Following on from our 5 Nutrition Tips, here are our 5 Exercises for getting in shape without a gym membership (though we should mention that beyond beginner level some equipment will be necessary).
We’ve organized these exercises into 3 stages, with the first stage be those who have mobility issues, the second stage being slightly more challenging, and the third stage being more advanced again. If you can make it to the third group of exercises and do these exercises will a reasonable degree of intensity, not only will you look better, but you’ll feel better and move better too! If you want to know more about exercise, make sure you check out the next installment of this exercise series! For those of you who are here as part of the Home Workout Series, you can head back to the HIIT page here, or continue on to the HWS Review Page here!
As always, talk to your doctor/physician before undertaking any new routines or training and be careful! Nothing on this site (anywhere) constitutes medical advice in any form, we’re just trying to help you get healthy and look after your muscles!
Chair Squats are movement 101. Pick a chair that is as low as you can comfortably sit back onto while maintaining control of the movement, and WITHOUT any pain (start with a higher stool if you’re not sure). Make sure your feet are slightly wider than hip width apart when you start, toes are slightly pointing out. The chair should be touching the back of your legs (an inch or two away at most) and your hands out in front. REMEMBER, this exercise is to help you figure out how to engage your muscles again, so do everything slowly and conscientiously. MAKE SURE you are tight head to toe (this means abs engaged, glutes enaged, pulling your shoulders and elbows down – they should only move a half inch or so– to engage your lats, and tuck your chin to stop your head from sticking out in front), breath into your stomach and pull yourself down to the chair. DO NOT sit waaaaay back into the chair. The cue should be back and down. The back part should almost feel like your sitting into your glutes, they should tighten as you move and you should allow your knees to bend naturally. The down part is just that, sit straight down keeping your glutes tight and allowing your knees to move naturally. You should come to a stop with your butt on the seat, knees over your mid-foot (or maybe over your toes depending on how low the chair is). Now, squeeze your lats hard, squeeze your glutes hard, and drive up through your feet. Take another deep breath and begin again. This should be done until you can comfortably do 5 sets of 10 reps to a chair that is knee height (your legs will be parallel to the floor when sitting), then you can progress to the next exercise.
Below is a good example of an “air squat” as the neck, upper back, and lower back are all neutral. The major issue with this squat is that her center of gravity is behind her mid-foot causing her toes to lift. If she (a) squat slightly higher (b) allowed her knees to come forward a little further (as long as there’s no discomfort) (c) turned her feet out and widened her stance a little (to allow her hips remain closer to her mid-foot thereby shifting her center of gravity forward), or (d) leaned forward a little (slightly more hip flexion), she could address this issue.
Single Leg Skater Squats
These are a very important progression, and should form the bulk of your time developing your knee stability. In the majority of cases, poor mobility is as a direct result of a lack of stability. This is when your muscles shorten/tighten to protect you from imbalances or inactive muscles. The skater squat can help you to learn to stabilize at the knee in a safe way, before moving on to a more challenging movement. These can also be done as an elevated “leg out” squat, the most important thing is that you focus on engaging your glute to stabilize the knee, and then lowering yourself down until you feel a pull in both your quad and glute. Then drive up through the foot on the floor.
For the split squat, you should start with your feet split front to back, about 1.5 times shoulder width apart. Tense the lats, abs and glutes as before and slowly descend, making sure you don’t turn as you lower yourself down. When you reach the bottom position (both knees should be bent 90°), pause for a moment, tense your glutes, and drive up with the leg that’s in front. Have a chair on either side of you so you can help yourself up if necessary, and REMEMBER that you should only do this movement to the point your mobility allows. You can increase depth over time.
The Cross Crawl is a very basic, and very important movement. Cross (contra-lateral) movements are used as a tool to re-develop motor patterns and neural connections. Luckily for you this can be achieved without at huge amount of mobility. Lie on your back in a sit-up position (soles of your feet planted on the floor, knees at 90°, abs switched on and lower back pressed into the floor). With your hands at your ears (NOT holding your head), lift your shoulders off the floor as you bring your right elbow to meet your left knee over your stomach. Obviously, you’ll have to lift your knee to do this and don’t worry if you can’t get them to touch, the main thing is that you keep your abs engaged and don’t twist at the neck or force the movement.
The renegade row is a great movement for working the core , shoulders and upper back, while teaching you to maintain tension in your mid-section. To execute the movement, begin in a standard push position (hands underneath your shoulders, lower back neutral – but tucked, abs tensed and lats engaged, feet about shoulder width apart). From this position, begin by tensing your abs and glutes, and then turn from your core on the right side while lift your right elbow. Turn until your torso is at about a 60° angle with the floor, pause, and then return your right hand to the starting position in a controlled manner, abs still tight. Do this again with the left side, and continue for as many reps as desired (and then add 2)
Break Dancers require a great deal of stability in the shoulder joints, so if you are worried about your shoulders or have any existing shoulder problems, continue doing the renegade rows, but buy some light dumb-bells to hold while you do it.
Break dancers begin the same way that the renegade rows do with regards the start position. Make sure everything is taught and your lower back is in a neutral position. Begin the movement by lifting your left hand, and then lift your right leg by bending it at the knee and slide it under your left leg by turning at the hips. It is key throughout this movement to keep the lats tight, as they will stabilize the shoulder. When you have turned at the hips/torso so that your upper body is perpendicular with the floor and your right leg right leg is straight, you have reached the finish position. Slowly start to bring your hips back towards the start position and bring your right leg back under your left, and lower your left hand back to the start position. You have now done your first rep! Repeat this with the other side, and continue till your crying as much as your sweating (just kidding).
Single Leg Leg Raise
This is a wonderful beginner ab movement, because it teaches the essentials for ALL core movements: engage the glutes, lower back pushed into the floor using the abs, head/neck position neutral, shoulders and rib cage down. This all happens before you move an inch. This is your baseline “engaged” position. Flip this over onto your elbows and you have a perfect plank, and pop this onto your feet – you have good posture (though you might want a more natural curve in your lower back). This start position will help you to understand correct posture in general and is well worth some effort.
From here (abs and glutes engaged, lower back to floor), raise one leg slowly about 2-3 feet off the floor and then slowly lower it back down. The height you lift your feet will be decided by your mobility. If you lift your foot too high, your hips will pull under and you’ll lose that stable mid-section. The goal here is core strength, not stretching, so as long as your abs feel like they’ve done some work after 10-20 reps each side, then you’re doing fine!
This is an amazing follow on from the SLLR, because it builds on that very solid base. Fully prone (face down) with your elbows and feet touching the floor, get into the above start position. When everything is engaged (make sure your head is neutral and your shoulders down), you should already start to feel the effects of gravity on your mid-section as it wants to sag down. DO NOT, UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES, LET IT! From this position, imagine you are pulling your elbows to your feet (this should engage your lats) and driving your feet into the floor (to engange your quads – your glutes should already be on!). This should be VERY taxing, to the point where you are shaking within 5 seconds. Try to hold this position for 10 seconds each go, and do it 5-10 times. Congratulations! You’ve just learned more about bracing than 99% of people in the gym learn from years of devout service to Smith Rack and Preacher Curl Station.
The ever-present sit-up (aka the widow-maker), has been causing back pain since people started to spend all day in a chair and not have the prerequisite strength necessary to execute the movement. Here is your ANSWER! Reverse crunches are a great way to get some ab work in, without having to have someone there to check every aspect of your technique! To perform a reverse crunch, lie with your head about 18 inches from a couch/sofa and slide your hands underneath – they will act as a counter balance so that you are able to raise your knees. Bring your feet in to your butt , take a deep breath, and push your stomach towards the floor. Using as little pressure as possible from your hands, try to bring your knees up to touch the couch. This should be done by pulling the knees back using the abdominal muscles.
Leg raises aren’t more technically challenging, it’s just that they require a better understanding of a correct “neutral” start position. To set up for leg raises, lie on your back and, just like with the SLLR, take a deep breath and push your stomach down until your lower back is flush with the floor. Spread your arms out a little to give some extra stability and then tense your abs (pushing them down). Slowly, lift your feet upwards until they are about a 60-70º angle with the floor, hold for a moment, and then bring your legs back to the starting position in a controlled manner. If at any point your lower back starts to lift, bring your feet to your butt and then set up again. If you are unable to complete one full rep without your lower back lifting, go back to working on the single leg variation and pay extra attention to keeping your abs tense and your lower back down. Basically, just don’t do what the girl in the picture is doing!
While this might sound easy, it’s far tougher than you’d think and it doesn’t require a huge amount of mobility! Start the bear crawl on your hands and knees, arms perpendicular to the floor, upper legs perpendicular to the floor. From here, tense your abs, tense your glutes, push your chin towards the back of your neck, and imagine you are twisting a metal bar (right hand clockwise, left hand counter-clockwise). When you do this your elbows should rotate inwards slightly and your lats should fire and stabilize the shoulder. Now, dig your toes into the floor and push with your legs so that your hips lift 6 inches. This is your Bear Crawl position. To take your first step, bring your right hand and left foot forward. This should be done SLOWLY, ensuring you are engaging ALL the muscles we mentioned (abs, glutes, and lats) before taking the next step (left hand, right foot). Like this, you should be able to do 1-2 laps of your room and then take a break. What you’re looking to do with this movement is to build up the amount of time you can spend moving while EFFECTIVELY stabilizing important joint structures.
When you’ve made it through all these movement progressions, you can try looking at more challenging variations of the bear crawl (like the leopard crawl or the spiderman). They’re incredibly tough, but exceptionally healthy.
Hand Walking (From Knees)
While most of you won’t be to enamoured with the thought of big shoulders and dancing pec’s, neglecting your upper body would be a mistake (and don’t worry, there’s no chance of dancing pec’s).
Hand Walking is a great way to strengthen the shoulders, help with posture, strengthen the core and serratus anterior (which can help with shoulder stability and is very useful if you spend a lot of time sitting).
Start on your hands and knees, with your abs tight and your lower back neutral. Push your chin back towards the back of your neck to keep your head in a neutral position, and pull your elbows in (they don’t have to move) to engage your lats. Take a deep breath and begin walking your hands forward without moving your knees. Walk your hands out until you feel a stretch in your abs, pause, and then walk your hands back in.
If this feels too easy, you can always try an ab wheel, but keep in mind it is a far more challenging movement (I have yet to EVER see anyone use the ab wheel correctly on the first try).
Feet Elevated Push Ups (Incline Push Ups)
Incline Push Ups are a great way to continue developing your upper body strength, and will encorporate everything you’ve learned so far. That is, correct bracing is essential to perform good push ups. Start lying face down, feet together, hands about 3 inches out from your sternum with your elbows tucked. Take a deep breath (as in a breath deep into your stomach), pull your elbows down to engage your lats, fire your glutes, and push off the floor. Before you start doing reps, you should ensure you’re as tight as possible AND as flat as possible!
To do a rep, begin by “screwing” your hand into the floor (your hand shouldn’t move, but this will trigger your lats and help retract your shoulders. It will also bring in your elbows which will give them a better travel path). Lats tight, Abs tight, glutes tight, then start pulling yourself towards the floor. Your elbows should naturally come into your sides so that your triceps are touching your lats. Come down until your chest is about an inch off the floor, pause for a moment, and then drive your hands into the floor to come back up. Again, your elbows should naturally come back out, which is important for shoulder and arm health. Deep breath, tight, tight, tight, repeat!
For those not enamored with push ups, you can do “yoga push ups”. A good video for how to do them can be found here!
The Cook Hip Lift (CHL) & Prone Leg Lift
The Cook Hip Lift is an important movement in that it helps you understand the correct range of motion of the hips, as in – when I engage my hips, what should actually happen. It isn’t particularly taxing, but it’s a great place to start, especially considering so many of us now have issues with glute activation and don’t even realize it. Start lying on the floor (supine) in a sit-up position, both feet firmly planted on the floor 2-3 inches from your butt. From here bring one knee up to within 2-3inches of your chest and hold it in place with both hands. If necessary, you can put a ball on your chest (lacrosse ball, tennis ball, massage ball, etc.) to help you feel where your knee should be. With your knee in place, drive the heel of your other foot into the floor, lifting your hip in the process. If you’ve done this correctly, your hip should only lift a couple of inches from the floor before you reach end range of motion. Repeat this 10-15 times each leg for a good burn in your glute, then flip over (prone position) lying flat on the floor.
To execute the Prone Leg Lift, lie flat on the floor (face down) with your abs engaged and your glutes engaged (hips driven into the floor). From this position, lift your right leg off the floor by firing at the hips. What we want here is the same as the CHL, a short range of motion controlled by the primary movers. This means if you feel a pull in your hamstring, you need to adjust. You can bend your leg a little to help de-activate the hamstring, as your main goal is moving the leg with the glutes. If you feel a pull in your lower back at all, you need to reset your position and work on bracing your abs / engaging your glutes a little better. Look to do 10-15 each side.
Hip Drops & Hip Airplane
This is, again, a glute activator, and it’s a good one for that matter. This will help you to better understand abduction and adduction of the hips. While problems with “external rotation” are endlessly talked about as a key culprit in knee collapse during the squat, issues with abduction are just as prevalent and cause just as many problems with correct knee tracking, position, and muscle imbalances.
Hip drops are a great tool to help you understand the function of the glutes. To do a hip drop, stand upright in a braced position (abs and glutes engaged, shoulders down, head neutral) with your knees slightly bent, and put your left hand on the wall for balance. Lift your right foot off the floor so that you’re balancing on one leg. Now, slowly drop the right hip (or you can think of it as dropping the right knee) down 2-3 inches by sitting in to the left hip. You should feel a good pull on the glutes of your left side. Reverse the movement by driving the hip back past the start position by 2-3 inches using the glutes. Hold it here squeezing the glutes for a moment, and the lower your hip back to the start position. This is 1 rep. Initially do 3-5 reps per side for as many sets as possible. Aim to do sets of 15-20 reps per side.
Hip airplanes are similar in their goal, to teach the glutes to properly abduct, but can be slightly more challenging to do. To do a Hip Airplane, stand about 18-20 inches from a wall, facing towards it. Get into a good braced position (abs and glutes engaged, shoulders down, head neutral) with your knees slightly bent. From here, lean forward by hinging at the hips until your face is about 1-2 inches from the wall. Bring your right leg back until it is in line with your torso, ensuring you are still braced, and put your left hand lightly against the wall for balance (your right hand should hang straight down). Allow your right hip and shoulder to slowly rotate down toward the floor while maintaining stability and balance by slightly sitting into your left hip (you should feel your glute take the strain). From here, drive your hip (and torso) back to the start position by firing the glute and pushing out with the left hip. Look to do 5-10 each side, focusing on controlling the movement with the glute (and surrounding muscle) of the planted leg.
The glute bridge is a relatively straight forward movement. Start Lying on your back, and bring your heels in (about 6 inches from your butt). Place a rolled towel between your legs (just above the knee) and squeeze the towel with your legs. Drive your lower back into the floor, tense your glutes and abs. Then, pushing your heels into the floor, drive up through your hips until they are in line with your leg (or until you feel a stretch in your hip flexors, the front of your hip). What you will almost certainly find is that the first few times you perform this exercise, your glutes will not be under that much pressure. This is because your hip flexors and quads are most likely too tight (from sitting), which stops you from properly activating your glutes and getting enough range of motion to really engage the glute muscles. The goal here is to drive your hips up until you feel a stretch, and then hold this for 5-30 seconds trying to get a feel for where you are tight (or, even better, getting a bit of a burn in your glutes). Do this for 8-10 reps for as many sets as you feel you need and try over time to increase the height of your bridge WITHOUT increasing the arch in your lower back. Eventually you should be able to do it without using your hand for balance.
SL Hip Thrust
The Single Leg Hip Thrust is a similar movement, but one that will ensure your glutes and hamstrings are feeling worked out. Start in the same position as before, without the towel. This time lift your left knee about 6 inches off the floor, tense your abs and glutes, and then drive your hips up with your right leg. Try to imagine you are pulling your right heel into your butt (this will increase the tension on your hamstring), pause for a moment, and then lower your butt to the floor. Repeat this for the desired number of reps with the right leg, and then switch to the left.
Initially, the most important thing is to learn the movement, so even spending 5 minutes to do a few reps is fine! Learn to feel the muscles activating and stabilising, to feel them actively doing their job. Once this becomes second nature, you can start really build up how many reps you do each time. Because you aren’t using weights, once you know how to do the movements you can effectively disregard anything below 8 – 10 reps per set. This is because you’re looking for maximum work done, and maximum work will be a function of the number of reps done multiplied by the quality of the reps. This is incredibly important to note! Reps that are done poorly, or without the required amount of TENSION held throughout the movement will NOT bring about the same changes as reps done with serious intent! There is absolutely no comparison between 5 loose reps of a poor squat and 1 tight, tense, controlled squat with a slow descent and explosive leg drive. Not only this, but good reps reinforce good motor patterns and good movement, and we need to do lots of high quality reps to ingrain that new (healthy) movement.
In terms of total reps per workout, look for 50 (end of week 1), 100 (end of week 2-3), adding another 50 reps per week until you reach 200 reps per workout. Remember that you’re doing 5 exercises per workout, and 10 reps per set, so each extra 50 is just one extra set of each exercise. When you’ve reached 200 reps per workout you can increase the number of reps per set (e.g. 5×10 becomes 4×13 becomes 3×20 becomes 5×15, each time looking to increase the amount of work your doing in a PROGRESSIVE manner). After that, you’ll need to progress to either weighted movements or a more advanced routine (like a HIIT routine).