By Ben Pearson
We all know that regular physical activity is good for both our physical health and our mental wellbeing. Experts recommend 150 minutes of physical activity each week. Ideally, this should be made up of a combination of aerobic and resistance exercises which leave you feeling warm and out of breath with an elevated heart rate.
The COVID-19 pandemic taught us more than ever, activities you once did away from home could be adapted to participate inside your home. Yes, like me, you probably were at the end of your tether of quizzes on zoom, toilet rolls keepie ups and Joe Wicks workout classes by the third lockdown. However, this taught us in a time of need we can be flexible. For some, exercising at home was financially beneficial. It allowed participation in physical activity to come at no cost, with many gym memberships being frozen until after the pandemic.
For many students, the start of term is a time where funds may be scarce due to rent payments, club/social membership fees, freshers’ week and your much deserved social life all culminating in a rather frail bank account. One area you may choose to cut back costs is by exercising at home or in parks until your finances are back on track. This may mean changing to a pay as you go gym membership or freezing a current one. For those, that have no intention of going back to the gym for whatever reason, or for those that may need a break for financial reasons, this blog will discuss how one can exercise at home (or outside) for FREE!
5 tips for building healthy habits
Know Why! the benefits of exercise, including improved energy levels, lifting your mood, promoting better quality sleep and increased fitness, strength and flexibility will make it easier to manage all the things you need to do.
Make it fun! The likelihood is you will lose interest if what your doing is not fun and engaging. Blast your music out, find activities you enjoy, and reward yourself afterwards with a tasty snack.
Try not to miss 2 in a row! 2 may lead to 3 and before you know it, you’re exercising once in a blue moon.
Be SMART (specific, measurable, attainable, realistic & time-based) with your activity selection. Make a plan, setting out what you want to achieve.
Find a buddy! Invite friends to exercise with you in your home or at a park. This combines social activity with exercise which means you’ll be having fun and saving money.
Body Weight Exercise
There are hundreds of exercises you can do at home or in your local park, so I’ve picked out a selection of ones that are simple, effective, and enjoyable. Whatever exercises you decide to do on your: furniture, floor, bed, or grass is all about trial and error to see what works and feels comfortable for you. Listen to your body and stay safe!
Leg exercises (with sturdy stool/box, chair, step)
I emphasise sturdy because you don’t want your chosen furniture to collapse, especially when jumping on it. On each of these exercises, 3 sets of between 12-15 reps are substantial.
Step-Ups- Put the whole of your right foot on the bench, then drive up through your right leg and stand on the bench with both feet. Lead with your left leg as you step back down and return to the starting position. Alternate the leg you use each step.
Reverse Lunges– RL from a deficit, utilising dumbbells or other overload tools, are great for knees and help improve mobility with participants. Step back far enough so that your forward knee does not move forward when dropping down. Keep your chest high and back straight.
Box Jumps– Simply stand facing the box, then in a smooth motion, jump from the floor to the top of the box, landing both feet simultaneously. Incorporate towards the beginning of the routine, after a solid warm-up. This ensures the muscles won’t be excessively fatigued, making the exercise safe.
Leg Exercises (no equipment)
Box Shuffles– Begin standing on the left side of the box with your right foot resting on top of the middle of the box. Quickly jump over the box, landing with your right foot on the ground and your left foot on top of the box. Continue to shuffle side to side until your reps are complete.
Wall Sit– Perform at a right angle (90 degrees) at your hips and your knees. Your back is flat against the wall, and your heels are on the ground. Hold between 20-60 seconds.
Lunges– Step forward with one foot until your leg reaches a 90-degree angle. Your rear knee should remain parallel to the ground and your front knee shouldn’t go beyond your toes. Change legs after completing each set.
Squat– Start with your feet shoulder-width apart. Drop your hips and sit back until your thighs are parallel to the floor. Pause, then drive through the heels and lift body upwards back to the start, squeezing the glutes at the top of the movement.
Calf Raises– Exercises don’t come much simpler than calf raises. Stand up straight, then push through the balls of your feet and raise your heel until you are standing on your toes. Then lower slowly back to the start.
Push Up– Begin on all fours placing your hands on the floor slightly wider than shoulder-width apart. Squeeze your abs and keep them contracted for the entire exercise. Lower your body until your chest nearly touches the floor, making sure that you tuck your elbows close to the sides of your torso. Pause, then push yourself back to the starting position.
Triceps Dips– Sit on the edge of chair. Slowly lower yourself off the chair and towards the ground. Your fingers should be pointed at your feet, your legs extended, and your feet about hip-width apart with the heels touching the ground. Lower yourself until your elbows are bent between 45 & 90 degrees. Finally, push yourself back up slowly to the starting position.
Mountain Climbers– Mountain climbers are great for building cardio endurance, core strength, and agility. Performed from a plank position, you’ll alternate bringing one knee to your chest, then back out again, speeding up each time. Check your form—your hands should be about shoulder-width apart, back flat, abs engaged, and head in alignment. Keep your hips down and run your knees in and out as far and as fast as you can. Alternate inhaling and exhaling with each leg change.
Sit Up- Lie down on a mat (if no mat available, you can use carpet). Keep your legs hip-width apart, bend your knees, and place your feet flat on the floor and exhale. Use your core muscles for sitting up, keeping your shoulders relaxed. Inhale and slowly roll back down to the starting position. Make sure your lower back is lying flat on the mat.
Plank– There are lots of variations of the plank as seen (above). When performing the most common ‘elbow’ plank, lie on the floor with elbows directly beneath your shoulders and legs fully extended. Raise your torso into the air until it makes a straight line from your shoulders to your ankles. Tighten your stomach, squeeze your butt and hold this position for the desired amount of time. Aim for around 20-40 seconds to begin with and try and build up from there.
Other simple pulse raising activities include:
Skipping (rope required)
Plank to downward dog
Bavarian split squat
Contralateral limb raises
Straight leg donkey kick
Side-lying hip abduction
All the exercises discussed thus far can be performed in your living room, kitchen, or ideally your garden. They do not require any apparatus, although certain equipment is preferable such as a roll matt or stool/bench. Most activities discussed belong to body-weight exercises, many of which recruit several muscles at the same time so are classified as compound exercises. Exercises can also be classified by motion. Exercises such as rows or lat pull-downs, often performed with weights require a pulling motion. Exercises like triceps dip or the push up require a pushing motion.
Aerobic exercise (also known as endurance activities or cardio) is physical exercise of low to high intensity that depends primarily on the aerobic energy-generating process. Aerobic is defined as “relating to, involving, or requiring free oxygen”, and refers to the use of oxygen to adequately meet energy demands. So, what aerobic exercises can be done at home or your local park, or nearby fields or even the closest body of water?
Aerobic exercise keeps the heart rate elevated for sustained periods of time. It usually uses the whole body and can:
Strengthen your heart and lungs
Help with weight loss
Build endurance and stamina (helpful for day-to-day activities)
Help decrease anxiety
Increase positive moods (thanks to the release of endorphins)
Help lower blood pressure
So, we have discussed bodyweight exercises, compound exercises and aerobic exercises. All of which significantly contribute to weight loss, muscle gain and increased aerobic capacity endurance. All the activities suggested can be modified in difficulty depending on the individual. If you find bodyweight exercises too easy, it may be worth purchasing some free weights or rummaging around your garage for heavy items. Obviously, purchasing equipment is a limitation and goes against performing the activity completely free, however, weight-bearing exercises along with a protein-rich healthy diet will lead to further muscle growth. All the bodyweight exercises are flexible and the purchase of dumbbells, kettlebells, or even household objects (for no cost) such as toolboxes, heavy rucksacks, or shopping bags full of healthy, nutritional & sustainable foods can support the weight-bearing exercise.
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