How to Crush Hypertrophy Training Sessions Without Machines

Strength & Conditioning

Crossfitters, powerlifters, and weightlifters who want to try a splash of physique training might have to adjust hypertrophy movements based on their available equipment. I did. 

Strength gyms don’t usually have cable machines, but you can use bands or Crossover Symmetry equipment for that. No incline bench? Elevate one side of a flat bench. Try doing preacher curls on a GHD or leg extensions with a medicine ball. Get creative with your substitutions so you can make those gains. 

Lily Frei Headshot

lily frei

Lily is TrainHeroic’s Marketing Content Creator and a CF-L1 with an English background. She was a successful freelance marketer for the functional fitness industry until being scooped up by TrainHeroic. An uncommon combo of bookish, artsy word-nerd and lifelong athlete, Lily is passionately devoted to weightlifting, CrossFit, yoga, dance, and aerial acrobatics. Find her showcasing her artist-athlete hobbies on IG @lilylectric.

BRO SESH MODIFICations for a strength gym

Listen – we all know form follows function. The stronger and more well-rounded you are as an athlete (generally), the fitter you look. But there’s a growing acceptance for physique work among athletes who usually pursue function over everything else. We’re talking to the Crossfitters, weightlifters, and powerlifters who want to take a dip into the physique world. You know you could stand to do more accessory work anyway, why not try growing boulder shoulders in the process? Enter: the Bro Sesh. 

A fun deviation from snatch waves or gnarly metcons, the Bro Sesh is a chance to work on your “show muscles”, so you actually look like you’re strong. 

Pretty much everyone wants visible abs and sculpted glutes, so a number of our favorite athletes have put out programs focusing on those physique-related results. With nutrition and recovery being dialed in, it usually works out that if you hammer a smaller/weaker muscle group, those tissues will adapt to the stress and become stronger. That strength = bigger muscle, aka hypertrophy.

Bodybuilders have perfected this method fantastically over the years, and many functional strength athletes throw in bodybuilding movements as accessories to offset holes in their training. Bodybuilding puts more emphasis on controlled isolation, time under tension, and hypertrophy than any other strength sport. It’s even great for active recovery work, maintaining mass while injured, and of course taking a break from nasty metabolic training.

With suns-out guns-out season coming on, us functional strength people who want to borrow a page or two from physique books might run into some issues. Bodybuilders usually train in commercial gyms stocked with machines. Do CF gyms have cable machines? Leg presses? Any of that weird fun stuff? Negatory. (“Why would I use a leg press when I can just squat…”) That can make having a Bro Sesh at your gym tricky. 

You can get a lot done with dumbbells alone, but if you’re following any badass physique programs on the side, you might need to make some adjustments based on the equipment you have. Here are some of my favorite modifications for common isolation movements you’d normally do in a Globo gym. 

#1 Cable Machine Movements

What to use: Crossover Symmetry & bands


Cable machines are one of the first things athletes miss when they move away from commercial gyms into strength and conditioning facilities. But fear not – you can do pretty much everything you would do on a cable machine using bands or Crossover Symmetry resistance, which are basically universal to functional fitness gyms. With a little grip creativity you can do lateral & front raises, lat pulldowns, chest fly, tricep extensions, donkey kick, hip abduction/adduction and really, everything else.

empty barbell and a TABATA timer

#2 Incline Bench

What to use: Flat bench & stacked plates


This one is pretty simple – find a sturdy flat bench (or be careful with the ancient wobbly one), then stack two 45lb plates and set one end of the flat bench on those plates. This version of an incline bench isn’t adjustable to the point of being upright, but it does the job for getting to a 45 degree angle. You can do DB presses or flip over on your belly and do chest-assisted pulls for back/rear delt work.

@Nater79 via Twenty20

#3 Preacher Curls

What to use: GHD & barbell or dumbbells


Another easy modification – most CF gyms have glute-ham developers (GHD) which can double as the perfect bench for preacher curls. Just stand facing the two half-moon shaped pads and put each arm over the pads as you would with a preacher curl machine. You can get your killer bicep pump using DBs or an EZ-curl bar if you have one. Put a box under your butt if you want to sit down for these. 

Resistance bands

#4 Leg Extensions and Hamstring Curls

What to use: Bench + band attached to rig OR jerk blocks + medicine ball


Other missing pieces to the Bro Sesh puzzle are extension and curl machines for isolating quads and hamstrings. For this, you can attach a band to a rig, loop the band around the front of your foot at the ankle and sit on a bench to work on quad extensions. Do the same thing for hamstrings, just lie on your belly facing away from the rig. 

Another option is to sit on something high enough that your feet dangle off the floor, like jerk blocks. Grip a medicine ball between your feet and extend your quads. You might end up being limited in the weight you can use with these, but if you do 3-5 sec negatives like a lot of bodybuilders do, it’s not going to matter.

Add These 4 Exercises to Your at Home Workouts header image

If you want bigger arms or more defined legs, or if you’re just looking for some physique work inspiration, check out our popular bodybuilding programs in the TrainHeroic Marketplace. They’re easy to follow along or add to your current programming. Happy gains season!



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