As many of us continue to spend more time at home, you might be finding it difficult to get into any sort of fitness routine. If you were going to group fitness classes, or exercising at the gym pre-pandemic, you might be wondering how you can re-introduce exercise into your lifestyle. Or maybe you’re wanting to get fit and healthy for the new year, but are unsure where to start?

Truth is, you don’t need an expensive gym membership as you can do lots of different exercises at home to help you get in shape. And we’ve got some ideas to get you started.

How can I start to introduce exercise into my routine?

Spending extra time at home means it’s more important than ever to keep active. It’s all too easy to slip into a routine of working on our laptops all day, and then slumping into our sofa to binge watch the latest boxset (sleep, repeat). This isn’t good for us long term, plus we’re more likely to snack at home which isn’t good news for our waistlines. If you’re looking for ways to introduce some exercise into your routine, here are some handy motivation tips to help you get started:

  • Set realistic goals: It’s important to set yourself realistic, measurable goals before you embark on your new exercise regime (try using SMART goals for exercise). Aiming to lose 2 stone in a month isn’t realistic. Neither is setting your alarm for a 5am run if you’re not a morning person. Setting achievable goals that challenge you, but aren’t impossible is the way to stay motivated. Setting unrealistic goals will only knock your confidence, so be reasonable. Afterall, you don’t want to fall at the first hurdle.
  • Plan in your exercise: If you schedule in your workout session, you’ll be more likely to stick to it. Plan it in like you would do with a normal fitness class, a lunch date or a team meeting. Physically putting your exercise into your diary—or your phone—will make it seem more “official”, and you’ll feel more motivated to do it. Why not plan a session with a friend via a video-call so you can workout together? This way you can spur each other on.
  • Record your progress: Keeping track of how you’re getting on, whether than be in a notebook or a fitness tracker, is vital when working towards a goal. If you want to try and eat a healthier diet, then keep a food diary. Or if your goal is to run 10k without stopping, then log your runs in a training app. If you’re keen on losing weight or building muscle, take regular photos so you can see your progress. Whatever your goal, keeping a record is a great way to see how far you’ve come.
  • Put some tunes on: Listening to your favourite music while exercising not only relieves boredom, it can help improve the quality of your workout too. A catchy tune can motivate you to exercise for longer or work harder by enhancing your mood and increasing your stamina. Music acts as a good distraction, making you less aware that you’re feeling tired, which will allow you to get more out of your workouts.
  • Try something new: Doing the same activity every day is a surefire way to lose motivation. You’re more likely to get bored doing the same thing all the time, so changing up your routine is a good way to keep you looking forward to your sessions. Plus it helps to work all the different muscle groups for a full-body workout. The same goes for food too. If you’re planning on eating more healthily, try out new recipes to create tasty and nutritious meals that you’ll enjoy eating.
  • Reward yourself: A treat now and again is a great way to motivate yourself to reach your goals. You can reward yourself for hitting your goals with some new workout clothes which will give you added confidence during your sessions. Or if you plan on cutting back after an overindulgent Christmas, then plan in a treat or two as something to look forward to. This could be a piece of chocolate cake, a takeaway or a meal out with your partner. Restricting yourself to salads all day soon becomes boring, and you’ll be more likely to fall off the waggon. Life is all about balance, so don’t be too hard on yourself.

What type of exercise can I do at home?
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So now you’re all pumped up and raring to go, you might be wondering what sort of exercises to do at home. You don’t need to workout every day to get fit. In fact, it would be counterproductive to exercise every day as you're more likely to injure yourself. You need to factor “rest days” into your weekly exercise schedule so your body has time to recover from exertion.

How often you should workout depends on how active you currently are, the time you have available and what your goals are. Someone who is already pretty active will have a very different schedule to someone who’s just starting out. Overall, if you’re fairly new to fitness you should start off with around two workouts per week (which can gradually be increased). Or someone who’s aiming to improve or maintain their fitness could do four or five sessions a week.

If you’re planning on working out five days a week and are working on both strength and cardio, try three days of strength training and two days of cardio (plus your two days rest). However, it’s important to factor in your fitness goals when planning your workout. If you want to add muscle, cut a cardio day. If you want to improve endurance, skip a strength day. Or alternate each week. Here are some of the types of exercises you can do at home:

Strength training at home

Also known as resistance training, this involves using your own body weight, or equipment like dumbbells or resistance bands to build muscle mass, strength and endurance. Examples of strength exercises include:

  • Lifting weights or kettlebells
  • Resistance band exercises
  • Climbing stairs
  • Exercise bike
  • Push-ups, sit-ups and squats
  • Yoga

Start with a 30 minute session (including a short warm up and cool down) combining any of the above, and you can always build up from there. And try to alternate muscle groups each session, or on a weekly basis.

Cardio workout

Cardiovascular exercise gets your blood pumping and your heart rate up. And if you’re sweating, that’s a good thing! Cardio can take many different forms, and doing regular cardio activity will keep you in shape and help you maintain a healthy weight. Here are some cardio exercises:

  • Running (on a treadmill or jogging on the spot)
  • Skipping
  • Burpees, jumping jacks and jump squats
  • Running up and down stairs
  • Boxercise
  • Dancing

Start with 30 minutes of cardio per session, and use online videos so you can follow classes and structured dance sessions.

You can also use HIIT (high-intensity interval training) which is great for those who are short on time, as a typical HIIT session would last a maximum of 20 minutes (not including your warm up). HIIT leads to greater EPOC (excess post-exercise oxygen consumption) when compared to continuous exercise, meaning your body will continue to burn calories even after you’ve finished exercising. If you have an exercise bike or spinning bike at home, a HIIT session could look something like this:

  • Warm up: 2 minutes steady cycle (low resistance)
  • Cycle very hard for 60 seconds (high resistance)
  • Recover for 90 seconds (low speed and resistance)
  • Repeat this interval 5 times in total
  • Cool down: 3 minutes steady cycle (low resistance)

Repeat three times per week with at least one rest day to recover in between.

Can I exercise outside too?
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If you can, exercising outside is great for your health in so many ways. Unlike when we exercise indoors, being out in the fresh air exposes us to vitamin D, which is essential for maintaining strong, healthy bones, and it plays an important part in muscle health and immune function too. Exercising outside can also help combat stress and anxiety, and it can give you a tougher workout. Cycling or running through the woods is more demanding than using a treadmill or exercise bike, as you have wind, uneven surfaces and possible steep hills to contend with. All of which contribute to a more challenging workout and will improve your fitness levels. Here are some outdoor fitness activities to get your blood pumping:

  • Walking
  • Running or jogging
  • Cycling
  • Outdoor gyms
  • Hiking

If you struggle to fit regular exercise sessions into a weekly schedule, just walking more will have a positive impact on your health. Walking a short journey rather than driving or taking the bus will improve your mood, help you lose weight, strengthen muscles and improve circulation. Even just 30 minutes of brisk walking a day could burn around 150 calories. This, along with a balanced diet can help you lose weight.

Want to get more serious about running? Choose a safe program that fits your goals, fitness level, and schedule with the help of our guide: How to Choose a Training Schedule?

How can I use marginal gains to improve my fitness?
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Marginal gains is all about the cumulative effects of making slight improvements—sometimes the smallest of changes—to positively impact your lifestyle, performance or training goal.

Marginal gains are very personalised to you, so it will be different for each person. A regular gym-goer could have a goal of being able to lift 100kg. If they're currently lifting 70kg, then it would be sensible to increase the weight by 5kg each week until they reach their goal. Increasing the weight steadily, in small amounts, also helps avoid injury. If you’re fairly new to exercise, you could look at marginal gains in terms of an improved lifestyle. This could be all the small decisions you make which contribute to a healthier lifestyle. For example, doing a 30-minute workout session at home vs. having a lie-in. Or getting eight hours of sleep vs. watching films until 3am. These small changes can make a big difference to your lifestyle. Or if you’ve been doing your at-home workouts for a week but you haven’t lost any weight, do you quit or do you continue with your new routine? One week later you may have lost a pound. And if you keep losing weight at the same rate, that will be almost a stone lost in three months.

Taking the marginal gains mentality and applying it to your workouts can have a real positive effect. From keeping you motivated and injury free, to helping you go further to reach your goals. It enables you to see continuous improvements in your workouts and ensures you keep making progress week after week.

How can I make healthier food choices?

To have a healthier lifestyle, you can’t rely on exercise alone. A balanced diet is extremely important too. Spending more time at home means we’re likely to graze and snack more throughout the day, increasing our chances of gaining weight. Making healthier food choices means eating a wide variety of foods in the right proportions. This includes:

  • Eating at least five portions of fruit and vegetables a day
  • Including plenty of high fibre starchy foods like bread, potatoes, rice and pasta
  • Low-fat dairy like milk, cheese and yoghurt (or dairy alternatives)
  • Eating beans, pulses, eggs, fish, meat and other protein
  • Drinking plenty of fluids, particularly water (aim for eight glasses a day)

You should also consume food and drinks that are high in fat, salt and sugar less often, and in small amounts. Most of us in the UK have too many of these foods and consume too many calories, and we don’t tend to eat enough fruit, vegetables, oily fish or fibre. Try to eat three balanced meals a day and you’ll be less likely to snack in between meals.

As well as maintaining a healthy weight, a balanced diet also helps the following:

  • Reduced cancer risk
  • Improves mental health
  • Diabetes management
  • Heart health and stroke prevention
  • Strong bones and teeth
  • Prevents infections
  • Improved gut health
  • Better skin and hair

So, rather than reaching for that mid-morning chocolate bar, go for an apple instead. And swap a greasy fry-up for some filling porridge. It’s never too late to make healthy changes to your diet to help prevent disease, manage your weight and have an overall better lifestyle. But of course, it’s also nice to have a treat every now and then for reaching your health and fitness goals.