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January 2002 Issue
Working Out on the Cheap
by Michael Fick
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Your next requirement is some knowledge. Without it, you can omit important exercises or even do harm. The basic home workout principles at may help motivate you towards simple workouts. Karen Voight's fitness site at will teach you a great deal about home (and office and travel) exercising. She has impressive credentials and a very thorough, user-friendly website. I guarantee you will benefit from your first five minutes at her site, especially from its answers to hundreds of searchable questions.

Your next question may best be answered at It critiques many exercise books and videos. Many strength-training books not oriented towards competitive body building include dozens of exercises requiring no equipment and many more requiring less than $50 in dumbbells or elastic exercise bands. [ is one of many sources for elastic sports bands Google returned from the keywords, "elastic bands".] "Weight Training for Dummies" provides excellent coverage of a very wide range of principles, tips, and techniques, and "Getting in Shape" is a very good weight training and stretching book from the stretching guru, Anderson (Shelter Press). Any fitness book that changes your lifestyle is worth thousands of times its price.

Don't get caught up in the technical details and debates you'll find in some brand-name exercise equipment websites. For your objectives, the physiological differences between different forms of resistance training are not that important. You just want to get off the couch and start lifting something. The best program for you is any program you will pursue consistently.

Your objectives are improved strength, endurance, and/or tone in most of your muscles. You should include at the very least your heart, abs, butt, chest, and shoulders plus your upper and lower legs, back, and arms. Aerobic exercise takes care of the heart; exertion against resistance (e.g., gravity, machines, elastic bands, weights, springs) takes care of the rest.

The basic concepts of home strength workouts are simple:

  1. Lay down the throw rug or mat.
  2. Get on it.
  3. Slowly lift something against the force of gravity. Slowly put it down. The cycle should take 8-9 seconds. Repeat. If you can't do eight, lift less weight. If you can do fifteen, lift something heavier during the next session.
  4. Repeat step #3 with a different muscle, until you run out of muscles. Exercise each muscle two or three days a week, separated by a couple of days. That means two or three head-to-toe sessions or four to six half-body sessions a week, always giving any specific muscle a couple of days between workouts.
Add at least 12 minutes of continuous aerobic exercise, preferably as a warm-up to your workout. Run in place, dance like mad to some great music, jump rope, walk up and down the stairs or step on and off a low stool with alternating feet ... anything that elevates your heart and breathing noticeably and continuously. Huffing and puffing breathlessly is overkill and counterproductive in a general fitness program.

Although some medical or exercise books or tapes may help motivate you to exercise, no book, gadget, or video will directly increase your physical condition. Only your own physical effort will achieve that. The next steps are yours.

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