Get in shape in the comfort of your own home

by Michael Geary

Getting fit doesn’t always mean having to join an expensive gym and battling across town to get there. Starting a fitness regime at home can be a very effective and economical alternative to working out at a gym. By choosing to work out at home, you really don’t have to spend huge sums of money on the lat­est machines and equipment. In fact, you can have a complete body workout just by buying one simple and inexpensive item—a Swiss ball.

Swiss balls are available from sports shops and most department stores and come with workout charts explain­ing how to perform exercises for the whole body. But there are also a variety of books and videos available if you feel you would like more advanced exercises and techniques. The Swiss ball offers many different exercises for target­ing arms, chest, back, shoulders and legs while training your abs and core muscles at the same time. Invest in a few dumbbells or resistance bands as well and you can keep your workouts challenging and progressive by train­ing your muscles to work harder. Not only are dumbbell and bodyweight exercises using a Swiss ball very effective, the equipment is far cheaper and less intrusive than big exercise machines found in gyms. Most gym machines tend to work your body in a fixed plane of movement and don’t require the need for balance or support from stabil­ising muscles. Therefore you only work the muscles the machine is designed to exercise. Free weights on the other hand, not only work out the muscles being targeted, but also bring in the help of many other muscles involved in stabilising and supporting the body thereby giving you a more effective overall workout.

If burning fat and increasing your aerobic fitness are your goals, then you can also make do with very little equipment. In fact all you really need is a bit of space and some imagination. If you have some stairs at home (even a single step would do) you can have a challenging workout whenever you have a spare 20 minutes or so. For complete beginners it’s best to take things slowly at first. Start off by doing simple rhythmic steps up and down working up to a light sweat and increasing your breath­ing. As you improve you can start having fun by inte­grating different movements. For example, you can start stepping forwards, backwards or sideways, which will also tone up different areas of the legs and glutes. As you progress further still, you can start to introduce interval training to really improve your fitness. Interval training is simply alternating high intensity and recovery periods of exercise. Many believe this is a more effective way of burning fat and increasing aerobic stamina than by train­ing at the same pace for the equivalent period of time.

Interval training is also believed to be effective at burning calories long after you have finished exercising. You could start an interval training session with a gentle warm up followed by stepping as fast as you can for 30 seconds followed by slower paced steps for one minute to recover. Con­tinue this pattern for 20 minutes and then cool down. As you get more experienced there are many ways that you can vary the intensity and duration of the intervals. The simple skipping rope is another extremely effective and economical way to get fit and something you can take with you on business trips or vacation so there is never an excuse not to be able to exercise. An aerobics DVD will also enable you to have a great workout without having to spend much on equipment.

If you feel more serious about home training and want to channel the money saved from gym member­ship fees into some home equipment, then investing in a few key pieces of equipment maybe a longer-term solution to reaching your fitness goals. Having a mini gym right at home means there may never be a reason to skip a workout again.

A good start would be to buy a CV machine (or two for variety) such as a treadmill, cross-trainer, stepper or rower and a selection of free weights and / or resistance bands for muscle toning. It’s probably best to spend as much as you can budget for equipment at the outset. Cheaper models tend to have restricted functions and soon you will out­grow the equipment. The body is incredibly efficient and so it is necessary to be able to constantly challenge your­self. Cheaper treadmills for example are unlikely to have an incline feature (for running up hills) and may have a relatively slow top speed. You will soon find that the ma­chine can’t keep up with you and you will have to think about buying a better model or worse the machine will be left unused collecting dust in the corner.

A Swiss ball can be used as a bench (which also tones your abs) so there is no need to have an expen­sive fixed bench permanently on view.

So with a bit of space, a small financial investment and some motivation, there really is no excuse not to get exercising.