By Dennis Thompson, Jr.
Medically reviewed by Pat F. Bass III, MD, MPH
You would really like to get fit, but you can’t afford an expensive membership at some fancy gym. Maybe money’s not the real issue — you’re just afraid of all those tanned and toned people judging you as you go through your workout routine.
Don’t use these as excuses not to exercise, says Julie Ann McCarthy, a physical therapist in San Francisco and a spokeswoman for the American Physical Therapy Association. There are a lot of exercises you can do around your house or in your neighborhood that don’t require a gym for a good workout.
“Some people think they need to go to the gym or spend a lot of money on fancy equipment to get a good workout, and that’s definitely not the case,” McCarthy says.
Workout Guidelines for Fitness
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) recommends that adults include a certain amount of physical exercise in their weekly routine as one means of staying healthy.
Keep in mind that all of the regular walking, standing, and lifting you normally do in your daily life does not constitute a workout, according to HHS. Even including some short-burst exertions like climbing a few flights of stairs or lifting a heavy box or two won’t help improve your overall health.
Instead, you need to engage in what the HHS describes as health-enhancing activity — exercises and workouts that go beyond your normal daily activity. The specific recommendations for adults involve:
• At least 2 hours and 30 minutes a week of moderate-intensity aerobic workouts, such as brisk walking, or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic workouts like running or jogging
• For even better results, about 5 hours a week of moderate workouts or 2 hours and 30 minutes of vigorous workouts
• On top of these aerobic activities, strength-training workouts at least twice a week that involve all major muscle groups
You should spread these exercises throughout the week, mixing up your routine often to keep your body guessing and work out different muscle sets at different intensities.
Workout at Home: How to Skip the Gym
You don’t need a gym to do any of these activities:
• Get up and move. Moderate-intensity aerobic exercise can be as simple as marching in place while you watch television. You also can take a long, quick-paced walk through your neighborhood. “Walking is one of the best forms of exercise,” McCarthy says. “It’s low-impact, so it’s easy for the joints to take. There are fewer compressive and shear forces going through your ankles, knees, and hips.”
• Jumping jacks. People ready to pursue a high-intensity aerobic workout can get more advanced. “I would start off with something like jumping jacks, then jog, then run,” McCarthy says. “With any type of aerobic activity, you want to build up the intensity so you’ll enjoy it.” Biking or swimming also are good activities, but involve getting a bike or having access to a pool. However, you’ll see better benefits if you mix up your aerobic exercises, as different workouts target different muscle groups.
• Sports. Competitive sports also can provide different levels of physical exertion, be it the long walk of a round of golf or the heart-pumping scramble of basketball.
Strength-training exercises also can be accomplished without spending money on weights or a gym membership:
• Do some squats. Lunges and squats can give your lower body a solid strength-training workout by using your own weight as the resistance. “The best exercise you can do is a squat,” McCarthy says. “Put a chair behind you and act like you’re going to sit down, but don’t. It’s an exercise that works so many lower-body muscles — quads, hamstrings, and glutes.”
• Makeshift weights. Use water bottles, cans of soup, or heavier items as resistance for bicep curls and straight-arm raises that work your shoulders.
• The old basic-training standby. Push-ups will work your chest muscles, biceps, triceps, and back muscles. “You don’t want to go too far down,” McCarthy says. “You only want to go so your elbow and forearm are at a 90-degree angle.”
• Work those abs. To work your abs, do the plank exercise. Get into the starting position of the typical push-up, but place your hands and elbows on the floor. Straighten your legs, lifting your knees off the floor and making a straight line from your shoulders to hips to heels, holding yourself up with your abs. “You want to go to fatigue,” McCarthy says. “When you lose form, the exercise is over.” You can repeat three to four times. She tells people to stay away from sit-ups, as it is hard to work the right muscles and people often will end up with a sore neck or back. The plank exercise also targets the deeper abdominal muscles that are essential to balance and posture, while sit-ups target more superficial ab muscles.
If you think you need to join a health club to get your exercise, you’re wrong. These simple steps will keep you in shape.