Home Fitness: Strategies and Tips for Effective Home Workouts

There are many reasons you may not want to exercise in a gym. Some people feel intimidated in a gym environment. Some may struggle with child care or other logistics. Others simply want to create an exercise routine they can do whether at home or while traveling and without access to a gym.

What's more difficult is figuring out what to do, especially if you are unaccustomed to regular exercise or are unsure how to put together an effective routine at home that will help you reach your goals. Keep reading to learn strategies and tips for working out at home.

Use Your Body Weight

Using your own body is the simplest way to work out at home. There are a variety of effective exercises that can help you build strength and endurance and burn calories. And by circuit training (going from one exercise to the next, with little or no rest), you keep your heart rate up, burn more calories, and get the most out of your exercise time.

When working out at home with body weight only, you can choose to do cardio, strength training, or a mixture of both. For cardio, focus on exercises with different levels of intensity.

For example, you might alternate a high-intensity exercise (such as jumping jacks or burpees) with an easier move (such as marching in place). For strength training, choose pushes, pulls, front-of-leg, back-of-leg, and core movements, such as squats, lunges, push-ups, and dips.

Beginners might start with 10 to 30 seconds or 8 to 16 reps, while intermediate or advanced exercisers might go for 60 to 90 seconds or 20 or more reps. Set up a timer or use a stopwatch, turn on some music or your favorite TV show and start with a warm-up. Do 1 circuit if you're a beginner or short on time. Do 2 to 5 circuits for a more intense workout.

Sample Strength Circuit Workout

  1. 1 min: March in place to warm up
  2. Squats: 20 reps
  3. Reverse lunges: 12 reps on each leg
  4. Push-ups (on the knees or toes): 10 to 12 reps
  5. Dips: 10 to 12 reps
  6. Walking lunge with arms overhead: 10 to 12 reps
  7. Lateral leg lifts: 10 to 12 reps
  8. Planks: Hold for 30 to 60 seconds
  9. Glute bridge: 10 to 12 reps
  10. Back extensions: 10 to 12 reps

Invest in Versatile Equipment

If you want to work out at home on a consistent basis, consider investing in some fitness equipment. What and how much you choose to add to your home gym will depend on your budget and space limitations.

When choosing home workout equipment, ensure that it is versatile. Pieces of equipment that are designed only for particular movements are not as useful and could be a waste of space and money. Choose equipment you can use for a variety of exercises and body parts, such as suspension trainers, adjustable dumbbells, and kettlebells.

Strength Training At Home

Beginners can start off with fewer weights, so long as they are challenged while training. As you get stronger, you can add more weight. Those who are less strong or very new to lifting weights can use body weight and resistance bands in place of any other weights and consider adding more equipment as you progress.

More advanced exercisers may want to consider heavier weights and additional pieces of strength training equipment to add variety, novelty, and increased challenge to your workout. These factors are essential for continuing to see progress.

Cardio At Home

If you want to perform cardio at home and bodyweight movements aren't enough to inspire you, consider a versatile piece of cardio equipment that you know you'll use consistently. Treadmills are an excellent choice because you can run, walk flat, or on an incline.

For a very budget-friendly and easy-to-store cardio idea at home, try skipping ropes. You can find skipping ropes in various types, including ones designed for speedwork and weighted ones for building muscular endurance. Other options include mini-trampolines (rebounders) and light kettlebells for swings and other cardio conditioning workouts.

You can also use a treadmill desk, so you can build exercise into your day by walking while working, gaming, or browsing. Under the desk, bikes or steppers are also useful for this purpose. You can use the same equipment while watching TV or reading during off-hours.

Build Movement Into Your Day Naturally

If structured workouts are not ideal for you or you have difficulty fitting in exercise, consider activities outside the scope of traditional workouts. Boosting your movement throughout the day can substantially impact, especially if it replaces more sedentary activities.

In fact, non-exercise activity can account for up to 50% of your daily calorie burn if you are active. And if calorie burn isn't of concern to you, there are many other health benefits to moving rather than sitting, including reduced risk of heart failure and better mental health.

Ideas for building more movement into your day include setting timers to get up and move around every hour, walking instead of driving to perform closeby errands, and going for evening walks or to the park with your kids or dog instead of watching TV.

Hobbies like gardening, cooking, and activities like home improvement efforts and cleaning can all help increase your movement.

Working out at home expands your options when it comes to increasing your daily activity. It is more convenient and easier to access than a gym. Your body weight is a great place to start when trying to create a workout at home, but if you want more, consider investing in versatile equipment. And if structured workouts aren't your thing, try to incorporate movement into your day naturally.

William H. McDaniel, MD

Dr. Robert H. Shmerling is the former clinical chief of the division of rheumatology at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (BIDMC), and is a current member of the corresponding faculty in medicine at Harvard Medical School.

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