Thursday, April 28, 2011

Exercise at Home?!

Autumn’s husband Ben is writing this guest column.  He holds a teaching certification in Jujutsu and is a longtime student of Baguazhang, a Chinese martial art.  He has been training in, experimenting with, and teaching others physical culture for 18 years.

Many folks seem to regard exercise as synonymous with the health club: Gold’s, 24-Hour Fitness, Bally’s, whatever.  But who says the gym is the only place to get a real workout?  And who says you need 4800 square feet of machinery (and the monthly fee that goes with it) to build the strength, stamina, and beauty that we all crave?  I say we take for granted the opportunities right in front of us… at home.

The Upside

Using your home as your personal gymnasium has a number of serious benefits.  First, it is cheap.  Dirt cheap.  Calling it free is an insult to basic economics, but if you don’t want to pay for the right to challenge your own physical abilities, the living-room floor is your salvation. 

Second, your home is always right there, and this removes one of the most serious drawbacks of the gym: time commitment.  If you’ve ever told yourself, “I should hit the weights/bike today, but it’s fifteen minutes there, fifteen minutes back, and I don’t have an extra half an hour on top of my workout,” you know what I mean.  Exercise at home eliminates the space between what you’re doing right now and the physical activity you want to do.  You just start.  Drop and give yourself twenty!

The crowning benefit of the exercise-at-home model is also the most ignored.  At the gym it’s all too easy to compare your strength, stamina or beauty to others’, and this can lead you to overdo workouts, put yourself down, or quit in despair when results don’t materialize in a month. At home, you are your own competitor and your own critic, and this allows you to be more honest about the present state of your abilities.  There’s no one to judge you, and no one for you to judge yourself against.  Exercise is intimate; you get to test your capabilities and limitations in new, sometimes threatening ways, and for many people (myself included), this is much easier in a non-competitive environment.

The Downside

Home has its drawbacks too.  First, you absolutely must vet your surroundings to make sure you’re safe should something go wrong.  Gyms have strict safety codes, and if you’re serious about using your home for exercise, you have to take safety seriously too.  Act accordingly.

The next challenge of using home as an exercise space is eliminating the distractions that surround us there: kids, TV, the Internet, chores, books… the list goes on.  To solve this problem, make the choice to sacrifice all those things just for the period of time you exercise.  For the next 45 minutes, there is no TV.  Mommy is not at your beck and call.  E-mail and Facebook have gone offline.  The dishes can wait.  There is nothing available to you except your body, the floor, and whatever equipment you enjoy working with.

The equipment part can be tricky, too.  The fitness industry loves to peddle gizmos to a public eager to get its workout at home, but many of those devices are useless and some are downright harmful.  Most are expensive.  For this reason, if you want to exercise at home it makes sense to start cheap and find out if you like it in the first place.  I suggest you check out the following three options:

Calisthenics/Bodyweight exercises: They were good enough for the Greeks, and you’ve seen their statues.  Lots of Internet, video and book options.  Initial investment: Low ($0 - $40).  My favorite: Convict Conditioning by Paul Wade; try hard to ignore the macho B.S.

Yoga: Indian exercise system, ancient and very popular.  Many different flavors, and a bajillion ways to try it via Internet, videos, and classes.  Initial investment: Low ($0 – $40).  My favorite: super-cheap audio routines from

Kettlebells: Russian Vodka-making equipment repurposed in the 1700s as a superb kind of strength-stamina training.  Initial investment: Medium ($50 - $150).  My favorite:  Kettlebells and books from  Again, ignore the hyperbole.

This list just scratches the surface of the possibilities.  Exploration is ultimately the only way to find an approach that works for you.

The Last Word

Many folks swear by the gym, and I’m sincerely glad it works for them.  It has its benefits, no doubt: if you want to get out of the house to a dedicated space for movement, the gym can be your sanctum sanctorum.  But don’t believe for a second that it’s your only option.  With just a few small changes, your home can become a physically and psychologically helpful environment where you’re free to develop your own innate potential.

Until next time!

“Mastering others is strength.  Mastering yourself is true power.”
--Laozi (Lao Tzu)

1 comment:

  1. Quick follow-up: Today was the first day of 30 Days of Movement! I took a break before going to a client meeting so I could make 20 minutes to swing kettlebells, and it felt great. Off to a good start!