How can I begin exercising at home?

I responded to this question: “If I can’t even do a single push-up, how can I begin exercising at home?

I’m going to assume that you are in relatively good health and don’t have any physical limitations like injuries. Please check with a doctor before you start any exercise plan if you have any doubts about your health.

If even kneeling push-ups are too hard, start with push-ups off of a wall. Just face a wall, at arm length or slightly further. Put your hands on the wall, at about shoulder height. Lean toward the wall, slowly bending your arms, until your face is an inch or so from the wall, then push away until your arms are only slightly bent. Repeat. Do two or three sets a day. Once these seem too easy, you can try doing incline push-ups on a raised surface such as a stairway or sturdy bench.

You can also start out by building up your overall strength. Learn to do things like:

  • planks,
  • side planks,
  • body-weight lunges,
  • squats (you don’t have to do a full squat to start getting benefits), and
  • calf lifts (facing the stairway, stand with your toes on the edge of the first step, and slowly raise and lower yourself)

Once you feel a little stronger, you can add rowing-type exercises to strengthen your back. Find a pole or small tree or sturdy doorknob and wrap an old towel around it. Grasp the towel and lean back, straightening your arms, then pull yourself slowly forward. Do everything slowly to avoid injury.

Eventually you’ll be able to start doing push-ups and can think about adding chin-ups and on and on… hundreds of body-weight exercises to keep you fit and help you become stronger.

What is a great example of coincidence?

In the early 1980s, I was hitchhiking from Massachusetts to Virginia to attend a wedding. My brother dropped me off at the junction of the Mass Pike and route 495 that morning, and, about ten minutes later, a trucker picked me up. I rode with him all the way to Baltimore… a great first ride.

More than two weeks later, after visiting Virginia, Illinois, and Wisconsin, I was hitchhiking home and my ride dropped me off after sunset at the junction of 495 and the Mass Pike. Getting rides after dark is almost impossible, so I was facing sleeping out or walking 15 miles home.

While standing there by the side of the highway, thinking through my options, I was startled, and jumped straight up in the air when a truck hit the brakes so hard the tires smoked and the truck looked like it was about to jackknife. After the truck stopped a few yards from me, I ran up to the passenger side and opened the door; there was my friend from the first day of my trip. It turned out that he lived about a mile from my house and he dropped me off right at the end of my street. He was so stunned that he had given me both the first and last ride of my trip that he couldn’t stop exclaiming about it during the drive.

Nevertheless, he could not have been any more astonished than I was, and it still stands out in my mind as one of the most impressive coincidences of my life.

Can you really build strength working out at home?

Yes. There is nothing magical about going to a gym. You can do calisthenics in a tiny room (so having a dedicated workout space isn’t an issue) and there are endless free resources online (so having money isn’t an issue) with various plans that will take you from no activity to a very high level of fitness. If you need specific equipment to get the muscle development you need, you’ll learn about that very quickly as you study, and then you can decide if you need to join a gym or buy some equipment.

I suggest getting some exercise at home, and only join a gym when you hit a point where you don’t feel you’re making any progress (or if you discover that you need the motivation of going to a gym to get you to exercise). I learned a lot from a writer named Mark Lauren, from his book You Are Your Own Gym, but there are many other trainers out there.

I think that working out at home has a lot of advantages. I don’t get embarrassed by having to display my saggy old-guy body in front of fit younger folks, I can take a shower afterward & change clothes without having to pack a gym bag and toiletries & drive somewhere. My house smells better than most gyms I’ve visited. It’s basically free. I have some sweatpants & shorts that I got at a discount store. No need to worry about looking out of style if no one can see you!

If you like online communities, I had good luck years ago comparing notes with other folks working out at home on a site called Fitocracy. They try to make fitness workouts be like a game, where you earn points. I think the site is still around.

I’ve disliked gyms since I was a kid, since I was the one in gym class who was always chosen last, and I’m also cheap, so the couple of times I’ve joined a gym as an adult, I’ve soon realized; hey, I can be doing push-ups at home, why am I paying to do it here?

Here’s a photo of my shoulders & back after working out at home for about six months (photo taken in the spring of 2015). Certainly not bulked up or ripped, but not bad for a guy in his mid-50s doing a few workout sessions a week.