All you really need to get in shape is something to lift, something to raise your heart rate, something to challenge your balance, and, possibly, something to help you stretch. If you think the only way to fulfill all those “somethings” is to enroll in a gym, I’m happy to say that you’re mistaken. Last I checked, gyms don’t have a monopoly on heavy things, and you don’t need a treadmill to break a sweat. Without much effort (or much money), you can hack your way to better health by turning your home into a gym — no fancy equipment required. In fact, as an exercise physiologist with a master’s degree in exercise science, I often turn to the following eight hacks to help me get moving when working out from home.
Stock up on paper plates
One heavy thing the gym doesn’t have a monopoly on? Your body. Yeah, I just called you heavy. Even if you’re a feather of a thing, you still likely weigh at least 100 pounds. That’s a lot of weight. (And if you take offense to that, you need to get a grip!)
While basic bodyweight exercises are an awesome way to shape up, you can challenge yourself even more by incorporating paper plates into your routine as sliders. Simply place one foot on a plate while doing lunges or side lunges and slide your foot across the floor as you move through the exercise, rather than taking a step. This sliding action engages more muscle groups, particularly the small, stabilizing muscles, as you work harder to control the speed of the movement. Likewise, you can place your hands on paper plates while doing push-up variations or you can place both feet on separate plates to perform a sliding mountain climber or sliding hamstring curls.
Get pumped with H2O
Water is also kinda great when it comes to weight. A single gallon weighs just over eight pounds, which means two gallons weigh almost 17 pounds and three gallons weigh 25. So forget about the dumbbells and buy two empty, three-gallon water jugs with handles. Use an empty, one-gallon jug to fill the three gallon jugs. Add water to each jug one gallon at a time, and use a permanent marker to mark the gallon lines for future reference. Then, when you want to do a strength training routine, fill the three-gallon jugs to your desired level — one, two or three gallons — and get to work. You can use your new “weights” for everything from shoulder press and bicep curls to lunges and deadlifts.
Added bonus? Water sloshes. This sounds like a “no biggie” property, but because water is constantly moving around in the jugs, it actually requires greater muscle engagement to control the movement as you perform each exercise.
Step it up in the kitchen
Benches, counters, and chairs are awesome home-gym assets, so the next time you’re stuck cooking and cleaning all day, incorporate a few sets of strength training moves into the mix.
Start by using your kitchen chairs for lower body moves like step ups, Bulgarian split squats, and if you’re feeling brave, box jumps. These same exercises can be performed using a backless bench, but you can expand your repertoire to include upper body and core moves including v-sits, chair dips, or seated shoulder press. Just grab a one- or three-gallon water bottle to act as your weights. Finally, you can use your kitchen counters for modified upper body exercises, such as push-ups.
Find your balance in the bedroom
Your mom may have told you not to jump on the bed, but the reason you were jumping on it in the first place was because it was springy and more difficult to balance on, right? That’s what made the whole thing fun. So instead of buying a BOSU ball or balance disc, hit the sack barefoot to try your hand at balance-focused moves. Just remember to put clean clothes on, especially socks, before you hit the mat(tress) — you don’t want foot germs all over your pillowcase from doing a series of alternating lunges while standing on your bed.
Pack it on
Chances are you have a backpack lying around just waiting to be put to good use. Go ahead and fill ‘er up with books, canned goods or filled water bottles and strap it to your back. Now go about your business. Set a timer and walk around your house for 30 to 45 minutes, sweeping, vacuuming, doing laundry — you get the picture. Guaranteed, your chores just got a whole lot more challenging now that you’re carrying around an extra 10 to 20 pounds (or more).
If you’re feeling really motivated, throw in some extra moves, such as push-ups and squats, or take the bag off your back and use the straps to perform weighted rows or curls. The sky is the limit for all the exercises you could try.
Climb those stairs
It’s kinda a no brainer, but if you have a set of stairs, or even a few steps, it’s time to put them to good use. There’s almost no better free form of cardio than using your own two feet to hike up a serious incline, so whether you walk the stairs, jog ’em, take ’em two-by-two, or climb ’em backwards or sideways, just make sure you’re putting your stairs to use.
Cool down with a towel
After working up a good sweat, you deserve a good stretch. While there’s nothing wrong with using gravity and your own arms to hang or pull yourself into your favorite bendy positions, a stretch strap does wonders for deepening stretches while encouraging proper form. If you don’t have an actual stretch strap, grab a towel — practically any size will do — and use it instead.
Simply wrap the towel around your feet or legs while performing lower body stretches and hold the ends in each hand. Pull against the towel, rather than force your body, to lean further into each stretch. Likewise, if your upper body is tight, you can use the towel to “extend” your arms to do chest and triceps stretches, holding the towel in an extended position between your hands rather than trying to clasp your hands together. Try this quick total-body towel stretch from Jessica Smith TV to see a few stretches in action.
Roll away your aches
The only thing left to accomplish after you stretch is to indulge in a nice massage. Instead of buying a foam roller, grab a rolling pin from your kitchen and use it to roll away the tension in your quads, hamstrings, and calves. Simply hold the pin’s handles and roll it up and down your muscles — in the direction of the muscles — pausing to increase pressure in areas that feel particularly tight. Take it slow and easy, aiming for roughly ten to 20 passes on each muscle group.
Get creative and get moving
At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter where you work out or what equipment you use to challenge yourself. What matters is that you take the time to prioritize your health and get moving. So turn on some music, set a 30- to 60-minute timer, and see just how hard you can push yourself. Whether you jog circles around your house, do push-ups on the kitchen counters, bunny hop up the stairs, or challenge your kids to a dance-off, it all counts. Don’t allow yourself to make excuses just because you don’t have a gym membership.
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