The text from my running buddy arrived at exactly the same moment as my return flight was cancelled for the second time. It read, “Enjoy Snowmaggedon. Oak Park weather is beautiful. I’m going for a run.” Smiley face.
As I used my body weight to attempt to push open a front door blocked by two feet of snow, it became abundantly clear that leaving the house, much less running on Philadelphia cobblestones, was not going to happen. I needed a new workout plan.
When working out typically means trading pajamas for spandex, trekking to the gym, lacing up or clipping in, a good home exercise program may seem like an oxymoron. But for those days when kids are sick, weather conditions prohibit, or you just don’t want to bundle up yet again, here are two workouts for your in-home fitness toolbox. These quick, effective, evidence-based routines require nothing beyond a step, a jump rope if you wish, a chair and a timer.
As always, consult your friendly health care professional before beginning any new exercise program.
The first is a very simple Tabata-inspired workout. The original “Tabata Protocol” was designed for the Japanese Olympic Speed Skating Team by head coach Irisawa Koichi. His high-intensity interval-training workout consisted of eight rounds of 20 seconds each of intense work on a cycling ergometer, followed by 10 seconds of rest, for a total of four minutes. It was later named the “Tabata Protocol” after Dr. Izumi Tabata, the author of the landmark 1996 study proving the effectiveness of this short but grueling workout.
In recent years, high-intensity Tabata-style workouts have become popular with fitness enthusiasts. The 20-second effort/10-second recovery format can be used with almost anything — bodyweight, jump ropes, kettlebells — as long as the intensity is adequate. According to John Porcari, Ph.D., head of the Clinical Exercise Physiology Program at the University of Wisconsin, La Crosse, “People need to realize that to get into shape, to really reap the benefits of Tabata training, it’s the intensity part that gets you into shape, not the four minutes.”
Porcari’s research into the effectiveness of Tabata-style workouts used the rate of perceived exertion scale (RPE) — the intensity felt by the participant during the workout. You can use a 0-10 scale where 0=rest and 10=all-out effort. Strive for an 8, or “hard” effort. You will be breathing hard and your heart rate will increase.
If this quick but demanding type of workout is for you, grab a timer and a jump rope. After a 5-minute dynamic warm up, jump for 20 seconds and rest for 10. Repeat seven more times for a total of eight rounds. You can instead use a step, going up and down at a pace that feels challenging to you. Jumping jacks work well, too.
Another workout that has influenced the fitness world was introduced in 2013 by the American College of Sports Medicine. Using only body weight, a chair and a wall, it can be performed anywhere and offers numerous health benefits in much less time than traditional programs. The 12-exercise circuit provides a total body workout that significantly increases the heart rate while developing strength.
The New York Times dubbed it “The Scientific 7-Minute Workout” and developed a free mobile app that includes animated illustrations of the exercises as well as a timer and audio cues making it easy to follow along. Find the app here.
Exercises are performed in order, for 30 seconds with 10 seconds of transition time. Total time for the entire circuit is about 7 minutes and it can be repeated two to three times. The mostly familiar exercises are jumping jacks, wall sit, push up, abdominal crunch, step up, squat, triceps dip, plank, running in place, lunge, push up with rotation, and side plank.
As with all exercise programs, it’s important to work at an intensity that is appropriate for your fitness level, and correct form is a must. Consult with a fitness professional or physical therapist if you need tips on improving your form.
Stay-at-home fitness doesn’t have to involve pricey equipment or long, boring exercise bouts. A few simple body weight exercises, performed at a challenging intensity can improve health and fitness in a time efficient — and fun — way.