strength probably doesn't work the glutes as much as I'd hoped, as this was definitely the area that was really sore the next day!

  •  8 alternating pistol squats (4 each leg)
  • 16 alternating jumping lunges (8 each leg)
  • 8 jump squats
  • Rest 1 minute, then repeat 5 times

*If you can't do pistol squats, try lowering yourself down slowly on one leg, then using both legs to push yourself back up (known as negative repetitions). 

 

No Gym Chest Workout

You really feel this workout in the chest and triceps, but it also engages the core and works your shoulders a bit too. It's amazing how difficult push ups on the knees become after dropping down from the more difficult variations!

  • 10 wide alternating lateral press ups
  • 10 regular wide press ups
  • 10 wide push ups on knees
  • 1 minute rest, repeat 5 times

*the alternating lateral push ups are easier with a closer grip, so find a width that works best for you, so that you're only just able to do 10 repetitions.

 

No Gym Abs Workout

This is a killer abs workout... The first couple of sets may feel easy but getting to 10 sets is a challenge! It definitely helped knowing that my reward for finishing was being able to jump in the sea after to cool off. 

  • 10 lying leg raises
  • 10 ankle reaches
  • 10 arm swing sit ups
  • 20 bicycle kicks
  • 1 minute rest, repeat 10 times

 

No Gym Shoulder Workout

All of the final exercises in these workouts seem like they should be incredibly easy! But something as simple as swinging some water bottles around can be really difficult after you've dropped down from a more difficult exercise. If handstand push ups are too difficult, you can try just holding the handstand position against the wall for 30 seconds, or do some press ups with your feet raised up on a bench (or the bed) to target the shoulders more than regular press ups. 

  • 5 handstand presses
  • 10 straight arm swings (small circles)
  • 10 straight arm swings (larger circles)
  • 1 minute rest, repeat 5 times

 

No Gym Back / Lats Workout

All you need for this is something to hang off - a branch, a joist, or even some monkey bars! Then I used water bottles for the flies and rows, but two backpacks or bags of shopping of equal weight would work just as well. This workout targets your lats, back, biceps and core. 

  • 8 chin ups
  • 8 reverse flies
  • 10 bent over rows
  • 1 minute rest, repeat 5 times

If you give these workouts a try, let me know how you get on! I'd love to see your workouts so post them using the hashtag #meatfreefitness so I can check it out! 

Also let me know if you'd like more of these videos - I love doing HIIT training, especially when on holiday, so I can record a few of my favourites if you'd like! 

The Importance of Stretching

Vegan fitness - stretching - everyone should be doing it!

Loads of people think stretching is just for athletes. But everyone from Olympic champions to couch potatoes should stretch regularly in order to keep muscles and joints strong, flexible, and healthy. A little time spent stretching now is an amazing investment in your future - improving your posture, joint health, reducing risk of injury, and minimising aches and pains, among tonnes of other benefits. 

Who Should Be Stretching?

Vegan fitness - stretching can help improve posture

Everyone. If you're a runner, it will help to reduce risk of long-term joint pain. If you're a weightlifter, it will reduce the risk of injury and lower back pain. If you're a gymnast, it will increase your range of movement and improve your performance. And if you don't exercise much, it's perhaps even more important, as sitting in a chair for most of the day will cause your hamstrings and other muscles to tighten, which often leads to lower back pain, knee pain, or can indirectly lead to pain almost anywhere in your body (because all weight bearing joints affect one another). 

What are the Short-Term Benefits of Stretching?

  • Increased circulation - stretching for 20-30 minutes will get the heart pumping and many postures help your lymphatic system circulate nutrients and eliminate cellular waste 
  • Stress relief - getting the heart pumping alone is a great way to relieve stress, as the hormones serotonin and endorphins are released when we exercise, making us feel happier. That combined with relieving tense / tight muscles will see your stress become a distant memory!
  • Burn some calories - 30 minutes of stretching can burn between 120 and 178 calories, depending on your weight and intensity of the stretching (1)
  • Reduce the risk of injury - while there is some controversy about whether stretching alone before exercise reduces the risk of injury (2), there is good evidence that stretching along with warming up does help (3). (I always remember the analogy 'warm toffee bends, cold toffee snaps' when feeling tempted to skip a warm up before a workout!)

What Will I Get From Stretching in the Long Run?

  • Feeling flexible and supple - after just a couple of weeks of regular stretching, you'll start to feel more flexible which actually feels great. Everyday actions like tying your shoelaces feel easier, and you may find your performance improves for many sports (like reaching a higher kick in football, or feeling more supple with your golf swing). 
  • Many aches and pains will improve - for example, so many people get a sore, burning upper back because they have tight chest muscles from sitting at desks too much, which pulls the shoulders forwards, creating tension in the back. Stretching your chest will help to draw your shoulders back and pain often disappears within a couple of weeks!
  • Improve joint health - the Arthritis Foundation (4) recommend stretching to ease arthritic symptoms and to maintain / improve the range of motion around joints.
  • Improve posture - after just 2 weeks of regular stretching, improvements can be seen in posture. For example, a study showed that people with forward head / rounded shoulder postures significantly improved their shoulder positions after stretching their chest for just two weeks (5). 
  • Keeps muscles strong - although stretching before exercise has been shown to decrease your strength in the short term, muscles have been shown to respond to stretching in the long term by sarcomerogenesis (6) - the creation of new sarcomere units (the contractile units of the muscle cells). In practical terms, studies have shown that over just five weeks, stretching leads to increases in muscle strength (7). 

How should you stretch?

  • First things first - if you're new to stretching then always start off very simply and easily before gradually building up to pushing your stretches a little harder or using more complex stretches.
  • Warm up - it's important to warm up before stretching, as well as before cardio and strength training. 5-10 minutes of jogging (on the spot, up the road, or on a treadmill) is all that's needed to warm your body temperature, which increases blood flow to your muscles, making them more flexible and less likely to sprain or strain.
  • Focus on stretching on the days you are not training - doing a full-body stretch on your rest days is a great way to reap all the benefits of stretching (improved blood flow, increased flexibility, burning calories etc) on days that you're not already exercising. It can also help to slightly reduce any muscle soreness from your training (8). 
  • Stretch different muscles between sets - for example, if you're training your chest, do some hamstring stretches in between bench pressing. Because to achieve improvements in your flexibility, you need to do it often, so stretching between sets is a great use of time. It also helps to keep you focused on your training, and resist the temptation to look at your phone, which is a real game killer! 
Vegan fitness - even a quick stretching routine has loads of benefits
  • Start with the hamstrings and chest - these are the two most common areas for tightness, due to the fact that most of us sit for so much of the day. So if you only have 5 minutes to spare and don't have time to stretch your whole body, at least doing these areas should help your flexibility and reduce many aches and pains.
  • Try yoga - this post is to encourage you to stretch and to inform you of the basic principles, rather than to go through each of the stretches. But yoga is a great way to learn how to stretch all parts of your body. If you can't make a class, there's loads of demos on youtube which you can follow for yoga or just general stretching routines!

References

  1. http://www.health.harvard.edu/diet-and-weight-loss/calories-burned-in-30-minutes-of-leisure-and-routine-activities
  2. http://bjsm.bmj.com/content/early/2013/10/07/bjsports-2013-092538.short?rss=1
  3. http://www.nrcresearchpress.com/doi/full/10.1139/apnm-2015-0235#.WSMaWBQ4k_U
  4. http://www.arthritis.org/living-with-arthritis/exercise/how-to/stretching-benefits.php
  5. Roddey, T., Olson, S., & Grant, S. (2002). The effect of pectoralis muscle stretching on the rest in position of the scapula in persons with varying degrees of forward head/rounded shoulder posture. Journal of Manual and Manipulative Therapy. 10(3), 124-8
  6. Zöllner, A., Abilez, O., Böl, M., Kuhl, E., & Leach, K. (2012). Stretching Skeletal Muscle: Chronic Muscle Lengthening through Sarcomerogenesis. Plos one7(10), E45661.
  7. Ryan, E., Herda, T., Costa, P., Walter, A., Hoge, K., & Cramer, J. (2011). The effects of chronic stretch training on muscle strength. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 25, S4A,S5.
  8. Herbert, R., De Noronha, M., & Kamper, J. Stretching to prevent or reduce muscle soreness after exercise. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews. 2011, Issue 7

 

4 Top Tips to Stay Motivated To Train This Winter. Tip Number 4: Sign Up To An Event

Vegan fitness - motivation tips for winter training

Most people are susceptible to that same well-known cycle: periods of time where your training goes really well and you see awesome improvements in your fitness, followed by times when training falls way down your list of priorities and you slowly lose that progress you worked so hard for.

 

If you think about how your training ebbs and flows, the chances are those periods of time where you train the hardest are in the build up to some sort of event – often a holiday, party, or wedding you want to get in shape for, or simply knowing that summer’s round the corner and you want to look your best when you’re stripping off.

 

The best way to keep that motivation up throughout the winter is to set targets for spring, leaving you no choice but to continue training throughout those difficult months. Find a running event, triathlon, or even an amateur weightlifting / crossfit competition, depending on what your goals are. Sign up for it, pay for it, and put it in your calendar. A fixed date for an event will help you stay focused, and keep you training on a regular schedule.

 

It’s a great feeling knowing you have a challenge to aim for, and it gives you an amazing sense of pride once you complete it. The added incentive to train is incredibly effective, and if you are raising money for charity, it’s even easier to stay committed.

 

Try sticking to these guidelines for success:   

 

  • Don’t overshoot at first. For example, if you have recently taken up running, sign up to a 5k run rather than a marathon
  • Sign up for several events throughout the season. Stagger these so they either build up gradually in length, or try and improve your time / performance – this way you keep pushing yourself and continue making progress
  • Sign up to an event with a friend / group. This makes it a little less daunting if you haven’t raced before, plus training together has loads of benefits! 

4 Top Tips to Stay Motivated To Train This Winter. Tip Number 3: Prepare Your Gear!

Vegan fitness - motivation tips for winter training

Training motivation is mostly down to intrinsic factors – setting realistic goals, tracking your progress, holding yourself accountable, and creating lifelong habits are key to long-term success. But sometimes that extra bit of motivation can come from physical things that we can prepare too. And that extra little push can make a big difference in taking our fitness to the next level. Here's three ways we can surround ourselves with things that can help keep our new year's fitness goals on track:

Buy some new kit 

The possibilities are almost endless, depending on the sport / exercise you do, but some ideas include: getting your own gym chalk, skipping rope, easy-carry water bottle to take running, or new protein shaker. For my birthday this year, I asked my sister- and brother-in-law for a dip belt. I couldn’t wait to get to the gym to try it out and make progress with it. It also meant I could really switch things up at the gym, adding weight to create higher intensity chin ups, pull ups and dips. A similar effect can be achieved by grabbing a new pair of gym shoes, some new lights to enable you to run at night, or new headphones that don’t fall out after five minutes of training. You'll really want to go and try your new kit out. Also, by spending a bit of money, you are making more of a commitment to your training, so will be more likely to stick to your programme. 

Vegan fitness - the right music, clothes and equipment can help keep motivation up for winter training

Create a new playlist

The power of music is really quite impressive. Firstly, making a new playlist specifically for your training, full of songs that you love and motivate you, will make you want to get out and train to those tracks. So you're more likely to stick to your training programme. Secondly, music has been shown to significantly reduce perceived exertion during exercise (1), so once you are training you're likely to find yourself pushing a little harder through that wall and taking your fitness to the next level.  

Get some new clothes

While it’s becoming trendy to wear workout clothes outside the gym, there is growing evidence that the clothing a person wears can trigger mental changes that positively affect their performance (2). If your workout gear consists of moth-eaten old t-shirts and mismatched socks, get some new clothes that you actually enjoy wearing and you’re much more likely to stick to your new year’s resolutions. What’s more, most new sportswear is really comfortable and is made from fabric that wicks away moisture, keeping you dry and making your workout that little bit more pleasant. So take advantage of some amazing sales on at the moment: now's a great time to invest in some new workout gear to keep you on track with your new year's resolutions!

References

1.     Fritz, T., Hardikar, S., Demoucron, M., Niessen, M., Demey, M., Giot, O., & Leman, M. (2013). Musical agency reduces perceived exertion during strenuous physical performance. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 110(44), 17784-9.
2.     Adam, & Galinsky. (2012). Enclothed cognition. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 48(4), 918-925.

4 Top Tips To Stay Motivated To Train This Winter. Tip Number 2: Find a Gym Buddy.

Vegan fitness - motivation tips for winter training

It’s one thing skipping a training session here or there in favour of a lie-in when it’s so warm and cosy under the duvet. But when you’re lying there, picturing your gym buddy struggling on their own without a spotter - or worse still, thinking of that look of disappointment when you next see them – that’s a different matter. What’s more, you certainly don’t want to be left behind while your pal gets fitter / stronger / leaner than you, do you? So, start training with a gym buddy and you’re way more likely to stick to your plans and reach those fitness goals.

And the advantages don’t stop there - as well as helping with motivation, there are several other reasons why working out with a partner will help improve your fitness:

1.     You have your very own personal trainer

Well, kind of. The most beneficial part of having a personal trainer is the incentive to train harder – you’re paying them to encourage you to push out that all-important last rep, hold that plank for another 30 seconds, or push the speed up by one extra mph on the treadmill. And when you train with a partner, you’ll be the ones encouraging each other to push yourselves to the limits, where if you were on your own, you may have given up sooner. And a bit of friendly competition always helps to keep the intensity up!

Vegan fitness - training with a buddy can really help with motivation 

2.     Workouts can be more fun.

A key message you’ll notice on this site regarding fitness, is to keep switching up your workouts. Your body becomes accustomed to the same exercises, and that adaptation leads to plateaus where your progress slows or even stops. That can be a real motivation killer. By working out with a friend, you can teach each other new exercises, try moves you can only do in pairs, or even switch things up completely by playing some one-on-one basketball or squash for your cardio instead of your usual run. That way, while having more fun, you’ll also smash through that training plateau by forcing your body to readapt to new exercises.  

Vegan fitness - training with a friend means you have a spotter to help with weightlifting

3.     You’ll have a spotter.

Those last few reps of any exercise are the most important. On your own you might have stopped at 7 reps because you’re not sure if you can manage number 8. Having a spotter will give you the confidence to push out those last couple of reps, knowing you won’t drop the bar on your chest and end up in some viral gym fail compilation. Those last few reps, where you should be pushing yourself to exhaustion, are key to really testing the muscles, forcing them to grow to adapt to the intensity of the training you’re doing. 

How to Eat to Maximise your Training

Vegan fitness - nutrition timing for maximising your strength and fitness gains

Whether you are trying to lose weight, put on muscle, or simply get fitter - how you eat is just as important as the training you do. If you've made a good start with your fitness plan, but are struggling to take your training to the next level, you may find that when you eat, as well as what you eat, could play a big part in pushing the boundaries. This is for two main reasons:

    What and when you eat plays a huge part in how you feel when you exercise and therefore can influence how hard you push yourself. You should be pushing yourself to the limits every training session, and you're not going to make much progress if you go to the gym feeling sluggish and end up plodding along on the treadmill, hardly breaking a sweat. 

    What you eat before and after exercise can affect muscle recovery and therefore to maximise on your hard work, getting the right fuel at the right times can lead to faster progress. 

So, here are four tips to make your eating habits work for you to maximise the results from your training:

1. Eat a healthy breakfast

This rule applies whatever your goals may be. Most of the energy you got from your dinner the previous night will be used up by the morning, meaning your muscle glycogen (stored carbohydrates that power your training), will likely be low. And whether trying to gain muscle or lose weight, you're not going to get much out of your morning gym session if you're feeling tired or lightheaded when you exercise. So make sure to eat to give your body the energy it needs to get a really productive session in. 

Despite many people claiming that eating breakfast 'kickstarts' your metabolism, there is no clear evidence of this. But there are definitely benefits: it has been shown that people who eat breakfast tend to expend more energy during the day (1). And especially if you have a high fibre breakfast, you are likely to feel fuller for longer, reducing the likelihood of making poor food choices later in the day (2). So even if you don’t work out in the morning, getting a healthy breakfast in will set you up for the day and lead to healthier habits. The best quick breakfasts for providing complex carbohydrates needed to fuel your sessions, along with protein for muscle recovery and fibre to keep you full, include:

·      A smoothie, made with at least 50% vegetables, mixed with fruit, water, plus a vegan protein powder

·      Wholegrain toast with peanut butter or homemade chia seed jam

·      Porridge made with almond milk, topped with a nut butter and sliced fruit

 

2. Size of your meals

On the other side of things, if you eat too much before a workout, you may feel slowed down and sluggish. As a general guideline:

    Large meals - leave at least 3 hours before exercising

    Small meals - leave at least 2 hours before exercising

    Snacks - eat these 30-60 minutes before exercising 

 

3. Eating after you exercise

Muscle protein breakdown occurs during exercise. But don’t worry, it's the process you have to go through to promote muscle protein synthesis (muscle growth), which increases for up to 48 hours after working out. Because muscle protein synthesis peaks immediately after exercise, then reduces over time, intake of dietary protein soon after exercise is important to maximise muscle growth. However, this 'window of opportunity' is not as small as many gym-goers believe, so you do not need to instantly rush to neck a protein shake within five minutes of your workout – up to 30 minutes is fine. This is especially true if you follow tip number one, as the protein you consume in the hours before your workout will by now be absorbed and available in the bloodstream to aid muscle recovery and growth. In fact, spreading your protein intake more evenly during the day after training is more effective at promoting muscle growth than fewer, larger intakes of protein (3).

An equally important factor is making sure to consume carbohydrates after you exercise, because this inhibits the muscle protein breakdown that occurs during, and for a while after, your training. Eating carbohydrates, especially simple sugary carbohydrates, quickly increase blood sugar levels, and this triggers the release of insulin to try and bring blood sugar levels back down. Usually, you would want to avoid insulin spikes, but after exercise, increased insulin helps to drive nutrients, including amino acids, into the muscle cells, preventing muscle protein breakdown (4). So a small glass of fruit juice, some natural sweets or dextrose tablets, or a tablespoon of jam / syrup along with your protein source will aid muscle recovery, without promoting fat gain. Eating carbohydrates on the days you train also ensures that you replenish your muscle glycogen so you are ready to perform your best on your next session. 

So, in short, make sure to consume protein (10-20g) and simple carbohydrates (15-40g, depending on the intensity of your workout, your weight, your goals, etc) soon after your workouts, even if you are following a low carbohydrate diet. And make sure to spread your protein intake evenly throughout the day, not just immediately after training, as muscle protein synthesis will continue for up to 48 hours after you’ve finished.

 

4.     Stay hydrated

You need to drink enough fluids to avoid becoming dehydrated before, during, and after your workouts. The American College of Sports Medicine recommends to:

·      Drink about 2-3 cups of water during the 2-3 hours before your workout.

·      Drink about 1-2 cups of water every 30-40 minutes during your workout. This can be adjusted according to your workout intensity and the weather.

·      Drink about 2-3 cups of water for every pound of weight you lose during the exercise.

 

Most importantly - learn from your experiences!

Everyone is different when it comes to eating around exercise, and will depend on your fitness levels, your goals, your weight, and personal preferences. Notice how your body feels during workouts in response to your eating patterns and how your diet affects the progress you make, so you can adapt to what works best for you to achieve your fitness goals sooner.

 

1.     Wyatt, H., Grunwald, G., Mosca, C., Klem, M., Wing, R., & Hill, J. (2002). Long-term weight loss and breakfast in subjects in the National Weight Control Registry. Obesity Research, 10(2), 78-82.
2.     Turconi G, Bazzano R, Caramella R, Porrini M, Crovetti R, Lanzola E (1995). The effects of high intakes of fibre ingested at breakfast on satiety. Eur J Clin Nutr. 49: 281-285.
3.     Areta, J., Burke, L., Ross, M., Camera, D., West, D., Broad, E., Coffey, V. (2013). Timing and distribution of protein ingestion during prolonged recovery from resistance exercise alters myofibrillar protein synthesis. Journal of Physiology, 591(9), 2319-2331.
4.     Biolo, & Wolfe. (1993). Insulin action on protein metabolism. Bailliere's Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism, 7(4), 989-1005.

4 Top Tips To Stay Motivated To Train This Winter. Tip Number 1: Switch Things Up!

Vegan fitness - motivation tips for winter training

Did I just see the first Christmas ad on TV? It doesn’t seem like yesterday that I was dusting off the barbeque, drooling over the thought of seasonal strawberries and asparagus, and preparing some killer summer playlists. It can’t be over already, surely?!

Well, although Christmas is still a little way off, the days are certainly getting shorter, colder, and darker. But that doesn’t mean your drive to get fit, lean and strong should suffer: Here is a series of five posts, containing five simple tips to stay motivated throughout the winter months. So instead of starting again from scratch next year, you’ll already be in the best shape of your life, ready for the summer. 

Winter Motivation Tip 1: Switch Things Up!

This tip applies for any time of the year, but is especially important during the winter. This is because many of the outdoor activities you may do to keep fit can become more challenging in the bad weather, and a drink at the pub can become a much more enticing evening activity! For some, training in the winter is good fun – you certainly don’t overheat, and the dark / rain / snow can strangely provide a sense of adventure. But if the thought of soggy socks and near-frostbitten fingertips fills you with dread, don’t let this throw you off your fitness regime.

Vegan fitness - try a new exercise or sport to keep motivation up 

Instead, use this time of year to take up a new sport – squash, indoor swimming, boxing, different exercise classes… the choice of warm indoor activities is endless. And you may find the excitement of a new sport or activity picks you up out of a training rut and reboots your love for exercise. The ultimate goal is keeping the sport / activities you’re doing so fun and engaging that you forget you’re even doing exercise! So, if you normally go running to keep fit, try a high-intensity kickboxing class, or if you usually hit the same fitness class, try swimming, or a new freeweights routine.  

For the weightlifters out there, this rule definitely applies to you too, maybe even more so. Sticking to the same routine for a long time can get boring, and your body becomes accustomed to the same kind of exercise, leading to training ‘plateaus’ where you stop seeing progress. Try using bodyweight routines for 4-6 weeks: press-ups, chin-ups, dips, box jumps, burpees, and if possible progress to more advanced movements like pistol squats and handstand presses. You will notice some really fast improvements in the number of reps you can do. If your bodyweight is lighter than the weights you normally lift, don’t fret: because you’ll be using different muscle fibres to the ones you’re used to, and it’s a more cardiovascular workout than usual, when you return to heavier weights you should have the added endurance to push out an extra few reps. Also, most bodyweight exercises massively engage the core, which will also help with all the major weightlifting exercises. 

Vegan fitness - bodyweight exercises can really help increase strength and build muscle

Boredom and reaching plateaus are the two main reasons people lose motivation for exercise... Throw in some bad weather and you can see why it's so easy to fall off the tracks during winter. Switch things up and you'll keep your training fresh, fun, reach new levels of fitness / strength, and all while staying warm and dry!