How to get fit without a gym

By Liz Meszaros, MDLinx
Published March 19, 2020

Key Takeaways

The summer season is right around the corner, and maybe you’re a little nervous about getting your beach body on—and soon. Do you need a gym membership to get there? The answer is a resounding “no”! In celebration of National Walking Day, April 3, let’s look at some of the non–gym-based ways you can get fit and stay active—and not just for the summer.

Walk or take a hike. Try to incorporate walking into your everyday routine. The US Department of Health and Human Services recommends 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity every week. That’s walking just 21.4 minutes per day, or 30 minutes a day for 5 days. Think of how easy it would be to squeeze in a short, quick walk during lunch or even after dinner. And on the weekends, when you may have a little extra time, hit the great outdoors and enjoy a hike. The scenery alone will relax you, and the simple act of walking in the woods refresh you. The important thing to remember if you want to reap the benefits of walking is that it has to be done regularly.

Change up your commute. Consider riding your bike to work a few days a week. Or, walk a little further to another bus or train stop. Or, just take the stairs instead of the elevator. Don’t make it into an ordeal that adds a big chunk of time to your commute. Even an extra 10 minutes can go a long way towards getting you fit. The key is consistency—since you consistently have to make it to the office each day, it will force you to consistently squeeze a little more physical activity into your commute.

Go to a track. Of all aerobic exercises, running burns the most calories. To switch up the monotony of a treadmill workout, or that of running over the same old neighborhood ground every time, consider going to a track for a run. Most places have at least one neighborhood track close by, whether it be that of a school or youth recreational area. For best results, do your cardio exercises, such as running, either in early in the morning before you eat, or after weight training.

Do home workouts, including strength training. Squats, lunges, push-ups, planks, crunches. None of these require anything more than 5 to 10 feet of space in your living room, bedroom, family room, or even backyard. Check out fitness guru channels on YouTube, where there are literally hundreds of home-workout options available. Stick to a few that you like, or vary them anytime to change up your routine. With a few weights, you can also add basic weight training exercises to increase the intensity of your workouts.

Sign up for bootcamp—your own or otherwise. Boot camps require little to no equipment. Inspired by military training techniques, these workouts are intense, meant to burn a lot of calories, and target all muscle groups. Boot camps include all areas of fitness—power, speed, strength, agility, endurance, core, stretch, and cool down—in a single session. Because minimal equipment is required, you can do these in a field, a park, or even a playground, for the full-body experience. If you don’t have the equipment, make due with what you have. Simply Google “boot camp near me,” to find the options closest to your home or office. Joining a bootcamp class may help with accountability, if that’s an issue. Otherwise, check out what’s on YouTube; plenty of great bootcamp videos will show you how to develop your own regimen.

Join a sports team. Signing up for an adult sports league could put some fun—and socializing—back into your workout. Team sports are a great way to increase your heart rate for a longer amount of time, burn calories, and generally help you have a great time. They are also great because they offer consistency and accountability.

Do your chores. Household chores, including outside chores like gardening and lawn care, count as moderate-to-high physical activity. Vacuuming or scrubbing the tub are some of the more intense cleaning duties, as are scrubbing floors and washing windows. But mowing the lawn can also get your heart rate up and keep it up, depending on how large your lawn is. And don’t forget gardening, which also counts as a moderate-intensity physical activity. Throw on your headphones and get fit while getting your house and yard into tip-top shape.

Do high-intensity interval training (HIIT). HIIT workouts burn fat, cut lean muscle, and provide great cardiovascular training. They are comprised of all-out periods—where you give 100%, separated by rest periods. The ratios of these can vary from 1:1 (ie, 1 minute on, 1 minute off) to 1:4 or more. No matter how long the rest periods are, the point of HIIT is to bring everything you have to your “on” intervals.

The science behind HIIT is based on the finding that the closer you get to your maximum oxygen intake (VO2max), the more fat you will use afterwards, also known as excess post-exercise oxygen consumption. HIIT workouts, when done correctly, will burn more fat and calories than regular aerobic and steady-state workouts.

HIIT workouts can be a string of exercises—such as sit-ups, jump squats, push-ups, split jumps, tricep dips, or burpees—done in rapid succession for a certain amount of reps after which you rest. Running is also a great option, as are bicycle sprints.

One of the great things about HIIT is that these workouts are quick and convenient, at 30 minutes or less. And they can be done anywhere. Again, simply Google “HIIT” or jump on YouTube for inspiration. The possibilities and workouts are endless!

Fine tuning your workout

If you are ready to skip the gym and still get fit, here are some tips for incorporating a successful fitness workout into your week:

  1. Choose what interests you, whether it’s weightlifting, running, walking, or playing a team sport.
  2. Hammer out the details. Decide where and when you want to work out. Know what equipment you will need and where exactly you will do your exercise.
  3. Schedule your workouts. Stick to a regular schedule, as much as you can. Consistency is what will bring results. Many experts advise incorporating your workout into your daily routine. Give it the importance it deserves in your schedule.
  4. Make dietary changes, too. To help you get fit, remember that your diet plays an important role. All these efforts at getting regular exercise will not pay off if your diet doesn’t include healthy eating habits. Try to cut back on sugars and fatty, processed foods. Balance your intake of protein with whole grains, vegetables, and fruits.
  5. Re-evaluate your exercise program regularly. If you’re not getting results, re-evaluate. Remember that a good fitness plan is based on frequency, duration, intensity, and type of exercise. Maybe you need to add more days of exercise per week, increase the duration of your exercise, or exercise with greater intensity. Try to make one change for 1 month. If you don’t see results, re-evaluate again.
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