Home Exercise Program Innovation: Tips for Maintaining a Comprehensive Exercise Program with What You’ve Got

Now more than ever, the importance of home exercise is paramount. Whether you are just trying to keep in shape, or you are attempting to maintain an exercise program given to you by a physical therapist, being able to maintain a comprehensive exercise program, especially without the ability to utilize gym facilities, can be challenging. Many people feel that without sophisticated gym equipment, such as cardio machines, free weights, and strengthening machines, an adequate exercise program cannot be performed. I am here to tell you that this is simply not true, if only you have the proper guidance and imagination. So, here are several tips for making your home exercise program just as effective as if you were in a clinic or in a gym:

Make use of your own body weight to create resistance. Most people go into a gym and look to use dumbbells, cables, or machines for resistance. However, body weight, if utilized correctly, can provide the same resistance, and the exercises performed using body weight are often more functional. For example, the muscles that are used to work out on a leg press machine are also used to perform squats. Plus, a squat more closely mimics daily movement, such as sitting down into and getting up from a chair, than does a seated leg press machine. If traditional open air squats prove too difficult, grading the exercise can be done. For instance, practice squatting down onto and off of seats of different heights. The lower the surface, the more challenging the exercise. Other functional body weight exercises for the legs include step ups on stairs, calf raises either on the floor or off the edge of a step, and lunges on the floor. Body weight can also be used to challenge the arms by performing exercises such as push-ups, triceps dips, and pull-ups. Grading on variously elevated surfaces can also change just how much resistance is provided.

Make use of ordinary household items to create resistance. If you prefer some sort of external weight to body weight, and if traditional dumbbells or cables are unavailable, household items can be used as weight. For example, soup cans, water bottles, or anything small enough to hold can be used to replace dumbbells for exercises such as biceps curls, shoulder raises, and chest presses for the arms, and those same items can be held while performing squats, lunges, and step ups for leg strengthening. Resistance bands, which are usually much more accessible than cables, can be used to replicate rows for the arms and back, chest flys for the pectorals, and triceps extension push-downs. If you cannot obtain resistance bands, your physical therapist can usually issue you one and teach you how to secure it at home and use it for various exercises.

Don’t forget about your core. Core exercises are probably the easiest to replicate at home, as many are designed to not require fancy equipment. Planks are a very safe exercise that engages shoulder, abdominal, back, hip, and thigh muscles. They can be varied so as to challenge the front of the abdomen as well as the sides. They can also be graded (perform planks with arms on the edge of a couch or chair) to make them more doable. Other traditional core exercises, such as crunches and curl ups can also be performed, but be sure to use proper technique so as to avoid inadvertently straining neck or back muscles.

Be one with nature. Finally, cardio training needs to be addressed. When it comes to cardio training, I find it most effective when a person finds something they enjoy and then doing that thing. If you enjoy running, run. If you like walking, walk. If you like biking, bike. Seems simple, but sometimes people try to force themselves to do something they don’t like just because they heard it was good for them. When this happens, the program is usually not kept up. So, make sure you choose something that you enjoy. And get outside! (Assuming the weather cooperates.)

Hopefully, you now have a better idea about how to keep up with an appropriate and comprehensive home exercise program, even when gym facilities and/or traditional fitness equipment is not available. If you have any questions about specific exercises for you, be sure to ask your physical therapist. We’d be happy to help!

Rob Kohutanycz, PT, DPT

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