30-Minute Bodyweight Workout
Working out from home is never easy. You’re out of your usual fitness schedule, you may have children (and pets) around and you rarely have access to exactly the equipment you need. You may even feel slightly embarrassed in front of your family or housemates! In this case, retreat to the bedroom - a small space between bed and wardrobe will do.
The key to working out indoors is to focus on exercises that you’ll get the most benefit from in relation to whatever it is you’re training for. Your marathon or another race may have been pushed back to the autumn but you can still stay in shape.
For most people, any workout has two aims: to help maintain your hard gym work and possibly burn calories until you can get back to your usual training. The best solution to both of those things is to do compound exercises - those that work multiple muscles and joints as part of the series of movements. Not only do these sorts of exercises mean you’re efficiently hitting as many muscles as possible, but they generally utilise larger muscles like those in the legs. Bigger muscles mean more work, and that means more calories. You’ll get much more benefits than fifteen minutes of star jumps next to the bed.
Here’s our guide to the best exercises you can do when confined indoors. All with minimal kit, utilising limited space and definitely no jumping movements that will frighten the dog or cat and result in thumping from the ceiling.
Okay, no awards for creativity here, but where fitness is concerned there’s a reason certain exercises dominate workouts: because they’re damn good at making you fit. Press-ups are the ultimate bodyweight compound exercise for the upper body. They work the chest, the shoulders, the triceps and abdominal muscles all in one simple movement.
The other good thing about press-ups is that they’re easily modified based on your fitness level. Too hard? Then do them on your knees or with your feet on the floor and your arms on the bed. Too easy? Spin around and put your legs on the bed and arms on the floor. You can also modify the exercise and target different muscle groups by moving around your hand positions. Placing your hand close together below your chest will work some of the chest muscles that a regular press-up won’t and it’ll target the triceps much more. If that's too tough, then try moving your hands further apart.
How to do them
The key to press-ups is the core. Get your plank positioning right first with a perfectly straight back - no dipping of the waist or pushing your bum in the air. If you can’t hold that position then spend some time building your core through plank training.
The second important thing is hand positioning. A lot of people do press-ups with their hands too far out and their elbows pointing outwards from the body (think a T shape if viewed from above). If you know what you’re doing, there are reasons to perform it this way, but most people do it because that’s the only way they know how. For the most effective press-up, keep your elbows as close to the body as possible. It’s better for the shoulders and also means you’re targeting the triceps efficiently.
To make sure that you’re doing the whole exercise properly and not skimping on the full rep, let your chest fall steadily to the floor and release your hands.
Squats and pistol squats
For most people, squats are more than enough to work the majority of the lower body. The key is getting the movement and positioning correct though. If you do it wrong you’re either going to be wasting the exercise by not focussing on the correct muscles or even worse, likely to cause yourself some sort of injury.
If squats are too easy then there’s a massive number of ways to toughen them up so you’re getting the best from your workout. Moving eccentrically down slowly will give you a much tougher workout - start by counting for two seconds from top to bottom and one second up then increasing the downward time by a second every time until you find your limit.
The other option to up your workout is to perform a squat with just one leg. These are known as pistol squats and are the closest you’ll get with bodyweight to training to actually lifting weights. For many, it’s not the weight that’s the issue but the balancing on the one leg. Find something in your room that is secure like a doorframe and hold onto it as you squat, leaning back into the movement to maintain a good squat form. The other option is to sit on a chair with every pistol squat - it may sound easy, until you try it.
How to do them
Squats, once you’ve learned how to do them, are second nature and you’ll know instantly if you’re doing them correctly. The problem is a lot of newcomers to the movement tend to get it very wrong - and it’s very easy to make mistakes with the exercise.
There are a few key things to know when doing squats: Keep your heels firmly on the floor. If they rise during the exercise and your weight moves to your forefoot, you’re doing it wrong. Secondly, you need to keep a straight back that remains as vertical as possible - if you bend over when doing a squat, it’s not really a squat. If that’s the case then you should focus on some mobility exercises.
The positioning of the feet is also important, but this is the one thing that can be modified to target different areas. If you don’t know how to do that, stick with your legs hip-width apart (or slightly more if that’s not comfortable).
For pistol squats the need to bend forward will be even greater due to balancing. By holding onto something you can get lower yourself whilst maintaining a beautifully neutral spine.
There’s a reason that CrossFit love their thrusters and it’s not because they sound cool (it probably is partly to do with that). It’s because they’re a ridiculously efficient way to train a big chunk of the body - especially the legs, shoulders and core. They also use weights, so an increase in how much you’re using will help to grow a lot of muscles.
The format is actually very simple. Half of the exercise is a squat and half is an overhead press. By combining the two into one fluid motion you gain a few extra benefits. Firstly, the extra weight added to the squat means you’re pushing your legs harder than with a normal squat and secondly the momentum from your legs actually makes the press a bit easier. More movements, more calories burned and more of that training the whole body to work as one perfectly honed symmetrical machine.
How to do them
You’ll need some sort of weight to do thrusters, so if you’re in a hotel room fill your bag or case with a few things and use that. You can also hold items in both hands, as long as they’re the same weight.
Holding the weight in front with your arms below it, get into a squat position and move to a standing positon. As you move upwards you use the momentum of the push to press the weight over the head. Lower the weight back down into the chest area before dropping down into a squat again.
A plank is one of the fundamental exercises you should learn if you’re getting into fitness. It’s by far one of the best core exercises but also forms the basis of many other exercises. If your core is weak, then most exercises, even things like running or jumping are going to be a lot harder to do.
The other nice thing about a plank is that that you can combine it with other movements to get a more complex workout that targets other body parts. One of the best of these is the plank crossover - not only do you get even better core benefits than the plank alone, but it’ll hit your abs and leg muscles.
How to do it
From your plank position, lift one foot off the ground and move the knee in so that it gets close to touching the opposite elbow. Move it back and do the other leg. Simple. Too easy? Then hold the knee in position for 2-5 seconds each time.
Combining for a workout
One of the most popular formats of time-poor workouts is a technique called an AMRAP. This means as many rounds as possible. Not only does it turn a series of exercises into a simple workout, but it also means you can monitor your fitness level over time by doing the same format of movements.
For the above exercises do the following as many times as possible in a given time period (30 minutes should probably be your aim). The focus here is not to destroy yourself straight away but utilise breaks and pacing to do as many as possible in the given time. Break it up with a two minute break in between sets if needed, lowering the rest time as you develop.
1 round is:
- 20 Squats (or 10 pistol squats each leg)
- 15 Press-ups
- 15 Thrusters
- 20 Plank Crossovers
Note down the number of rounds you complete in the allocated time and use that as a benchmark for the next time you carry out the workout.
Stick to this program and you are sure to see the benefits once you race again.