Getting Started with a Workout at Home

In response to Monday’s blog post about realistic expectations, I received an email asking about exercise for folks who feel very limited in physical ability and who would prefer to workout at home. These are common concerns among people with a lot of weight to lose, those of us who need to drop 100 lbs or more. Number One Rule:

Do not compare yourself to anyone else. What someone else can do has NO effect on what you can do.

OK, got that? Alright then Rule #2.

Do something every day, no matter what it is. Building the habit is what’s important.

The first exercise I started doing was to use a recumbent stepper called a NuStep. There’s one in the gym of my building. It’s primarily for older people. I could go for about a minute and at first, that minute had me gasping and coughing! What if somebody had told me, hey! Burn 500 calories in 30 minutes! Yeah, fine. I can do one minute. ONE. Yes, it was a little distressing to know that one minute of exercise on an old person’s exerciser kicked my butt but one minute was where I was getting started so one minute was what I would do and I was not going to be upset about that. I’d just keep doing it. Every day. Until I could do more minutes.

I have written in the past about a woman who took up exercise at 417 lbs. She could walk to her mailbox and back. It took her about 30 seconds and that was truly as much as she could do. Eventually, she walked to her neighbor’s mailbox. And then the next one and the next one. Her doctor had told her to walk TWO MILES. She did not let it upset her that she was not going to be able to do that for awhile. I think it was ridiculous and even cruel for a medical professional to tell a 417 lb woman to walk two miles. Thank goodness, she did what was best for herself!

I’ve had trainers make snotty remarks to me because I will tell people NOT to join a gym if it’s unlikely they’ll go or they’ll feel uncomfortable. And why go if your starting point is just minutes—or even seconds—of activity in a day? I don’t care what anybody thinks! If it works for you, IT WORKS!

Here are some basic ideas to get started at home. First, I HIGHLY recommend getting a GymBoss timer. You can use it to work in intervals of time, like 30 seconds of work, then one minute of rest, and repeat. Use whatever time intervals you want! Twenty seconds working and two minutes rest? Sure! With intervals, you manage your fatigue so you can keep going. It’s much easier if you’re not trying to watch a clock. I will use a wrist sweatband to attach the GymBoss to my wrist, facing in against my skin. That way I can feel it vibrate while listening to music.

GymBoss timer

Many people can get started working out at home with a simple Stepper. You don’t need an elaborate treadmill. The Stepper is inexpensive and easy to store. This model will support up to 350 lbs. Place it wherever you are comfortable including adjacent to something sturdy to hold on to like a countertop or stair banister. As you improve, there are infinite ways to mix things up. Add another riser. Step side to side. Hold light handweights. Step with one leg. Getting really good? Start jumping up on it. You’ll never really outgrow it. You can use it to take an “activity break” anytime or integrate it as “active rest” through other types of workout routines.


Interested in resistance exercise? A suspension trainer makes it possible to work out safely at home and with infinite variability to your ability level! I highly recommend the Jungle Gym XT from Lifeline USA. There are other suspension trainers on the market but this one is less expensive and perfectly designed! This is the product itself:

Jungle Gym XT

The straps can be hung separately or connected together and suspended over any cross bar. I hang mine from a tension bar I’ve placed in a hallway:


You can buy pull up tension bars like this at Walmart or Target in the sporting goods department or use any appropriate weight-bearing crossbar:


What makes the JungleGym suspension trainer so great is that you can work at ANY ability level from a standing position which is important if you are carrying weight in your abdominal area. Pull ups and push ups are perfect examples. A lot of us can’t get down on the floor to do a push up, not even from our knees, and I don’t know about you but I might never be able to do a real pull up. When you try to do push ups by leaning off a wall or countertop, you are rotating your shoulders out of the position for correct form. When using the suspension trainer, you lean forward to the degree that you are able and can target the exact back and shoulder muscles with correct form. To start, you’d work from a nearly vertical standing position. As you improve, you step forward or back slightly, even just one inch at a time, to change the resistance.

These illustrations show how you hold the suspension trainer from a standing position to do a push up or a pull up. The more vertical your standing position, the less resistance. Increase the resistance as you increase your angle to the straps.



You know how everybody thinks doing the Plank is so great? What if you can’t get down on the floor or hold up your body? You can Plank with the suspension trainer! By holding your arms above your head and leaning forward, you can effectively activate your core muscles from a standing position.

A suspension trainer is an incredible investment. The number of exercises you can do with it is infinite. I taught myself to do squats with it by holding it for assistance until I could do a squat without help. Google “suspension trainer exercises” and you’ll find LOADS of videos The JungleGym XT will come with a great guide and DVD. I also highly recommend the book, You Are Your Own Gym: The Bible of Bodyweight Exercises which I use myself.

Post your questions and I’ll do my best to answer. I am certified through the National Academy of Sports Medicine, NASM.

1 comment

    • JoAnn on March 4, 2014 at 12:39 pm

    Rule #1 is critical because if you look at what other people can do you likely will never start. I will never be a runner. Even now my knees, my back and one of my feet will not take the pounding. I finally had to accept, that just because my 30 year old co-workers can, it’s okay if I don’t. (It does make me laugh that they say I inspired them to do it after my epic fail at a C25K.)

    One of the reasons I like my gym and am willing to pay the higher cost is that workouts are by appointment. I’m not competing for time or equipment and I’m not forced to compare myself to others. No mirrors either, which is swell.

    I love the story you shared because that’s me. Three years ago I’m pretty sure I couldn’t have gotten on the floor. I KNOW I couldn’t have gotten up once down there. Now I can hold a plank for 2 1/2 minutes and I’m working on push-ups. We’ll see if I crack the 40 mark tonight. A couple months ago I had trouble with 10. Patience and commitment = progress.

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