How to Use At-Home Items for a Great Workout
By: Dr. Bill Gabriel, PT, DPT, OCS
The key to exercising with household items is maintaining a positive attitude. In reality there are a lot of different exercise approaches that lead to the energy level, physique, and mood state which make us happy. I know it is easy to become negative and resist the other ways we might achieve desired results. This negativity kills our experience before it even takes shape. Let’s be real, unless you are a pro athlete, health and happiness are the ultimate end-game. This does not change whether you are in quarantine or visiting Mt Rushmore.
Regardless of circumstance, you have to let go of the exercise situation ‘that cannot be’, and embrace the exercise situation that ‘is’. If the functionality of this thinking isn’t enough, you can also draw on the fact that ‘challenged’ circumstances are by definition not the norm. Which is to say, they are temporary, and therefore incapable of truly derailing your exercise practice. With that said, I humbly suggest you move forward.
Of lesser, but significant importance to exercise success in do-it-yourself circumstances, is the ease of assembling your exercise items, and of using them. Ideally, the items we use, have to be common, and implementable in one part of the house. Knowing this, I have chosen household items that most of us have or can acquire, and architectural elements which are universally available. Examples include milk cartons, bicycle inner tubes, and doorways. I have also selected exercises which can be done in a single area of a house. Specifically, those that do not require running, or divergent architectural features. This is critical because breaks in continuity, disrupt intended physiologic effects and psychological momentum.
Below is an extensive, full-body exercise program.
I strongly recommend engaging in the warm-up items for at least 10 minutes. The rest can be consumed in all, or part of this form, depending on your time constraints, and your level of fitness. Enjoy!
BroomStick Movements Plus Lunge- Grasp a stick in front of you with a wide enough grip that when your elbows are straight, it resides at belt-buckle level. Now place that stick behind your neck. Step forward to lower into a lunge position (Note: depth of knee bend determines how ‘warm’ your legs get) and fix your gaze on a single point in front of you. From there perform 6-10 trunk rotations. Now take the stick back in front to your ‘belt buckle’. Keep your hands wide and elbows straight as you alternately circle the stick all the way back to your tailbone, and then return to your belt buckle, 6-10 times. If you have trouble getting over/behind your head, do not force it. Try widening your hands & see if the stick smoothly circles back behind you.
Now switch to the opposite lunge position and repeat the same two exercises.
10-Speed Bicycle Tube plus Crouch - Perform 3-4 light Upper Body exercises using the inner tube(s) from a 10-speed bike (i.e. a ‘road bike’). While standing in a Lunge or squat position, stretch the tube(s) with your arms. You can stand on the loop, fix it to a doorknob, or just pull it apart with both hands. Maintaining a squat or a lunge while you do these will result in your body temperature rising more quickly, aka a faster warm-up.
Suggested exercises include:
‘MidRows’, ‘Resisted Shoulder extension’, ‘Overhead Press’, ‘Upright Rows’, ‘Waiter Tips’, ‘Triceps Presses behind the head’, and ‘Full Cans’
10-Speed Bicycle Tube Palloff Press - Loop your bike tube around the bathroom doorknob and close the door to ensure it is securely fixed. Grasp the free end with both hands close to your chest. Sidestep perpendicular to the surface of the door until the band is pulled tight. From there, step back approximately as far as the length of your arms. Repetitions of this exercise consist of straightening and bending your elbows without allowing your hands to get pulled toward the bathroom door. In other words, your hands should track directly in from of your sternum the whole time they move away from/toward you. Difficulty can be added by holding your arms outstretched and lifting/lowering them while maintaining the same alignment with your sternum.
10-Speed Bicycle Tube Monster Walk - Tie your bike tube around your knees. Now take very large diagonal steps as you walk 30-45ft away and back. Between Diagonal steps bring your feet proximate to each other, so that you have to redo the stretch in the band. If knee level feels easy, move the tube down around your ankles, and it will immediately get more difficult.
10-Speed Bicycle Tube D2 Standing Diagonal - Secure your bike tube by closing it in-and-around the bottom corner of a door, or by looping it around the leg of a heavy table/bed. Grab the free end, and step to the right of tube’s anchoring point. Assume a lunged position with the right foot forward, while gripping the band in both hands beside your left hip. From here, the exercise movement is to pull your hands across and up, from your left hip to the space above your right shoulder. While lifting through this diagonal range, the band is intended to graze the left side of your body, and get caught on your left shoulder. This will keep it from annoyingly running into your neck or the side of your face. After 10-15 reps, switch to the left side of the anchoring point, and repeat in the opposite direction.
MAT Easy Yoga Series -
DOWN DOG CALF WALK - Bend forward keeping your knees straight until you absolutely have to flex them slightly in order to touch the ground—and if you don’t have to bend your knees in order to bear weight on your hands, ‘hats off’ to you! Once your hands touch the mat/floor sufficiently to bear some of your weight, walk them forward. While moving your hands forward, raise your heels to facilitate acquiring the following positions: flat back, straight knees, and straight arms lined-up alongside your head. Adjust your body to achieve the aforementioned positions. From here, repetitions consist of simultaneously bending one knee and sinking the opposite heel toward the ground. Repeat 8 on
PLANK + HIP EXT - Now, shift your hips down and walk your hands forward to assume a straight diagonal line from foot-to-knee-to-hip-to-trunk, a.k.a. a Plank position. Now lift one leg slightly, and point that toe. From there, lift and lower the straight leg 8 times. Repeat on the other side.
BIRD DOG - Set one knee under one hip and follow with the other to assume a ‘hands-and-knees’ position. Now extend your right leg back behind you, and your left arm out in from of you. Straighten these opposite extremities in unison, below the horizontal line of your trunk. Repetitions consist of a simultaneous, slight lift and lower of your raised extremities toward the sky. Execute 12 lifts on each side.
BASKETBALL RUSSIAN TWIST - Take a basket/soccer ball from the garage. Assume a sitting position about 5ft from a wall you do not mind repeatedly bouncing a ball against. Your final exercise position will have your feet a few inches off the ground, with the weight of your body balancing on your tailbone and the ball held at chest height. Repetitions consist of reaching across your body with the ball and touching the floor on either side of your hips, followed immediately by a sufficiently forceful chest pass to bounce the ball off the wall and back into your hands. Repeat for 12-15 repetitions.
BASKETBALL THORACIC EXTENSION - Now set your ball on the ground, and carefully lie so that it is at your shoulder blade. Knees should be bent to 90 degrees and feet should be wider than the pelvis. From here, lift your pelvis into the air, and interlace your hands behind your head once you have established your balance. In that position, keep the ball in the center of your body and roll ‘footward’ and ‘headward’. The distance of your rolling should keep the ball inside your ribcage. Try to keep your chin tucked, and your navel pulled in, as you give way into concavity as much possible at the spine. Complete 10 passes up and down
MAT Pilates and Yoga before standing -
PELVIC CURL - Remove the ball from beneath you and lie on your back. Knees are bent to 90 degrees and feet are spread pelvis width apart. Inhale for no movement, exhale and use your abdominals to round your lower back into the floor. The moment your back has rounded fully, begin lifting your spine from the floor from the lowest vertebrae up to the middle of your back. This will place you in a bridge position. When you arrive there, stay in place as you inhale. Then exhale and sequentially re-imprint your spine back onto the floor from its highest lifted vertebrae down through the tailbone. Motionlessly lying take another inhale, and then exhale and begin the cycle again. Repeat 8 times.
BRIDGE + MARCHING - on the last repetition of your Pelvic Curl exercise, stay in the bridge position. From there, hold your navel in and alternately march your legs 8 times. While doing this, endeavor to keep your navel puled in, maintain the height of your pelvis and also prevent your pelvis from rotating.
SIDE PLANK & HIP LIFTS - Now shift onto your left side, and prop your trunk up with your left forearm (right elbow bent to 90 degrees). Bend your knees and stack them directly on top of each other. From here, please press your shoulder down and away from your head in order to protect your joint. Rise into the side plank position by lifting your left hip off the ground. You should be balancing on your left forearm & the side of your left calf. Now straighten your right LE along trunk line. Repetitions consists of lifting and lowering your right leg from hip-height and 6 inches above, for 8 repeats. Wait for the other side
REVERSE PLANK - Roll into a sitting position with your hands behind you, and your elbows straight. Position your fingers facing
your hips, or if that is uncomfortable (note: relative comfort may not be known until you try the repetition of the exercise) then fist your hands with your arm rotated so your thumb is closest to your hips. Keeping your back flat and your knees bent drive your hips up toward the sky on an inhale and exhale to lower back to sitting. Repeat 6 times.
SIDE PLANK & HIP LIFTS - Now shift onto your right side, and prop your trunk up with your right forearm (right elbow bent to 90 degrees). Bend your knees and stack them directly on top of each other. From here, please press your shoulder down and away from your head in order to protect your joint. Rise into the side plank position by lifting your right hip off the ground. You should be balancing on your right forearm and the side of your right calf. Now straighten your left LE along trunk line. Repetitions consists of lifting and lowering your left leg from hip-height and 6 inches above, for 8 repeats.
DOWN DOG TO PLANK - Roll from Side Plank position, to hands-and-knees position, and then lift yourself into the triangular position we assumed earlier to walk-out the calves. In this triangular position, aka Down Dog, take one leg and lift it up toward the ceiling. Ideally, this should form a straight line extending from the toes of your raised leg down to your fingers.
From here, I want you to exhale and shift forward into a front plank while keeping your raised leg off the mat. When you approach Front Plank position, pull the knee of raised leg in toward your face and exhale. At the end of that exhale, shift the body back toward down dog and reach your raised leg back up toward the ceiling. Repeat this movement in and out of Plank and Down Dog with adjoining raise and lower of your leg 3 times, then switch side and complete 3 more on the other side. Exit by lowering the moving leg and recovering bipedal Down Dog position, followed immediately by walking your hands back toward your feet and using to standing.
10 Light Weight/Durable /Easily Grasped Objects (e.g. Roll of tape, Pad Locks, Foam Mug Holders) JUMPING - Set up two platforms 10-12 feet away. Pile all of your objects on the platform on the left. Stand next to the platform on the right, and balance on your right leg. Jump off your right leg over to the platform on the left. As you land on your left leg, grab one of the items. Then jump off your left leg and bring the object back to the platform on the right. Repeat these steps until all the objects are on the right platform.
BASKETBALL WALL SQUAT - Place your ball at mid-trunk-height on the wall and then step back toward it to wedge it in between your body and the wall. Now carefully walk your feet away from the wall approximately the distance of the length of your thighs. Shift the center of pressure toward your heels and squat down until your thighs are parallel with the ground. Then rise back to standing and repeat this 10-15 times.
BELT ASSISTED SINGLE LEG SIT-TO-STAND - slipknot together a few belts or a length of rope. Place the middle of this length over the upper corner of a door, and close it in. Place a chair a few feet from the opposite side of the door jam, angled toward the upper corner of the door where the length of rope/belt is trapped. Grab the end of the line and step back into sitting in the chair. Adjust your grip on the assistance line you are holding so that your arms reside a comfortable height. Now stand and assume a single leg balance position. From here, slowly sit down and rise using one leg and the help of the belt/ rope. Use of the rope of course being optional. Repeat 8 times, and then switch.
FURNITURE SLIDER HIP AB/ADDUCTION - For this exercise, you need to eliminate friction between your feet and the floor. You can do this by placing furniture sliders on the carpet and standing on them, or by standing in socks on a slick surface like finished wood, or linoleum. To make this lack of friction safe, we will have you tie your bike tube around your ankles, and establish hand holds either via a counter top or a few sticks. The movement is simple. Slide your feet away from each other, and then pull them back together. At all times keep the instep of your feet lifted. Said differently, err slightly on the side of a bow-legged posture always. 10-15 reps is the target, and the emphasis of the work can be shifted from the outer hips to the inner thighs, and vice versa, by changing the tension of the bike tube around the ankles (e.g. could double it up, or make it a single, slack loop), or decreasing the friction between your feet and the floor.
The last element of the program is a circuit. Exercises are selected and sequenced so that muscle emphasis is shifted on every item. This allows recently fatigued muscles to recover after each exercise, and thereby avert exhaustion at any point in the series. The exercises of the circuit can thus be cycled through multiple times, without interruption. This enables more work to be done over a short period of time. More work leads to more calories burned, and other benefits.
GALLON JUG ROWS - fill gallon milk-jug with water. Place your left knee and hand on the couch, and situate the milk jug under your right shoulder. From here reach down and row the milk jug to your ribcage 12 times, then repeat on the other side.
COUNTER TOP PUSH-UPS - find a counter-top or the spine of a Sofa and use it to perform push-ups with your feet below your chest. Execute 20-30 reps.
10-Speed Bicycle Tube BICEPS CURLS - step inside a bike tube and grab either side with your right and left hands. Stretch the sides of the band by bending and straightening your elbows fully. Repeat 15-20 reps, and choke your grip on the bike tube closer to your feet if 15-20 reps is easy.
CHAIR DIPS - find a set of chair armrests or the back of a sofa that stands at about belt height. Establish your hands on this surface and repeatedly bend and straighten your elbows, bending your knees to allow your body to lower. Use your lower body to help you through 15-30 repetitions.
DOORWAY PEC AND CALF STRETCH - place your hands at approximately waist height on either side of as open doorway. step through that doorway until you feel a stretch across your chest and in your trailing calf. Note, that your trailing foot must be aligned straight ahead, your trialing heel kept on the ground, and your trailing foot’s arch lifted. Hold for 30 seconds. Take note of the calf you stretched and return to it on the next round.
*CYCLE THROUGH THE CIRCUIT 2-4 TIMES