Wednesday, October 24, 2007 at 8:57am by The Free Geek
You felt like crap when you woke up this morning, didn’t you? You know that poor nutrition and a sedentary lifestyle contributes to your malaise, but you continue to ignore a healthy lifestyle because of the perceived price. Those Jenny Craig moments, plus the price of a gym membership and its inherent contract will make a huge dent in your credit. But those are lousy excuses. You can enjoy a healthy diet for about the same price as a fat-filled series of meals (compare the price of an apple to a bag of french fries, for instance). And, you can begin an exercise program now for the price of a good pair of gym shoes.
Another excuse that people often use to avoid a healthy lifestyle includes the perception that exercise consists of rigorous weightlifting and breath-taking aerobics. Face it now; you can’t begin at those levels if you sit in an office chair all day and on a couch all night. The exertion would strain your body and you could injure your muscles. Therefore, you don’t need all the gadgets that the advertisements say you must own for your exercise routines. In fact, even professional athletes avoid expensive equipment whenever possible, as they know that resistance, not expensive equipment, is the key to toned muscles.
But, no matter if you’re skinny or overweight, a healthy diet needs to be balanced by an exercise routine. This is where the home gym comes into play. There are four main advantages to creating a home gym: 1) You can enjoy privacy, 2) You can create one for free from items that you have around the house, thereby saving money on gym memberships and exercise equipment, 3) If you create a home gym, you’ll be more inclined to use it (or suffer guilt), and 4) You save even more money by eliminating the drive to the gym and the obligatory gym clothes.
What You’ll Need
Start any program slowly to avoid strain on your body. In fact, you could accomplish many of the exercises listed below without “weights” in the beginning until you feel comfortable with additional resistance:
- Two canned goods. Look at the weight on the cans to determine that the cans are balanced evenly. You can start without the cans or begin with small cans and work your way up to larger cans that you can grip with one hand (like asparagus). The point is to create resistance so the cans represent items that you “push” against as you lift or lower them in your routines. This resistance helps to build muscle tone.
- Two milk jugs filled with water. Once you get to the point where you want more resistance, you can graduate to milk jugs. You might begin with quart sized jugs, which will weigh about 64 fluid ounces, or four pounds. If you want to proceed from there, a one-gallon milk jug filled with water will weigh approximately 8.5 pounds when full. While the handles on those jugs make them easy to hold, don’t use this easy grip to avoid adding resistance to that weight (one guy uses buckets filled with gravel that equal about fifty pounds each!).
- One large book (like a telephone book). The large book is better, as it’s not as flexible as the telephone book, but use the telephone book weight as a comparison.
- One five-pound bag of food. Use flour, sugar, potatoes, or whatever you find in that pantry.
- Carpet remnants. You will need cushioning for some routines if your stairs aren’t carpeted. You can also use old towels if you fold them so they supply padding.
- A mat or some beach towels. You’ll need these if you don’t feel comfortable lying on the floor without padding.
- A sturdy chair. A dining room chair is perfect, as that chair will have a back that you can use for support and a seat that isn’t so cushy that you don’t want to leave it.
- A pair of gym shoes with grips so you don’t slip or slide. This is the most expensive item on your list. You don’t want to skimp on them as you’ll need good support for your feet. Even if you don’t continue with your exercise program, you can use these shoes to drive to the nearest fast food restaurant, as they’ll last a long time.
The list below will get you started on your journey toward free fitness… just turn on your favorite tunes and get started.
One of the best ways to begin your new routine is to get out and walk. If you can walk for 30 minutes at least three times per week, you’ll begin to notice a difference in your stamina. But, if your chest hurts even when you talk on the phone, you might begin very slowly with stretches until you’re comfortable with movement. The point is to get up off that chair and/or couch so you can begin to strengthen your heart.
Eventually you might want to walk faster, or you might want to jog if your legs and feet can stand the impact and stress. One way to begin to begin that cardiovascular workout at home is to utilize stairs to shape your heart and legs:
- You need: Stairs (actually, just one step), located either inside or outside. If you live in an apartment complex and you only have access to outside stairs, you can plan to do this exercise at a time when you know you won’t interrupt your neighbors.
- What to do: Face the stairs and hold the rail for balance if you need it. Take one step up with the right or left foot, then step up with the second foot. The cadence is: up, up, down, down, using only one step in the stairs. Keep your upper body upright and centered over your legs so that your back is straight.
- Routine: In the beginning, step for just one minute, stop for 15 seconds, and then repeat. Work up to 30 minutes for one session before you take a break, but always warm up for a few minutes before you head into a heavy workout. A warm up for this routine could use the beginner’s routine where you step for one minute and rest for 15 seconds for about 10 reps. Or, you could stretch so you can get that blood moving before you tackle the stairs.
- Physical Benefits: Your heart (cardiovascular system) gets a workout, but so do your quadriceps and calves.
- Advantage: You don’t need to purchase a stair stepper.
- Disadvantage: If you use concrete steps, the hard surface may stress your feet and legs. Since you’re only using one step, you can use inexpensive carpet remnants or folded beach or bath towels to cushion the impact.
Triceps are located in the back of the upper arm, and they’re primarily responsible for extending the elbow. You can tone these muscles with this exercise:
- You need: A sturdy chair with a back.
- What to do: Sit on the edge of the chair and hold the front corners of the seat with your hands, palms down. Walk your feet forward until your derriere is three to five inches away from the chair’s front edge. Lower your body by bending your arms to about 90 degrees, and then press your arms against that chair bottom to raise your body.
- Routine: Beginners may find it difficult to do more than one to three repetitions before resting. Try to work up to two sets of ten repetitions with a fifteen second rest between reps.
- Physical Benefits: Your triceps will get a workout, but your shoulders will benefit as well.
- Advantage: You don’t need to purchase weights or a triceps machine.
- Disadvantage: You might find this exercise too taxing at the beginning if you’re extremely out of shape. If you can manage to hold your body up with your arms, that’s a good first step. Don’t push your body when you feel uncomfortable.
Your arms also contain biceps, the large muscle located at the front of the upper arm. This next exercise can tone biceps so your arms will look limber and younger:
- You need: Start with two cans of food and work up to milk jugs over time.
- What to do: Hold a can in each hand with your arms slightly bent and palms facing upward. Lift (curl) the can to your shoulder while you squeeze your biceps. Return your arms slowly to the start position.
- Routine: Do two sets of 10 reps with each arm.
- Physical Benefits: Your biceps will benefit, but your wrists also will become stronger.
- Advantage: You don’t need to purchase weights or circuit machines.
- Disadvantage: None – this is an extremely easy exercise that will produce results quickly if you’re consistent.
Yes, your shoulders hold your arms to your body. While this is an important job, many people take their shoulders for granted. The exercise below will help strengthen your shoulders with added bonuses:
- You need: A chair and two cans of food (work up to milk jugs).
- What to do: Sit in the chair and hold a can in each hand with your arms at your sides, elbows slightly bent. Raise the cans outward, arms extended but bent, and keep your palms down. Don’t raise your arms higher than shoulder level, and raise and lower them slowly.
- Routine: Do two sets of 10 reps with a 15-second pause between reps. Don’t use more weight than you can handle.
- Physical Benefits: Your shoulders will thank you, and your chest muscles also will benefit.
- Advantage: You don’t need to purchase weights, a chest press machine or a weight bench. Plus, you don’t need a spotter to help you out.
- Disadvantage: None. This is another easy exercise that will produce results with your persistence.
4. Stomach & Chest
The following exercise will work on your “core” as it strengthens your lower abdomen:
- You need: A large book.
- What to do: Sit on the floor with your legs extended and heels together. Place the book between your ankles and shins and lie back flat. Keep your legs straight and raise your feet (and the book) about 5 inches off the floor. Hold it for 30 seconds or as long as you can. Lower your feet slowly.
- Routine: Three sets.
- Physical Benefits: This exercise benefits your lower abdominal muscles.
- Advantage: You don’t need to purchase a fitness ball, and the book may serve a dual purpose if you read it.
- Disadvantage: If the floor proves too hard, use beach towels or a mat for cushions.
The following exercise works your chest and shoulder muscles if needed:
- You need: Two cans of food.
- What to do: Lie on the floor and hold one can in each hand straight up over your chest with hands a few inches wider than your shoulders and elbows soft. Bend your elbows and lower the weight until your elbows reach no more than 90 degrees (going below that height will involve your shoulders). Press the cans back up, and make sure you don’t lock your elbows. Work up to milk jugs filled with water.
- Routine: Do 2-3 sets of 10-12 reps with comfortable weight resistance.
- Physical Benefits: This exercise benefits your chest, but if you lower your arms further than 90 degrees you’ll also strengthen shoulders.
- Advantage: You don’t need to purchase weights or a chest press machine.
- Disadvantage: Once again, if the floor proves too hard, lie on a mat or on several beach towels.
The following exercise can be completed with canned food if you cannot lift and hold the five-pound bag in the beginning:
- You need: A five-pound bag of food.
- What to do: Hold the bag in front of you and stand with your legs a bit wider than shoulder-width apart. Push the weight up and to the right. Squat down and to the left, and “pull” the bag with you. Repeat on the opposite side.
- Routine: Work up to 10 on each side.
- Physical Benefits: This exercise benefits your lower back and obliques (otherwise known as your waist and hips).
- Advantage: You don’t need to purchase a medicine ball.
- Disadvantage: You may need to use support in the beginning as you start with squats. Use the back of that chair as support until you feel confident to let go, and then add weights that you feel comfortable with until you can do the squats with the five-pound weight.
Stretch that back for strength…
- You need: A door.
- What to do: Stand about 2 feet away from an open door and hold one door knob in each hand. Bend forward with your legs slightly bent. Tuck your head between your arms while slightly pulling on the door.
- Routine: Do five times, a few seconds per bend.
- Physical Benefits: This routine will strengthen your upper and lower back and your shoulders.
- Advantage: You don’t need to purchase an exercise or body bar.
- Disadvantage: None. In fact, this exercise can help you build balance for those squats.
Lie face down on the floor and place hands behind head (advanced) or fold them behind your back. Contract your lower back to lift your chest a few inches off the floor and lower back down. You can simultaneously lift legs for more intense exercise.
The following exercise will tighten that derriere and the backs of your legs:
- You need: Two canned goods and work up to milk jugs.
- What to do: Stand with feet hip-width apart and hold cans in front of your thighs. Bend your knees slightly and bend your body from your hips to lower torso towards the floor. Keep the cans close to your legs and stop when those cans reach mid-shin, Squeeze your butt and hamstrings to raise your body back to standing position. Make sure your back is flat throughout the movement and that you tuck your abs in. This isn’t a squat, so don’t bend your knees.
- Routine: Work up to three sets of five reps.
- Advantage: You don’t need to purchase a medicine ball.
- Disadvantage: You may discover you can’t get up once you go down! You might want to substitute a chair back for the weights as support until you strengthen those glutes and hamstrings.
Calf stretches and presses
- You need: Stairs.
- What to do: While holding the stair rail for balance, position the balls of the feet at the edge of the step. Slowly lower your heels to stretch the calves; then slowly raise yourself to your toes.
- Routine: Do two sets of 10 to 20 reps slowly.
- Physical Benefits: Your calves and foot muscles will become stronger with this routine.
- Advantage: You don’t need to purchase step boards.
- Disadvantage: None. Just hold onto that rail if you can’t balance your body when you begin this exercise.
Walking lunges will make you look silly, but they’ll also shape your legs…
- You need: Canned goods and graduate to milk jugs.
- What to do: Stand with one foot about 12 to 15 inches in front of the other foot. Hold the milk jugs in each hand and your arms next to your body. Keep your upper body straight and inhale as you slowly lower yourself until the thigh of your front leg is parallel to the ground. Exhale and take a big step forward with your other foot and repeat the lunge.
- Routine: Work up to two to three lengths of your living room.
- Physical Benefits: Your calves and foot muscles will become stronger with this routine.
- Advantage: You don’t need to purchase weights.
- Disadvantage: You might want to forgo the weights until you can take those strides with ease. Further, if you can’t walk with lunges, practice lunges without walking until you feel comfortable with taking a stride. These progressions will help you avoid injury.
As you begin your exercise routine, you might become curious about what others are doing to get in shape. You can find blogs about weight lifting, running, cycling, and yoga online, or you can search through books at the local library. Remember that stretching routines (like those used in yoga) are different than cardio routines (cycling or running) and strength routines (which you can find in resistance training or with weights). A combination of routines that you enjoy is key to your commitment to these programs.
A sweet plus includes sites that contain ideas about how to continue your exercise routines if you travel for business or pleasure. If you don’t want to pack those milk jugs, you can use the hotel pool instead. Often, the hotel might offer an exercise room filled with machines that you could use for no extra charge. In fact, hotel treadmills often provide a preferable alternative to walking in unfamiliar areas that may be unsafe.
Eventually, you might check out the local exercise scene to see if you can join in on a routine. You can, for instance, join these guys for a beach workout at no charge if you live in the area. Also, you can become an exercise fanatic at the office. Check out local yard sales and second-hand shops to find perfectly good home gym equipment. Look for smaller equipment you can carry home in the car instead of paying for shipping. You could buy new equipment, but few people fail to make good use of the euipment that they’ve purchased (which may be the reason why they’re selling it), so you can often find excellent equipment for half the price.
The point is to get started, as the key to a successful home gym is to build one that you will continue to use with enthusiasm. If you aren’t going to use your equipment, at least the canned goods won’t go to waste, as you’ll eventually consume the contents. However, you may begin to see results from your routines quickly and these results may help you to continue to build a healthy lifestyle.