Starting a workout program can be scary, and that’s before you find out the costs of gyms, equipment, and cutting-edge classes. But, there’s plenty of workout tools that you can take advantage of for free and without ever walking in a gym.
Carolyn Williams, Ph.D., R.D.
December 16, 2015
1 of 14Photo: Jordan Siemens/Getty Images
When getting started, most beginning workout plans recommend aiming for 20 to 30 minutes of cardiorespiratory activity (those that get your heart rate up and break a sweat) five to six days per week and strength exercises that work your major muscle groups two days per week. To help, we’ve identified each of the gym-free ideas below as “cardio” or “strength.” Try out several ideas to establish a routine and get started. Not only will this help you narrow down what you like best, but it will also show you what might be worth investing in to further your workouts down the road.
2 of 14Photo: Spaces Images/Getty Images
Activate Your Library Card
Most public libraries have a variety of workout DVDs that you can check out for free. This is a great way to start exercising, because it allows you to try a variety of workout styles in the comfort and privacy of your home. And, if you think this will be like watching you mom’s old aerobics videos, think again. Workout video options today range from dancing (think tango, ballet moves, or moves to hit songs) and boot camp-type routines to pilates and quick toning routines.
Videos with toning, sculpting, or strength in the title—STRENGTH; videos with burning or blasting—CARDIO.
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Look for a local high school track or stadium to use. Warm up by walking a few laps on the track; then alternate a lap of faster walking or running climbing the stadium stairs twice. Repeat several times so that you accumulate 20 to 30 minutes when done. If you need a breather, stop to work in crunches on the side of the track or some leg lunges or arm dips using the stairs.
CARDIO and STRENGTH
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If you’ve got a wall nearby, you’ve got a great way to tone and strengthen. One of the best moves for lower body is a wall sit where your sit like you are in a chair with back pressed against the wall. Hold this for 10 to 20 seconds several times; slowly increase the time you hold as you get stronger. Standing pushups against the wall will build arm strength and laying on the floor with legs up on the wall to do crunches will help strengthen your core. For more ideas, search “workouts on walls” and put together a routine of 5 to 6 moves that you repeat 2 to 3 times.
6 of 14Photo: Jeff Von Hoene
Go Minute by Minute
You can do anything for a minute, right? That’s the concept behind High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT). While the name HIIT sounds intimidating, this type of workout is great for all levels. Here’s an example of how to get started: Choose four exercises such as pushups, jumping jacks, squats, and sit-ups. Do a different exercise each minute, starting with 20 seconds of performing the move as hard as you can, followed by 10 seconds of rest, and then repeat (see below). On the 5th minute, you take a 1-minute rest and then start back at the beginning. Use new strength and cardio moves you learn to create new HIIT workouts.
Minute 2: 20 seconds of jumping jacks, 10 seconds rest, 20 seconds of jumping jacks, 10 seconds rest
Minute 3: 20 seconds of squats, 10 seconds rest, 20 seconds of squats, 10 seconds rest
Minute 4: 20 seconds of sit-ups, 10 seconds rest, 20 seconds of sit-ups, 10 seconds rest
Minute 5: 60 seconds of rest
STRENGTH, and if continued for 20 minutes or more, CARDIO
7 of 14Photo: Jordan Siemens
Playgrounds aren’t just for kids; they can also be great outdoor gyms for adults. Some parks may have outdoor exercise equipment designed for adults, but if not, most any playground will do. Warm up with walks around the perimeter. Then alternate 3 to 5 minutes of faster walking, running, skipping, or bench step-ups with 1 to 2 minutes of strength exercises. Ideas for strength moves include triceps dips on the park bench or bottom of the slide, crossing the monkey bars for shoulder and back work, swing rows for arms and chest (stand behind a swing, grasp swing chains, lean back, and then use arm strength to pull you up), walking lunges on sidewalk or stationary lunges on bench or bottom of slide, and pushups on the grass or standing pushups using the back of a park bench.
CARDIO and STRENGTH
8 of 14Photo: Cultura RM/JPM/Getty Images
Kick Up Your Heels
Dancing can be one of the best calorie-burning exercises not to mention a great stress reliever. So, if playgrounds and exercise DVDs aren’t for you, then turn on music and get moving. Don’t worry about not having the right dance moves. As long as you’re breathing faster and your heart is pumping, dancing counts as cardio exercise. Vary tempos so you can keep going for 20 to 30 minutes.
9 of 14Photo: Courtesy of PeopleForBikes
Take a Turn
If you’re in a larger city, joining a bike-sharing program can be a good way to incorporate activity into your day and build endurance. Bike-share programs are basically short-term bike rentals. You usually pay a joining fee and then have access to use free bikes located at various locations in a city. Use them to commute, in place of a car to run errands, or for some fast cycling. Research has shown that even leisurely, short rides have a positive effect.
10 of 14Photo: Jordan Siemens/Getty Images
Signing up for a training program may sound like jumping in head first, but it is also a great way to hold yourself accountable. One of the best training programs out there for beginners is the Couch to 5K program. It’s designed to literally take a couch potato or new exerciser and slowly build them up to where they could complete a 5K race in 9 weeks. One nice aspect is that you have 9 weeks of cardio workouts planned—no thinking required. But, if you’re still not sure or a little intimidated, check out the workouts. Week One starts with alternating 60 seconds of running with 90 seconds of walking. You can do this!
11 of 14Photo: Courtesy of Jawbone
Work It In
If you feel you can’t find time for a formal workout right now, then invest in a pedometer, a fancy high-tech version for your wrist (like FitBit or Jawbone) or a simple $10 one to wear on your waistband. Setting a daily step goal will motivate you to look for ways to be more active in daily life. To prevent weight gain, aim for 10,000 steps each day or 1,200 or more for weight loss. Start by wearing it and following your normal routine 2 to 3 days to get your baseline. Then, work on getting 1,000 to 2,000 additional steps every week until you’re hitting 10,000 or more. You need to incorporate heart-thumping activities for heart health and strength activities for bone health at some point, but a pedometer will get you moving more and that’s the goal.
12 of 14Photo: Robert George Young/Getty Images
Create a Boot Camp
Set up workout stations in your yard or floor, and be your own drill sergeant. After a warm-up that gets your muscles moving and joints loose, start the clock for 20 minutes and see how many times you can get through the stations. An example might be the following stations: 1 minute of jumping rope, 20 squats, 20 forward arm circles and 20 backward arm circles, 30 seconds of high knees, 10 pushups, and 30 seconds of plank hold. Change the exercises to favorites you’ve found on DVDs or tailor to your body’s needs. Also, to keep heart rate up, alternate cardio and strength moves when you set up.
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Jump In All the Way
Some people like very specific direction and lots of guidance when starting something new. If this sounds like you, then a program with both cardio and strength exercises that’s fully planned out probably sounds ideal. A trainer could create this, but the American Council on Exercise offers a free 12-week Kick Start Workout program. The program is designed to take a beginner and slowly build your endurance, strength, and flexibility and even has videos to preview moves. Definitely check this program out if the thought of planning workouts sounds overwhelming.
CARDIO and STRENGTH
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