Exercise takes effort, but it doesn’t have to take your money too. Learn how to exercise without a gym, and the fitness world will be your oyster.
The Gym Trap
Too many people see the gym as a barrier to exercising. They think they have to exercise in the right place and the right clothes, and any time conditions aren’t perfect, they have an excuse as to why they can’t exercise.
“I can’t afford a gym membership!”
“I don’t have time to drive all the way to the gym!”
“Everyone will look at me and I’ll feel embarrassed!”
Now, there are plenty of perfectly legitimate reasons to prefer to use a gym to exercise. If somebody makes too many of these excuses, though, they’re stuck in the gym trap. But you don’t need to be.
Before we continue: if you have any sort of medical condition which may affect your ability to exercise, please consult your doctor before you begin.
How To Exercise Without A Gym
There are lots of different forms of exercise out there, and the best one, of course, is always the one you’ll actually do. But in terms of the gym, most types of exercise fall into one of two categories: strength and cardio.
It’s hotly debated in certain circles which of these is ‘better’, but truthfully, both of them have their uses. Somebody who focuses on strength without cardio might be able to lift heavy furniture easily, but will get worn out by long term exertion, because they have very little endurance. Similarly, someone who focuses on cardio without strength will be great at running away from zombies, but will still have trouble opening the pickle jar. Therefore, a balanced routine for all round personal development includes both strength and cardio elements. Let’s take a look at how we can create that outside the gym.
Cardio: The Open Road
The stereotypical picture of cardio in the gym is of hours spent on the treadmill or the stationary bike. If this is what you think exercise has to be, then I can see why you’ve been skipping it, because that sounds to me like the most boring exercise in the history of humanity. The scenery stays the same, the motion is repetitive. The only way it’s even slightly bearable is if you watch TV or play music at the same time. It’s a good thing, then, that you don’t need to visit the treadmill to get in your cardio.
The cheapest way to do cardio exercise without a gym is to run outdoors. It’s better for your legs and feet if you get some decent shoes, whether you subscribe to the minimalist footwear school or the supportive footwear school, but if you don’t have those yet, you can run perfectly well for now in regular trainers, as long as you pay attention to good form. Take a look at some videos on YouTube or google a few articles on the topic before you start.
A note of caution: if you are very overweight, running might be too much for your joints at the moment. Therefore you should start by taking up regular walking instead for now.
I recommend aiming to run two or three times a week. If you’re a total novice, you might want to look up a Couch To 5K programme to help you get into the swing of things. Terrible weather? No need to skip your workout: you can either wear better clothes and suck it up, or you can find something energetic to do in your house instead, like dancing, or a fast-paced cardio circuit. The more often you run, the better you’ll get at it. If you’re in one of the countries where parkrun, a free weekly 5k community run in local parks, is a thing, take it up. You’ll meet other runners that way, and it’ll help you keep on track.
If you’d rather not run, other cardio exercises outside the gym include cycling (if you already have a decent bike, or can get one cheaply), dancing, and aerobics. The important thing is to pick one and do it. With a bit of practice, you’ll be faster and less out of breath in many situations.
Strength: You Are Your Own Gym
If you think of strength training in a gym, you might think of young men with bulging arms, heavy metal weights, or machines. Maybe you’re put off by perceived technical difficulty, or because ‘people like you’ don’t lift weights. But strength exercise is for everyone, and performing strength exercise without a gym is easier than you think.
If you’re a woman and you’re worried about getting too big, don’t be. The only way to get BIG is to be consistently eating more calories than you’re using, including plenty of protein, at the same time as performing a thorough and dedicated strength routine. Bodybuilders train for far more hours a week than you’re going to be training for, and might drink a gallon of milk a day, or two dozen eggs a week. You’re not going to turn into one by accident.
Now that’s out the way, on to how to do strength exercises outside the gym. The main type of exercise you should do is bodyweight strength exercise, also known as calisthenics. This includes things like push ups, bodyweight squats, and pull ups, and a host of other exercises. As a start, your routine should contain at least one exercise for your chest muscles, one for your upper back muscles, one for your legs, and something for your core (that’s your abs and your lower back and the other muscles round there). Make sure that whatever exercises you choose, you do them with correct form. If you need a suggested workout routine, try one of these:
If you can’t even do a single rep of one of the suggested exercises, that’s not a problem. Simply look at the progression, and choose an easier version. The r/bodyweightfitness routine has a detailed progression tree for each exercise, and you could also look at the progressions at Convict Conditioning, which go all the way from the very easiest movements to the most advanced. If you have to start by doing push ups against the wall and holding onto something while you squat, that’s OK – you’ll get stronger with practice.
Most bodyweight exercises either need no equipment, or the equipment can be improvised. Once you reach the stage of trying to do pull ups, then I recommend either finding an outdoor pull up bar in a local park, or purchasing a doorway pull up bar appropriate for your house’s doorways. They’re not expensive, and this is all you really NEED to have access to for strength exercise without a gym. If you really want, you could even use a sturdy tree if you can find a branch at the right height.
You don’t need any fancy clothes, either – just wear ones you’re happy to get a bit sweaty. If you exercise in your house, you might not even need to wear anything. Do the strength routine two or three times a week.
If you want alternative forms of strength exercise without a gym, you could use milk cartons or books as improvised dumbbells. You could also fill a large bag with sand if you want something of a heavier weight. You don’t need to lift weights to get strong, though: there’s plenty of progression available in calisthenics itself. Just look up handstand push ups, muscle ups or pistol squats if you want to see what’s possible.
Exercise Anywhere, Anytime
Now you know how to exercise without a gym, you’ll never have to skip a workout due to lack of equipment. Wherever you are – at home, in a hotel, in a field, even (heaven forbid) in prison – you’ll be able to get in a full workout, with just the power of your own body. After a while, you’ll see opportunities to exercise everywhere. No gym required.