For various reasons, many people aren’t interested in going to the gym. Some are intimidated by the atmosphere and are self-conscious of exercising around other people. Or maybe it’s because, in some areas, it’s inconvenient to travel to a gym because of heavy traffic or long distances. Although I believe being physically active together as a family can strengthen a family bond, many would rather do workouts on their own, in the comfort of their home. In my next few columns, I’ll focus on some home exercise options that are practical, efficient and just as effective as any gym program.
Home Workout Options
Although body-weight-only exercise programs are possible, having some basic equipment will allow for some variety. I recommend the following as a minimum for your home gym. Think of acquiring this equipment as an investment in your health and fitness:
• Bench: A bench is inexpensive and can be used for many exercises. Your local sports store will have one.
• Stability ball: I have a bench, but I usually use the stability ball instead, which can also be used in a multi-purpose fashion. So if you can’t afford both, go with the stability ball.
• Surgical tubing: Surgical tubing comes in varying thicknesses to give you different levels of resistance and can be purchased at any sports store.
• Mat/Pad: Actually, you don’t even need a pad, a carpeted floor would do just fine; however, if you’re exercising for prolonged periods of time in one area, the carpet will absorb sweat, and the odor will eventually become noticeable.
• Dumbbell set: If you have the money, you can purchase individual sets of dumbbells, but that can get pricey. I have a few sets of adjustable dumbbells I’ve purchased from stores that sell used equipment or from pawn shops. You’ll end up saving at least 50% off full retail price, and, after all, it’s just a weight.
Home Cardio Ideas
To start, you can jog or bike around the neighborhood. But chances are, if you’re interested in home options, exercising outdoors may be just as uncomfortable for you as going to the gym. Some good home options for cardio range in price.
Inexpensive options include walking laps (yes, I’m serious) and jumping rope, which I think is one of the best exercises ever. More expensive options include equipment, such as a Nordic trac (I found one for $50 on Craigslist), a treadmill, elliptical or rowing machine.
Weight Training Tips
When you’re exercising at home, you have to make sure safety is your top priority. Weight training at home means you’ll be performing strength training exercises, and with many lifts, a spotter is recommended for safety purposes.
The exercises that are of primary safety concern are those that can trap you under the weight if you can’t complete the last repetition. The barbell bench press, barbell overhead press, power clean (and derivatives) and the barbell squat are notorious for causing serious injury and death. I avoid these exercises in the home programs I recommend. Many safe and effective alternatives to these exercises exist.
Note that in a gym you have spotters available and machines that may allow you to be able to push yourself to complete exhaustion. With home exercises, you have to be selective in which one can be safely taken to failure. Some, such as abdominal exercises, push-ups, pull-ups and curls are safe to train to failure, while others, such as bench press or overhead press, aren’t. Use caution when performing these exercises and end the set short of exhaustion if you feel safety is in question.
Additionally, any time I work with athletes who’ve never used a stability ball, I cover some basic guidelines for use. Stability balls come in several sizes, and your height should determine which size to use. When you purchase one, the size is indicated on the package along with an easy-to- use table that guides you in determining which size would fit you best. When you sit on an appropriately sized stability ball, the angles at your knees and hips should be about 90 degrees. As the name suggests, this requires balance. So, pay particular attention to what’s happening with your body (where your feet are placed, where your torso is relative to the ball) to maintain balance and prevent falling.
Also, unlike metal weights, wear and tear can damage the stability ball and surgical tubing, so inspect these items on a routine basis to make sure there won’t be a breakdown during one of your exercises. Try the following two programs if you’re a beginner. Work to a point of comfortable discomfort.
1. Start with your choice of home cardio for 10 minutes
2. Next, do seated reverse flies with tubing (15 repetitions), remembering to maintain good posture with slow movements.
3. Perform stability ball dumbbell bench press (15 repetitions). Note: performing this exercise on the stability ball requires engaging muscles of the hips, low back and abdominals to maintain balance.
4. Do lunges. Maintain posture and don’t let your knee extend past your big toe (15 repetitions for each leg).
5. Perform stability ball abdominal curls (20–30 repetitions). Exhale as you rise, and inhale as you return to the start position. Move slowly.
6. Stability ball back extensions. Exhale as you rise, inhale as you return to the start position. Move slowly (20–30 repetitions).
7. Perform dumbbell squats (15 repetitions). Maintain good posture with a slight arch to your back and your hips moved backward. Be sure not to let your knees extend past your big toes.
Complete exercises 1 through 7 three times, and you’ll get 30 minutes of cardio and a well-rounded strength training session.
1. Your choice of home cardio for 15 minutes
2. Perform repetitions of dumbbell lateral raises (12–15 repetitions). Keep your elbows slightly bent and move your arms upward and slightly in front of your body.
3. Perform tubing overhead presses (12–15 repetitions). Your movements are similar to an NFL referee signaling, “touchdown!”
4. Perform stability ball push-ups (12–15 repetitions). Engage your abdominals to maintain balance. The push-up with your hands on the stability ball is more difficult, so start with your feet on the ball and get comfortable with that before progressing to the hands-on-the-ball push-up.
5. Do abdominal curls (20–30 repetitions). Maintaining slow movements and eliminating momentum increases the effectiveness of this exercise. Remember, don’t hold your breath on this or any other exercise; inhale or exhale during the movement.
6. Do a shoulder bridge, holding for 30 seconds. Maintain controlled breathing while holding the position.
7. Perform stability ball dumbbell pullover repetitions, paying attention to engaging your abdominals, low back and hip musculature to maintain balance (12–15 repetitions).
8. Do dumbbell tricep extensions (10–15 repetitions). Again, pay attention to engaging your abdominals, low back and hip musculature to maintain balance.
9. Do dumbbell curls either standing or on the stability ball (10–15 repetitions).
Complete exercises 1 through 9 two times in succession (so go 1-9, then 1-9 again) a day, and you’ll get 30 minutes of cardio and a well-rounded strength training session. As I’ve discussed in previous articles, the repetitions should be performed under a controlled speed. To eliminate momentum, raise the weight in about three seconds while exhaling, and lower the weight in about three to four seconds while inhaling. Although these are basic programs suitable for beginners, an advanced athlete could still benefit from this basic approach to fitness and conditioning, but the commitment to intensity would have to be different. I’ve successfully used these programs for years in competing in and training other athletes for the rigorous demands of judo, wrestling, boxing, grappling and mixed martial arts.
With beginners, however, it’s important to gradually condition your body and mind to be able to withstand the fatigue and discomfort of exercise. These two programs are a good start for anyone who wants to begin training at home or who would simply like the option to train at home instead of the gym.