One of the biggest challenges in retreating to the basement is one of the most common setbacks that basements can bring - lower ceiling heights. And really no matter how you slice it, minimized ceiling height can immediately rule out some of your favorite exercises like the ring muscle up and even some overhead barbell work.
Although there may be some exercises we just can't perform effectively, rather than be discouraged, now is the time to be inventive and resourceful. The limited ceiling height can force us into re-thinking our training plan and with that comes some fresh ideas to re-ignite our passion for fitness.
They always say that necessity is the mother of invention and we'll offer up a few suggestions on movements that don't require a lot of overhead ceiling space but can still provide all the challenge you are after.
The Kettlebell [or Med Ball] Kayak - If the standard sit up movement has been dominating your programming, it's the perfect time to step things up. Adding a kettlebell or medicine ball to your core work can quickly ramp up the challenge and the Kayak exercise is one of the best. With your body in mid-sit up position and feet just off the ground, start with a kettlebell or medicine ball held at your mid-line and twist from left to right and back again. Each full twist counts as one rep. To make it easier, lighten the load or drop your feet to the ground. No high ceilings needed here.
Floor Movements - The pushup is one of the most fundamental pressing exercises and by adding variation in either hand placement or foot position/height, you can crank up the challenge easily. The next time you are knocking out a set of 20 or more, try moving your hand position to either side of your hips. That lower hand position is a great change up. And after you've changed hand position, raise your feet either on a stack of bumpers or a plyo box.
Renegade Row - Another fantastic spin on the pushup is the renegade row which can be done with either kettlebells or dumbbells. Just as in the push up above, you can play around with hand position and foot height,but now at the top of the movement add a weighted row by lifting the kettlbell or dumbbell up to your side then lower to the starting position. With every pushup rep, you switch sides.
Wall Walks and Handstand Pushups - If you've got enough room to stand with your hands outstretched above your head without touching your ceiling then you can incorporate wall walks and handstand pushups into your routine. One warmup we use to do for a long time in the gym was a set of 10 wall walks. They are deceivingly challenging and are great for increasing your ability at Handstand Pushups and Handstand Walks. Start at the prone position [stomach side down] with your feet touching the wall behind you and your hands just under your shoulders, pick your body up into the push up position and walk your hands backward toward the wall behind you. As your hands step backward, walk your feet up the wall. Keep walking your hands back toward the wall and your feet skyward until your body is completely vertical. But you're only half done. Now walk with your hands and feet in unison again back to the starting position. That's one rep...only nine more to go :)
Variations - once you've got ten consecutive wall walks down, now it's time to incorporate Wall Runs. From the top of the Wall Walk position before moving back to the prone position on the floor, pick one hand up off the floor and touch the same side shoulder. Return the hand to the floor and repeat with the other hand and shoulder. It sounds simple but only with practice is it accomplished. And once you've got 10-20 solid unwavering wall runs down, now walk your body laterally long the wall by moving your hands. Still think you need a high ceiling to train hard?
Barbell Work - Here's a big one that can deflate any enthusiasm to move your training to a low ceiling space. Working with a bar is important and when challenged with a low ceiling height, pushing a bar over shoulder height is sometimes just not possible. But instead of completely abandoning the bar from your daily training, remember that there are still quite a few movements that reach no higher than shoulder height. That still leaves deadlifts, bent rows, good mornings, cleans, squat cleans, front squats, hack squats and back squats. We just counted off eight movements you can still do even if you can't get the bar overhead. That's no reason not to bring that bar down there with you. And if you've got a flat bench handy, shoulder pressing from the seated position is brilliant at getting your overhead pressing movements super clean. From standing, sometimes we allow our lower body into those pressing moves by bouncing at the knees or flexing at the ankles. While seated, that assistance from our lower body is completely negated. Cool. Get a flat bench and give it a try.
Overhead Kettlebell Work - If you are still itching to get at movements like the snatch, jerk, overhead squat when the ceiling height is low, don't rule out kettlebell work. Assuming you can extend your arms fully overhead without punching a hole through the floor, your new best friend is the kettlebell. Many of the movements done with a barbell have kettlebell counterparts and with the kettlebell held behind the ads as pictured left, it will never reach higher than your outstretched fist. Overhead work with one or even two kettlebells [or dumbbells] can be incredibly challenging for even advanced level athletes. You won't be missing the overhead barbell work at all with a few kettlebells in your arsenal.
Box Jumps - Traditional box jumps in low ceiling spaces can get a little hairy. With a box that has multiple height options you can choose the smallest height, stand on it then check for good overhead clearance. If you've got good overhead clearance, it's safe to jump. Normally, athletes land on the top of the box after a jump with hips, knees and ankles flexed then stand upright. So it won't be the jump on to the box that gets you. However, jump off the box when you haven't got a lot of overhead room and you might be counting stars.
Ring Muscle Ups - Nothing can let the air out of the ballon as much as not being able to work on ring muscle ups when we're forced into the basement gym. It's one of my favorite movements but without enough overhead clearance, it's challenging at best. But just because we can't perform a kipping muscle up because of our low ceiling space doesn't mean we abandon gymnastic ring training. They are great for a host of other movements such as ring push ups, ring rows, ring dips, front and back levers and more. And here's an often overlooked movement - the ring turn out. From a supported position [pictured left], rotate your wrists from parallel with your hips to pointing in front of you. Sounds easy but if you haven't tried it before, you might find it challenging. And that ring turn out is going to build some super shoulder strength that will make a host of other gymnastics rings movements easier.
If attaching gymnastics rings to your basement ceiling has you scratching your head, our gymnastic ring hanger makes short work of getting that done. You can have a look at it here.
Concept 2 Rowing - The winter season is one of the best times for an excuse to buy an indoor rowing machine. Concept 2 manufactures a stellar indoor rower with a great performance monitor. that gives you tremendous feedback and can also motivate you to push on. And Concept 2 has a great online logbook where you can log in your workouts to keep track of your progress and to see where you stand among others that log in their workouts. And even if you pick up your rower on craigslist, you don't need to be a registered Concept 2 owner to take advantage of that free online resource.
Even with a lower than ideal ceiling height, you can make the best of it. And the added challenge it can sometimes bring helps us look for new movements to train. Instead of seeing the lower ceiling height as a excuse, instead embrace it as an opportunity to vary your routine and bring a handful of new exercises into your wheelhouse. You'll be glad you did.
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Have other low ceiling height training ideas you want to share? Let us know how you deal with low ceiling heights in your daily training. Train hard, train often and train smart.