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How to Get in Shape at Home Without Going to a Gym

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You have a goal: to get into shape. But the thought of joining a gym and dragging yourself to it a few days a week makes you shudder. Plus, the expensive gym membership fees won’t work with your budget. Good news! You can workout without a gym and still achieve your fitness goals!

Joining a fitness club isn’t the only way to whip your body into shape. Sure, the gym might have a myriad of machines and equipment for you to access, but you really don’t need them. You can get into shape just as easily in the comfort of your own home, but without the price tag and the need to get yourself from A to B.

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Maybe you don’t want to spend the money on membership fees or your schedule just doesn’t permit regular gym visits. Or perhaps you hate the idea of adding another commute to your day or you just prefer to exercise alone.

An image of a woman lifting weights in her garage

You don’t need bulky exercise equipment to get in shape, either. An exercise band, stability balls and a handful of dumbbells can do just as good a job at strengthening your body. Sometimes no equipment is necessary at all to get fit — sometimes all that’s required is your own body weight to get the body you’re after.

How to Develop an At-Home Workout

You’re determined to get fit at home and workout without a gym, but how exactly do you go about creating a workout plan? A few important elements need to be incorporated into your plan in order to make sure your workouts are both safe and effective.

Warmups

Before going full-throttle with your workout, it’s imperative that you warm up your body first. In fact, a warmup is just as important as the workout itself.

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The purpose of a warmup is to get your body ready for more strenuous activity, which will help to prevent injury1. If you take cold muscles and force them into extreme movement, your risk for injury skyrockets. Instead, a proper warmup will warm up your muscles, increase your core body temperature and get your cardiovascular system ready for what’s coming.

Pro tip: The perfect warmup should be about five minutes of intensity movements.

Your warmup should be approximately five minutes long, which will give you enough time to get your body warm and ready for exercise. It should incorporate low-intensity movements that involve the parts of your body that will be used in the workout to come. This can be something as simple as a brisk walk, a light jog or even a slow climb up and down your stairs.

An image of a woman jumping rope

Cardiovascular Exercise

The cardio portion of your workout — also referred to as “aerobic” — is intended to get your heart rate pumping. Basically, anything that increases your heart rate can be a great aerobic workout.

Cardio is important for keeping your heart strong. And a strong cardiovascular system will allow your blood vessels to carry more oxygen to the cells in your muscles, allowing them to burn more calories and body fat.

When doing aerobics, it’s important that your heart rate reaches and sustains a certain level. A simple way to make sure you’re working hard enough — but not too hard — is to gauge how you feel. For instance, you should find it a challenge to speak while exercising, but not so challenging that you can’t speak at all.

A more accurate way to ensure that you’re working out at the appropriate level is to measure your heart rate. Ideally, you should aim to get your heart rate anywhere between 55-75 percent of your maximum heart rate. To determine this level, you can use a simple calculation.

Identify your maximum heart rate by subtracting your age from 220. Then take 55 percent and 75 percent of this number to find your target heart rate range to work within. While you’re exercising, measure your heart rate every so often to make sure you’re maintaining this heart rate throughout the duration of your workout.

As far as the amount of cardio activity you should be getting, about 150 minutes per week is a good goal to strive for. If you’re just starting out, however, start slow and work your way up.

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Resistance Training

In much the same way that aerobic training strengthens your heart, resistance training strengthens your muscles. Any added stress to the muscles is considered resistance training and can cause them to get stronger and bigger.

Pro tip: Weights like dumbbells and barbells are commonly used for resistance training, but you can easily use exercise bands and even your own body weight to achieve a solid resistance training workout.

Depending on what your specific goals are (ie. getting bulky or simply toning your muscles), the amount of weight and the frequency of lifts will fluctuate. When it comes to resistance training, the terms “sets” and “reps” are typically used. “Reps” refers to the number of repetitions you perform of each exercise, and “sets” refers to the group of reps.

For instance, doing three sets of 10 reps of squats means you do 10 squats three times, with rest in between each set. Resistance training should be done about 2-3 times per week.

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Flexibility

The more flexible your muscles are, the less likely they will get injured during your workouts2. Being more flexible will also help to improve your performance during each exercise.

The best time to perform flexibility training is after your muscles have already been warmed up. Your muscles should never be stretched if they’re still cold due to inactivity. Each pose should last approximately 20-30 seconds to maximize the effect. Ideally, your flexibility training should be part of every workout.

Cool Down

The cool down portion of your workout should be similar to your warmup. The idea is to bring your heart rate back to a resting state. It doesn’t have to be any longer than a few minutes in length.

Your Workout Plan

Follow this at-home exercise routine to help you get into shape without the aggravation and inconvenience of having to go to the gym.

Warmup

Begin your workout with about five minutes of low-intensity movement. This can literally be whatever you like, as long as it gets your heart rate going and limbers up your cold muscles. In addition to brisk walking or slow jogging, there are other movements you can do to include in your warmup. Consider including each of these in your warmup to create a circuit:

Jump Rope

Leisurely jump rope for about one minute.

Butt Kickers

Jogging in place, try to get your heels as close to your buttocks as possible. Do this for about one minute.

Walking Knee Hugs

With each step, lift your knee up to at least hip height and pull it into your belly with both arms. Alternate with each leg for a total of 30 reps.

Leg Swings

While maintaining balance on one foot, swing the other leg forward and backward, making sure to keep your leg as straight as possible. Alternate with each leg for a total of 30 reps.

Toe Touches

Standing upright with feet shoulder-width apart and arms reaching for the sky, reach down and touch the opposite hand and leg. For example, the right hand should touch the left toe, then reach back up and alternate with the left hand touching the right toe. Repeat for a total of 30 reps.

Shoulder Rotations

Rotate your arms forward to stretch out the muscles and tendons of the shoulders, making sure to keep your arms straight and extend as far up and out as you can. Do 15 reps, then switch direction and rotate your arms forward for another 15 reps.

At this point, your body should be nice and limber and ready for your workout!

Cardio

If you have aerobic equipment at home, such as an elliptical machine, stationary bike or treadmill, then these provide the perfect way to get a decent cardio workout at home. If you don’t have such equipment, you can still get a great workout, and perhaps one of the best ways to go about this is to create a circuit.

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Here is a sample cardio circuit that you can use and modify to your comfort and fitness level to get your heart rate up and keep it there for at least 30 minutes. Perform each of these moves for about 30 seconds, resting with 30 seconds in between.

Jumping Jacks

A simple yet effective aerobic exercise, jumping jacks can get your heart racing in no time. To perform, stand upright with feet together and arms at your side. Hop both feet out to the side while simultaneously extending your arms to the side and up above your heard, return to starting position.

Jump Rope

Another classic exercise, this will increase your heart rate rather quickly. Everyone knows how to jump rope, so there’s little to explain!

Burpees

This move hits just about every major muscle group and can be considered both an aerobic and strength training exercise. Start by standing in the upright position, then squat down so your hands are on the ground.

From there, hop both feet back simultaneously so that you end up in the plank position. Perform one pushup, then hop your feet back towards your core. Finally, leap upwards and land back on both feet until you’re back to starting position.

Mountain Climbers

This is a great exercise for strengthening your core, back and shoulders while getting your heart rate up. Start in a plank position and drive your right knee into your chest. As you bring your right foot back to starting position, simultaneously drive your left knee into your chest. Keep alternating between each leg.

Squat Jumps

Like traditional squats, squat jumps work your entire lower body, but add an extra aerobic element into the mix. To carry out this move, perform a squat, then jump straight up in the air once you raise your body back up. Without stopping, continue getting into a squat position and leaping into the air.

Resistance Training

Ideally, you should have an arsenal of equipment that will make resistance training more convenient and effective. That said, there are a number of exercises that can be done that don’t necessarily require any equipment to strengthen and build muscle tone.

Depending on what your goals are, you might want to do a whole body workout whereby you hit all major muscle groups. Or you can focus on specific muscle groups each day.

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Either way, the following exercises can be incorporated into your strength training regiment to help build lean muscle tissue. This will not only make you look strong and healthy, but will also help to boost your metabolism and help you burn body fat long after your workout is done. Experiment with different weights to find one that allows you to reach a point of near muscle failure at the last couple of reps.

Lower Body Exercises

Consider incorporating the following strength training exercises into your routine.

Squats

Squats are the king of lower body exercises because they literally hit just about every muscle in the lower body, including the quadriceps, hamstrings, glutes and hips. Not only that, but they also engage the core muscles. These can be done both with or without weights.

Standing with feet slightly wider than shoulder-width apart, slowly lower your body towards the ground, keeping your chest and butt out. Lower your body until your quads are parallel to the ground, then slowly raise your body back up to starting position. If you’re doing this with dumbbells, hold them up at your shoulders, making sure that they don’t cause you to hunch forward.

Do three sets of 15 reps.

Stationary lunges

This movement hits the quads, hamstrings, and glutes. To perform, take one large step forward so that your foot is just slightly past your face, keeping the leg behind you as straight as possible. Holding a dumbbell in both hands with your arms straight down each side of your body, slowly lower your body until your thighs are parallel to the ground. Slowly raise your body back up.

This movement is performed in place without having to take any steps. Continue to lower and raise your body, making sure to engage your quads and glutes.

Do 15-20 reps, then switch to the other leg. Perform three sets for each leg.

Glute Bridges

If you want to isolate your glute muscles, bridges are a great exercise. Laying down with your back on the floor, your knees bent and your feet flat on the ground, hold a dumbbell or weight plate across your hips. While holding the weight in place with your hands, slowly raise your hips towards the ceiling as high as you can, hold for a couple of seconds, then slowly lower your body back down.

To make it more difficult, consider lifting one leg off the ground to perform a single-legged bridge.

Perform three sets of 15 reps.

Upper body exercises

Bicep curls

The best way to target the biceps of your arms is to perform classic bicep curls.

Holding one dumbbell in each hand with arms straight down at your sides and palms facing forward, slowly curl your wrists towards your forearms while raising the dumbbells up, making sure to keep your elbows tucked into your sides at all times. Slowly bring them back down to starting position and repeat.

Perform three sets of 12 reps.

Shoulder press

This movement targets the front and sides of your shoulders and is a staple in upper body exercises. Holding one dumbbell in each hand at your shoulders, slowly raise the weights up towards the ceiling, gently tapping each dumbbell together before bringing them back down to starting position.

Perform three sets of 12 reps.

Chest press

To target the muscles of the chest, a classic chest press exercise works best. With this exercise, you’ll also be hitting your triceps, biceps, and front of your shoulders. To perform this exercise, lay flat on a workout bench. If you don’t have a bench, performing this exercise on the floor also works well. You can either use a barbell or two dumbbells to perform this exercise.

Starting with the weight at your chest, arms bent and hands just outside your shoulders, slowly raise the weight towards the ceiling until your arms are straight. Slowly bring the weight back down to your chest and repeat.

Perform three sets of 12 reps.

Tricep dips

This exercise hits the triceps of your arms. To perform this movement, place your hands shoulder-width apart on a workout bench or stable chair. Make sure you’re not sitting on the bench but are rather placing all weight on your hands with your legs extended out in front. Keeping your arms straight, bend your elbows to lower your body until your elbows are at a 90-degree angle. To raise your body back up, press down into the bench to straighten your arms.

You can make this exercise a little easier if you’re just starting out by bending at the knees to reduce the amount of weight you’re lifting. Perform three sets of 15 reps.

Core exercises

Plank

This static movement packs a lot of punch in terms of muscles that it targets, which include not only your abs, but also your hip flexors, glutes, quads, hamstrings, back, arms, shoulders and chest.

To perform this exercise, get into a pushup position with palms flat on the floor directly under your shoulders, arms straight, feet together, core tight and back straight. Your body should be in a completely straight line from your shoulders to your heels without any “sagging” at the hips.

Try to hold this position for as long as you can, eventually working your way up in length of time held.

Ball Planks

Using an exercise ball, get into a plank position with the top of your feet on the ball rather than on the ground. Bring the ball in as close to your chest as possible by raising your hips towards the ceiling while keeping your legs straight. Slowly return the ball back to starting position by straightening your body and lowering your hips.

Perform three sets of 12 reps.

Situps

This classic abdominal workout is still popular today because it simply works. You’ll be hitting all of your ab muscles with this simple yet effective move. To perform a proper situp, lay down with your back on the ground and your knees bent together pointed at the ceiling.

With your arms crossed in front of your chest, your core engaged and your chin tucked into your chest, slowly raise your torso up all the way until you reach your knees. Slowly lower your torso back down to the ground to complete one rep.

Perform three sets of 20 to 25 reps.

Leg raises

Targeting your lower abs can be a challenge, but you can solve this problem with leg raises. To perform this exercise, lay down with your back and legs flat on the ground and your feet together.

Keeping your hands tucked underneath your buttocks for support, slowly raise your feet up until your legs are perpendicular to the ground, keeping your legs as straight as possible throughout the entire movement. Then slowly lower your feet back down to starting position.

Perform three sets of 15 reps.

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Once you’ve completed your workout, don’t forget to stretch each muscle group, holding your pose for at least 20 seconds. Then cool down for about two minutes, which can be easily done by walking or gently jogging on the spot.

Final Thoughts

So, there you have it. Who would have thought that you could workout without a gym yet still get into amazing shape? All you need is a few pieces of equipment that you can find at any sporting goods or department store at reasonable prices, and you can set up your own at-home fitness center right in the comfort of your own home. Get fit and have fun!

Citations and Sources

1.
Woods K, Bishop P, Jones E. Warm-up and stretching in the prevention of muscular injury. Sports Med. 2007;37(12):1089-1099. [PubMed]
2.
Ingraham S. The role of flexibility in injury prevention and athletic performance: have we stretched the truth? Minn Med. 2003;86(5):58-61. [PubMed]
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Lisa Simonelli Rennie

Lisa is a certified personal trainer and holds a BA in Kinesiology and Health Sciences. In addition to working with others, Lisa loves putting her knowledge and experience in the health and fitness industry on paper as a writer, sharing what she knows and loves with others. When she's not writing, Lisa loves working out, trying new low-carb recipes, and spoiling her kids (and pet pooch!)
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