When it comes to working out, we do our best with the time and resources we have. But between careers, maintaining a social life, household chores and everyday life, sometimes working out falls to the wayside, no matter how hard we try or where we are in our workout routines.
Whether you’re someone who has been working out every day for years, exercise a couple of times a month or are just starting to get into your fitness groove, working out at home can often be just as effective as a traditional workout class. While Caitlin Peterson, an instructor at The Barre Code, believes there is something to be said about having a set class time to make you accountable for getting a workout in, you can complement your gym or class time with at home workouts. For example, if you’re running outside or doing cardio classes, try adding classes with free weights—or even do some at home.
Even if you don’t have free weights or other commonly used exercise props, it’s likely you have some alternative props in your own home. We talked to ClassPass instructors, who suggested some items you probably have at home that you can use for working out when you can’t make it to class.
A towel is a favorite prop of Courtney Enright, director of Yoga and a Yoga Instructor at Studio Three. It’s great for core activation and can even be used for stretching both at home and in the studio.
Take two towels—any kind or size will work (or use a blanket if you don’t have any towels you’re willing to use)—and place one under each foot. Come into a plank position, then draw your knees to your chest. For a more challenging move, Enright suggests moving into a pike position.
A textbook or shoe box
If you’re practicing yoga at home, find two items that are the same height, such as shoe boxes or textbooks. “These items are good if you feel the floor is a little bit too far away and you’re hurting your posture or your breathing,” Enright says. “Bring it under the palm that’s supposed to meet the ground.”
For a strength workout, you can squeeze a book in between your inner thighs if you’re doing push-ups or planks to activate your muscles. If you’re doing a chair pose or a wall sit, squeeze the book between your hands to help activate your core and arm muscles.
A heavy backpack
Speaking of textbooks, Katie Lyons, Pilates instructor at Lagree Fitness Studio and PLATEFIT, suggests filling a backpack with heavy books to create a weight. You can hold the bag in your hand and do single arms rows. Alternate which hand you hold the bag in, so each side gets an equal rowing workout.
For a bicep workout, you can try using a lighter bag, like a woman’s purse, for single arm bicep curls. If you don’t think your purse is heavy enough, you might be surprised. Lyons says hers weighs at least 10 pounds!
An elevated surface (like a chair, bench or the couch)
Lounging on the couch is fun and relaxing, but lunging on the couch counts as a quick workout. Enright says there are multiple at-home exercises you can do using the couch or any other sturdy, elevated surface in your home. For starters, you can do split squat lunges by bringing one foot forward and one behind you on the elevated surface and squatting down. Repeat this move a few times, alternating between sides.
You can also use the couch or an elevated surface for pushups. If you’re comfortable doing pushups on the ground, that’s great! But you can turn to the couch to make this exercise a bit more challenging or easier. If you’re still getting the hang of pushups, you can place your hands on the couch, with your feet on the ground. If you’re looking to make pushups more challenging, put your feet on the elevated surface and your hands on the floor.
Lyons recommends using the edge of the couch for tricep dips. To make this move more challenging, try doing tricep dips with fully extended, straight legs, instead of keeping them at 90 degrees.
A pillow is great for an ab workout like a jack knife. “Come into a full-body stretch so your arms and legs are extended and hold the pillow in your hands overhead. Transfer the pillow between your limbs by bringing your hands to meet your feet in the middle, transfer the pillow to your legs, lower them, and then bring the pillow back up to your arms and repeat,” says Enright. Try to keep your arms and legs as straight as possible for an added challenge!
A bag of flour
If you have a bag of flour in your kitchen, you can use it in place of a kettlebell, says Lyons. Try doing squat reps while holding the bag of flour into your chest. Other moves you can do with the flour include overhead presses and the “serving the platter” motion.
No props—just your body
“Truthfully, a person can get an awesome workout in without any weights or props,” says Peterson. If you’re looking to get in a quick workout at home, you can do a short HIIT workout with your own body weight. Work up a sweat with jumping jacks, burpees, lunges, skaters or anything to get your heart rate up.” Try three or four rounds of these or similar moves for 60 seconds with a 10-second break in between rounds.