A rope, a couple of cinder blocks, and some Ziploc bags…
These may sound like things you’d find at a crime scene, but they’re (potentially) the basic tools you need to get fit. The real crime is wasting time and money on things you think you’re supposed to do to tone up, lose weight or just feel better, but don’t fit your lifestyle.
Joining a gym is easy. Going regularly? Not so much. For many people, the only thing a gym membership helps them slim down is their bank account. As for yoga, Pilates or other classes, they’re all good if you can consistently attend them. Ditto for biking and running; things you can do all year if you want, although not entirely as comfortably.
Often the main thing standing between you and a healthier you is a desire for convenience. The amount of effort and preparation it takes to get you ready to work out is proportional to the likelihood of you actually working out.
Before you start hemorrhaging cash on classes and memberships, take a step back and consider what it would take to kick start your efforts on the cheap, with minimal effort.
Having expended a great deal of energy avoiding gyms in recent years, I knew I required some inspiration to reboot with a fitness regime, preferably something I found interesting, required minimal prep and that I could take on at home. Enter Emile Reed, owner and trainer at The Boxing Loft, an accredited natural health consultant, strength and conditioning and boxing coach.
Right, let’s take another look at our crime scene…
Armed with a few basic exercises suggested by Reed, a skipping rope (or an actual rope) and a few free weights (or cinder blocks), you’ve got the makings of a home gym. Add in access to a set of stairs and a thick towel or carpet for a mat and you’re golden.
Your first attempts at skipping will probably consist of sloppily tripping over the rope while your heart does its level best to jump out of your chest. But you will get better and it will yield results.
Compared to running, skipping is low impact, Reed explains. “That may seem odd because you’re jumping, but when you’re skipping, you’re jumping just high enough to get over top of the rope. And when you land it should be a soft landing because you should always be on the balls of your feet.” Using a plain length of rope also works, and being heavier than an actual skipping rope, provides you with a shoulder workout at the same time.
Starting out, Reed suggests skipping 2-3 times a week, in 4-6 sets of 45 seconds to a minute, with an equal amount of rest time between sets.
As your proficiency and stamina increases, he adds: “You should be able to skip for 10, 15 or 20 minutes straight.” That, he continues, can burn substantially more calories than double the time cycling or running because it’s a higher intensity, full body workout; one you can augment by running on the spot and raising your knees high or turning the rope more quickly and doing doubles (where the rope passes under you twice). Beyond the increased confidence that you’re not going to have a coronary any second, the results from burning calories while working your legs, hands, arms, back and chest, speak for themselves.
As weights go, cinder blocks are effective, but dumbbells are less bulky, and less likely to scratch your floor and make a hideous mess if you drop one on your foot. Granted, like gym memberships and gimmicky fitness devices, they’re also one of the things you typically buy, lay out in plain view for few days and ultimately chuck in a closet forever because you’ve decided that you just don’t have time for a lengthy set of exercises after all.
But starting out with weights doesn’t have to be time consuming. Take the Farmer’s Walk, which is literally holding weights by your side in each hand and walking. Where to? – Up your stairs, down your stairs, on the way to the fridge, while looking for your phone, anywhere. For more impact, Reed says: “Walk in a straight line, heel to toe, so you’re working on balance at the same time and increasing the difficulty of the workout.” Alternately, hold the weights at shoulder height with your elbows/arms at a 90-degree angle to work your upper back and shoulders.
That said, for toning up and building strength, all you need is you. For example, “there are so many variations of push ups you can do. They work your chest, but changing hand position works other muscles. You can turn your hands back so your fingers are facing slightly inward and it becomes a bicep exercise. Bring the hands together – so the thumbs are touching – it becomes a triceps exercise.”
Then there’s the ‘Fifties’ – fifty push ups, crunches, squats and good-mornings (without weights to start) – which can be done in sets of any number at a time, gradually building up to fifty, or more, of each. For more impact, add weights to your squats (holding them above your head and slightly behind you with straight arms), or hold a weight in both hands just above your chest while doing crunches and good-mornings.
All in, twenty or thirty minutes twice a week will make you feel better immediately. Three times a week and you’ll see results more quickly. But whether you’re working out every other day or two or three days in a row, be sure to schedule a full day of recovery at the end of each cycle.
Finally, you’ve got to make use of your baggies – or jars, or Tupperware, your pockets, or a utility belt; anything that you can pack with good stuff to eat, for anytime and anywhere there’s bad stuff around to munch on.
More often than not, eating crap is a crime of opportunity; one you can avoid by having something handy at work, at home, or wherever, that allows you to sub in healthy options (fruit, popcorn, raw nuts, seeds, trail mix) for donuts and handfuls of Cheetos.
Bear in mind that exercise and food have some important similarities. In appropriate amounts they provide energy. In excess they make you feel lousy. And, in both cases, variety is key.