A One-Month Home Gym Fitness Challenge

At-home workouts can include flipping a tire.
Sgt. Alberto Conrado, left, platoon sergeant, Personal Security Detachment, 3rd Battalion, 9th Marine Regiment, Regimental Combat Team 7, and Lance Cpl. Omar Rodriguez, machine gunner with PSD, flip a tire during a biweekly workout on Nov. 25, 2012. (Cpl. Timothy Lenzo/Regional Command Southwest)

Many people are investing in their health and wellness these days by creating a collection of equipment to replace going to a fitness center. How you build a home gym will depend on your finances, abilities, space and training goals.

Building a pull-up bar, making a sandbag, finding an old tire, getting a sledgehammer or using rubber bands can add variety to your training routine. With a moderate investment and space, a wall-mounted rack, bench, barbell, plates, dumbbells and kettlebells can create a home gym that rivals most fitness centers.

Depending on your situation, a basic home gym or the deluxe home gym/fitness center can keep you moving toward your fitness and health goals.

How about a home gym fitness test?

Often, a one-month challenge to improve on a few exercises is a good way to motivate yourself. Take a month and focus on the following performance challenges and see if you are still burning or consuming enough calories to maintain your weight-loss and weight-gain goals.

Typically, your goals can be accomplished as long as you are moving more, pushing perceived limitations on a few exercises and keeping track of your food intake.

Here is an at-home fitness challenge with many options:

How it works: Assess yourself on two upper-body, two lower-body  and two cardio exercises (short sprint or longer events). Train like you normally do, but add in the selected exercises to your daily training program. Assess yourself again on those exercises after four weeks of specific training additions to your programming.

1. Your military fitness test

Most military or police fitness tests can be done with minimal equipment, because they focus on basic calisthenics like push-ups, sit-ups/crunches/plank pose, pull-ups and a run.

However, some military branches are expanding their tests, and those will require some equipment. But you still can prepare for most of them.

Try these basic fitness-test exercises that require space and a pull-up bar.

Least Investment – Just Do Body Weight:

Push-ups: max, 1-2 minutes

Sit-ups, crunches or plank pose: 1-2 minutes, though push the plank for 4-5 minutes if you choose that one.

Pull-ups: max reps

Burpees: max in 2 minutes

Hanging knee-ups or leg tucks: max reps

Vertical jump

Standing broad jump

Grip test: hang on pull-up bar for max time.

2. Running

You can choose various run distances and speeds for your home fitness test. For example, you can do shuttle runs that last 5-10 seconds, sprints that last less than a minute or timed runs that take 40 or more minutes. The choice depends on you and your goals.

Here are some options:

120-foot shuttle run: 4 x 10-yard sprint (used by service academies)

300-yard shuttle run: 12 x 25-yard shuttle run sprint (used by spec ops programs)

300 meter sprint: (used by the FBI)

1-mile timed run: This is a good place to start. Many groups still use the mile as a fitness test standard.

1.5-mile timed run: Navy, Coast Guard and Air Force tests

2-mile timed run: Army PFT and CFT

3-mile timed run: USMC PFT 

4-mile timed run: Navy SEAL training weekly test

5-mile timed run: Army Ranger/Special Forces test

Progressing over time and building up your running miles and pace can be a great long-term goal for those who start off with the one-mile timed run goal. Consider a running program with logical progressions so you do not do too much, too soon and too fast.

If you do not wish to run and prefer biking or another non-impact activity, set a distance and time to assess on week 1 and see whether you have any performance increases four weeks later in that same distance. See this suggestion for running workouts if you want some options each day.

Here are Some Go-To Workouts with Minimal Equipment:

Lifting exercises. If you have all you need at home (or your gym is open), you can mix in many of the other fitness elements by adding weights. Strength, power and muscle stamina can be tested using conventional weights or nonconventional homemade options.

Try some of the following if you are set up for these exercises:

Weighted pull-ups: Pull-ups with 20-pound weight vest. Many tactical tests require pull-ups with body armor weight.

The big three: bench, deadlift, squat

Bench press: From your body weight -- max reps, to how much weight you can push in 1-5 repetitions is a good challenge for improvement in one month.

Deadlift: Typically, people go heavy with this one, but adhere to proper form first, then try to increase over your body weight and see what you can do in 1-2 repetitions.

Squats: Use barbell front or back squats and see how many reps you can do at your body weight, then progress into 1-2 repetitions of maximum weight for a strength test option.

Kettlebell swings/snatch test: How many reps can you get in five minutes without setting the kettlebell down?

Hang clean, power clean or snatch test: These movements will require proper technique and training, so unless you know how to do them, leave these off the option list for any one-month challenge.

Farmer walks: Grab two heavy weights (plates, dumbbells, kettlebells, other) and start walking. When you no longer can hold the weight, you are done. Measure the distance you walked. We usually do 2 x 45-pound plates or dumbbells.

The weight routines will require lifting 2-3 times a week to see progress. A good split routine is:

Day 1: Upper body

Day 2: Lower body

Day 3: Recovery or mobility day

Day 4: Upper body

Day 5: Lower body

Day 6 or 7: Can be a rest day or two and/or another upper body if you prefer.

See what you can improve upon in one month’s time and then try it again with another round of exercises. This is often what you need to keep you interested in training, even when you don’t feel like it.

Stew Smith is a former Navy SEAL and fitness author certified as a Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) with the National Strength and Conditioning Association. Visit his Fitness eBook store if you’re looking to start a workout program to create a healthy lifestyle. Send your fitness questions to stew@stewsmith.com.

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