Disclaimer: This is not a beginner “how to start working out” post. Instead, it’s a post for people used to going to a gym, but who now can’t or won’t because of COVID-19. As always, working out has risks. Talk to your doctor before starting any exercise plan.
I believe that physical exercise is a part of having style. What’s the point of dressing well if you’re neglecting your physical and mental health? I’m a daily gym goer. Or more accurately, I was. I haven’t been to a gym since March. I just don’t want to contribute to the spread of COVID-19. So, I started assembling a (very) small home-gym back in the spring. And what I’ve learned these past 8 months blew my mind.
You really don’t need much to get in a very, very good workout at home. Don’t tell the big box gym corporations, but most of what they have is unnecessary. The amount of equipment and space you need to develop and nurture strength, speed, agility, endurance, and explosiveness is miniscule compared to the square footage and tons of gear and machines found at your local health club. Personally, I’m stronger/faster/fitter now. (Which I acknowledge was totally unexpected.) And I don’t see myself going back once the pandemic ends. Here are 10 items to help you make the switch from health club, to at home workout warrior.
Stop. Standing. Around. This is a tool for focus. So many gym-bros spend far too much time doing a heck of a lot of nothing. And simple equipment/movements can be much more effective if you’re cutting down on all that nothing between sets and exercises. Yes, resting between sets is good. But most of us rest for too long. I use Tabata Pro. Even if I’m not doing circuit training, having a little voice literally saying “work” inside my ears every two minutes makes me pick up the weights sooner than I would have otherwise. Core and leg HIIT days? Minute on, minute off. Until that gets too easy, and then it’s minute on, 45 seconds off. And so on and so on. Father Time is undefeated. Use him to your advantage.
A dedicated space (and maybe some mats)
Perhaps it’s a spare room. Maybe you have to move the coffee table. My space is in my garage. Most mornings when I’m out there in the fall/winter, I’m lucky if it hits 50 degrees. Get a space heater. Layer up. As the old Scandinavian saying goes: “There is no bad weather, only bad clothes.” Plank for as long as you can before you get going. That’ll help you break a sweat and get your muscle fibers firing.
Good burpee form
You could be awfully darn fit by doing the following more than a few times a week: Run for an hour, but stop every 6 minutes for 10, 15, or 25 burpees. Real burpees. Not sloppy form burpees. So before someone tells you they can’t stay fit without a big friggin’ corporate gym with tons of weights and cardio machines? Challenge them to go for a run + burpees with you. Point is, when in doubt, do burpees. Core day. Legs day. Chest/arms day. Any day that ends in “Y”… do burpees.
Pullups, pushups, running, and jumping. Everything else is just some sort of variation on that. More than a few of us were humiliated in elementary school (okay, high school) by our lack of pull up strength during the phy-ed tests. Well now we’re all grown up and all… stuck at home. No better time to banish those ghosts! This is the bar I use. It’s plenty sturdy, with the bolts going right into wall studs.
A shame-free workout playlist (and something to listen to it on)
Screw the music snobs. There’s no shame when you’re busting-arse and pushing yourself. Let alllll the guilty pleasures fly. On my (current) personal workout playlist I’ve got everything from Skrillex to Britney Spears to AC/DC to Tool to Steve Aoki to Neil Patrick Harris singing Nothing Suits me Like a Suit. Whatever gets you to get after it. And if someone somehow spies your playlist and wants to poke fun? Challenge them to a burpee run! Otherwise, shut your pie hole, Chad. And for goodness sakes cover it with a mask for once.
I’ll never bench press ever again (not that I ever liked to to begin with). These things are stupid simple, and incredibly effective. Upright rows. Pulldowns and overhead extensions when looped through a TRX anchor. And the king of them all? The resistance band pushup. Get a set of these absurdly simple things, combine with the humble pushup (and its many variations), and you’ll be well on your way.
A few (just a few) kettlebells and dumbbells
That’s all the weights I own. That’s it. That’s the list. You don’t need a full rack. You don’t need a bench. Get a pair of “medium” dumbells that to you, are heavy-ish/challenging but not excruciating. Get a pair of kettlebells that are the same. And then get a heavy kettlebell (mostly for squats). Get on the internet and google up some exercises. Make a plan. Adjust reps as well as time with your tabata timer as you get stronger. And kettlebells? You can use them for WAY more than “just” Turkish getups and swings. They’re great for biceps, triceps, shoulders, squats, lunges, etc. Weights can be hard to source these days with everyone trying to workout at home. Try craigslist, local second hand sporting goods stores, thrift stores, etc. Just be careful, and mask up before you go out.
Running shoes, or a piece of cardio equipment
We’re going for balance here. If you’re the type who trains to throw beer kegs over a high jump bar, but couldn’t run more than 10 minutes without your heart exploding… that’s fine, but this post isn’t for you. Strong heart & lungs = strong muscles and vice versa. Strength and cardio. Explosiveness and stamina. I swear by the Asics Gel Kayano for everything from strength training to HIIT to snowy runs. Don’t want to risk falling down on the ice? Get a treadmill or a stationary bike. They’re spendy as all get out, but a Peloton really is something spectacular.
An accountability buddy
You don’t need to meet face to face at the gym to hold each other accountable. Text or face time before you get going, and then once again when you’re done. Maybe exchange a few texts halfway if you’re struggling and need a boost. Just find someone you can trust and who also has good, solid habits. Because if your accountability buddy cancels, you’ll be more likely to do the same.
Not cheap and far from necessary, but holy moly do they work. And when compared to the 8 zillion machines these simple straps replace (I mean, check out the wall poster), they’re a hell of a bargain. I use my TRX for legs, core, triceps, biceps, back, and more. The number of exercises you can do and do effectively with this simple tool is amazeballz. You can simply sling the included anchor over a door (which you then close,) but I prefer the stability and security of anchors bolted into wall studs.
BONUS A journal
To plan your workouts the night before. To remind yourself that the endorphins kick in at 20 minutes. To flip back through the pages and see how far you’ve come. Physical writing with a pen and paper does amazing things to your brain. Old habits fall away, and new, healthier habits appear. Get a journal. Use it.
And really, you don’t even need that much. A good pair of running shoes, a pull up bar, and the discipline to do bodyweight exercises (burpees, pushups, situps, pullups, squats, lunges, etc) along with frequent runs and walks, and you should be good. Now, not that most (any?) of you care, but here’s the skeleton of my workout plan for each week. It’s exactly what I used to do at a big state of the art gym, but I’ve since adapted with the above equipment at home. It’s possible. I’m proof. You do you of course, and don’t die or get hurt. But if you do, you can’t blame us. Sorry.
Monday – Lift (“push” muscle groups)
Tuesday – Core HIIT / Kickboxing class via Zoom
Wednesday – Legs HIIT
Thursday – Cardio – Spin (at home) or Run
Friday – Lift (“pull” muscle groups)
Saturday – Cardio – Spin (at home) or Run
Sunday – Yoga at home