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How to Get in Shape—Indoors

If you’ve always meant to increase your fitness levels, this is as good a time as any to start.

A workout does not have to be high intensity for you to benefit. Here’s how to create and get the most out of an indoor workout as well as ways to deal with the most common challenges.

Setting Up Your Space

Contrary to what many people believe, a home setup does not require much space, says Galina Denzel, co-author of Eat Well, Move Well, Live Well (Propriometrics).

“You don’t need equipment or even a whole room. Just move aside your coffee table and chairs to create a space,” Denzel advises. Or, she adds, your bedroom can become a larger, suitable workout area, especially if you have a large window or sliding glass door for a scenic view.

Be creative in thinking of ways parts of your house can become a part of your workout, such as including a set of stairs. In fact, stairs work well if you usually walk outside, says Michele Olson, PhD, professor of exercise physiology at Auburn University.

“Use the steps in your house by pacing quickly up and down on the bottom step. Then, place your foot on every other step as if you were hiking up a steep hill,” Olson suggests. Repeat these techniques over a 10-minute period for a low-impact cardio workout or thorough warm-up to prepare you for other exercises.

If you own a treadmill, elevate it by up to 2% to represent the natural changes in terrain and wind so it closely mimics walking outdoors, says Olson. “Also, use some of the built-in programs typically offered on a treadmill: Pikes Peak, hills, random. These programs provide variation to your routine, which will enhance your running when you go back outdoors.”

Simple furniture doubles as impromptu workout equipment as well. Use a kitchen chair for squats, suggests Olson, using the seat of the chair as a guide for determining how low to go. It also works for triceps dips, elevated pushups and step-ups.

Add a yoga mat and a set of dumbbells, and you open yourself up to even more workout options. “Take the time spent inside to do planking and stretching” on a mat or carpet, says Olson. “Incorporate dumbbells to isolate key muscles used in outdoor activities.”

When creating a low-impact workout, keep in mind that you must monitor your tempo, says Denzel. When working out, you should be able to breathe and talk without gasping for breath—a sign that the intensity may be too much.

“Choose exercises you feel you can do well,” says Denzel. “Start with no more than 10 to 15 reps, and begin with one set and slowly build up over time.”

Workout Basics

Always start with a warm-up. Walk around your house and rotate your joints to warm them up as well, says Denzel, who adds, “Rotate shoulders, elbows and wrists, and do ankle circles. March in place to get the whole body moving.”

A good way to get in a time-efficient, full-body workout is by alternating between upper and lower body exercises with a core move in between, she suggests.

This strength-training sequence should be done after warming up by walking in place or any other type of light cardio for 5 to 10 minutes (until you begin to break a sweat):

  1. Squats: Stand about six inches in front of a chair, feet shoulder-width apart and turned out slightly, knees aligned with feet (do not turn knees inward). Keep your abdominals tight as you slowly lower yourself by bending at the knees and hips and pushing your hips back towards the chair as if you’re about to sit on it. Touch it lightly and then slowly return back to standing. Repeat 15 times for one set.
  2. Pushups: Start with hands at chest level, on the floor (or against the kitchen counter), arms out to the side in a right angle, fingers pointed up towards your head. Prop yourself up on the balls of your feet or on bent knees, and keep abdominals tight as you lower your body towards the ground while keeping shoulders, hips and knees aligned throughout (do not let your hips sag). Repeat for desired number of reps and sets.
  3. Planks: Lie on a mat and prop yourself up on your forearms. Contract your abdominals to engage your core and raise up on to the balls of your feet until your body forms a straight line: shoulders, hips and ankles should align (do not allow your hips to hike up or sag). Hold for 20 to 30 seconds; relax and repeat for desired number of sets.

“Start with one set of each the first week, then add a second set the next week and then do three sets the next week,” says Denzel.

Low-impact cardio workouts are more challenging to create if you’re counting on getting your heart rate up primarily by using resistance training. Denzel says it can be done with bodyweight exercises performed vigorously, such as dancing or walking up and down stairs, or by using DVD workouts.

Getting the Most from Your Fitness Routine

Here are ways to get the most from your exercise sessions.

Avoid distractions: Phone calls, chores or whatever else may pop up can pull you away, never to return (at least for that day), says exercise physiologist Mark Nutting, CSCS. “Commit to the workout time and in that time, do nothing else. Everything else will still be there when you finish.”

Hold yourself accountable: At a club you develop friendships that help to keep you accountable, says Nutting. “At home, it’s just you reporting to you.” Use a calendar to check off the days you completed your workout.

Change it up: Boredom is a motivation killer. The key lies in changing up your workout every four to six weeks, says Nutting. Look up workouts on YouTube conducted by certified trainers.

Practice temptation bundling: Pair the workout with something you enjoy, such as watching a favorite TV show or listening to music.

Most importantly, learn how to measure the benefits of your workouts without relying on the bathroom scale—benefits such as increased energy and lowered stress levels.

Solving Exercise Quandaries

If you’re confused about how to get the most from your exercise experience because of all the different opinions out there, these tips can help you have a healthy workout.

Stretching: You can actually injure yourself by stretching until it hurts or holding the stretch too long. A better method is to warm up before stretching. Do slow, relaxed, fairly static movements such as rotating your arms or swinging your legs back and forth before attempting more dynamic movements. Then try a reduced version of the movements you’ll use in your activity, being careful not to over-stretch. Avoid bouncing and keep in mind that stretching won’t prevent an overuse injury.

Wearing a brace: If you have an ankle or knee injury, a brace can provide stabilization during healing. But don’t rely on these devices for protection and then delay doing rehab to gain strength and mobility. A brace can help in the short term with knee injuries, but thigh muscles need to be strengthened and developed to prevent future problems. Similarly, chronically sprained ankles need to get stronger and more flexible. Back braces and weight-lifting belts are intended to ease stress on the discs between the back’s vertebrae. However, “most people don’t hurt their backs lifting weights; they actually hurt them bending over to pick up something,” says Heidi Orloff, MS, PhD. “Muscles need to be strong yet also fire in the correct order. I’m not sure muscles learn that wearing a lifting belt.”

Exercising with a balance ball: Sitting on a balance or fitness ball while exercising forces you to use core muscles, so it can accelerate strength training in that area. But the ball is an unstable surface, so sitting on it too long can put strain on the lower spine. To get the best benefit choose the right-sized ball for your height: When sitting on the ball, your knees should be at a right angle with your feet flat on the floor.

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**These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.

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