How to Work Out at Home—And Actually See Results
All you truly need is your body and a yoga mat.
Exercising in your living room (or bedroom or kitchen) seems like a mainstay for 2021 and potentially years to come. It's an adjustment for sure—especially for those who were regulars at the gym or took weekly fitness classes—but it's definitely doable to move your workouts to your home and still gain all the benefits of a gym experience.
So, how do you do it? Health asked fitness pros to answer all your at-home exercise questions. Here, they reveal how to make the most of your sweat sessions, keeping them safe, effective, and always progressing—even if you're new to the fitness scene.
What should my home gym look like?
Good news: You really don't need much space to get in a good workout. In fact, Roxie Jones, NASM-CPT, trainer with the Alo Moves workout app and creator of BodyROX, says all you need is the space of a yoga mat. She also mentions that bodyweight exercises are a smart place to start if you're new to fitness or coming back from a hiatus. Working out sans weights helps you focus on form and hit each move with precision.
Danyele Wilson, NASM-CPT, trainer on the Tone & Sculpt workout app, says the only other gear you'll need (besides the mat) is a pair of comfy sneakers. They'll help get you in the mindset of going to the gym, while also offering some support during dynamic movements like squat jumps or jumping lunges. "You still want to set yourself up for success as if you're going to the gym, in terms of your preparation," she says.
If you do want to turn up the intensity on your fitness, consider investing in some resistance gear. Wilson suggests starting with a pack of mini resistance bands and/or a set of dumbbells. "If you can get your hands on two sets of weights, I'd suggest one set that's light and another that's heavier," she says. If you're only getting one, opt for a medium set of weights, which you should pick based on your experience with resistance training. If you really want to splurge, you can always go for that at-home bike, treadmill, or rower, but it's not a requirement for a good workout.
Also not a requirement, but helpful for those starting out: A full-length mirror nearby your workout space. This will help you spot your own form so you can make sure you're doing moves correctly, Wilson says.
How can I make sure I'm staying safe?
First, just make sure your space is clear so you don't trip on anything or hit it as you move. And remember to always do a mobility warm-up to get your muscles moving and primed for more intense exercises, Jones says.
Most importantly, make sure you're not overdoing it right out of the gate—particularly if you're new to training or took a long break, Jones says. If you haven't worked out in a while, start with one to two workouts per week, see how that feels, and then add more from there. Also, make sure you always get one to two rest days per week.
Another note to keep in mind: It's just as important to move throughout the entire day—not just in your workout. So on both rest days and those days you're following a workout, Jones suggests still aiming to hit your 10,000 step goal.
What workout should I start doing?
Look for a workout plan that excites you, tailors to different levels and abilities, and one that makes you feel comfortable, says Wilson. The Tone & Sculpt app, for example, demonstrates modifications for each move that will help you progress safely, as well as a step-by-step guide to understanding each exercise. Other platforms, like Alo Moves, Obé Fitness, and Nike Training call out the level of each workout, plus allow you to search for workouts that tailor to your goals, like getting stronger or kicking up your cardio.
Once you've chosen a program, ask yourself a few questions: Is this sustainable? Can I mentally and physically commit to it? Is there a group I can connect with? "Working out virtually with a team can make you feel less alone," Wilson says. Jones also suggests joining friends on these apps so you can virtually workout with your fitness pals and have an accountability buddy.
Keep in mind, you should know and follow your own limits. If jump squats don't feel good for you—and especially if you feel pain while doing them or any exercise—skip 'em and stick with air squats, Wilson says. Most trainers will give you these options (look for those who do!) but don't push yourself too far out of your comfort zone that it leads to injury. "You have to look out for your own safety; you can always make things work for you," she says.
Jones also suggests following your favorite instructors on Instagram and joining their live Zoom workouts, as they often correct form in real-time for those Zoom sessions. Working with a personal trainer (almost all trainers offer virtual services now) can also help you start and progress a program that's safe and tailored to your goals and level.
How can I progress at home?
If you don't have the equipment to add resistance to your movements, there are plenty of ways to up the intensity of bodyweight exercises. A big one: Switch up the tempo to increase the time under tension, Wilson says.
In non-trainer terms, that means you should focus on slowing down the down phase of an exercise, she says. This "eccentric" movement will help you build strength more quickly. To do it in a move like the squat, take four seconds to lower down to the bottom, hold for a second, then drive up to the top. You can do the same for a push-up, lowering down on a count of four, holding at the bottom for a second, then driving back up to your plank.
Incorporating micro-movements, like adding pulses and half-lifts to moves like lunges, squats, or glute bridges, will also increase the intensity and allow for more gains, Wilson says. That also goes for isometric holds at the bottom of each move, Jones adds, meaning you'd pause for three to four seconds at the bottom of a lunge or push-up, or at the top of a glute bridge or tricep kickback.
Lastly, speeding movements up and adding explosiveness (or jumps) will also increase the intensity of your at-home workout, elevating your heart rate, like high-intensity interval workouts do, Jones says.
Anything else I should know about working out at home?
Wilson says the mental side of working out at home is just as important as the physical and suggests shifting your mindset from focusing on the aesthetic gains to how exercise makes you feel. Do you have more energy? Do you feel stronger? That will help you see progress and feel the push to keep going at it.
Even more important: The first step in starting a new workout program is figuring out your "why" and using that as a deeper motivating force when your drive starts to diminish. "In a few weeks, the new year vibes are gone—right now, motivation and positivity may be trending, but when that goes away, how do you find your motivation?" Wilson asks. "Uncover a clearly-defined, emotionally-attached 'why.' Get in touch with that to not only be successful for the length of the program, but also for a long-term commitment to your health."
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