Fitness for Couch Potatoes

Tune in and tone up with our TV-watching workout

Reviewed by Kathleen M. Zelman, MPH, RD, LD on August 26, 2005
From the WebMD Archives

Are you addicted to your TiVo? Never miss an episode of CSI? Got sore thumbs from clicking from one football game to another?

If TV is a must-see for you, it's easy to let it cut into your workout time. But fitness doesn't have to mean foregoing your favorite shows. How about working in a workout in front of the tube? Even fitness experts find TV-watching workouts helpful -- and sometimes, a necessity.

Bob Prichard is so busy with his duties as director of Somax Sports, a training facility in Tiburon, Calif., that he doesn't have a lot of time to exercise. So he's made it a habit to work out whenever he watches TV.

"I have a treadmill set up in my living room and I walk at a brisk, but comfortable pace, while watching a DVD or TV," he says. "This way, I get in one to three hours of exercise per day. (I often watch golf tournaments, baseball games, etc.)"

Kinesiologist Shari Feuz, an exercise advisor with the International Council on Active Aging in Vancouver, says Prichard's approach can work well -- as long as you're working hard enough to feel it.

"It is absolutely possible to improve your fitness level in front of the TV, if the intensity is adequate, just as it is quite possible to go to a fitness center several times per week and NOT improve your fitness level," Feuz says. Given how much TV most of us watch, exercising at the same time is not a bad idea. Studies show that American men average 29 hours a week of TV watching, while women rack up about 34 hours. That gives us a lot of time to fit in some extra activity.

"This is multitasking at its best," says Mare Petras, author of Fitness Simply, which includes a chapter titled "Here's Oprah," dedicated to fitness in front of the TV.

"We're an all-or-nothing society," says Petras. "We think that if we can't exercise for an hour at a time, that it doesn't count. But that's not true. It doesn't have to be 'black or white' with fitness. It all adds up."

Don't Touch That Dial

In fact, if you're not ready to risk losing track of the plot of that fast-moving drama by doing a full-blown workout, you can fit in fitness breaks during the commercials. This can be an especially good option for beginners.

Linda Buch, author of The Commercial Break Workout, points out that a 30-minute sitcom has about 10 minutes' worth of commercials. Instead of using this time to reach for a handful of cookies or chips, get moving!

Among Buch's suggestions:

  • Pushups. If floor pushups are too difficult for you, start off by standing up with your hands on the wall, then pushing back. Do this 10 times; increase the reps as the exercise gets easier.
  • Chair squats. Stand up, sit down, then stand right back up (for even more of a workout, don't sit down all the way). Do this for the length of one commercial. As it gets easier, do it again for the next commercial.
  • Marching in place. Move both your arms and legs; add jumping jacks to increase the intensity.

"Little bits of exercise like these strung together add up to energy expended," says Buch.

Muscle Up

But don't stop there. You can do many types of strength training in front of the television, says Pat Woellert, fitness instructor at University Fitness at the University of Cincinnati.

Using resistance tubing or dumbbells (or even books, or cans of soup), do upper-body exercises while seated on a chair. Some to try:

  • Bicep curls
  • Overhead shoulder presses
  • Side arm raises
  • Front arm raises
  • Triceps extensions

Lying on the floor, do side-lying leg raises for the outer hip and inner thigh, with or without weights. Sitting up on the floor, use resistance bands to do seated rows (pretend you're rowing a boat).

To get the most out of your prime-time workout, do something different every day, suggests Lynne Brick, BSN, president and owner of Brick Bodies and Lynne Brick's Women's Health & Fitness in Baltimore. Fitness pros call this cross-training. The rest of us just call it variety.

"Do the things you like to do," says Brick. Perhaps a stationary bike on Monday, abdominal crunches on Tuesday, treadmill on Wednesday, jog in place on Thursday, hand weights on Friday.

The Workout

To get started, try this TV-watcher's workout devised by Petras, which is good even for beginners:

TV Twist


  • Seated on the floor
  • Legs extended in V-position
  • Arms out to your sides, shoulder level

Exercise: Sitting tall, twist to your right, then reach your left hand beyond your right foot. Come up and do the other side.

Benefits: Stretches and lengthens torso, stretches back of legs, strengthens abs.

Kick, Kick, Kick


  • Facedown on the floor, legs extended
  • Prop up on your elbows, abs tight
  • Elbows in line with your shoulders

Exercise: Right foot flexed, bend your knee and try to kick your rear three times (kick, kick, kick, and down). Do the other side.

Benefits: Tones buttocks and hamstring muscles.

Prop-Up Abs


  • Facedown on the floor, legs extended
  • Prop up on your elbows, abs tight
  • Elbows in line with your shoulders

Exercise: Try to lift your body from the floor using your abs, supported by forearms and toes.

Benefits: Strengthens abs and upper body.

Prime-Time Pushup


  • Facedown on the floor, legs extended
  • Hands in line with chest, a bit wider than shoulder-width apart

Exercise: Use your arms to push up. Hold briefly, and come down.

Benefits: Strengthens arms and lower back.

Commercial Crunches


  • Lying on your back
  • Feet propped up on a chair
  • Hands behind your head for support

Exercise: Inhale to prepare, then exhale as you lift your head and upper shoulders. Feel the abs, and keep your lower back to the floor.

Variation: Add a twist to each side.

Benefits: Strengthens abs.

Credit Curl-Downs


  • Lying on your back
  • Feet propped up on a chair
  • Arms down by your sides for support

Exercise: Lift your hips off the floor; hold the position for a moment. Then slowly lower hips, one vertebra at a time.

Benefits: Lengthens spine, releases tension from lower back.

Technique Tips

Finally, says Jeff Ball, author of Get Fit While You Sit, remember that even workouts at home need to be done properly. He offers these guidelines to help you get the most out of your TV workout:

  • If something hurts any part of your body, STOP. You may need to adjust your form to eliminate the problem. If that doesn't work, try a different exercise.
  • Remember to breathe at all times. Holding your breath makes exercising more difficult and could even result in injury.
  • Practice each movement before a mirror before you start.
  • Be aware of your spinal position, and keep your neck in a neutral position.
  • Try to keep muscles that you're not trying to work relaxed. For example, if you are doing a leg lift, it does no good to contract the muscles of your neck.
  • Do all exercises in a slow, controlled fashion.
  • Choose a sturdy chair with adequate back support.

Now, where did I put that TV Guide?

Show Sources

SOURCES: Bob Prichard, director, Somax Sports, Tiburon, Calif. Shari Feuz, exercise advisor, International Council on Active Aging, Vancouver. Mare Petras, author, Fitness Simply. Linda Buch, author, The Commercial Break Workout. Pat Woellert, fitness instructor, University Fitness, University of Cincinnati, Ohio. Lynne Brick, owner, Brick Bodies, Baltimore. Jeff Ball, author, Get Fit While You Sit. News release, American Physical Therapy Association. WebMD Feature: "Watching TV Instead of Your Waistline?" by Jennifer Warner, published April 8, 2003.

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