How to Build Muscle with Minimal Equipment at the Gym (Specific Workout Routine)

June 30, 2020

muscle building workout with minimal equipment

It’s great to go to a gym that has all of the fancy state-of-the-art equipment.

But what if you only have access to minimal gym equipment? Are your gains going to suffer because of that?

No, absolutely not!

In this post, I’m going to show you how to build muscle if…

  • you belong to a smaller gym with minimal equipment
  • you go to the gym at a crowded time when much of the equipment is taken
  • you train at home with minimal equipment

You’re also going to get a complete (and specific) workout routine you can do with minimal equipment and machines. And I’ll share some ‘secret’ techniques to help you build even more muscle.

What and How Many Exercises You Need to Build Muscle

Barbell curls - bw

In theory, you could build muscle with just one exercise for each major muscle. But that doesn’t quite cut for you or me.

So I’m going to give you the perfect formula for building muscle when you have minimal equipment or limited access.

The magic number is three.

Here’s what you do:

  • Choose three exercises for each major muscle (legs, chest, back, and shoulders)
  • Make sure at least one of those exercises is a compound exercise (like squats, barbell rows, bench press, overhead press, etc.)
  • For smaller muscles like biceps, triceps, and calves, you’ll only choose one exercise

Let’s elaborate on this…

Doing only three exercises makes it feasible to still work each muscle from different angles. And in most cases, you will have access to at least that many exercises.

Compound exercises give you more bang for your buck. When you do exercises like squats and barbell rows, you’re working multiple muscles. And you’re also building more overall muscle and strength.

Exercise Option 1

  • Exercise 1: compound exercise
  • Exercise 2: compound exercise
  • Exercise 3: isolation exercise

Exercise Option 1

  • Exercise 1: compound exercise
  • Exercise 2: isolation exercise
  • Exercise 3: isolation exercise

When you have limited access to equipment you may be alternating these options. For example, on back day you may be able to go with option one, doing two compound exercises.

But on chest day, you may be stuck with option two because of either the lack of equipment or the gym is too crowded. Either way works as long as you have at least one compound exercise.

For smaller muscles, you’ll just choose one basic exercise. For these body parts, you’ll be doing a different technique, so your sets will be different. And we’re about to talk more about sets below…

How Many Sets Are Ideal for Building Muscle with Limited Gym Equipment?

Even though you’re minimizing the number of exercises in your workouts you still need to make sure you get enough volume for muscle growth.

Most bodybuilding workouts have you doing three to four sets per exercise. But those workouts also have you doing anywhere from four to six exercises.

Since you’re only doing three exercises, you’ll bump up the number of sets to seven sets for each exercise.

This is sort of a ‘magic number’ that I came up with when creating this routine and concept. And I’ll tell you more about that story at the end of this post.

Workout Routine with Minimal Equipment

heavy dumbbell rows

Let’s get into your muscle-building workout routine. This is a complete routine and you’ll have a workout for each muscle below.

Here’s a sample training split you can follow…

Training Split

  • Monday: Back
  • Tuesday: Legs
  • Wednesday: Rest
  • Thursday: Chest and biceps
  • Friday: Shoulders and triceps
  • Saturday: Rest
  • Sunday: Optional 2nd workout for legs

**I mentioned Sunday being an optional 2nd leg workout. I’m a firm believer in training legs twice a week as opposed to just once a week. You can read more about why I recommend this in my post: Training Legs Twice a Week: How to Get Bigger Legs

Back Workout

ExerciseSets x Reps
Barbell Rows7 x 10
Dumbbell Rows7 x 10
Lat Pulldowns7 x 12

Leg Workout

ExerciseSets x Reps
Squats7 x 10
Leg Extensions7 x 12
Leg Curls7 x 12
Calve Raises1 x 75*

*For calves, you’ll do a technique called ’75’s.’ This is basically a giant rest-pause set. Here’s how it works…

Choose a weight that you can do about 20 reps with. Do a set, rest 10-15 seconds, and do another set using the same weight.

You’ll continue this until you reach a total of 75 reps. It’s brutal, and it works extremely well for building your calves.

Chest and Biceps Workout

ExerciseSets x Reps
Bench Press7 x 10
Incline Dumbbell Press7 x 10
Pec Dec Flyes7 x 12
EZ Bar Curls4 x 10*

*One your 4th set you’ll do a triple drop set.

After your final set, you’ll reduce the weight by about 30% and pump out another set. Then you’ll repeat that twice more.

This will essentially equate to seven total sets, and your biceps will be super pumped!

Shoulders and Triceps Workout

ExerciseSets x Reps
Seated Overhead Press7 x 10
Lateral Raises7 x 10
Bent-over Raises7 x 10
Cable Pressdowns4 x 10*

*You’ll do the same method for triceps as you did for biceps above; end with a triple drop set.

Optional: 2nd Leg Workout

leg press machine heavy

This is completely optional but I personally feel it’s best to train legs twice a week. Even if you don’t do the same amount of volume for the 2nd workout.

You can also change up the exercises for your 2nd leg day. For example, instead of squats you could do front squats or hacks squats. You can cater the workout and exercises to what works best for you (and the equipment you have access to).

Although I didn’t list calves below, you could train those as well on your 2nd leg day. In fact, I recommend that you do. And on that workout, you could apply the triple drop set method instead of thre 75’s method you did on your first leg day.

The goal is to play around some with this 2nd leg workout and do some different things.

ExerciseSets x Reps
Front Squats7 x 10
Leg Press7 x 12
Single-leg Curls7 x 12

On that note, you could also do a 2nd back workout. I’m a firm believer in training back twice a week as well. You can read the benefits of that in this post: Training Back Twice a Week for Ripped Mass Gains

I will sometimes train a little back and legs together for the 2nd time, so that’s another way you could do it.

Either way, both of these muscles are often undertrained. They are both larger muscles and can handle more volume, and often need it to grow.

Why this Method May Work Better for Building Muscle

There are a few reasons why this method may actually help you build more muscle than your current routine.

  • It’s simple, allowing you to focus more on each exercise
  • The volume from this routine is adequate for building muscle size
  • You may spend less time in the gym as you’re not having to hunt down equipment and machines that aren’t being used

How I Came Up With This Training Method

There are two parts to this story…

It was back day, and one of those mornings when my gym just seemed to be super crowded. And most of the equipment I intended to use was taken.

So I took a step back and thought it through. I decided that I would choose only three exercises.

The number ‘7’ popped in my head because that’s based on the FST-7 bodybuilding training method. And doing seven sets of three exercises gives you a total of 21 sets for that body part (yay, I can do simple math!). That’s plenty of volume.

But that’s not all…

Sometimes we go to the Tampa Seminole Hard Rock Casino where we live. They have several machines called ‘Triple Lucky 7.’

Of course, I always lose at these machines. But it just sounded neat to have a workout based on this…3 exercises, 7 sets each! That sounds like more of a win!

Try this simple workout routine! You may find that you like it better than your current routine.

I hope you enjoyed reading this post and got something out of it. If so, please feel free to share this post as it may help someone else!

Excuses Don’t Build Muscle,


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About the author

Jason Stallworth

Hi, I'm Jason Stallworth and I created The Muscle Program in 2010 for the purpose of helping you build muscle. I know first-hand how weight training and being in the gym has shaped my life in more way than one. And here is where I share that experience with you so that you can continue pushing yourself and becoming the best version of yourself each day!