We all know how important it is to try to fit some physical activity into our day, but sometimes life gets in the way and finding the time, or motivation to go to the gym is a struggle. But that doesn’t mean you can’t get creative and use what you’ve got at home to help keep you active.
AXA PPP healthcare Junior Physiologist, Sam Brazier, offers his tips on how to get a good workout using everyday objects from around the house, to help keep you physically and mentally fit.
Sofa and chair exercises
These staple pieces of any home furniture, can really come into their own as a handy pieces of equipment to help keep you fit.
Chair squats – Squats are a great functional exercise, that helps build strong glutes, which in turn can help ward off back pain, especially if you sit down a lot. There are many variations, but if you’re a beginner or have limited mobility, starting off by doing chair squats is probably the simplest option.
Grab a chair and start seated. Pushing through your feet, with your hands on your hips, simply stand up, squeezing your bottom at the top. Slowly sit back down and repeat, making sure your knees don’t go over your toes.
To progress, just take the chair away, so you’re using your body weight, or add a weight (dumbbell, kettlebell, or bottle of water). You could even try a one-legged option to really test your balance!
Press ups – Place your hands on the lower part of your sofa or the end of your sofa, a little wider than your shoulders, with your body in a straight line, and feet on the ground to resemble a press up position. Slowly bend your arms so your chest gets as close to the sofa as possible. This is a good way to build up to press ups on the floor.
To make this easier, come down to your knees or use the kitchen counter, which will take away even more resistance. For a more challenging approach, switch things up – place your feet up on the sofa with your hands on the floor and perform the press ups this way.
Triceps dips – Performing dips with a chair that you would normally use a bench for is another great alternative to carry out in your home. Start by sitting on a chair or sofa, with your hands either side of your bottom on the edge. Gently slide off so your arms are straight, and your knees are at a 90 degree angle. Slowly bend the arms, keeping the elbows in tight by your side, and lower down as far as you can. Come back up to the top and repeat.
To make it harder, walk your feet out further and straighten your legs so you’re adding more resistance to the arms. Feeling brave? Grab another chair to put your feet up onto and try this version of the exercise out too.
Hip thrusters – Hip thrusters are a great exercise for your glutes (your bottom) and can be done with or without added weight. Sitting in front of your sofa, lean back so the top of your back, shoulders and arms are resting on the back. Your knees should be bent and feet hip width apart. Pushing your feet into the ground, squeeze your bottom and lift up so that the legs and torso are in a straight line. Slowly return and repeat, making sure to squeeze extra at the top for an added burn! For increased resistance, place a dumbbell or bag of flour across the top of your thighs and repeat the same way.
Top tip: Why not add all these exercises together to make a mini circuit? Complete 10 repetitions of each exercise, rest for 30 seconds then repeat as many times as you like.
Bottles and tins
Using tins or big bottles of water/squash are quirky alternatives to the dumbbells you may be used to. Performing exercises with these can help add a little bit of resistance to the movements we would normally carry out, such as bicep curls, dumbbell chest presses, shoulder presses and raises to the front and side.
You may be thinking that these aren’t heavy enough to achieve the same results a dumbbell in the gym can provide. One way to overcome this is to increase the number of repetitions you do. Research has shown that carrying out an exercise to muscular fatigue is what’s important. Your 1-rep max is how much weight you can lift for just 1 repetition; research suggests that performing exercise at 30% of your 1 repetition max vs. 90% of your 1 repetition max, to fatigue, results in similar levels of muscle protein synthesis but for extended period of times. Muscle protein synthesis is key for muscle growth, finally some uplifting news (pun intended)!
Your lovely soft cushions may not be an obvious choice when it comes to workout equipment, but they too can be used to help with your home exercise routines.
Russian twists – In a sit up position, grab a cushion, pull in your stomach muscles and rotate from side-to-side, making sure to touch the cushion down as far back as you can each time. This exercise is great for working your abdominal region. For an added resistance, use your laundry detergent bottle or bag of flour – just make sure they’re sealed!
Dynamic plank – Get yourself into a push up position so your arms are extended and place the cushion to one side of your body. With one arm, drag the cushion to the other side of your body and repeat on the other side. Adding a dynamic element to the otherwise stationary exercise can add a bit of variety to your workout.
Wall sit – Sitting up against the wall with your legs at a 90° angle and holding this for as long as possible may seem easy, but it gets tough. Why not have a friendly competition with others and see who can hold it the longest?
Handstands – Using the wall to lean up against can help with a variety of other exercises too. Try learning a new skill such as a handstand, with the help of the wall to build you up to the exercise on its own. If you haven’t quite got the strength to hold your own body weight or kick up to the wall, try it the other way. Start on all fours facing away from a wall, then slowly walk your feet up the wall to get used to being upside down. As you get more confident go all the way up and walk yourself in, but only if you’re comfortable doing so.
If you work at a desk all day, you may find you have prolonged periods of sitting, which isn’t great for posture. Try breaking this time up with laps round the house, stair climbs, sprints on the spot and even extending into the garden – anything that keeps the body guessing and the heart pumping is a good move!
Or why not have a go at some of the seated breathing exercises specially created by Founder of The Strength Temple, Richie Norton, to help build mental strength, provide focus and deliver a daily dose of calm.
And if you’re not minded to start using furniture for your workouts, then a bit of floor space is all you need to get going. Exercises such as press ups, sit ups and bodyweight squats don’t require any equipment, just a bit of space.
Keeping your muscles and joints nice and loose with some stretching/yoga is another great form of exercise. Physical activity doesn’t have to mean sweaty cardio or strength training sessions – yoga, pilates and working on your mobility and flexibility all count. If we sit down a lot, our posture may suffer as a result. Improving it with some of these exercises can be really beneficial to many aspects of our physical and mental health.
Hint: To make things interesting, try creating a circuit to add a bit more intensity to your workout. This can also shorten the duration of your workout leaving you more time to do the other important things you have going on.
- Be creative. The above is not an exhaustive list. If you have other items lying round the house that could be useful or have any other ideas, give them a go.
- Make it interesting. To keep things interesting and help with motivation, try mixing things up. Whether that be the type of exercise routine you do or adding a friendly competitive element.
- Set goals. Setting some exercise goals to achieve gives us something to work towards, as well as boosting our overall mental and physical wellbeing.
You don’t need to join a gym – or even leave the house – to enjoy the many benefits of exercise. There are some fun and interesting alternatives to what we typically think of as work outs, that you can try using nothing more than everyday objects in your own home! Be creative with what your routines involve and get moving to help boost your physical and mental health.
Exercise and fitness centre - AXA PPP healthcare
Burd, N., West, D., Staples, A., Atherton, P., Baker, J., and Moore, D et al. (2010) Low-load high volume resistance exercise stimulates muscle protein synthesis more than high-load low volume resistance exercise in young men. PLoS ONE, 5(8):p.e12033