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Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Bringing the Gym Home

I'm not a believer in gyms, so if you've got a lifetime membership to Curves or Lucille Ball, you might not find this post as relevant.

Once upon a time, there was no such thing as going to the gym to work out. Life itself was a workout, from chopping wood to lugging water to working in the field, etc. People, for the most part, were strong and physically fit just by living.
Today we live a much more sedentary lifestyle- for the vast majority of us, we need to make a specific effort to keep healthy and in shape. Hence the prevalence and popularity of gyms.
Gyms have plenty of benefits, such as the access to special equipment and machinery to help you get into and stay in shape without needing to lay out money and set aside space in your home for your own exercise equipment. Gyms also allow you to be in an environment that promotes fitness, gets you revved up and in the mood of working out, with only adult company so you don't have any children pulling on your shirt, vying for your attention, and stopping you from exercising. However, gyms are also quite expensive once you add up membership/entrance fees, childcare for while you're there, as well as the cost of transportation.

The Gym- At Home

I feel that gyms are a waste of money, because in addition to my not wanting to pay to be in shape when, if we lived more similarly to how our ancestors lived, we could eliminate the need for "pointless workouts" entirely, I also believe that with the right planning, workouts at home can have all the benefits of a gym without the attached price tag..

The methods I use to work out at home cost nothing, are fun, burn calories as well as build muscle, utilize no special equipment, and involve your kids, ensuring a good time for all and no whiny clingy kids trying to stop you from exercising. Best of all, all these ideas work even in the smallest of homes; if I can do this in my under 500 square foot home, so can you.

Setting The Mood
In order to get a gym-like vibe in your home, you'll need to do a few things to set the tone.
1. First, decide which room you will use. Living room, dining rooms, or dens are usually your best bet. You want the most potential floorspace possible. (I'll write more about that later.) Once you decide which room will be your "gym", clear the clutter from that room. Tripping over junk is not conducive to a good workout session. Make sure every surface, especially the floor, is clear.

2. Take anything out of the room that doesn't need to be there. Push everything else against the walls and into corners if possible. You'll want to avoid rooms with big clunky furniture that takes up all the floor space- that is why my bedroom would never be my choice for a workout room. The beds simply can't be pushed aside.
If, for example, you're using the dining room, push the table into the wall and pile all the chairs on top, and on top of each other if possible. Push anything else that will fit under the table. If you're using the living room, push all the furniture to the side, and perhaps pick up the coffee table and put it on your couch, etc...

3. Get changed into exercise clothes. It helps do designate certain lightweight, comfortable clothes to be worn whenever you want to work out. These will be your “gym clothes” and preferably, you should wear them every time you work out, as your brain associates different clothing with different activities, and merely by putting on your “gym clothes”, you will start getting into the workout mode. (If you don't believe this, ever notice that people act differently when they're wearing beach clothing vs if they're wearing formal clothing? Clothes really do “make the man.”) If you're exercising with your kids, get them changed as well. This is part of the fun for them also.

4. Eliminate distractions. If you're an easily distracted person, especially if you have ADD/HD, or even if you're not, you want to turn off anything that might get your mind off your workout. TV off, computer off, cell phones put on vibrate, and no food cooking that might burn. If you were in the gym, you wouldn't have any of these things around; why allow them to distract you at home?

5. Put on some good workout music. You chose whatever music you like, but I find that music with a quicker beat is the background music for an at home gym session. Slow music kind of makes me more lethargic, as does mournful melancholy music, neither of which is what you want when your goal is to burn calories and build your muscles.

6. If you can get your spouse or friend or older child to work out with you, this workout becomes even more enjoyable, as you challenge yourself and each other and push each other to not take the easy way out.

Workout Equipment
Not much of anything is needed by way of special exercise equipment, but the following things can help.

  • Weights. Dumbbells are beneficial if you want to do specific muscle building, but if you don't have them, it's OK. Large soda bottles filled with water (or sand) also work, even if they're a tad less easy to grip. You can also make barbells by attaching a few filled soda bottles to each end of a broomstick, and use this to work out your arms, shoulders, chest, and legs. I tried taking a picture of my husband doing this, but he wouldn't let me post it. Sorry!
  • Exercise Mat. Sure, a yoga mat is nice, if you have one. If not, even a folded up blanket to the right size will do the job. You just want to cushion your body a little bit, but not too much.
  • Baby Wrap. This isn't necessary, but if you want to add a bit of extra oomph to your workout, and also calm a whiny baby or toddler, you can wear your child, either on your back or your front, for a good majority of the exercises. By carrying the extra weight, you put more strain on your body, and the more strain, the greater the workout (not to mention, tire yourself out).


Aerobic/Cardiovascular Exercise Routine
In order to burn calories, build stamina, and just get in general shape, you simply need to do whatever it takes to get your heart racing. This usually is faster paced, should leave you breathless and sweating by the end, and can be mixed an matched as you like. What, specifically, you do, matters less than the speed in which you do it. Half hearted cardiovascular exercising isn't much of a workout and won't get you anywhere. It pays to do whatever it takes to get you winded.
I usually turn on a song and challenge myself to consistently do any one or more of the following for the entire duration of the song without taking even a second's break. If that is too easy, try moving nonstop for 2 songs, etc.
These, for the most part, can be done while wearing a baby or toddler. Use your discretion- you don't want any jiggling heads or anything like that.
  • Jumping. There are so many different types of jumps. You can do tiny little quick jumps, as if you were jumping rope. You can do bigger jumps. You can interchange the big jumps and the little jumps. You also can jump with your feet together, then jump and open them side by side, then jump to bring them together, and repeat. You can also do jumping jacks.
  • Running. Says my husband- you can't do running exercises at home without a treadmill. I proved him wrong with my “Faker's Treadmill” workout. If you have any floorspace whatsoever at home, even as little as 4 feet by 4 feet, you can definitely run. Run around the perimeter of your floor space, again and again and again. These laps may be smaller than what you'll do on a track field, but they're still going to get your heart pumping, quicken your metabolism, and burn calories. It may help to put something like a chair or box in the center of the workout space, around which to run, which gives you a clearer sense of where your “track” is.
    If there simply isn't any floor space, running in place will also work.
  • Stairs. If you have any stairs in your home, running up and down the stairs repeatedly will definitely be good exercise. Even walking up and down will get you a nice workout.
  • Dancing. Seriously. Just get your body moving. Shake, move, whatever you want. Be silly, have fun. It'll all get you into shape.
  • Random Different Workouts. If you have any space whatsoever, these different exercises are a fun addition to your routine, and if you're like me, you'll get your kids cracking up to boot. Crawling uses a ton of muscles. Try crawling quickly; if you have a crawling child, try to keep up with them. It will likely make you feel winded! Crab-walking and bear-walking also are two different fun additions that will also get your heart racing if you do them fast enough.

Muscle Builders
Floor Workouts. You'll want to use your yoga mat or folded blanket for these. Try doing as many of each as you can until you feel you can't anymore, and then do 5 or 10 more. Then switch to a different floor workout and do that until you've reached your limit, etc.. Once you've gone through all the floor exercises you plan on doing, go back to the beginning and try doing them once again.
  • Sit ups
  • Crunches
  • Twist crunches
  • Bicycle kicks
  • Leg lifts, both while lying on your back and while lying on your side. Lift one leg while keeping the other straight, or lift one while keeping the other bent. Each uses a different muscle. Then lift both off the floor and lower them down to the ground slowly, holding them but a few inches off the ground for as long as you can, then repeat. Here are a few different videos on leg lifts- Leg lift 1Leg lift 2.
  • Push ups. If you can't do regular push ups, you can do "girly push ups".
  • Mountain climbers
Standing Workouts
When you don't feel like being horizontal anymore, you can do these vertical exercises to build your muscles. All of these can be done either while wearing your child or while holding weights in your hand.

  • Lunges. Do lunches to the front, to the side, to the back, etc. All lunges target different muscles. Here is a video on regular lunges, and here is one side step lunges.
  • Squats. This exercise always leaves me especially sore for days, so I know it is definitely doing the trick. Once you've mastered regular squats, start doing Hindu squats, and then your legs will really burn.
  • Weight lifting. You can use your barbells or dumbbells, either homemade or store bought. Alternatively, you can also pick up a small child and use him/her as a weight (though you will need to adjust your workout technique).
  • Kicks. There are all different types of kicks you can do to work out your legs, from the front kick to the rear kick to the side kick.


I can go on and on about the different workouts you can do at home, but I'd never end. Instead, I'll just tell you that when it comes to building a workout routine, youtube is your friend. There are so many ideas of different types of exercises, that once you get bored of one thing, there are plenty more from which to chose.
Some of the ones I've found are the Lifetime workout series, Expertvillage's workout videos, At Home Workouts, and Home Workout Routines and a Pilates series.

So... what are you waiting for? Ready, set, workout!

Do you workout at home or at the gym? Where do you prefer and why? If you work out at home, what do you do to ensure a good workout, and what do you include in your workout routine?

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