Working Out From Home
When it comes to making exercise work for your schedule, your budget, and your lifestyle, there really is no place like home. I launched my career designing video and audio workouts for stay-at-home Moms – so needless to say, it’s a topic close to my heart. These days, of course, home fitness is great for anyone whose schedule or finances (or simple shyness) prevents them from setting foot into a gym.
Working out at home is the ultimate excuse-buster. You can do it anytime, in any outfit, and in (almost) any area of the house. No parking, no smalltalk, no waiting around for machines. Sounds fool-proof, right?
There are, of course, some obstacles to overcome. When you’re at home, you’re more likely to be distracted – by the phone, the family, the mail, the dog, the chores…the list goes on. So the trick is to set yourself up for success. Here’s how:
Set Up A Sanctioned Area. Don’t let the idea of a “home gym” confuse you – you don’t have to have an entire separate room full of big, expensive equipment to get started. Just find an area of the house that you can section off as the designed workout area. Maybe you’ve got some extra room in the garage – or maybe you can transform the living room into your workout area with a few simple steps (in a way that lets you easily put everything back when you’re finished). Even though you’re in the comfort of your own home, there should still be an almost ritualistic aspect to exercise, so that you have a feeling that you’re devoting that time to yourself, and you know when you’re doing it, it’s the ONLY thing you’re doing. Turn off the phones, let the emails go for the time being, and take this time to focus on you.
That brings us to the next question. Once you’ve got that sanctioned area, what should go inside? Again, you don’t have to break the bank on a bunch of elaborate technology. You can start simple, and still see great results. Here are the six steps to creating your home gym starter kit:
1) Start With the Surface. If you’ve got a soft, carpeted surface, you’re already ahead of the game. Your carpet or rug may be enough of a foundation on its own, depending on the level of cushioning. But the next step is to invest in a basic exercise mat. There are of course the thick foam and plastic mats we see in gyms, used by gymnasts and martial artists to absorb the shock when they tumble, jump and fall – and while those mats do fold up, they can still be a little to bulky to store at home. Regardless of your space or personal fitness level, a yoga mat often does the trick. While not as shock absorbent as the thicker mats, they tend to provide enough cushioning for most moves (especially floor work, whether you’re stretching, doing pilates or crunches). And best of all, they roll up easily and can be stowed in a closet, under the sofa, just about anywhere.
2) Lift Weights to Lose Weight. That’s the title of one of my all-time favorite strength training routines, but it’s also a testament to the importance of weights: Regardless of your age, gender or fitness level, you’ve got to incorporate resistance training. That resistance can come in many forms, shapes and sizes (more on that below), but there’s nothing quite like the classic dumbbells. Endlessly versatile and oh-so-effective, strength training provides a long list of benefits. Not only does it help maintain muscle mass and improve heart health while helping to prevent osteoporosis, diabetes and various other chronic illnesses, but just like the title suggests, weight lifting boosts metabolism, helping to transform your body into a calorie-burning machine. And of course, there’s the toning, the sculpting, the complete reshaping of all those so-called “trouble spots.”
So hopefully you get the point: Strength training can bring on some incredibly transformative effects. And what makes dumbbells so smart? In the 15th century, athletes exercised using church bells – and in order to silence (or “dumb” the sound), they removed the clapper. Obviously the shape of the dumbbell has evolved over the years, but there’s a reason this specific type of training is still so popular. They’re an ideal way to perfect your form when you’re doing a movement that requires control (and most do, when you think about it). When you’re choosing dumbbells for your home gym, it’s important to give yourself a couple of options so that you can “graduate” to higher resistance levels. For example, once you can do a few solid sets of bicep curls using 10-pound weights, you should move on to 15’s so that you can continue seeing results and avoid a plateau.
3) Join the Kettlebell Craze. Kettlebells are a true cornerstone for building a great home gym. Here’s why: First used in the early 20th Century by Russian bodybuilders, Kettlebells have only recently become popular in mainstream American fitness. But they’re not just for the hulking bodybuilders you’ve seen hoisting heavy weights at the gym. Kettlebells might just be the key to unlocking your body’s full potential. That’s because unlike other types of training, Kettlebell workouts require you to move the way your body was meant to move. None of us simply go forward and backward, left to right. We move in different planes of motion, incorporating multiple joints and muscle groups. As we reach, bend, twist, swing and lean our way through life, using a full range of motion, we recruit not just the obvious muscle groups (the arms, the shoulders and the glutes), but we also use the stabilizer muscles throughout our core and midsections. Kettlebell training tackles all of those areas in less time, with a workout that’s fun and freeing, empowering and effective, challenging but absolutely doable for all ages and all body types.
And here’s the bonus: Kettlebell workouts can burn major calories. The high-repetition, full-body movements used in kettlebell workouts also provide the fat-burning, heart-healthy benefits of aerobic exercise.
4) Find Your Favorite Bands. Resistance bands (or tubing) are another key component to the home gym starter kit. This nifty little fitness tool looks like a long rubber tube with handles at each end – and essentially, that’s what they are. But the versatility and power of these lightweight little bands can be surprising. One of the greatest things about resistance bands is that they require your muscles to remain engaged throughout the ENTIRE move. Even though it’s not proper form, it’s easy to lift a dumbbell and then drop it. (Lift…and drop. Lift…and drop.) When you’re moving that way, not only are you running a greater risk of injury, but you’re only focusing on the contraction (or “concentric”) part of the movement, and you’re missing out on the entire “lowering” (or “eccentric”) portion. But with resistance bands, we can train our bodies to remain engaged, working with resistance throughout the entire movement and getting more effective results. And, as a bonus, resistance bands are so lightweight that they can be stored anywhere, AND you can easily throw them in your suitcase when you’re traveling so that you can keep resistance training by taking one part of your home with you on the road!
5) Get On the Ball. I can’t say enough about my love for the stability ball. These inflatable rubber tools help us improve our balance, core strength, and agility, and they also have the power to transform just about any tired old exercise move into a fun, full-body fatburner. Take the classic crunch, for example. Sure, you can get down on your exercise mat and perform a set of sit-ups, and that’s great for your abdominals. But take that same crunching action and perform it on the ball, and suddenly you’re engaging your abdominals on a whole other level. Or if you’re doing a chest press. On a mat or bench, this move is great for sculpting your chest, shoulders and arms. Try doing it on a stability ball, and now you’re targeting all of those areas, AND your abdominals and inner thighs. So remember, when you’re setting up your home gym, the ball brings you more bang for your buck!
6) And Don’t Forget to Step it Up. Fitness trends come and go. Sure, it was all about leg warmers, big hair and disco once upon a time. But some things never go out of style – like the classic step. The moves involved in a step aerobic workout require you to combine upper and lower body movement, which improves your agility and overall coordination. And, of course, that constant stepping-up motion is one of the best leg and butt shapers out there. I read recently that 44-year-old Julia Roberts still does a step routine three times a week with her trainer, my friend Kathy Kaehler, which really put a smile on my face. It’s no surprise: The easy but effective choreography makes a step workout feel like a dance party at home. And when it comes to exercise, there’s nothing like the fun factor to keep you coming back for more.
Remember, one of the surefire ways weight loss success is finding a fitness buddy. It helps keep you motivated, on track, and inspired. So even though you’re exercising at home, you can always invite a friend over for a workout, followed by a healthy lunch. And even if you prefer working out solo, you’re never totally alone – I’ll be there, by your side, every step of the way.