5 easy ways to jump-start your at-home fitness routine

The weather is lousy. The gym is inconvenient. Signing up for a class? Too expensive.

Sound familiar? Many of us put up barriers like these that keep us from a fitness routine. But none of these things need to be obstacles to getting your dose of recommended exercise.

One way to jump-start physical fitness is by trying an in-home workout. You can create a well-rounded routine with exercises such as jumping jacks and pushups that use your body weight. But incorporating a few inexpensive tools into the workout will offer new challenges to seasoned fitness devotees, and ease beginners into a routine.

1. Exercise balls | $10–$40

“There are a million things you can do with an exercise ball,” says Dr. Laura Fralich, an Activity, Sports, and Exercise Medicine physician. Sit-ups on the ball give your abdominal muscles a workout and squats with the ball positioned between your back and the wall strengthen legs. You’ll also work your core by sitting on the ball while seated at a desk. “Pay attention to good posture, and switch to a regular chair if you get tired and begin to slump,” says Dr. Fralich. Balls come in a range of sizes. To find the right one for your height, check the packaging or details online. When you sit on the inflated ball, your hips should be slightly higher than, or at the same level as your knees.

2. Resistance bands | $10–$30

Physical therapist Julea Edwards says resistance bands are an excellent strength training tool. And because they’re compact, they’re also easy to pack in your suitcase when you travel. “You can vary the difficulty of band exercises by changing the amount of tension on the band. This is accomplished by changing the grip position or the distance the band is pulled if anchored around furniture. As you get stronger, you can make the same exercise more challenging.” A set of bands usually comes with simple workout instructions.

3. Tech tools: websites, apps, DVDs | Free–$100+

Countless apps, DVDs, and online videos can help you get a good workout. If tracking your workout motivates you, Dr. Fralich recommends fitday.com, which tracks exercise and diet. It’s also available as an app.

4. Jump rope | $3–$30

High impact jump-roping isn’t for everyone, but it’s an excellent cardio activity for many, including those people—such as postmenopausal women—at higher risk for osteoporosis, says Dr. Fralich. “High impact activity prevents bone loss.” To find a rope that fits, put a foot in the center of the rope and check to see that the handles don’t reach farther than your armpits. If you’re jumping inside and worried about hitting furniture, you can also pretend jump-rope. “Find or create a line on the floor, jump back and forth or side to side, and get your arms involved,” Dr. Fralich suggests.

5. Floor mat | $15–$50

A yoga mat or thick exercise mat will make exercises and stretches on your back, knees, and forearms more comfortable. “Get plenty of padding,” says Dr. Fralich. “If exercise hurts, you probably won’t do it.

Putting it all together

The Surgeon General recommends 30 minutes of exercise five days a week for health. If you’re just beginning an exercise program, it’s okay to start with less time and frequency. Build toward a well-rounded workout that includes three days of cardiovascular exercise (such as jump rope or an aerobic workout DVD) and two of strength training, or a session with 15 minutes of strength and 15 of cardio.

For a more vigorous workout, try:

  • Circuit training. 30 seconds of aerobic exercise such as jumping jacks or jump-rope alternating with 30 seconds of muscle strengthening such as pushups or wall squats.
  • Abdominal work on the ball. Do 2–3 exercises for the lower body, and 2–3 for the upper body.
  • Stretch for 5–10 minutes or more at the end of each session.

– Maria Dolan