I am a huge fan of physical fitness. So much so, that I am currently seven weeks into a rather intense fitness challenge, and will be starting another one almost immediately afterwards. I also have previously shown how being in good health is the number one way to save money in the long run.
And while I believe an unhealthy diet full of processed and empty carbs is the problem that is preventing the vast majority of Americans from getting in good shape, a lack of exercise is also a huge part of the problem. Despite gyms being around every corner in big cities these days, many people don’t have access to a decent one. Not to mention the fact that most gyms and personal trainers charge outrageous fees.
So is it possible for someone to get into acceptable shape at home, using equipment that costs less than two month’s worth of membership fees at most gyms? And going one step further, is it possible for someone who is already in good shape to get into FANTASTIC shape using the same equipment?
When pondering how exactly I wanted to go about the exercise portion of my eight week challenge, I came up with a solution that has worked marvelously. Using $75 worth of equipment, I am able to do workouts that strain every part of my body. I’ve seen some incredible results already, and I know that I will continue to as time goes on.
First, lets take a look at the equipment I use. Then I’ll show you my routine, as well as give you some more ideas for free exercise.
Door Mounted Pull Up Bar
You know those pull up bars you always see on infomercials that go on a door in your home? Despite the likelihood that most people view them as just another sales racket, they actually make a fantastic little home gym. Obviously, they are mainly intended to be used as a pullup bar, and they do a pretty good job of it. But they can also be used as a push up stand, meaning you can take your pushups lower, and even do hanging leg extensions with them to work your core. There are a lot of possibilities for using one of these great little pieces of gym equipment. Mine is an Iron Gym, which costs around $25.
Kettlebell workouts are all the rage these days. In fact, kettlebell swings are considered one of the most effective exercises for fat loss. However, the weights themselves can be very spendy, especially if you want lots of different weight ranges. But thanks to a quick tutorial in The 4-Hour Body, I was able to put together an adjustable substitute that has served me very well. Technically called a T-Bar, this DIY masterpiece is just a couple pieces of metal pipe holding up some plate weights. The materials for this bad boy cost about $50, and it can be assembled in minutes. Here is the list of parts you need to buy to make one, which can all be attained at most hardware stores:
- Two ¾” X 6” steel pipe nipples (handles)
- One ¾” X 12” steel pipe nipple (shaft to hold weights)
- One ¾” steel T fitting
- One ¾” floor flange (for the bottom, I used a second T fitting because my Home Depot was out of floor flanges in that size)
- Kettlebell plates of desired weight (I bought mine at Walmart, this is the biggest expense)
- Duct Tape (If you want to wrap the handles like I did)
Simply slap them all together and you end up with an adjustable kettlebell that does a great job for a fraction of the cost of buying a whole set of kettlebells that go up to 50 or more pounds. Here is a video of Tim Ferriss demonstrating his T Bar.
While the T-Bar is fantastic for exercises requiring heavy weights (like kettlebell swings and curls), you will need something for exercises requiring lighter weights, like lateral raises. That is where old gallon milk jugs come in. Simply fill them up with water, and you have a weight that is close to 10 pounds, perfect for a variety of exercises. And the best part of all, they are free.
With the equipment I outlined above, you really have a lot of options as far as exercises and routines to do. However, there are some exercises that I think should be at the core of everyone’s workout routines:
- Kettlebell swings: These work your entire body, and the T Bar is perfect for them. Use a kettlebell or weights totaling at least 40 pounds if you are a guy, and do as many reps as you can (shoot for at least 75 in a row). Once you build up more strength and endurance, you may want to do multiple sets of these or increase the weight.
- Push Ups: One of the classic upper body motions, push ups can be done a variety of ways to focus different muscle groups.
- Pull Ups: Work the opposite muscle groups as push ups, so they compliment each other well.
- Squats: With or without weight, squats are a fantastic way of strengthening your legs. I use my T-Bar to add weight for these.
Of course, those are simply the core exercises. An effective regimen will include exercises working all other muscle groups as well.
I separate my workouts into upper body and lower body. I do upper on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, lower on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays, and take Sundays off. Here are the exercises I do for each workout:
- Close Grip Push Ups
- Wide Grip Push Ups
- Middle Grip Push Ups
- Pull Ups
- Chin Ups
- Curls with T-Bar
- Lateral Raises
- Kettlebell Swings
- Toe Raises
- Leg Extensions (hanging from pullup bar)
I warm up by running the stairs in my apartment four or five times, hitting each step, and then doing jumping jacks. I don’t do any static stretching, as I’ve found that I warm up better and am less likely to injure myself if I do active motions in the beginning. I then do each exercise listed until failure, and for most do multiple sets. This routine is quick, taking up less than half an hour per day usually. Despite its simplicity and brevity, I have found it to be incredibly effective.
Of course there are tons of other things that I’ve done to get great exercise without paying for a gym membership. Here are some of the best ways besides the mostly anaerobic exercises above:
Without a doubt the most popular form of free exercise, running is a great way to get in lots of cardio. I have never been able to do extensive jogging because of a shin splint problem I’ve had since middle school, but I know lots of people who do and are physically fit because of it. Jogging and distance running is obviously the most popular, but new studies have shown that sprinting and interval training may actually be more effective. Personally I like to believe those findings, seeing as I did nothing but sprints back in my basketball glory days and I was in incredible aerobic shape. But any form of running is good for you, no matter how fast or far you go.
Besides being a fantastic alternative to overly expensive automobiles, bikes are a great way to get exercise. I personally am a big fan of biking because it is lower impact and doesn’t both my shins like running. Bikes can be expensive if you get really into the sport, but you can pick up something used that will work fine for a couple hundred bucks or less.
One of the most hated days back in high school gym for me and my fellow students were plyo days. Plyometrics, which focus on quick and explosive movements, are fantastic exercises to tune athletic ability. Most plyo routines require one really simple piece of equipment: A sturdy box. Check out this fantastic guide from Mr. Money Mustache to learn how to build one.
Of course one of the best ways to get active is to play a sport. While the opportunity for most of us to play a truly organized sport is unfortunately long gone, that doesn’t mean you can’t still play something from time to time. I typically play basketball pickup games at least once a week at my university. You can find pick up games in parks, churches, and schools. And while basketball is probably the most common sport for pick up games, there are plenty of others. Even if it is just throwing a Frisbee around with some friends, sports are fun and help you stay in shape.
Quit Avoiding Free Exercise
It never ceases to amaze me how some people will do everything in their power to avoid free exercise.
To illustrate this, ask yourself a question: How many times have you taken an elevator in the past month?
Climbing stairs is fantastic exercise. That is one of the reasons I love living on the third floor of my apartment complex. Everytime I get home, I climb two flights of stairs. That happens at least a couple times per day. My apartment also has a loft which serves as an office, so everytime I go to use my computer I climb another flight. Between those two places alone, I climb at least a dozen flights of stairs per day, and some days many times more.
If you don’t have stairs in your home, there are all kinds of other places that you can climb stairs. Instead of taking the elevator to your class or office on the fifth floor, take the stairs. Every time you do so, you get free exercise that builds up leg muscles and aerobic strength. It never ceases to amaze me how many people will gladly stand by idly while an elevator creeps down to them instead of simply using their own strength to get to their destination.
Another way that people not only avoid free exercise, but actually PAY to avoid it, is by driving everywhere they go. It isn’t a secret that car commuting is expensive, so why do it? Biking or walking to work is a fantastic way to get more exercise, and save a ton of money. Even if you live eight or ten miles from where you work, biking is more than possible.
And of course, this isn’t just limited to your work commute. Almost any errand you run can be done on a bike or your own two feet. For instance, I ride my bike to get groceries all the time. My backpack holds everything I need it to, I save money on gas, and I get exercise all at the same time.
So after looking at all of that, it is clear that getting ripped at home is more than possible. Putting together a home gym that consists of a T-Bar, pull up bar, some gallon jugs, and whatever else you can improvise will give you lots of freedom to exercise how you want. Start a plan and stick to it. Take advantage of all the free exercise you can. With dedication and a healthy diet, you may just get ripped without ever stepping foot in a gym.