One of the main reasons people say they don’t exercise is time. It takes time, they say, to change clothes, drive to the gym or class, exercise, then shower and change before continuing with their day. Many fitness centers have started offering quick 30-minute workouts to capitalize on our time-crunched society, but the truth is that exercise can happen anywhere, at any time, with zero cost or fuss. Here’s how.
Pull your own weight
Weight-bearing exercise increases bone and muscle strength and improves balance. You don’t need expensive weights or a monthly gym membership to reap the benefits of weight-bearing exercise. Truth is, you are a walking set of weights. Try these weight-bearing exercises to strengthen muscles, keep bones strong and protected, and maintain healthy joints.
Come into plank pose as if you are doing a pushup. Hands should be on the ground directly below your shoulders. Heels stretch back away from your head, eyes face down with the back of your neck long and strong. Move your shoulder blades onto your back by softening your heart slightly towards the floor (this gives you more support in your shoulders). Move your tailbone down towards your heels so that the low belly engages, then hold for as long as you can. Do this every day, gradually increasing your hold times, and you will be astonished at how quickly your strength increases.
If holding your whole weight is too much, gently lower your knees to the ground, keeping your upper body in a long, firm line, as with full plank.
- Wall sits
Stand with your back against a wall, feet shoulder-width distance apart. Inhale, then lower your hips until you are sitting in a chair shape with your back against the wall. Move your tailbone towards the floor as you engage the lower belly for support. As you inhale, let the belly and ribs inflate, and as you exhale, pull the bellybutton to the spine. Hold as long as you can, then push into your feet to rise up.
Stand with your hands on your hips, feet shoulder-width apart. Inhale, and on an exhale, step forward with your right foot into a lunge. Keep your torso upright; don’t lean forward (you need to tuck the tailbone and engage the belly to stay vertical). Push off your right foot to come up. Repeat with the other leg.
To make this even more challenging, hold the lunge with a straight back leg, then bend the back knee to hover one or two inches off the floor. Straighten the back leg to come up, then push off the front leg to stand.
Caution: For those with knee pain, clear this exercise with your doctor first. Everyone else, make sure that your front knee stays stacked over your front ankle when you are in the lunge.
Pushups are about as old-school as they get, but very few exercises build upper body strength faster. Keep your belly engaged the whole way down and up to support your lower back, and hug your elbows tight to your sides for safe shoulder movement. Start with knees down then gradually progress.
It is better to do one or two with absolutely correct form than ten out of alignment. That’s where injuries happen.
- Leg lifts
Leg lifts can be done standing while holding on to a chair, lying on your side, lying on your back, or on hands and knees. Key points to remember while completing leg lifts is to keep the lower back safe by moving your tailbone down to engage the low belly. If you feel any soreness in your back, that’s a clear sign that you need to engage your core more.
The key to getting the most out of these is to move slowly and to use the muscles correctly. Again, better to do two with perfect form than ten without.
- Triceps dips
Stand with your back to a chair or a bench, feet hip-width distance apart. Bend the knees and reach behind you until you can place your hands on the chair or bench. Elbows should be hugged tight into the body, not flailing out or caving in. Engage the lower belly by moving the tailbone towards the heels. Inhale, and on an exhale, slowly lower down until your triceps, the muscles on the backs of your arms, take your weight. Inhale to come up. Move slowly, and do as many as you can with proper form.
The best news about these weight-bearing exercises is that you have your weight room with you no matter where you go. Any time you have a moment, feel free to drop into a wall sit, do a few leg lifts, or even drop into a plank.
Find exercise wherever you go
Everywhere you go there is the potential for exercise that has nothing to do with dropping everything to go to a gym. Simple changes like walking to work, taking the stairs, and parking far away from entrances to stores make it easy, quick, and convenient to get short bursts of exercise throughout the day. As you insert these moments of physical activity, focus on engaging your core and really moving your muscles. Slow down on the stairs and allow your full weight to come onto each leg as you climb them. Feel the entire length of your foot as you walk across the parking lot (great for plantar fasciitis!).
Even if you don’t squeeze in a full, daily workout, these mindful moments of exercise add up!
Make it a family affair
We often view exercise as a chore, but maybe reframing it as a fun activity the whole family can share will help us to be more committed to our health and the health of our families. Play kickball, go for a hike, or join a community league. When the kids come home from school they need a snack and some time to decompress and shift gears. That’s a perfect time for some physical activity that everyone can enjoy.
If you have time and feel able, another way to get in daily exercise for free is to volunteer to be a recess monitor at your child’s school. Then get out and play with the kids.
Let guilt be productive
Finally, let your dog win. Look into those big, pleading eyes, and walk the dog every day. Blame it on the dog. He forces you to get out, regardless of weather, for his own exercise. If you won’t find time to exercise yourself, at least consider your canine.
How do you squeeze exercise into your day without going to the gym?