Why and how to start an at-home workout



There are plenty of excellent reasons that some people skip the gym to exercise at home instead. Just about anyone can get a safe, well-rounded workout in their own living room, as long as they follow a few guidelines.

Why gyms aren’t best for everyone

We all have different lifestyles, budgets and fitness motivators. I thrive in group fitness classes, where I can find healthy competition with other participants. Others might be more successful exercising individually, where they don’t feel as self-conscious and can control when and where they work out.

The most important component to choosing an exercise routine is sustainability. If you have a tight budget or tight schedule, you’re less able to stick to your goals – you may be spending precious time and money to commute to and from the gym.

How to start your at-home workout

You don’t need much equipment for a total-body conditioning program – just plenty of space and motivation.

Here are five elements to prioritize:

1. Realistic goals

Workout plans are easily sabotaged by high expectations. Set daily and weekly targets that you can meet with your schedule, lifestyle and current fitness level. Identify what you’re trying to achieve, whether it’s training for a race, lowering your cardiac risk factors, losing weight and/or building muscle mass. Tailor your workout to those goals.

It takes six to eight weeks to build strength, so if you’re starting at a point of not exercising regularly, give yourself time to build endurance and routine.

Starting out slowly and getting regular, consistent exercise will help you build strength safely, preventing most overuse injuries. It’s better to make slow progress than to burn out quickly.

2. Adequate recovery

Getting enough quality sleep is critical to building strength. Not only is it important for recovery, but it’s also during deep sleep that our bodies release human growth hormone, which promotes healthy metabolism and muscle growth.

In addition to adequate sleep, vary your workouts throughout the week to focus on different muscle groups. This gives certain muscles recovery time, reducing your risk of injury.

3. Nutrition

Diet is often more important than exercise when it comes to weight loss and overall health. Fitness progress is severely limited without a healthy diet.

Depending on individual fitness goals, your diet needs may vary – if you’re training for a marathon, for example, your body will require more carbohydrates to work efficiently. Consulting a dietitian can help you get the right balance of protein, fat and carbohydrates.

4. A well-rounded exercise routine

The American Heart Association, the American College of Sports Medicine, the CDC and other health experts stress the importance of cardiovascular exercise, especially for women, who are even more prone to heart disease. Aim for 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity each week.

5. Safety

If there’s anything in your medical history that makes you second-guess your ability to jump into an exercise program safely, check with your primary care physician. Exercising alone also puts you at a disadvantage if you were to hurt yourself and can’t call for help.When exercising outside, be aware of your surroundings. Make sure you’re wearing reflective clothing or safety lights when in poorly lit areas. Consider carrying a cellphone to call for help in an emergency, and let someone else know where you’ll be exercising and for how long.

What to avoid in a home workout:

Programs that ramp up intensity too quickly

If you’re not used to regular exercise, look for programs labeled with phrases like “low impact” or that have low to moderate intensity. For beginners, I frequently recommend couch-to-5k running programs, because they’re typically safe and sustainable.

Exercises that cause persistent or sharp pain

The discomfort of exertion and using new muscles is normal, but it’s a bad sign if you have sharp, localized pains or persistent soreness or stiffness that lasts longer than 48 hours. If this happens, consider modifying your workout, perhaps with a physical therapist’s help. If worrying pain continues, contact a physician.

Learn more about recognizing workout warning signs


Need more help designing a workout?

Physical therapists like me are equipped to identify individual impairments and make safe recommendations for routines.

If you don’t have specific, pain-related needs, you don’t necessarily have to follow up with a physical therapist on a weekly basis.

If you don’t have easy access to a physical therapist, look for a personal trainer with proper credentialing. To start, look for a trainer with at least a bachelor’s degree in exercise physiology, or who has been credentialed through the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM). Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialists also have  credible training through the National Strength and Conditioning Association.

Wherever you start your fitness journey, you’re on the right track just getting started. Don’t get discouraged – you’re taking the first steps toward lifelong fitness habits.

Erika Patterson is a physical therapist at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center’s Philip Heit Center for Healthy New Albany.