Working out at home is a good solution if you’re short of time and/or you don’t want to pay expensive membership fees, or if you’re just more comfortable exercising in your own space. So how do you get started? This “How to get in shape at home” guide will help you plan an effective home fitness program.
How to get in shape at home – 10 tips
#1 Know what you want to achieve
What are your general goals? What activities you choose will depend on what you’re trying to achieve. Some common goals are:
- Lose weight
- Improve your stamina and heart health
- Have better muscle tone
- Be more flexible
- Relax and reduce stress and anxiety
What type of exercise should you chose to get in shape at home?
This depends on what you’re trying to achieve.
To lose weight
The question of what exercise is best to lose weight is quite complex. All exercise increases the calories you burn. Our bodies can only use fat for energy when we’re working aerobically. (Working aerobically means doing activities that are continuous for several minutes – like walking, running and dance type exercises for example.) High intensity (anaerobic) exercise uses blood sugar and carbohydrate stored in the muscles for energy. However, it can increase the amount of fat burned after the workout, as the body breaks down fat to replace the carbohydrates used. There is also the consideration that increasing muscle size with strength training increases your metabolic rate – although a significant increase in metabolic rate would need some serious strength training. So most exercise will help you to lose weight. The best choice is an activity that you enjoy and are likely to keep up in the long term.
To improve stamina and heart health
Aerobic exercise is most effective for stamina and heart health.
To improve muscle tone
All exercise will improve muscle tone to some extent, but strength training is the most effective.
To improve flexibility
Just being more active will improve your flexibility to a certain extent. For more improvement, stretch after your workouts and do some Pilates.
To relax and reduce stress and anxiety
All exercise is good for mental health. Outdoor exercise is especially good, as well as doing something you enjoy.
To achieve all of the above
If you want to improve all areas of your fitness, you have a few options:
- Aerobic activities improve all aspects of fitness to some extent.
- High intensity workouts improve all aspects too, being a bit better for muscle toning than aerobic activities but arguably not as good for stamina and heart health. However, they are not suitable for beginners.
- You could do a mixed workout that has a cardio component and a strength component.
- Alternatively, you could do several short workouts over the course of the week to improve different aspects of your fitness.
- With all of these, if time allows you should stretch afterwards to improve your flexibility.
#2 Find something you enjoy doing (or at least that you don’t hate!)
You won’t stick to an exercise program you hate in the long term. You need to find an activity that feels right for you and that fits well into your schedule. Whether it’s home cardio, Pilates, strength training, stretching, or a bit of everything, it needs to be something that works for you. You need a plan that is suitable for your current level of fitness and that you feel comfortable doing.
#3 Plan what time you have available and schedule your workouts
You may think you don’t have time to exercise, but if you spend some time thinking about your weekly schedule, you can probably find some slots. You don’t need to do an hour long workout – 10 or 15 minute sessions all add up.
#4 Chose equipment that is easily stored
Depending on what your chosen program is, you may not need any equipment at all. But the chances are you’ll need a few things. If you’re doing floor work, you can use folded blankets or quilt on the floor, but an exercise mat is better. If you want to do strength and toning exercises, resistance equipment is useful. For home cardio, jump ropes and agility ladders are effective, inexpensive and easily stored. See this page for more about easy to store home home exercise equipment.
#5 Have a plan to progress or to vary your workouts
You may be happy just to get active, or you may want your fitness levels to continue to improve over time. Your fitness will only improve if you continue to challenge yourself. Ways to challenge yourself include:
- More strenuous exercise
- Exercise for longer
- Exercise more frequently
- Challenge your balance and coordination more
- Try something different
Even if you’re happy with just being regularly active, it’s good to vary your workouts to keep you interested and motivated. After around 6 weeks, review your exercise goals and schedule and think about how you can progress or add some variety. Fitness challenges are a good way of adding a bit of extra challenge and variety into your workouts.
#6 Make sure you have good technique
Correct form is very important to ensure safe and effective exercise. Although it’s a bit tedious making sure you follow all the technique points for an exercise, it’s important to do it in order to get the most out of the exercise and reduce injury risk. Using a mirror is a great help with this as it’s difficult to tell if you’re doing exercises properly when you can’t see yourself.
#7 Don’t skip your warm up
Warming up is also important for safe and effective exercise. Even if you’re on a tight schedule, you shouldn’t skip your warm up. Body tissues need to adapt to the effort of a workout. If they don’t get the chance to do this, then the workout will be less effective and could result in injury. During the warm-up, various changes happen in the body which prepare it for the more vigorous exercise to follow:
- Joint mobility exercises stimulate the joints to produce the fluid which lubricates them. This allows for smooth movement and cushioning of impact.
- The heart starts to beat faster to improve blood supply to the working muscles, which provides them with oxygen and nutrients and removes carbon dioxide.
- The muscles become warmer and more flexible
- Breathing rate increases
- Coordination improves
#8 Do some stretching
As mentioned above, ideally you should stretch after each workout. It’s not good to have tight muscles. This is because they will restrict movement and make injury more likely. In order to maintain flexibility, muscles need to be stretched to their full length regularly. For most people, this isn’t something that happens in normal everyday activity. In fact, many people have jobs in which they don’t move much at all, or use the same muscles in repetitive movements. Regular stretching will therefore help to stop muscles getting tight and problems developing. After exercise is a good time to stretch, because the muscles are warm – stretching cold muscles can result in injury. See below for a stretching routine.
#9 Train your core
Core training is an important foundation for all sport and fitness. Our core muscles help us to maintain good posture and movement control, as well as protecting our backs from injury. If you exercise with a weak core, you won’t exercise as effectively and risk injury.
#10 Track your workouts
Keeping an exercise diary is known to help with motivation. Tracking whether or not you do your exercise sessions can help you to see if there are patterns that stop you from exercising. Make a note of your scheduled time, whether you did the session and if not, why not. Review your notes at the end of the week to help you schedule the following week’s sessions. You can download the tracker shown above here.
Bonus tip: Supplement your fitness with walking
Although walking is outdoors and so strictly speaking isn’t a way to get in shape at home, it makes a good addition to a home workout plan. Walking is a great way to exercise and we all have opportunities to get in more walking every day. Short trips to the stores, school runs, lunchtime walks, getting off the bus or train a stop early, parking further away, taking the stairs instead of the lift are all examples of ways to get more steps in.