Today's post was contributed by David Leonhardt. When not exercising, David Leonhardt is often writing. He runs a ghost writing service for blogs, books, press releases and almost everything except pet autobiographies (pets don’t have much money to pay for ghost writing). He also runs Zoomit Canada, which has an extensive section for Canadian health news. Please give David a warm welcome, enjoy, and please share his post. Thanks very much David!
Getting fit doesn’t have to be expensive. Yes, gym memberships and ski season passes, along with all the clothes, equipment and consumables that go along with them, can add up.
But fitness doesn’t have to involve outings. You can get fit right at home, and you can do so with minimal equipment.
Perhaps the biggest savings is on clothing. When you exercise out of the home, you will feel obliged to wear fancy clothes, whether it is the ski suit on the slopes or the workout clothes for the gym.
Out in public, people tend to be very image-conscious, which is not helpful to one’s wallet. When you work out at home, you can sweat up an old t-shirt and old shorts or sweat pants. Unless you are a model in an ad for some diet program, you don’t need to look fancy exercising at home.
One of the biggest myths about working out at home is that you need some kind of fancy equipment. Like an elliptical or a stationary bike or such. Without one of these machines, surely there is no way to keep a steady exercise routine, right?
Wrong. For a complete workout, some equipment is necessary. Ironically, this is mostly true for upper body work-outs, whereas these machines tend to focus on lower body workouts. I will get to this later.
The corollary to this, which is another of the biggest myths I have heard, is that if you do get a treadmill or a stationary bike, you will keep to a solid exercise routine. I have known far too many people who have spent the big bucks for one of these fancy machines, only to discover how efficient they are at gathering dust.
What really determines whether you will work out is the extent to which your will and determination to be fit wins out or loses to your inclination to be lazy. That is all. Fancy machines are nice, but nine times out of ten they will have no effect on whether you exercise or not.
So if you want to work out on the cheap – at home – here are a few ideas.
Try stretching. I don’t mean as a prelude to something else, but stretch for the sake of stretching. Do some research on the best stretches, but invest at least ten minutes every morning in stretching. This will kick-start your metabolism for the day and make you more limber (and more likely to move) for the day.
Best of all stretching is something that suits all ages and pretty much any physical condition. And if you keep stretching, you can become more flexible over time. My girls, who have been dancing for years, are always amazed that this 50-year-old man can do the “Y”, when many of the pre-teen girls in their dance classes struggle with it.
Work the Legs
Legs are the easiest to work out for free. Lunges take no equipment. Stepping up and down on the bottom stair takes no equipment. Jogging on the spot takes no equipment. Going for a walk takes no equipment.
Buying a trampoline…well, OK – that costs $1000 or so (but with two kids, it was worth the investment).
Lying on your back and cycling in the air while you watch TV takes no equipment. Only the TV, which is optional.
The best upper body workouts are with free weights, such as dumbbells. Unlike exercise machines, your muscles have to work not just to lift the weights and control the speed and force on the way down, but also have to maintain balance and trajectory. This forces more muscles to work.
If you work your way up to 30-pound or 35-pound weights, you might fork out $200-$300 on weights, but these will last easily for a decade. Honestly, I get a great workout using 10-25 pound weights.
But weight! (Yes, I spelled it that way on purpose.) You can get free weights for free. Go to the grocery store and find laundry detergent bottles of various sizes. These make great weights. And you use the consumables inside, so there is no net cost to you. Just make sure the bottles have easy to hold handles.
About five years ago, I bought one additional piece of equipment that cost me just over $100, if memory serves me right. A simple bench. There are a few free weight routines I frequently do on this bench.
Chin up, everybody
I installed a heavy chin-up bar in the doorway to the basement. I understand a lot of people don’t like doing chin-ups because they find them very hard. I have found the challenge very motivational and adds variety to my work-outs.
The bar won’t cost too much, but you will want to invest in sponges. Small dish-cleaning sponges without soap in them. This prevents your hands from getting callused. Typically a pair of sponges should last 10-20 chin-up sessions.
In addition to regular chin-ups, try turning your hands the other way when you grab the bar. Much more challenging.
To work your core – and this is really tough – pull yourself up and hold the position, now slowly bring your legs up so they are parallel with the floor and hold them there. Do this enough, and you’ll have six packs before long.
The bar can also be used with exercise bands, which are not very expensive, to do all sorts of pull-down arm exercises.
A Few More Ideas
Push-ups. Do I have to tell you that push-ups are free? For extra challenge, place your feet on the bottom stair or a stool.
Chair-ups. Take two chairs and hold yourself up with one hand on each seat. Lower yourself between them, and then push back up. Very tough, very good.
More legs. If you have an exercise band, stand on one leg and move the other sideways up away from you. This works best if the two legs are attached with a stretchy exercise band, or if the leg you are lifting has a weight attached.
Yoga. I know nothing about yoga, but it is free. Buy a mat if you must.
Pilates. Again, I know nothing about Pilates, but you don’t need fancy equipment.
I don’t even want to guess how many free or low-cost ways I am unaware of to exercise at home. If you want to add to my list, that’s what the comments are for.