You can still get a great workout without a trainer or training partner. Assuming you already know your way around a gym and have a plan for your workout, there are some great ways to boost your solo workout similar to how a (good) trainer or training partner would.
Alternating Rest Pause
Rest-pause is a technique where you take a set to failure, rest for 10-20 seconds, then with the same weight, try to complete 3-5 more reps. It’s a great way to really work a muscle group past failure. Without someone to assist you with this, big compound exercises like squats, bench presses and overhead presses can become dangerous to take past failure this way. A way to utilize rest-pauses alone is with unilateral exercises, which is using one limb at a time. Since one leg or arm is resting while the other is working, you will be able to complete more reps, albeit with less weight. Many chest and overhead press machines as well as row machines are unilateral, which will allow you to do even some compound exercises with one arm at a time.
Bonus: Unilateral work is also great for correcting and preventing muscle imbalances.
Like rest-pause, dropsets are a great way to add intensity to your workouts and push your muscles past failure. In a dropset, you would reach failure on a given exercise, drop the weight by 10-30 percent (depending on the individual and the exercise) then continue again until failure. I have even done triple dropsets, where this process is repeated a second time. Very intense. Any exercise with a barbell, where weight is added with plates is not ideal for solo training because the time it takes to remove (and add in some cases) reduces the effectiveness of dropsets. For dropsets solo, any machine where the weight is selected via a stack and pin is ideal. For example, if you are using a chest press machine with a weight stack and reach failure at 100 pounds, within a few seconds you can drop the weight to 70 pounds and complete more reps.
- Ahtiainen, J. P., Pakarinen, A., Kraemer, W. J., & Häkkinen, K. (2003). Acute hormonal and neuromuscular responses and recovery to forced vs maximum repetitions multiple resistance exercises. International Journal of Sports Medicine, 24(6), 410-418.
- G E Fincher, I. I. (2003). The effect of high intensity resistance training on body composition among collegiate football players. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, 35(5), S324.
- Yarrow, J. F., Borsa, P. A., Borst, S. E., Sitren, H. S., Stevens, B. R., & White, L. J. (2007). Neuroendocrine responses to an acute bout of eccentric-enhanced resistance exercise. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, 39(6), 941-947.