Patio workouts for training at home with your own suitcase gym
Like you, I’m doing my best to adjust to our new normal—at least what’s normal for the foreseeable future. A future without a fully-equipped health club. A fortunate few have home gyms, replete with cable machines, benches, free weights, and exercise balls. I’m not one of those. I don’t even have the space in my place to put that stuff. Wouldn’t it be really cool if there were gyms like George Jetson’s car that folds down into a briefcase (if you’re under 50, Google it).
Because my career requires I travel 80% of the time, several years ago I assembled a mobile gym fits inside a carry-on suitcase, which means it also fits inside my closet. In it is a TRX, some TheraBand, and an assortment of tubing that creates between 20 and 210 lbs. of resistance—depending on how I combine the tubes. The tubing includes handles, Velcro ankle strap (which also works great on the wrist), and a door mount. I’ve also got an IHP Predator and Traveler, which I sometimes take instead of the other tubing. The Traveler is compact, and the Predator lets you use one, two, or all three tubes to adjust the tension…which is pretty cool.
With this suitcase gym, I’m prepared to get a workout at the most poorly-equipped hotels imaginable…or at home under COVID-19 house arrest.
Shopping for your own suitcase gym
I’m not exactly sure how much this whole rig has cost me—I’ve assembled it over time. If I’m you, I’d like to know an estimate, so I did a little research and here’s what I found:
TRX for Home = ~$179. For an extra 50 you get a small assortment of bands…not bad.
Resistance Tubing = ~$57
Ankle Strap = $6.99
Handles = $10.99
Door Anchor = $4.99
Predator = $70
TheraBand came free from a physical therapist buddy who felt sorry for me.
Total = ~$400.
Three shopping tips
- Check for specials. JC Santana’s IHP Pro Shop often has a promo code you can use that will knock off a few bucks. (JC is awesome.)
- When shopping for tubing, cheap means bad…as in having it snap at full extension and slapping you in between the eyes or in the back of the head. Ask if tubing is extruded or dipped. Makes a difference. For extruded, think Play-Doh Fun Factory, where the rubber is squeezed out of a mold to form the tube. Dipping is like candle-making: each successive dip into the molten rubber adds another layer, which yields a stronger tube. For what it’s worth, IHP’s tubes are dipped.
- TRX makes some great equipment. The Professional and the totally macho Tactical models are very cool. But the TRX Home model works just fine. I’ve had mine for eight years and it’s still goin’ strong. I would invest in a TRX X mount, unless you have a friends-and-family metal worker like I do, who handmade the one I have, shown below. Make sure to mount it to something structural, like a deck joist or wall stud, because if you don’t, you’ll also need a friends and family drywaller and painter.
OK, I’ve got my stuff. Where do I start?
I made a list and ended up with 34 exercises I do using the kit I described above.
|Body Part, Focus||Exercise||Equipment|
|Chest||Presses, single or both arms||Tubing|
|Back, Lats primarily||Rows, arms at side (0°)||TRX|
|Back, Lats primarily||Rows, High-to-Low||Tubing|
|Back, Teres major, lats||Straight arm pull-downs||Tubing|
|Back, Erector spinae||Back extensions||Thera-Band|
|Back T3-T4, Rhomboids||Scapular shrugs, front to back||TRX|
|Delts, Posterior||Rows, arms 90°||TRX|
|Delts, Lateral and Posterior||T-I-Y pulls||TRX|
|Delts, Lateral||Side laterals||Tubing|
|Delts, Anterior||Anterior delt presses||Tubing|
|Delts, Anterior||Thumbs-up front raises||Tubing|
|Delts, Posterior||Posterior delt flyes||Tubing|
|Arms, Biceps||Curls, Standing, palms-up or thumbs-up grip||Tubing|
|Arms, Biceps||Curls, elbows on knees||Tubing|
|Arms, Triceps||Standing French press||TRX or Tubing|
|Arms, Triceps||Push-downs, any grip||Tubing|
|Legs||Squats||Tubing, BW or TRX|
|Legs, Quads||Sissy squats||Tubing, BW, or TRX|
|Legs, Quads||Lunges, Forward||BW|
|Legs, Quads||Lunges, Walking||BW|
|Legs, Glutes-hams||Lunges, Reverse||BW on Stairs|
|Legs, Glutes-hams||Step-ups||BW on Stairs|
|Legs, Glutes-hams||Single-leg RDL||Tubing, or BW|
|Legs, Glutes||Side walks||Thera-Band|
|Legs, Glutes||Clamshells, or Fire hydrants||Thera-Band|
|Legs, Glutes||Abductions||Tubing, or TheraBand|
|Legs, Adductors||Adductions||Tubing, or TheraBand|
|Core, Abs||Kneeling crunches (ala cable tucks)||Tubing|
|Core, Obliques||Choppers, side||Tubing, or TRX|
Patio Workout 1
Here’s my Day 1 patio workout, which includes an explanation why I picked the exercises I did. If Socrates had been a bodybuilder, he might say, “The unexamined workout isn’t worth doing,” so I included a list below this chart that explains why I like what I like, with what I think is some pretty solid reasoning behind it.
This is what bodybuilders call a split routine. I tossed in a little push-pull logic. Day 1 was 100% TRX, but as I experiment with the program I’ll mix it up. I kept it brief on purpose: I haven’t used TRX a lot lately due to availability of cable machines and dumbbells, and so I’m pretty sure I’ll be sore tomorrow.
Rules of application:
Do next set with muscles feel ready. I’d estimate wait time between sets was roughly a minute.
Align muscle origins and insertions and concentrate on biomechanical angle of pull. (Whether we know it or not, all muscles pull (aka contract)…it’s just that the net effect sometimes is pushing.)
|Exercise||Equipment||Reps||Sets||Why I chose this|
|Push-ups, 45°||TRX||15-20||5||The angle allows the pecs contracting at the angle that works them most efficiently. Plus, it allows the scapulae to move as intended during a pushing motion.|
|Rows, arms at side (0°)||TRX||8-12||5||Of all the TRX rows, I think this one isolates the lats best; the muscle fibers run mostly in line with the direction of pull. Although it’s not the purest lat isolator, and the arms end up doing their share of the work, it works fine.|
|Push-ups, 0°||TRX||8-12||5||The TRX push-up allows the scapulae to move freely, unlike a bench, which restricts their movement. It also keeps pectoral origin and insertion lined up, to make for an efficient stressor of the pecs.|
|Rows, arms out (90°)||TRX||12-15||5||I pair these with the 0° push-ups for a push-pull biplex. The trick—if there is such a thing—is concentrating on the posterior shoulder muscles doing the work instead of the arms or traps. I definitely felt these the next day and the day after that.|
|T-pulls||TRX||8||4||I throw these in for good measure. Some would call them junk volume. Maybe, but my body was telling me I needed to finish off the posterior delts.|
|Sissy squats||TRX||15-20||4||First, what exactly is a TRX Sissy Squat? You know that bullet-dodging move Neo does on the rooftop in Matrix. Yeah, kinda like that. Finger-tip grip on the TRX handles, standing on the balls of the feet about 12” apart, bend back at the knees keeping quads tense and body completely straight from knees to shoulders. The feel is like the most intense leg extension you’ve ever done, and the lower you go, and the lighter the “grip”, the more intense. I mean, damn. At 16 reps I was crying for mercy. This move and foot positioning keeps the tibia at nearly a 90° angle, which—if you know your levers—means the quads are doing virtually all the work.|
That’s it. I definitely felt it the next day in the spots I’d targeted, and just enough to be ready to do Workout 2 two days later. Bonus was the isometric core work, compliments of the TRX. Best part: my patio workout got me moving and out of the house.