I made a new-years resolution this year: quit going to the gym.

Instead, I brought the gym into my apartment and re-vamped my workout so that I can take it anywhere. I’ll outline a workout strategy to get a kickass workout in 15 minutes with or without gear.

Basically: Use your whole body, work where you sleep, and do it hard.

The strategy

If you’re too busy or lazy (in my case both) do dedicate more than 15 minutes to a workout, then it had better be legit. This is what works for me.

Use your whole body. Exercies that engage your whole body improve coordination, build functional strength, and get your workout done faster. Many whole-body exercises can be done anywhere with no equipment – pushups, pullups, situps, and sprints to name a few. (more on exercises below)

Do it hard. The Tabata protocol (named after a Japanese scientist) says:

  • Work like crazy for 20 sec.
  • Take a 10 sec. break.
  • Do that 8 times.

One cycle takes 4 min. I was skeptical at first, but I’ve never been so sore from a 4 min. workout! Tabata is also nicely timed to do 3 or 4 workouts in 15 min., and most exercises work great with Tabata timing. The trick is to really push during those 20 sec. bursts!

I use an iPhone app to keep time. There are also websites and timers. Having something to keep time is important – if you do it yourself you’ll either mess up or cheat!

Do it where you sleep. I find it easiest to do a workout first-thing when I wake up. It keeps me from making excuses later in the day, and I’m always pretty alert after my first 20 pushups! Working out in my room also saves me the time of putting on shorts and treking to a gym. (…don’t think about me working out naked.)

The gear

I bought some gear when I decided work out exclusively in my apartment, and I’ve got a few tricks for improvising on the road. It’s surprising how little you need, and the whole thing cost me less than 1 months gym membership!

Pullup bar. The kind that hangs in a door-frame. It’s got 3 grips for 5 kinds of exercise. I use it all the time – even when I’m not “working out” I still bust out a couple of pullups whenever I pass the bar!

Kettle bells. These are old-school Russian body-building weights that are starting to make a comeback into the mainstream. They are big iron balls with a handle on top (they look a bit like tea kettles). They are good for several whole-body exercises (below) that will wear you the hell out! I started out with 30 and 45 pound bells and may buy a 60 pound-er soon.

That’s it for “real” equipment… but, what about travel?

Luggage/furniture. Suitcases, laptop bags, chairs, and ottomans make great workout equipment in a hotel room. I can be found hoisting a well-packed rollerboard, ThinkPad, or hotel ottoman at 7am in hotels across the world!

The exercises

I do a variety of exercises with no real rhyme or reason. (If someone has a scientific way to choose exercises, let me know… bonus if it rhymes!)

Many of these exercises are also staples of CrossFit or P90X… my approach is just a lot less structured. I try to keep lots of variety and make sure every muscle group gets worked at least once per week.

Exercises you know are a big part of my workout. They’re famous because they’re great!

  • Running (focus on sprints)
  • Biking (get good bike shoes)
  • Pushups (try different hand-positions)
  • Rows (from a desk, chair or stool)
  • Pullups (again, hand positions)
  • Crunches (bicycle crunches kill)
  • Lunges/squats (hoist that luggage!)

Exercises you may not know but that I do all the time include:

Exercises that I don’t know… I’d like to know them. Please share your favorites!

3 thoughts on “Homemade muscles: quitting my gym for a better workout

  1. I especially recommend the French press: who can argue with building up your triceps and making delicious coffee at the same time?

  2. Dunno, hard to imagine the lazy part if you have the motivation to do lunges with luggage after an overseas flight ;-)

    I resumed martial arts gym due to laziness; defeat is quite literal so I am forced to train hard to not get beat down. Perhaps baiting a grizzly bear (or tiger, if in Asia) into chasing you would have the same effect, but a number of things are wrong with this idea :-)

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