June 26, 2014

Not a fan of going to the gym? You’re in luck: The latest trend in gym training is doing exactly the kind of exercise you can do outside of a gym.

Think of Rocky in Rocky I, running along the train tracks and through the outdoor vegetable markets, like the Pied Piper of Philly, shadowboxing all the way, then finally hurdling benches and sprinting up the steps of City Hall in Philadelphia. Then there’s his Russian training montage in Rocky IV where he’s in hauling sleds through the snow, sawing wood, tossing boulders and chopping down trees, all in contrast to Dolph Lundgren’s highly computerized gym-centric workout.

I’m not trying to turn you into Sly Stallone, I’m just letting you know that there are great options – outside of the traditional gym – for strength training, if you’re clever about it.

Outside of gyms in cities across the USA, trainers are taking their clients to the sidewalk or even the back parking lot where they set up obstacle courses with cones and chalk. Clients are leaping onto fences, stone walls, and turned-over buckets. “Boot camp” trainers rarely use a gym; you’ll see their clients, at 5 in the morning, at local parks getting their sweat on. They’re using thick ropes, kettle balls and sacks of coffee beans to get an authentic outside-the-gym workout feeling.

So, how can you apply these techniques to your strength-training regime at home? Just keep in mind that a weight-bearing exercise is anything that employs gravity to pull your body weight against your muscles. Climbing a hill, jumping onto a ledge; all of those activities are weight bearing.

In the summer, that’s pushing your lawn mower up the hill in your background. In winter, it’s shoveling, shoveling, and more shoveling.  It’s what causes that groan when you get out of a particularly mushy chair. Turn that movement into reps and sets; get up from that chair 15 times in a row (repetitions), 3 times (set).

Or, walk up those stairs. That’s an easy one. Maybe skip a stair and take it slowly, feeling it in your glutes. Or grab the laundry or a box of books to add weight to your home-based workout.

It’s easy to strengthen your lower body around the house with stairs and getting in and out of chairs; but how about your arms? For that, head to the kitchen, and pick up those cast-iron skillets or enamel-coated cast iron pans.

I keep my cast iron on the stovetop, because I like the way they look and I use them all the time. And they’re weighty; between 5 and 8 pounds each, and that’s before I put anything inside them. You can lift them– one handed, two handed, over your head and back down again. Combine them with a squat for balance. Pick up a couple one-pound bags of dried beans, put a few in each skillet and try some curls. You’ll feel that in the morning.

Strength training does not have to mean gym membership or dumbbells. It means adding weight, intentionally, to the workout you might be already be doing.

For strength training at home, here’s the basic recipe: take the things you avoid doing because they’re too much work (or you’ll break a sweat): carrying laundry up a couple flights of stairs, braving hills, getting out of mushy chairs, or lifting heavy cast-iron cookware. Those are the keys to at-home strength training success.

Housework is physically demanding but with a little extra effort you can make it a workout that saves time, money and energy otherwise wasted on getting to (and from) the gym.

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