Have you ever seen someone that only works out in their garage but is in great shape? That’s because building muscle and burning body fat is possible even with a very limited selection of equipment. Let’s say you only have the following equipment: A barbell with weight plates, a bench, a squat/deadlift rack and a chin up bar. I will explain in this article how you can stimulate muscle tissue to grow all over the body using just these pieces of kit.
Building Muscle – Isolation vs Compound Movements
Building muscle requires an effective nutrition AND training strategy, however, for the purpose of this article I will focus only on the training side of the equation.
In order to build muscle, you need to periodically overload your muscle fibres so that they have a need to grow bigger and stronger. Overloading muscle fibres causes them to become damaged, which triggers a cascade of signals for more muscle proteins to be synthesised. This causes muscle fibres to grow in order deal with the new demand being placed on them.
But does this mean you have to target each and every muscle group in isolation using the huge array of equipment found in gyms? No! You can build a good physique without having to use every piece of equipment in a gym. You can grow your quads without a leg extension machine, you can grow your hamstrings without a leg curl and you can grow your chest without a seated fly machine.
The exercises I just named are all examples of isolation exercises performed on machines. Isolation exercises are designed to work for a specific muscle or muscle group individually and usually only involves 1 joint being called into action. Using these exercises to build your physique can require a large range of equipment in order to target each muscle or muscle group.
However, you can overload multiple muscles and stimulate them to grow using compound exercises. Compound exercises are bigger movements that require movement from more than 1 joint, meaning multiple muscles are activated to perform the movement. Compound exercises can be performed using minimal equipment, such as the list I mentioned in the introduction.
Minimal Equipment and Maximum Benefit
So let’s have a look at some examples of compound exercises that can be performed using minimal equipment and the muscles they stimulate growth.
Using just a chin up bar, a barbell, weight plates, a bench and a rack you can perform chin ups/pull ups, squats, lunges, deadlifts, bench press, overhead shoulder press and a bent over row. This is not an exhaustive list, but the main ones that I will look at. These big compound movements require multiple muscles to work and will stimulate them to grow if they are placed under sufficient load. Below you can find a summary of the muscles worked when performing each of these exercises.
Exercise Equipment Required Main Muscles Used
✓ Barbell Squat Barbell, Weight Plates & Rack (Quadriceps, Hamstrings, Glutes, Gastrocnemius, Soleus & Core)
✓ Barbell Lunge Barbell & Weight Plates (Quadriceps, Hamstrings, Glutes, Gastrocnemius, Soleus & Core)
✓ Deadlift Barbell, Weight Plates & Rack (Quadriceps, Hamstrings, Glutes, Erector Spinae, Trapezius & Core)
✓ Bench Press Barbell & Bench (Pectorals, Triceps & Anterior Deltoids)
✓ Overhead Shoulder Press Barbell & Weight Plates (Deltoids & Triceps)
✓ Bent Over Row Barbell & Weight Plates (Latissimus dorsi, Rhomboids & Trapezius, Biceps)
✓ Chin ups/Pull-Ups/Chin-Up Bar (Latissimus dorsi, Biceps)
As well as needing minimal equipment to be performed, there are a number of technique manipulations that can be made to these exercises to alter the mechanics involved and therefore the main muscles targeted. For example, a wide lunge is a hamstring/glute dominant lunge; where as a narrow lunge is a quad dominant lunge. A wide grip barbell bench press used to predominantly target the pectorals, can be performed as a close grip bench press to shift from a pectoral dominant press to a tricep dominant press.
There are also a number of isolation exercises that can be performed if you feel certain muscles need more work. For example, you can perform a barbell bicep curl, an overhead tricep extension or a glute hip thrust to name a few.
The Bottom Line
If you’d like to build some muscle tissue but for whatever reason, you do not attend a gym, don’t think that it can’t be done.
A small investment into the bare minimum equipment can see you make some great progress with your body goals. With all of the compound exercises that can be performed along with all of their technique manipulations and a selection of isolation exercises, you’ll be sure to stimulate your whole body for growth and achieve your body goals without the need for a huge variety of gym machines.