Many of us see January as our opportunity to get fit.
For some, this will mean taking out a gym membership or shopping for a fancy new exercise bike, and setting whole evenings aside to put a shift of cardio in.
But in truth, you don’t need to spend an inordinate amount of time and money on pursuing a healthier you; there are simple and convenient exercises you can do without any fancy equipment, in your own living room.
What’s more, these exercises needn’t take up too much of your time. You can get a decent workout in as little as half an hour.
Make Commercial Breaks Count
Exercise is essential for healthy bones, and preventing cardiovascular illness, and for most people, setting aside 30 minutes at home to exercise might not be so much of a big deal.
But for those who want to get fit but think that they just don’t have the time, here’s something to consider:
The average Brit spends about three hours and 15 minutes every day watching TV. Given that there are around 12 minutes an hour of ad breaks on commercial channels, that means that we can spend up to 40 minutes each day sitting and waiting for our programmes to restart.
For the beginner, exercising for 40 minutes two or three days a week is a great basis upon which to start. So if you’re looking to exercise in a time-efficient way but don’t want to miss your favourite shows, you might even think about using this idle time to bust out a few reps and get you on the path to fitness.
(Provided you’ve sufficiently warmed up, the exercises we’ve put together at the bottom of this article can either be done in short bursts during commercials, or in a block before your viewing is due to begin.)
Starting Out: What the Experts Say
To help you ease into your new fitness regime, we interviewed two top health experts to get their take on getting the best possible start this January:
Jessica Johns-Green is a Counselling Psychologist specialising in performance and weight management;
and Louise Hazel is an Olympic Heptathlete, TV presenter and fitness expert.
So, as the January hordes head to the gym and splurge on a 12-month membership, read on to learn how you can make an impact on your fitness from the convenient surroundings of your own home.
Why Exercise at Home?
In short: it’s cheap, it’s convenient, and it’s an easy practice to stick to.
As Jessica explains:
‘Working out at home cuts out the commute to the gym and the potential excuses that crop up on the way. It saves money and allows you to do little bursts of exercise here and there, if your schedule doesn’t allow huge chunks of time to workout. The classic idea of a long, sweaty gym session as the way to fitness is losing some of its credibility with fitness experts.’
Louise concurs, illustrating that it’s a much more practical choice for those with multiple commitments:
‘There's nothing better than fitting exercise in around your schedule. Home workouts are perfect for this especially if you work from home or if you're a busy mum or student. You can save money on gym memberships and personal training and good plans require little equipment.’
Tackling the Intimidation Factor
The thought of exercise for those who are inexperienced or new to it can undoubtedly be a daunting one, so first of all, we thought it might be useful to ask Jessica and Louise what piece of advice they would give to someone starting out.
‘Exercise is great and healthy, but you don’t need to punish yourself with extreme workouts to experience benefits.’ Jessica explains. ‘Try not to be influenced by what others can do. It’s far more useful to pitch any exercise you do to the level you are at, even if this seems less intense than what others might be doing.’
‘With that in mind, there is an exercise for everyone. Try different things and find something you enjoy and can do with some degree of regularity, even if it’s not a traditional, gym-based workout.’
For those adopting a fitness regime for the first time, Louise highlights the advantage of taking a fearless approach:
‘If you feel overwhelmed by the thought of exercise my advice would be to grab the bull by the horns. Approach the person that you consider to be the fittest and most active person you know and implore them to take you under their wing. Ask them questions, get them to show you, your mission is to learn as much as you can from them!’
Set Yourself Realistic Targets
When starting out, it can also be difficult to know what to aim for. Nonetheless, putting targets in place can help you stay focussed on the task of getting fitter.
‘Goals are really important.’ Jessica tells us. ‘However, setting an appropriate goal is more important. A goal that is too big or too far off can steal away our motivation when it feels too difficult to reach.’
‘Keep those big dreams, but divide them down into smaller actions and stages. Having something you can achieve in the short term will help you gain confidence.’
‘If possible, write down your ultimate goals, then break down the actions needed to get there into smaller chunks. These smaller chunks can provide achievable aims on a monthly, weekly and daily basis. Having a set of smaller goals helps you to feel the sense of achievement that will keep you going throughout the year.’
Louise concurs that appropriately-paced targets are essential for maintaining personal motivation:
‘Underline why you want to get fit (who or what are you getting fit for?) and set yourself smaller realistic targets (for instance, I want to be able to hold a plank for 30 seconds non stop). That way, when you achieve them you'll get the confidence boost that you deserve.’
Choosing the Most Effective Workout
The sheer number of workout plans available online can make choosing or even assembling a routine from scratch a bamboozling prospect. So what type of exercise should the newcomer opt for?
‘You certainly don’t need fancy equipment to get a great workout at home.’ Jessica says.
‘The classic bodyweight movements of squats, push ups, sit ups and lunges can all provide a great workout without leaving your front door. You can vary the intensity by doing more or less repetitions, adding quicker or more dynamic movements (like a jumping squat or jumping lunge), or setting yourself a time-based target (working against the clock to get a number of reps done within a set time).’
High intensity interval training (known more commonly as HIIT) is one discipline which is gaining in popularity and credibility. Louise is an expert in this particular type of exercise, which is an ideal one to do at home.
‘I created online video plans especially to help those who prefer to exercise in the home. The 60 day plans target your whole body and are suitable for beginners. You can burn as much as 600 calories in one 30 minute HIIT workout. In order to burn the same amount of calories jogging you'd have to go for a one hour; so doing HIIT definitely saves time.’
Jessica also champions this type of exercise as a more beneficial choice for many:
‘Short intense bursts are seen as just as useful, if not better, than long steady workouts. In terms of developing a healthy heart and lungs, improving metabolism and all the benefits of exercise, a few brief bursts seem to serve just as well as longer exercise sessions.’
But consistency, Jessica adds, is also key:
‘With any exercise or fitness plan, the most important factor is that it is something done with regularity, so a few long gym sessions followed by weeks of no sessions doesn’t really benefit you. On the other hand, if you can commit to doing a few intense five-minute bursts in your living room five days per week, your overall results will be better.’
Keeping It Up
The second week of January is unsurprisingly the busiest of the year for gyms and health clubs. By contrast, however, the second week of February will see an 80 percent drop off in gym activity.
‘Staying motivated is tough.’ says Jessica. ‘Be encouraged that the more you practise willpower and create new habits, the easier it will become over time. Even better than seeing your new habits as a New Year’s resolution, try to see it as a lifestyle change. Exercising to lose weight isn’t a useful goal if it means that you plan to stop once you reach a certain body weight.’
‘Aim instead to incorporate being active into your normal routine. Even if you have a few days when your motivation is flagging, walking more, taking the stairs, dancing around the room all adds up to healthier, happier you. If you notice your motivation waning, ask yourself why, instead of criticising yourself or your willpower.’
As we’ve discussed before, giving yourself a little more to do on your commute to work, by getting off the tube or the bus a stop or two earlier, or choosing a car park a couple of hundred yards further away from your place of work, are effective ways of making your routine a more active one.
One way you can push through the February slump, Louise advises, is to: ‘Set yourself a goal for the 1st April, and then work towards it. The reason most people fail is because they don't have a date in mind, there is no urgency and no meaning. If you give your exercise meaning it will resonate more with you when you want to skip a session or if you temporarily fall off of the wagon.’
And if you do fall off the wagon, remember that it’s not the end of the world.
‘Setbacks are normal,’ Jessica reassures us, ‘so just aim to learn from the times when you haven’t stuck to your plans so you can problem solve around these issues when they crop up again.’
In closing, it’s important to remember that those who don’t see results straight away shouldn’t become disheartened.
‘Appreciate the effort it takes to start something new.’ Jessica says. ‘Too often, beginners become disillusioned by the idea that they should be doing more, doing better or have started sooner. Be kind to yourself. You don’t have to do everything. You don’t have to do it perfectly. It is hard work, so be proud of your willingness to take on a challenge.’
In addition to the physical benefits (lowering blood pressure, strengthening bones, boosting energy levels and helping to prevent a plethora of conditions such as heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes and arthritis) exercise provides a wealth of mental benefits too. These include a reduction in stress and anxiety, a better sense of self-esteem, and even better sleeping patterns.
So, even if you don’t see physical results straight away, you will likely notice an improvement in your mental well-being from the get-go.
Our 4 Calorie-Burning Exercises
Below, as promised, we’ve put together a short circuit of exercises, that you can do easily at home: in front of the TV while you’re waiting for your show to come on, or listening to the radio.
Get changed into the appropriate attire: the only bits of equipment you need are a flat surface and a chair.
If you decide to start working out at home then you need to make sure that you’re doing it safely. This means doing a simple warm up to get your blood pumping through your muscles. Spend five minutes jogging on the spot, doing jumping jacks and gently stretching the muscles you intend to use.
This isometric exercise targets your core muscles to help strengthen your abs. Building a strong core can help to reduce some symptoms of back pain.
- Lie on your front on the floor.
- Raise your whole body off the floor using your toes and forearms.
- Your body should be kept in a straight line. Your neck should be in a neutral position so not to strain it.
- Tighten your core and gluteal muscles to hold a steady position.
- Aim for 10 seconds and build on this each time you carry out the exercise.
INTENSIFY: Destabilise your plank by placing one foot on top of the other. Your core will have to work harder to balance out your weight.
Strong glute muscles can help reduce the stress on your knees.
- Place your feet shoulder-width apart.
- Squat by bending your knees and lowering yourself down. Your weight should be kept over your heels and your knees should not reach over your toes.
- Tighten your glutes as you steadily return to a standing position.
- Complete 15-20 repetitions then have a break for two minutes before completing another set.
INTENSIFY: Hold dumbbell weights in each hand or jump in between squats.
‘A favourite exercise of mine to do at home,’ Jessica says, ‘a movement where you go from standing to lying flat on the floor, jumping up and clapping overhead. Burpees get your heart rate up, use your whole body and can be adjusted for any level of fitness.’
- Crouch down with the palms of your hands on the floor slightly in front of you.
- Putting pressure on your hands, jump your feet backwards so that you adopt a plank-like position.
- Jump your feet back towards your hands.
- From this crouched position jump upwards clapping your hands above your head.
INTENSIFY: When your legs are in the extended plank position, add a press up.
‘You can do them slow or go for speed.’ Jessica illustrates. ‘Step your feet out one by one as you lower to the floor, or jump down to the ground and explode up as fast as possible. You can vary landing your feet wide or narrow. You can even add a squat for more intensity in the legs.’
Targeting the tricep muscle can be tricky but simple chair dips are perfect for the job.
- Sit on the edge of a chair with your legs together and your feet flat on the floor in front of you.
- Place your hands on the edge of the seat on either side of your thighs.
- Lift your bottom off the chair and walk your feet slightly forwards.
- Bend your elbows and lower your body to the ground. Your elbow joint should form a 90 degree angle.
- Use the strength in your arms to push yourself back up towards the edge of the seat.
- Repeat for eight reps. Rest for two minutes and complete another set of eight.
INTENSIFY: As you lower your body to the ground lift one of your feet and kick it in the air.
You can find out more about Jessica Johns-Green and her performance psychology practice, as well as some more helpful words of wisdom, over on her blog.
Head over to Louise Hazel's website to find out more about her work, including her dynamic 4-week workout plans and specialised diet guides.