Physical exercise offers fantastic benefits for your body and mind. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ 2018 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans highlights some of the most notable health benefits of physical activity, ranging from improved sleep to reduced anxiety and from reduced weight gain to a lower risk of death.
Although the benefits of exercise are well documented, plenty of people don’t get the exercise they need to stay healthy. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that only about half of adults get the exercise they need. People have loads of reasons for skipping exercise, from not being able to get to the gym to not having the budget for fancy equipment to having no time to workout.
But you don’t need a gym membership, equipment, or oodles of free time to incorporate exercise into your life. There are plenty of equipment-free workouts you can do in the comfort of your home. You can do some in just 10 minutes or so.
You owe it to your body and your mind to find more ways to exercise, and there are plenty of ways to do so.
Best Exercises You Can Do at Home Without Equipment
No matter your needs or abilities, there’s probably a yoga style out there for you. If you’re looking for gentle stretches, you can try a calm, relaxed style like hatha or yin. If you’re looking for something a little more intense, try a power yoga session.
Plenty of free online yoga classes are available — for example, you can find many yoga videos on YouTube, including the popular Yoga With Adriene. Once you get familiar with the poses and sequences, you can put together your own practice without the help of a video.
As far as equipment goes, if you have a yoga mat, that’s great. But you don’t need one. I find that a carpet is often supportive and soft enough for at-home yoga, but you can lay down a towel for even more softness.
Some yoga teachers use props, such as straps and blocks, but you don’t need them. You can substitute a roll of paper towels for a yoga block if you need the extra lift during poses. An old pair of tights or leggings can stand in for a strap. And if necessary, a folded-up blanket or pillow can take the place of a bolster (a cushion that provides support during certain types of restorative poses).
Whether it’s free-form movement to your favorite pop song, a tightly choreographed hip-hop routine, or waltzing around your living room with a partner, dance does wonders for your physical and mental health. According to MedlinePlus, you can burn anywhere from 250 to 500 calories per hour dancing, depending on the style. Dance can also improve memory, sharpen your focus, and help you pay attention, according to the CDC.
And it’s as easy as creating a Spotify playlist with your favorite upbeat songs and hitting play. If you want some instruction or want to dance a particular style, you can try taking online dance classes through a program such as Steezy. Or if you have a partner at home who’s willing and able, you can try partner dances like salsa or swing. Just make sure you clear a space that’s big enough for both you and your partner to move freely.
Before I tried it, I thought barre was an easy, gentle workout. Boy, was I wrong. Barre is tough but fun. It’s an intense workout that focuses on strengthening your core muscles, improving your cardiovascular endurance, and boosting your balance. Many people believe you need equipment for barre, but you don’t.
If you’re worried about balance and want some support, a dining chair or counter can take the place of the wall-mounted barre. I’ve had success using an ironing board for support, but more often than not, I skip it and just do the moves while balancing on my own. For parts of the workout that call for small hand weights, you can swap in canned goods or just do without the weights. Trust me, by the end of the sequence, your muscles will be burning whether you use weights or not.
You can find lots of free barre workouts on YouTube. I recommend starting with a short 20-minute or so session, then building your way up from there.
High-intensity interval training (HIIT), is perfect for the person who wants to make the most of their workout in the least amount of time. During a HIIT workout, you go super-hard and fast for a short period, then take a break. For example, do as many jumping jacks as you can for 60 seconds, then take a 30-second pause before moving onto a series of squats or pushups.
A few studies looked at the benefits of HIIT compared to moderate-rate activity. One 2018 study published in the journal Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercising found that people who participated in HIIT enjoyed it more than moderate activities. A separate 2018 study published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health found that HIIT was more likely to improve heart-rate variability in previously inactive adults.
You can find HIIT workouts on YouTube or put together your own program using exercises you probably remember from elementary school gym class: jumping jacks, pushups, and squats.
Pro tip: If you want to find even more HIIT workouts, look into Aaptiv. There are over 2,500 total workouts, and it starts at less than $10 per month.
There are two types of Pilates exercises: those that use studio equipment and those you can perform pretty much anywhere on a mat or soft surface. While you probably need to visit a studio to work with Pilates apparatus (or shell out the big bucks for your own), you can easily do a mat workout at home.
Although you’re likely to find a wide variety of online Pilates workouts or Pilates YouTube channels, the classical sequence is a series of 34 movements outlined by Joseph Pilates in his book “Return to Life Through Contrology.” You can memorize the movements and perform them wherever you’d like. As with yoga, you can do the exercises on a towel if you don’t own a mat.
The plank is a deceptively simple-looking exercise that can do wonders for your core and upper-body strength. It’s also an exercise with a lot of variations based on your goals and your current physical strength.
If you’re just getting started, you can try a plank with your knees bent and on the floor rather than with your legs straight. Some people find it easier to bend at the elbows and rest their forearms flat on the floor rather than do a plank with their arms straight and hands on the floor.
To spice things up or work different areas of your core, you can try a side plank. Lie on your side with your feet stacked on top of each other. Push yourself off of the floor, using one arm to support your body. Keep your body in a straight line and your front facing out. You want your hips to be elevated, not sinking to the floor. Hold the pose for as long as you can, then switch to the opposite side.
7. Walking Upstairs
Whether it’s raining, snowing, or you just can’t leave the house, you can still fit in your steps and get in some cardiovascular exercise by walking up and down any stairs at home or in your apartment building.
You can also spice things up by doing a step aerobic workout. Step up and down from the landing to the first step, trying to see how quickly you can go. Mix things up by turning to one side or the other as you step up and down.
Another option is to work your step workout into an interval training session. Spend a minute or so stepping, then try jumping jacks for a minute. Go back to the stairs for another minute, then try some pushups. Get creative and see how many exercises you can fit into your workout.
8. Couch Potato Workout
A couch potato workout is one you can do from the comfort of your couch. You squeeze it in during the commercial breaks of your favorite TV show or when you’d otherwise be vegging out.
One example of couch potato exercises is sitting-to-standing. During this exercise, you repeatedly stand up from the couch, then sit back down again. It helps build your butt and thigh muscles and can get your heart rate up, depending on how quickly you stand and sit.
You can also do tricep dips. If you have one, push the coffee table out of the way. Scooch forward on the couch so your butt is barely in contact with the edge. Put your hands on the edge of the couch on either side of your body, then push yourself up from the edge. Lower your body down toward the floor, then lift again using your arms. Repeat.
9. Squats & Lunges
If planks are the gold-standard exercise for developing core strength, then squats and lunges are the gold standards for developing lower-body strength. Like planks, squats and lunges are more challenging than they look. Just try to do 10 squats in a row. You’ll likely be huffing and puffing by the end, even if you’re in good shape to start.
To do a squat, stand up straight with your feet spaced about shoulder-width apart. Look straight ahead. Start to lower your body as if you’re about to sit in a chair. Keep lowering yourself until your thighs are parallel or nearly parallel with the floor. Your upper body should lean slightly forward as your knees bend. Slowly straighten back into a standing pose. Repeat for one minute or 10 reps.
To do a lunge, stand with your feet a few inches apart, staring straight ahead. Step forward with one leg, slowly lowering your hips toward the ground as you bend both knees. Keep the knee on the forward leg in line with the ankle rather than jutting it out. Your arms can be down at your sides or you can raise them over your head as you step forward. Hold the lunge for a beat, then step back to standing. Repeat for a minute, alternating legs.
You can squeeze a few squats and lunges into your day by doing them while you watch TV or while cooking your meals. If you’re working from home, try getting up between meetings or projects to knock out a few lunges or squats.
10. Kickboxing-Style Workouts
People of a certain age probably remember a workout called Tae Bo. Tae Bo was prominent in the 1990s, thanks to a series of home workout videos. The method combined movements from boxing and taekwondo, and it was challenging and fun. But it also improved heart strength, balance, and flexibility. While Tae Bo isn’t the household name it once was, derivatives of the workout, particularly cardio kickboxing, remain popular today.
If you’re looking for a workout that’s fast-paced and can get your heart pumping, try kickboxing at home. There are lots of options out there, including the official Tae Bo YouTube channel. Although some programs call for a punching bag and mat, you can easily do most without any special gear.
If it’s challenging for you to get up the motivation to go to the gym or if leaving your house isn’t an option, you don’t have to skip exercise. Getting in a workout or two at home is likely to make you feel better, both physically and mentally.
Along with letting you workout from the comfort of your living room, another great thing about equipment-free exercises is that there’s nothing to lose. If you find that kickboxing, Pilates, or yoga just aren’t for you, you can easily move on to something else without any financial commitment.
What are your favorite exercises to do at home?