Are At-home Workouts Actually Effective?Aug. 20, 2020 - Katie McCallum
Pre-pandemic, I was a gym person. Thirty minutes on the elliptical, some weight machines thrown in for good measure — easy-peasy, workout over. Well, not easy, but it was my routine and I knew what to do.
Once the COVID-19 pandemic hit and gyms closed, I was really nervous about how I would stay in shape without access to my usual fitness equipment. I didn't know heads from tails when it came to working out without a machine or free weights. Thank goodness for the internet.
Now, after several months of working out at home, I've realized I'm actually really enjoying my new exercise routine. So much so that I'm not sure I'll go back to the gym as often as I used to once this pandemic is over.
But since my new routine looks nothing like my old one, I've still been a little skeptical. Are the workouts I can do at home really as effective as the ones I used to do in the gym?
To understand how to make an at-home workout effective, I spoke to Kristin Salinas, athletic trainer at Houston Methodist.
"Working out at home can seem a bit daunting," Salinas says. "Without a fitness class or access to weight machines, we can sometimes feel limited by our own creativity, left wondering what to do next or whether or not we're doing enough," she adds. "But once you understand what makes a workout effective and can get an exercise plan together, at-home workouts can certainly be effective."
Your own body weight is a great piece of exercise equipment
How many pushups can you do? If you haven't done one in a while, stringing together even just five pushups may be way harder than you remember. It's surprising how much muscle it takes to lift your body.
After struggling through a few pushups, it's pretty easy to see that your body weight is a perfectly fine substitute for those weights you used to add to the bar at your bench press.
"Body-weight exercises are an effective way to build strength, endurance, flexibility and balance — making for a very effective workout," says Salinas. "From pushups and squats to burpees and planks, doing circuits of body-weight exercises can become a full-body workout that can help you burn calories and build muscle."
There are tons of different body-weight exercises, which means plenty of variety and plenty of ways to target just about every muscle group in your body. Doing a full-body workout is as easy as picking five or six different body-weight exercises, performing each one for at least 30 seconds — and then repeating that circuit of exercises a few more times.
"To help make sure you get a good workout in, I recommend using a guide — whether it's an exercise video, a fitness app or a list of exercises your fitness instructor recommends," says Salinas.
And, if you're new to body-weight exercises or have exercise limitations, it's okay to modify the exercise. That could mean doing pushups on your knees, burpees without the jumps, or even jumpless jumping jacks (taking steps out to the side and still moving your arms, but without the jump).
Regardless of whether you consider an effective workout one that helps you lose weight, strengthen your muscles or just maintain a healthy lifestyle, body-weight exercises have something for everyone. And the best part is that they're accessible, costing only your time — which you were planning to dedicate to working out anyway.
Swap common gym workouts for these at-home exercises
It's easy to get caught up in what you can't do at home during the pandemic, including using the exercise and weight machines you left behind when you left the gym. But swapping the workouts you used to do in the gym for workouts you can do at home may be easier than you think.
How to sub your elliptical workout:
Most people use an elliptical machine to build cardiovascular endurance.
"Subbing in a different form of cardio can look like going for a run, jog or even doing jumping jacks," says Salinas. "If you need a low-impact cardio option, opt for cycling, swimming or body-weight exercises that get your heart rate up without all the jumping, such as mountain climbers, inchworms or bicycle crunches."
How to sub your bench-press routine:
Even if you don't have access to weights, you can still target all the same muscles you hit while bench pressing.
"Pushups are a great bench press substitute," Salinas says. "You can mix them up by using a wider stance or a narrower one, and you can also make pushups more challenging by performing them on a decline, since this adds resistance by adding more body weight."
How to sub deadlifts:
Deadlifts target several muscle groups, all of which you can also target at home — without any equipment.
"To work your hamstrings, glutes and quads, you can do glute bridges or bulgarian split lunges," recommends Salinas. "You can also use lying leg curls to work these muscles if you have elastic resistance bands at home."
Three ways to make your at-home workouts even more challenging
Just as they do in the gym or in a fitness class, your at-home workouts will feel like they are getting easier over time. But there's always a way to make any workout more challenging — even at home.
To kick your at-home workouts up a notch, Salinas recommends trying one or more of the following:
- Add more exercises or rounds into your workout, or limit rest time between exercises
- Try to beat last week's times or reps
- Add in resistance bands, dumbbells or kettle bells
"If you want to get faster and/or stronger, start by setting goals for yourself. Whether it's holding your plank for an extra 10 seconds or increasing the number of pushups you do each week, beating last week's times or reps is a great way to up the intensity of your workouts," recommends Salinas. "In addition, consider buying free weights, such as dumbbells or kettle balls, or resistance bands to help increase the resistance of some of your body-weight movements."
One caveat to adding resistance to your body-weight exercises, however, is that you'll want to be sure you have your form perfected first.
"As with any exercise, proper form, posture and technique matters," Salinas warns. "If you're not sure about your form during a particular exercise, don't add weight since this could further increase your risk of injury."
At the end of the day, the most effective workout is the one you'll actually do
No matter where you're exercising, Salinas says the most effective workout plan is the one you'll actually perform every week.
"As far as effective workouts go, it really comes down to setting aside the time, being consistent, having a plan and avoiding any temptation to make excuses," Salinas says. "So, regardless of whether you're lifting weights in the gym or doing crunches in your living room, pick a workout plan you know you'll actually stick to."
Remember, anything that raises your heart rate is considered a good workout — whether it's a long walk around the neighborhood or a sweaty strength-training session.
"To keep you motivated and accountable with your workout regimen, consider SMART goals (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Reasonable, Timely)," adds Salinas. "And when you achieve these goals, reward yourself — whether it be a new workout outfit, running shoes or even a meal from your favorite restaurant."