Last Updated on September 28, 2019 by Heather Hart, ACSM EP
Contrary to popular belief, exercise is free.
I get messages and emails from friends and readers all of the time, telling me they would like to get in shape but don’t really have the money for a gym membership. And though I always respond assuring them that they don’t need a gym membership, or anything really, in order to get fit… I’m not certain they always believe me.
Now don’t get me wrong, I love lifting in my gym. Having equipment is convenient. I also know some people adore CrossFit, or Zumba, or their at home workout DVDs. Those are all wonderful forms of exercise…but they aren’t the only ones. When you look at the world as your gym, you can find workout opportunities anywhere, and this goes far beyond simply running or walking.
For the last year, one of our favorite training sessions has been one we have dubbed the “ranger run”. It is a high intensity interval workout (HIIT) that requires nothing but a trail and ourselves. It goes a little something like this: Set your watch for a specific interval. Ten minutes, half a mile, whatever you want to do. After a warm up…RUN. This is “high intensity” interval training, so do not be afraid to push yourself. When you hit the set interval, perform some sort of body weight resistance or plyometric exercise. When you’ve completed your exercise (at a specific number of repetitions, time, or to exhaustion), continue running. At the next interval, pick another exercise. You get the idea.
We’ve been lucky enough this year to have garnered interest from others in our crazy training, and now have a group of up to 10+ of all fitness abilities who join us weekly. The great part about ranger runs is that they are completely modifiable, and as much…or as little…of a challenge as you want them to be. For the front runners, we choose to do our exercise intervals to either exhaustion or until the back runners and walkers catch up. This keeps the whole training team together, and gives an extra push to those who want it.
While any exercise you chose can theoretically be used for the intervals, here are five of our most frequently used exercises:
Push-ups: this body weight resistance exercise works your forearms, wrists, triceps, shoulders and chest. Though in reality, you must engage your entire body (hello core!) from your feet to your hands to properly perform a push-up. Bam, full body workout. Cost? Zero dollars. No equipment necessary. I’m pretty certain most of us haven’t made it out of high school gym class without learning the basics of a pushup, but just incase you need a refresher, watch this video (I really need to start making my own). PLEASE NOTE: a) no butt in the air, b) no sagging torso, and c) FULL RANGE OF MOTION (chest to almost floor). Beginners, you absolutely may start on your knees if necessary, just keep the core engaged and the above points in mind.
Squats: another body weight resistance exercise that engages all of the major muscle groups in your body. They help improve balance, and strengthen your core, legs, and butt. And contrary to popular belief, squats are not bad for your knees. A proper squat engages the quadriceps, the hamstrings, and the gastrocnemius, thus strengthens bone and connective tissue around the knee joint. Now, squats are an easy one to perform incorrectly (believe me, I was in “squat therapy” for awhile until I finally got it right.) This guy gives a great squat demo. My best piece of advice is to always keep your head up. If your instructor/training partner/the tree in front of you cannot see your face when you squat, you are doing it wrong.
For an added challenge: squat with something heavy. Kettlebells, dumbells, sandbags…they are all great. They are also expensive. So grab a log, or a rock…or a toddler.
Burpees: The exercise everyone loves to hate (or hates to love). Burpees are a killer, full body resistance and cardio exercise. If you’ve ever trained with me, chances are good you have done (many) burpees. As with any exercise, there are a number of ways to perform a burpee, and every trainer may argue why their version is best. You can do them this way (the “efficient belly flop”, my favorite), you can do them this way with a pushup up (I never associated lululemon with burpees, but maybe now I will). You can do the “squat thrust”, which typically does not involve a pushup. Whatever style you choose to do, be sure to maintain a tight, engaged core at all times.
Planks: Sure they look easy, but I promise you, they aren’t. Unlike a crunch or sit-up, planks engage your entire core: the rectus abdominis and transverse abdominis that form your outer and inner abs, as well as the obliques and lower back. Further, the isometric contraction of a plank utilizes your stabilizing muscles: upper-body stabilizers include the pectoral and serratus muscles, and lower-body stabilizers include the quadriceps, sartorius and tensor fasciae latae. Looks like another full body exercise to me! Again, there a numerous variations of the plank (this is a great post on how to perform a basic forearm plank). The most important thing to keep in mind is that you are keeping your core engaged, and not allowing the hips to sag, nor your butt to stick up in the air.
Lunges: Another exercise that engages the core as well as the lower body, lunges are great for balance as well as lower body strength. Again, numerous versions of the lunge are available: forward, backwards, sideways. I prefer the jumping lunge (as seen HERE). A dynamic, powerful, explosive movement that will also challenge your cardiovascular strength. Again, I sound like a broken record here, but ENGAGE THAT CORE! Not only will it help you strengthen those ab muscles, but it will help keep you in proper alignment, contributing to good form.
On a typical run, we average about 3 miles, stopping every half mile to perform one of the above exercises. The half mile intervals are treated as speed work, and the result is everyone falling to the ground in exhaustion at the 3 mile finish.
- Find a mountain, climb to the top.
- Find a really big staircase (bleachers, etc.) Run, or carry heavy things to the top.
- Recycle heavy things, and carry or drag them around (as seen below, found tractor tire and cement block drag)The possibilities are endless, if you are willing to push yourself.
Now, let’s address all possible excuses:
1) I don’t have a trail to run near me. No problem! You can do this on the road (be sure you have a safe place out of traffic to stop and perform your exercises). Run around a park, playground, or sports field. Run intervals on your treadmill, and jump off to the side to perform the exercises. Or even workout in your living room (substitute running for jogging or marching in place or even jumping jacks).
2) I’m not fit enough for these exercises. YES YOU ARE. The great thing about these types of exercises is that they are completely modifiable. Go as fast or as slow as you need to. Perform to YOUR exhaustion. 5 push ups is all you can do? Great! Be proud of all 5, and next time, push to see if you can get to 6.
3) I’m a stay at home mom/dad and I don’t have anyone to watch my kids. No problem here either! Have a jogging stroller aged child? Pop them in the stroller and do the workout! Be sure to put the brake on the stroller, then face them and perform the exercises. I know my kids always thought it was hilarious to see mommy jumping around on the wrong side of the stroller. Older kids? Do the intervals in your backyard or at the playground while they play in your sight. Even older kids? Get them to join you. Kids LOVE to mimic mom and dad, and are built to move.
So there you have it. Fitness is not nearly as complicated as it seems. It is not an expensive gym membership, or home treadmill, or the latest infomercial you saw on late night TV. It can be, but it doesn’t have to be.
Get outdoors. The world is your gym.
Disclaimer: Although I am an ACSM Health Fitness Specialist, the workouts featured on this blog are representations of my personal training, and not specific recommendations or prescriptions. Please consult a physician before beginning any diet or exercise plan. If you choose to do any of the workouts featured on this website, you do so at your own risk.