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A Minimalist’s Home Workout Plan

by vmbrasseur on November 1st, 2012

Though you might not know it by looking at me, I’ve been doing the workout/fitness thing for most of the past fourteen years. Admittedly, it’s been an on-again/off-again pursuit for the last two of those years, but prior to that I was pretty into it. I’ve had personal trainers and done a lot of independent study about fitness, nutrition and related subjects. Because of that I have a very good idea of exactly what I need to do to stay healthy and fit.

Knowing doesn’t equate to doing. At the beginning of the year I signed up with a personal trainer to get some help staying motivated. He was a good guy and trainer I’d recommend to my friends, but my life took another turn and we unfortunately had to part ways for now. In our final session, my trainer walked me through a workout which could be done at home and which requires little to no equipment. I took copious notes…which I then ignored.

Fast-forward about two and a half months, during which I spent most of my days sitting on my butt in my apartment working on a project I have going. My Fitbit stats have suffered as I become more and more inactive. In the past week I’ve determined to correct this downward spiral and have been making efforts to get out and get more steps logged, at the very least. In the process of that I’ve discovered just how far my fitness has deteriorated since I stopped working out. My knees have taken a particularly distressing turn for the worse.

About the same time, a friend asked me for gym recommendations. He’s been in physical therapy following an accident and was under orders to strengthen certain muscles. Between his questions and my predicament it was obviously time to revisit those notes. While I’m at it, I may as well share…

What follows is as accurate a recounting of the suggested workout as I can manage. Whenever possible I have tried to find representative photos/videos for each of the exercises. These are linked to the exercise name. Naturally, the standard “Don’t be stupid; check with your doctor first” caveat applies here…


Equipment Needed

  • A sturdy chair or bench
  • A resistance band. My trainer suggested I get one of medium resistance. YMMV.

Warmup: Cardio

  • Time: At least 2.5 minutes
  • Goal: Get heart rate up
  • Suggested exercises:
    • Jogging in place with high knees (2.5 min)
    • Jumping rope (2.5 min)
    • Centipedes (2.5 min; without push-up) [1]
    • If you have access to an elliptical trainer, 10 minutes of that. Keep the strides per minute above 120.

Resistance Training

General tips:

  • Start at the larger muscles then work to the smaller ones.
  • Don’t stop or slow down; keep your heart rate up.
  • Exhale on the exertion portion of the exercise; inhale on the “release” portion of the exercise.

Legs

Alternate between sets of these two exercises. Two sets of 20 reps for each exercise.

  • Sit Squats [2]
    • Focus: Quadriceps
    • Tips:
      • Make sure legs are at a right angle.
      • Feet should be shoulder-width apart.
      • Never allow knees to go beyond toes.
      • Press up through your heels.
      • Keep core engaged.
      • Barely touch chair at the bottom of the squat (don’t “plop”).
      • Don’t forget your breathing.
  • One-leg Pelvic Lift on Chair
    • Focus: Hamstrings
    • Tips:
      • Feet on chair, back on the floor.
      • Start with legs at a right angle, then lift one leg out and straight.
      • Keep core engaged.
      • If one leg out is too hard, use both legs.
      • Controlled motion both up and down (don’t “plop”).
      • Don’t forget your breathing.
      • If you have access to a yoga ball, use that instead of the chair (as pictured). [3]
      • 20 reps per leg for each set.

Back and Chest

Alternate between sets of these two exercises. Two sets of 20 reps for each exercise.

  • One-armed/One-legged Bent Over Row
    • Focus: Upper back
    • Tips:
      • Make sure the band is held under the arches of your foot. Otherwise you could risk it slipping out and hitting you.
      • Do one arm at a time (not both as shown in the video).
      • Whichever arm you are doing, balance on the opposite foot (this is also the foot under which you’ll put the band, of course). [4]
      • Keep your back straight and your butt out.
      • Keep your core engaged.
      • Don’t forget your breathing.
      • 20 reps per arm for each set.
  • Push ups
    • Focus: Chest and core
    • Tips:
      • Knees-down is OK.
      • Keep core engaged.
      • Don’t forget your breathing.

Shoulders

Alternate between sets of these two exercises. Two sets of 15 reps for each exercise. Because these exercises all focus on the same muscle group, rest for about a minute between sets.

  • Shoulder Lifts
    • Focus: shoulders
    • Method and Tips:
      • Stand with feet shoulder-width apart.
      • Place center of the resistance band beneath the arches of both feet.
      • With one band handle in each hand, lift arms 10 times in each of these directions: Straight forward in front of you, out to the side, straight back.
      • When lifting back, lean forward at the hips and stick your butt out, keeping your back straight.
      • Never lift your arms to be more than parallel. [5]
      • Keep your core engaged.
      • Don’t forget your breathing.
  • Shoulder Press
    • Focus: shoulders
    • Tips:
      • Unlike the photo, start with upper arms parallel to the ground.
      • Press up and touch hands above head.
      • Keep the resistance band along the back of your arms.
      • Keep your core engaged.
      • Don’t forget your breathing.
      • Do 15 reps per set.

Core

There are four core exercises. Cycle through them, then repeat (total of two reps of each).

  • Crunches with Lifted Leg
    • Focus: Mid and lower abs
    • Method and Tips:
      • Lie on your back with your hands below your lower back. Your butt and back should be on the ground.
      • Bend your legs, keeping feet on the ground.
      • Extend one leg out and straight up, keeping knees aligned. Thighs should remain aligned and together.
      • Lift or crunch your chest up to a 45° angle, keeping your chin perpendicular to the ceiling.
      • Hold for about five seconds.
      • Slowly return to the ground.
      • Don’t forget your breathing.
      • Ten crunches per leg per set (total of 20 crunches per set).
  • Oblique Crunches
    • Focus: obliques
    • Method and Tips:
      • Lie on your side, legs straight out and your free arm up over your head in a straight line with your legs.
      • At the same time, lift your upper body to the side and lift/bend your top leg, bringing the arm down to meet elbow to knee. At the “top” (with elbow and knee meeting), make sure your chest and shoulders are facing out and front rather than at your knee. [6]
      • When lifting your upper body, it’s OK to lean on your pinned arm.
      • Lower your upper body and leg down in a controlled fashion, making sure to lift your arm back over your head while doing so.
      • Don’t forget your breathing.
      • Do 20 on each side in each set.
  • Bird Dogs
    • Focus: back core, butt, hamstrings, obliques
    • Tips:
      • Unlike the diagram, rather than just returning the hand and leg back to starting position, first bring them together beneath your body, meeting elbow to knee. Then return the hand and leg to starting position.
      • Make sure your leg is fully extended.
      • Don’t allow your hip on the extended leg to rotate up. Keep your hips parallel to the ground.
      • Keep core engaged.
      • Don’t forget your breathing.
      • Repeat 20 times for each side in a single set.
  • Plank
    • Focus: Entire core
    • Tips:
      • If you feel lower back pain, do a modified plank instead until you’ve built up enough strength.
      • Hold for 60 seconds (or longer if you can).

Stretches

There’s no need to stretch prior to the workout. Your muscles won’t be warm enough and you’ll just end up hurting something. It’s very important to stretch at the end, though.

  • Hamstrings
    • Method and Tips:
      • Lie on your back near the corner of a wall. You also could use a doorway, etc. for this. If none are available you can lie in the middle of the room and use a belt or scarf to hold the lifted leg.
      • Lift one leg up and rest it against the wall, keeping the other leg straight in front of you.
      • As the muscle loosens on the lifted leg, scootch in closer to the wall.
      • Don’t forget to breathe.
      • Do for about 45 seconds for each leg.
  • Lower back and obliques
    • Method and Tips:
      • Lie on your back with legs bent and feet on the ground.
      • Keeping your shoulders on the ground, lift bent legs up and hug to your chest.
      • Hold for about 15 seconds then return feet to the ground.
      • Roll knees over toward the ground, extending opposite arm.
      • Hold for about 15 seconds then repeat on other side.
      • Return feet to the ground then hug bent legs to your chest for another 15 seconds.
      • Don’t forget to breathe.
  • Quads and Hamstrings
    • Method and Tips:
      • Lie on your back with legs bent and feet on the ground.
      • Lift one foot, placing the ankle on the opposite thigh.
      • Gently pull that thigh toward your chest. Stop as soon as you meet resistance. [7]
      • Keep your shoulders on the ground.
      • Use a belt or scarf to pull your leg toward your chest if your arms will not reach.
      • Don’t forget to breathe.
      • Hold for 20 seconds or so then repeat with the other leg.
  • Quads
    • Method and Tips:
      • Stand with feet together.
      • Lift one foot to your butt and hold it there using your hand. [8]
      • You may need to balance yourself against a wall, etc.
      • Hold for about 30 seconds then repeat with the other leg.
  • Chest
    • Method and Tips:
      • Stand by a wall, corner, doorframe, etc.
      • Hold arm out parallel to the ground and bent up at the elbow.
      • Press the lifted forearm against the wall, gently stretching the chest muscle.
      • Hold for about 30 seconds then repeat with the other arm.

Footnotes

  • 1: These are a LOT harder than you’d think, which means you probably ought to be doing them. Back to reading
  • 2: Squats work wonders for your quads and knees. Back to reading
  • 3: Doing this exercise on a ball instead of a chair ups the challenge considerably. Back to reading
  • 4: The balance component of this exercise helps to strengthen ankles, legs and core while also working on the main focus of the back. If you find you can’t balance well it may be that your core isn’t engaged. Back to reading
  • 5: You will lift higher than parallel at first. A mirror helps you to visualize this until you get the feel for how high is too high. Back to reading
  • 6: When I was being taught this move I had a problem keeping my chest facing the right direction. My trainer then taught me to reach the top of the crunch and twist/”pop” my chest forward to where it should be. This really helped plus it put more focus on my obliques. Back to reading
  • 7: DO NOT push it with this one. If you do you could screw up your knees. Just be gentle with it and you’ll be fine. Back to reading
  • 8: DO NOT push it with this one, either. If your foot doesn’t touch your butt don’t force it. You’ll just screw up your knee. Just hold it where it reaches. It’s not a competition; it’s a stretch. Back to reading

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