5 Tips for Strength Training at Home

You’ve probably heard the term “strength training” before. Maybe a doctor or physiotherapist has even recommended you do specific exercises to build muscle around your joints. It’s true that strength training can help reduce pain, swelling, and fatigue and improve overall health. However, many people find it intimidating or think it can only be done at a gym.

“You can get fancy and use machines and free weights at a gym,” said Dr. Jasmin Ma, a clinician investigator and kinesiologist at Arthritis Research Canada. “You can also get creative and use household items. I’ve seen folks fill a backpack with books or use a broomstick and attach heavy bags at the ends to make barbells.”

Internationally, physical activity guidelines recommend adults engage in strength training exercises at least twice a week. Yet, only about a third of the general population meets these recommendations. That number is even lower in people living with arthritis.

To break down some of the barriers to strength training, we’ve got some tips to help you get started at home.

1. Remember: It’s all About Push, Pull, Hinge and Squat

Strength training exercises, for the purposes of improving muscular fitness, include four key movements: push, pull, hinge and squat. All involve exercises that can be done at home with little to no equipment.


  • Think upper body. For example, targeting chest muscles and backs of the arms. Some push exercises include chest press, overhead press, “Arnold” press and triceps extension.
  • Don’t have weights at home? Don’t worry! Try using cans of soup as free weights or your own body weight in a push-up.
  • Remember, it’s important to listen to your body. Choose the option that is best for you each day. If you’re experiencing a flare, you might want to do the exercises using no weights or focus on the muscles around the joints that are least affected.
  • If grip is a challenge, using cuff weights can be a solution.


  • You’re targeting back muscles and biceps with these exercises.
  • Bent-over row, lat pulldown, upright row, TRX (or total resistance exercise straps) row, and assisted chin-up are some pull exercises to try.
  • Trouble with gripping? Consider purchasing some exercise bands and tying either loops or a wrist sweat band at the end. Alternatively, wrist hooks that are commonly available at gyms can be used for machine exercises with a handle (e.g., adjustable pulleys, lat pulldown, seated row)


  • These movements cause you to bend at the hips like you’re bowing or picking something up off the ground. These exercises primarily target the hamstrings or backs of the legs, as well as the glutes/butt muscles.
  • Some exercises include deadlifts, glute bridges, and kettlebell swings.
  • Don’t have kettlebells laying around? Fill a milk jug with water and use that instead. Packets of rice or dried beans can also work if you are able to grip them comfortably.
  • Hinge exercises can lead to lower back injuries if done incorrectly. Make sure to perfect your form before adding or increasing weights.


  •  Squatting is a really important movement for getting in and out of a chair. This exercise strengthens quadriceps and gluteal or butt muscles.
  • Most squats, such as front, sumo and split squats can all be done at home with no equipment.
  • Add weights for more difficulty. Don’t have weights? Use a backpack filled with books or other household items like a bag of rice.
  • Start slow and meet yourself with where you’re at. If you’re not doing any strength training, even doing one set or 12-15 reps once a week is a good place to start. Once you’ve mastered that, you can add some weight, increase your sets, or the frequency of your workouts.
  • Want to build strength/muscle without adding weights? Try isometric squats, which involve squatting and holding that position for a few seconds before coming back up to standing.
  • Another way to do squats at home is to sit on a kitchen chair and stand up repeatedly.
  • Does squatting hurt your knees? Try only squatting as far as you can go, adding heel raises, or turning your feet slightly outward.


2. Don’t Underestimate Your Body Weight

While many strength training exercises involve gym equipment, one of the best tools you have access to is your own body weight.

  • Squats, lunges, glute and hip bridges, push ups, planks, plank dips and dead bug are some examples of exercises that use body weight to build strength.
  • Feel intimidated by some of the exercises? Sit to stand exercises are a great place to start. As mentioned above, all you need is a kitchen chair.
  • Do planks put too much pressure on your wrists? Try from your forearms instead.
  • Looking for more guidance without hiring a personal trainer? Click here to view an excellent body weight exercise guide.


3.Adapt When Necessary

Experiencing a flare? Feeling tired? Dealing with more joint stiffness than usual? Don’t be afraid to change up your strength training routine.

  • If you’re in a flare, consider only doing range of motion.
  • Shorten your program when you have less energy or are in more pain. It’s important to listen to your body and rest.
  • Focus on your upper body one day and your lower body the next. That way, you’re giving your muscles a bit more time to recover.
  • Use equipment to adapt exercises. For example, if your hands are sore, pick up some weight lifting hooks or straps. These go around your wrists and hang down so you don’t have to grip weights.
  • Have sore knees? Consider getting some knee sleeves to provide you with some extra knee support for lower body exercises like squats and deadlifts.
  • Resistance bands are also fairly inexpensive and can be used to adapt many exercises.


4. Remember to Recover

People tend to know more about aerobic, or cardio, exercise – activities like walking, running, wheeling, and swimming – than strength training. But thanks to research, we know that both can provide similar benefits and both require recovery. In fact, it takes muscles 48-72 hours to recover, so it’s important to take care of yourself after every workout – even ones that are done at home.

  • Remember to warm up before strength training.
  • Drink plenty of water.
  • Eat healthy meals and snacks.
  • Avoid working out during times of day when you are most stiff.
  • If you are experiencing severe pain, take a rest day.


5. Always Check with Your Body

Strength training, even high intensity strength training, is safe for people with arthritis. The key is checking in with your body/where you’re at and then progressing gradually. You wouldn’t run a marathon with no training, so don’t start your strength training journey by lifting too heavy or pushing too hard. Everyone’s body is different.



Looking for more strength training information? Check out our latest Education Series episode. We’ve got research, videos, frequently asked questions, resources and more.

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