There's no denying the innumerable benefits of exercise to your mental and physical health. Sometimes, though, making time for the gym when you've got three projects to finish by Friday and a whole season of The Crown to catch up on isn't top priority. Even the nicest gyms can't quite offer the comforts of home, and no matter how many eucalyptus-scented towels there are, at some point, you realize you're spending too much time and too much money just to lift things up and put them back down. You could be doing that in the furniture-moving business AND get paid.
Here's the good news, though. If you don't want the stress of making time for the gym on top of everything else, try following the example of experts in the field of "body hacking," like Tim Ferriss. He recommends using the minimum effective dose (MED), the least amount of time and work you need, to get the desired outcome. If your desired outcome is to feel a little healthier and stronger without having to give up the things you want to do (Netflix marathons included).
In the words of John Berardi, PhD in Nutrition and founder of Precision Nutrition, “Find your own minimum effective weekly dose of exercise, quit obsessing about your fitness program, and get out there and have some fun.” In that spirit, I present to you gym hacks at home, so you'll have time (and money) for all the fun things you've ever wanted to do.
1. Tighten That Corset
Although I'm neither a Kardashian nor living in the Victorian Era, I still like to tighten my corset throughout the day. "Tightening the corset," or bracing, simply means engaging your core abdominal muscles, like cinching a belt around your waist, and is a key movement in keeping your back supported and feeling healthy. Kelly Macauley, a physical therapist and clinical instructor affiliated with Harvard Medical School, confirms, "It is true in almost all cases that strong muscles help to reduce back pain."
If projects are keeping you at the office, chained to a desk all day, try to keep your head and back upright and clench your stomach muscles like you're preparing for someone to punch you in them. Doing this regularly while finishing a project/getting lost in a Kylie Jenner Instagram hole will help keep you free from back pain. It's even better for your posture to combine this exercise with pelvic floor exercises. To avoid suffering from back pain, I personally like to do more kegels (yes, they're for men too) when I'm caught at my desk.
2. You've Got The Moves
As everyone keeps telling us right now: sitting is the new smoking. So the more time spent moving, the better. According to research published in the Lancet, you can undo some of the occupational hazards of a desk job (and maybe even an entire weekend spent re-watching American Horror Story) in as little as 60 minutes of physical activity a day.
Although this sounds like a lot, it's pretty easy to break up spells of sitting by moving around for a few minutes every hour. I know it's the oldest advice in the book, but try taking the stairs whenever feasible.
Over time, you can increase how many floors you cover, the number of stairs you clear per step, or even cover the same distance in less time. This is a simple way to get your metabolism fired up and to engage under-used muscles. It may even save you an awkward elevator conversation or two during morning rush.
3. Own Your Squatters' Rights
Squatting is one of those exercises that everyone should be doing: as world-renowned strength coach Charles Poliquin says, "Crouching down is a natural movement; all of us did it as infants to pick things up."
Stand with your feet about shoulder-width apart, with your toes parallel or pointed slightly out. You should hinge from your hips as you lower your body, like you're about to sit down onto a low stool. Keep your back and neck in line with each other and keep your butt engaged as you lower yourself to become parallel with the floor (preferably even lower) and raise yourself back up.
Bodyweight squats are a simple exercise you can do as part of your daily routine, and you can do them anywhere. OK, maybe not while in line at Target, but you get the picture. Waiting for your morning coffee to finish brewing? You could be busting out squats. I like to go for as many reps as I can fit in when I'm waiting for my brew. (Or two.)
4. Get Out Of That Slump
Physical Therapist Mark Wong has some choice words when it comes to rounded shoulders, "Rounded shoulders lead to bad posture. Not perhaps… Not maybe… It will." Nobody wants a sore back and bad posture, but if you want to avoid hours in the gym just as badly, chest pulls might be the way to go.
Chest pulls are a great exercise to improve the posture of your upper back. My girlfriend says it gives her boobs all the benefits of a Wonderbra without the wiring. They can be done with a simple piece of inexpensive “gym equipment” that can fit inside most clutch handbags (or so I'm told by reliable sources): resistance bands.
Resistance bands are useful for lots of different exercises and a good replacement for the spring-loaded death traps seen in '90s workout videos. First get used to the feel of keeping your shoulder blades in a back-and-down position, before pulling apart the band with either hand. Point your thumbs upright at first, then rotate your arms through the rep, so that your thumbs point behind you as you get to the end of the movement. As you reach this point, try to imagine pinching a penny between your shoulder blades, before returning to the beginning with good control.
To make doing exercises like this easier, try setting challenges and playing games: during a rewatch of Game of Thrones before the latest season, I tried to do 10 reps of chest pulls for every death of a major character. I did a loooooot of reps.
5. Become A Stable Human (With Wall Squats)
Static wall squats are another great exercise that you can do without equipment. They consist of holding a static squat with your back against a flat surface (example: a wall). Avoid arching your back by making sure there aren't any major gaps between your body and the wall. You can also grab a cushion and hold it between your legs with a light squeeze. Everything should be solid and stable. Try to keep your core muscles braced throughout.
This will tax your booty muscles (the technical term) even more than your ill-fated attempts at twerking – listen, we've all tried it – and will help keep your hips and back healthy and stable as a bonus.
6. Make Gains While You Swipe
Nearly anyone with a smartphone has probably given their thumb a reasonable workout with extended sessions on Tinder, but there are so many more muscles you could work on when on your phone.
Bridging, or planking (depending on which you think sounds like a funner inanimate object), consists of placing your elbows on the floor with your feet placed behind you, so that your body is parallel to the floor. When done correctly, you resemble, well, a bridge (or a plank, no judgment). Exercise physiologists like Phil Davies recommend static exercises like this to strengthen muscles without placing excess stress on joints – and who needs more stress?
By engaging pretty much all of your body for 30 seconds, a minute, or as long as you can last (while maintaining good form), this can be a great way to help keep your body strong and pain free. Make sure you don't let your back sag, and try to keep your neck straight.
You can place your phone on the floor, and possibly swipe if you put your mind to it, just try not to let a low like-to-minute IG ratio throw you off your game.
7. Get Thee To A Sauna
It's possible to feel the burn without even having to stand upright: 30 minutes in the sauna helps increase absorption of nutrients in the diet, enhance endurance, and improve brain health. Rhonda Patrick, PhD in biomedical science, agrees, “Conditioning through sauna use doesn't just make you better at dealing with heat; it makes you better, period.”
Who knew a relaxing Scandanavian tradition could save you from hours on the treadmill?
You may need a little more time and money for this one, but you can bask in the satisfaction of being a healthy and balanced individual who definitely has their act together, while effectively doing nothing.
Joining a gym and participating in classes are a great way to get healthy and enjoy yourself, but they're not for everyone, or at least not all of the time. And while nobody should get overly hung up on exercise, better posture, less pain, and feeling good is easy to achieve without too much effort.
By incorporating some active breaks during your work day, or having a routine to break up a full weekend stuck to the couch, you can feel Gwyneth Paltrow "Goop" levels of glowing health... without having to get sweaty in front of strangers.
*It's important to remember that if you feel any pain doing the exercises you should stop and consult a qualified physician if required. “No pain, no gain” is for meatheads.
Welcome to No Sweat: an exhausted girl's guide to squeezing in fitness. This content package is for the woman who wants to find an exercise routine that doesn't feel like a chore. No Sweat isn't changing the shape of your body; it's about feeling stronger, happier, and more energetic. Because working out doesn't mean you have to break a sweat.