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No Gym Required: How to Get Fit at Home

Get in shape without leaving the house

The 5 Elements of Fitness continued...

You can step up the pace of your strength workout by doing compound exercises -- those that work more than one muscle group at a time.

For example, doing squats (with or without weights) works the quadriceps, hamstrings, gluteus, and calves. Push-ups involve the pectorals, deltoids, biceps, triceps -- even the abdominals and the upper back.

If you're not the create-your-own workout type, there are fitness videos galore -- offering everything from kickboxing to belly dancing to Pilates. You can find them at local bookstores and discount stores, or on the Web. Just be sure to choose one that's appropriate for your fitness level.

Getting Started

If you're a beginner, aim for 30 minutes of cardiovascular exercise at least three times a week, and 20 to 30 minutes of strength work three times a week. Be sure your strength workout covers all major muscle groups, in your upper body, lower body, abdominals and back. Shoot for three sets of 10-15 repetitions of each strength exercise.

No matter what type of exercise you do, be sure to start slowly and gradually increase your workout time and intensity. And don't forget to listen to your body, says Weil.

"Focus on the muscles that you think you should be working," he says. "See if you feel it there. If you're working your abs and you feel it in your neck, then it's not right. Close your eyes and start to tune in to your body."

It's also important to stay tuned in to what motivates you.

Working out at home has obvious advantages. But there are obstacles, too: distractions from the phone, the kids, the dog, the Internet and the refrigerator can derail a workout. And that's if you can get started in the first place. When you're at home, it's easy to find something else that needs to be done.

A good way to stay motivated and avoid distractions, the experts say, is to exercise early in the day. Morning exercisers are more likely to stick with their workouts, according to American Council on Exercise spokesperson Kelli Calabrese, MS, ACE, CSCS.

"Get (the workout) over with first thing in the morning, then get on with your day," says Weil.

Tips for home exercisers

The experts offer some other tips for home exercisers:

  • Challenge yourself and avoid boredom. At home, you won't have the variety of equipment and classes that are available at a gym. So surf the Internet and browse fitness magazines to check out new workouts and make sure you're exercising correctly. "Pictures are everything. Use them as a guide for form and technique," Swain says.
  • Find an exercise partner. You'll be less likely to find excuses when you've arranged to work out with a friend.
  • Schedule your workouts. "Have a plan," says Calabrese. "Look at a planner and write out your exercise appointments one month in advance. If something comes up and you have to change one, reschedule it immediately."
  • Use a journal to track your progress and jot down any breakthroughs you may have. When you have a bad day, write that down, too, to help you to find patterns you can break. For example, you may find an egg-white omelet gets you through your morning workout better than a bagel.
  • Set goals, like training for a race or losing 20 pounds. "A goals should be something you can't do right now, but you know is within your reach," Calabrese says. Give yourself mini-rewards along the way: a new fitness magazine, those workout tights you've been eyeing, or a new pair of sneakers.
  • Perhaps most important, make exercise as integral to your life as sleeping and eating, says Swain. "You have to think of it as a lifestyle change. It doesn't end. Get out of the mind frame that exercise is something you're only going to do for a period of time."

Originally published Dec. 19, 2003
Medically updated Dec. 14, 2005.

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Reviewed on January 20, 2006

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