The Best No-Equipment Home Workout Program

Can't go to the gym right now? No problem—you've got everything you need for a great workout at home. Dr. Jonathan Su, the Get-Fit Guy, shows you how to get an effective cardio and strength workout with no equipment.

Dr. Jonathan Su, DPT, CSCS, TSAC-F, C-IAYT
6-minute read
Episode #570
The Quick And Dirty
  • You actually don't need any special workout equipment for an effective workout.
  • Increase the intensity of running by performing intervals for a great no-equipment cardio workout.
  • Perform lunges, back rows, push-ups, and shoulder presses with a heavy backpack for a great no-equipment strength workout. 

With the flu season and ongoing pandemic, it’s no surprise that many people are reluctant to go to the gym. I for one have not stepped foot in a gym since the beginning of the pandemic and I don’t see myself going to the gym in the foreseeable future. 

One reason for that is because I’ve transformed my garage into a home gym with everything I need for a fantastic workout. In a previous episode, I talked about the benefits of owning a home gym and how you can build one on a budget. 

But there’s good news if you don’t have the time, resources, space, or energy to build a home gym, or if you’re not sure you’re ready to invest in a home gym. What I’m about to share with you is a secret that the fitness industry probably doesn’t want you to know. 

Are you ready for it? The secret is that you don’t actually need any special workout equipment for an effective workout. That’s right, you don’t!

There’s a lot of hype in the fitness industry with new equipment and training approaches coming out every year. The truth is, most of it is not supported by research and in my opinion, it’s designed mainly to persuade you to part ways with your hard-earned cash.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that workout equipment is worthless and you should cancel your gym membership. Having a functional trainer (also known as a cable machine), squat rack, and rowing machine allows me to perform exercises that I otherwise would not be able to perform.

What I’m trying to say is that exercise equipment is a luxury but not a necessity because you can have a great workout and get pretty good results exercising with no equipment or by using equipment not designed specifically for exercise that can be found in your home. 

Helping soldiers rehabilitate from injuries and stay in shape without the aid of workout equipment was something I did as a former U.S. Army officer embedded with an infantry unit for 3 years. I helped soldiers stay in shape by using bodyweight exercises and improvised workout equipment with ammo cans and rucksacks for resistance when we were in the field. If no-equipment exercise is good enough for the Army, I’m going to bet it’s good enough for you, too.

No-equipment cardio workouts

One of the easiest and most effective ways to get your cardio in without exercise equipment is to walk. To get the most benefits from walking, pick up the intensity by trying to maintain at least a 15 to 20 minutes per mile pace for a minimum of 20 to 30 minutes. 

Don’t worry if you find this pace to be too difficult or the duration to be too long. You can start by walking as briskly as you can for as long as you can and gradually increase your pace and time.  

Another great way to get your cardio in without exercise equipment is to run. I find that most people run for distance or time which isn’t a bad way to go, but there are more effective approaches.

When it comes to running, intensity is key because improvements in physical fitness are affected to a greater extent by the intensity of exercise than by the frequency, distance, or duration. What this means is that you’ll get better results by running for 15 to 30 minutes at a higher intensity than running at a slower pace for 60 minutes. An added benefit of picking up the intensity and reducing the distance or duration of running is that you’ll also reduce the risk of overuse injuries. 

One way to boost the intensity of running is to perform intervals where you alternate between a work interval and a recovery interval for several repetitions. The work interval would consist of sprinting up to 90 percent of your max speed and the recovery interval would consist of slow jogging.

For example, you could perform 30-second work intervals followed by 60-second recovery intervals for 10 repetitions. You can also perform 60-second work intervals followed by 90 to 120-second recovery intervals for 10 repetitions. Personally, I like doing both once a week on non-consecutive days. 

Be sure to first warm up with a slow jog for about 5 minutes before starting intervals. If you haven’t sprinted in a while or you find yourself getting really winded, you can start with 5 or 6 repetitions and gradually work your way up to 10 repetitions over time. 

No-equipment strength workouts 

Getting a good strength workout at home without gym equipment is easier than most people realize. You can effectively exercise all the major muscles of your body with simple things that are readily available around the house and a little bit of creativity. 

Perform 3 sets of 10 repetitions of two or three exercises from each category in one session for a complete strength workout. Repeating this workout two or three days a week on non-consecutive days should be plenty, especially if you’re also performing the twice-weekly cardio workout suggested earlier on different days. 

Be sure to check out my YouTube channel for videos on how to perform each exercise below. 

Leg exercises

Lunges are a great exercise for strengthening and sculpting your quads on the front of your thigh and glutes or buttocks. Performing lunges with a backpack filled with canned goods or textbooks on your back is a great way to add resistance to this classic exercise. 

The heel bridge is one of my favorite exercises to strengthen the hamstring muscles on the back of your thigh. Place a heavy backpack on the front of your pelvis and hold it in place with your hands to add resistance to this exercise. 

Performing the single leg calf raise off the edge of a step is an effective way to target your calf muscles on the back of your lower leg. Again, that backpack will come in handy if you’re looking for more resistance. 

Back exercises

Pull-ups are unquestionably one of the best ways to strengthen your upper back. You can find a pull-up bar at most parks and school playgrounds. If you don’t have access to a pull-up bar, you can try looping rope for each hand around a sturdy beam in the garage or backyard.

Perform back rows by holding the rope with your body more upright for less resistance and your body more parallel to the ground for increased resistance. For any of these exercises, you can throw on a heavy backpack for added resistance. 

You can also perform rows by placing your same side knee and hand on the edge of your bed, couch, or dining room bench with your back parallel to the floor. Hold a heavy backpack in your opposite hand with the hand hanging toward the floor and the same side foot on the floor. Begin exercising by pulling the backpack toward the side of your body. 

Chest exercises

Push-ups are a fantastic way to strengthen your chest. Performing push-ups with a backpack filled with canned goods or textbooks on your back is an easy way to increase the resistance. 

Performing push-ups with your legs elevated on a step of stool will target a different part of your chest. You can also perform push-ups with a wider or closer hand placement to get different parts of your chest and triceps working.

Shoulder exercises

Perform the single arm shoulder presses with a heavy backpack to strengthen your shoulder muscles. The single arm side raise or the single arm front raise with the backpack are other variations you can try. 

5-day no equipment home workout challenge

Let’s put this knowledge to use with a 5-day no equipment home workout challenge! Over the next five days, your challenge is to perform the no equipment workout routines in this episode. Perform the strength workout and the cardio workout on alternating days for 4 or 5 days in a row. Give it a try and let me know how you feel by emailing me at getfitguy@quickanddirtytips.com or leaving me a voicemail at 510-353-3104. 

All content here is for informational purposes only. This content does not replace the professional judgment of your own health provider. Please consult a licensed health professional for all individual questions and issues.

About the Author

Dr. Jonathan Su, DPT, CSCS, TSAC-F, C-IAYT

Dr. Jonathan Su is the host of the Get-Fit Guy podcast. He is a physical therapist and fitness expert whose mission is to make fitness accessible for everyone. Dr. Su is author of the bestsellers Six-Minute Fitness at 60+ and Six-Minute Core Strength.

Got a question for Dr. Su? You can email him at getfitguy@quickanddirtytips.com or leave him a message at the Get-Fit Guy voicemail line at (510) 353-3104.