But in the midst of months of closed or unsafe gyms, getting the kind of workouts you might be used to can be tough. This is especially true if you’re trying to maximize your benefit by working on strength and cardio at once—a combination that’s been shown to do the best job of improving overall health.
Luckily, the range of movements you need to be doing for maximum health can be adapted from the gym to your house and neighborhood. With a little innovation, there are plenty of ways to use the space you have to achieve an effective workout.
First things first: If your goal is general fitness maintenance, working out at home or in your neighborhood parks will more than fit the bill. But if your aim is to build muscle and lose body fat, you may want to invest in some basic equipment, like weights, resistance bands, or a yoga mat (we love this link for getting started). It’s also a good idea to do your research and ensure your form is correct. Injuries can affect everyone from beginners to pros, but staying informed is a great way to make sure you’re doing your exercises correctly. Some great resources and apps for this include Nerd Fitness, Variis by Equinox, and Jefit.
From there, start to map your routine. Gym-lovers know the benefits of having a variety of options in the same space. In addition to building an all-body approach, they help prevent you from getting bored with your training. To keep your workouts from getting stale at home, plan to rotate between four specific types of activity throughout the week: cardio, core, flexibility, and resistance. Not only will these four approaches keep your workouts fresh, but they’re also the essential components behind any comprehensive strength/cardio exercise program.
Cardio is an essential component of every workout because it strengthens your heart so it can pump blood more efficiently throughout your body. Building a cardio routine at home will depend on your area and climate, but it can include running in your neighborhood or investing in a treadmill, elliptical, or indoor bike. To keep things economical, get an indoor trainer to mount your bike on rather than purchasing a stationary bike, like the Peloton. Other wallet-friendly options include jumping rope and online classes like Power Yoga and Zumba.
Try this: For an easy and inexpensive cardio work-out, try jumping rope for 5 minutes, resting for 2 minutes, then doing it all again for a total of 4 cycles. It’s an intense—but quick and efficient—30-minute workout!
Whether you love it or hate it, core work is a crucial part of every fitness routine. But it’s not just about the six-pack; the stronger your abdomen is, the more you minimize your risk for injury and back pain. There are many ways to build a strong core, but simple exercises like planks, sit-ups, side planks, and army crawls are an easy way to work your core with no equipment needed.
Try this: For a fun challenge, try plank jacks: hold a plank position while you move your legs across the floor in a jumping jack motion.
Though often overlooked, flexibility is important for overall fitness and preventing injury. Studies also show that having more flexibility corresponds with a lower risk of falls, particularly in older adults. The good news is that it’s easy to practice flexibility by incorporating stretching or yoga into your routine.
Try this: Go through some basic yoga moves like a series of sun salutations to help flexibility. You can find many guided videos online, or look for an app like Asana Rebel.
Out of the four main components, resistance is the one where you may need equipment (especially if building muscle mass is your main fitness goal). To create a successful at-home resistance program, consider getting stretch bands (ideally with easy-to-grip handles), or a small collection of weights. For most people, having a set of 4, 8, 12, 20, and 25 pound weights is all you’ll need. Without equipment, you can practice resistance using your own body weight with exercises like push-ups or chaturanga. You may also consider getting a workout bench—or using a piano bench—for your resistance exercises.
Try this: For a good go-to at-home chest exercise, wrap your stretch band around a desk or table leg. Stand or get on your knees to ensure that the bands align with your chest. Then, place your body at a 45-degree angle to the band and pull the band across your chest. For example, if the desk is on your left, turn away from the desk 45 degrees, grab the handle with your right hand and pull the band across your chest. Repeat 10-12 times on each side for one set.
The key to good whole body health is to rotate through each of these pillars at least twice a week. Interval training is an especially good strategy (more on that here), as it—like yoga—can hit several pillars at once. However you choose to do things, finding new ways to exercise during these strange times may be foreign territory, but the tenets are still the same: Know your goals, research good form, and always incorporate variety.
Myles Spar, MD, is Vault Health’s Chief Medical Officer and a leading authority in integrative men’s health. Committed to empowering men to achieve their goals through greater wellbeing, he is an author, teacher, TED talk speaker, and a frequent contributor to Men’s Journal, the L.A. Times, and the Dr. Oz. show. Dr. Spar is a graduate of the University of Michigan Medical School, is board certified in internal medicine, and has completed fellowships in health services research at UCLA (where he earned a masters in public health) and in integrative medicine at the University of Arizona.