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A Beginner’s Guide to Working Out at Home

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I consider myself an athlete, but I don’t engage in any particularly impressive physical feats. I am not “cut” or “swole.” My superpower is consistency. Barring the rare knee surgery or birthing the occasional child, I have worked out daily for more than 20 years. Physical activity is also how I avoid injuring myself while picking up my kids, and how I combat anxiety.

As the pandemic has worn on, it’s become more vital to find a way to move your body every day, especially if you’ve discovered that the sedentary days are starting to wreak havoc on your neck or lower back. For suggestions, I enlisted the help of Cassey Ho, the animating spirit behind the wildly popular Blogilates fitness platform, as well as Ben Musholt, physical therapist, parkour coach, and the author of The Mad Skills Encyclopedia. (Disclosure: Ben is a friend, and I used to work out in his garage.)

And an FYI: This is not a guide to making “gains” or meeting your weight loss goals. It’s just a bit of advice to help you get (or stay) active.

Updated January 2020: We added new information, new apps, and new equipment reviews.

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Set Up Your Space

Photograph: Suga

Most sports manufacturers won’t tell you this, but you don’t need anything—no, not even a pair of fancy leggings or shoes—to start working out. Just do a couple of push-ups in your pajamas every time you pee, and congratulations! You’re on your way.

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Still, a basic kit may help you establish a routine. Fitness expert Cassey Ho recommends starting with a yoga mat. “Obviously, a lot of us don’t have space for our own home gym,” she says, but a mat can help you define a workout space within the chaos of your living room floor.

A yoga mat will cushion your joints and keep your feet and hands secure. Parkour enthusiast Ben Musholt also notes that for apartment dwellers, it will dampen the sound of your footfalls for your downstairs neighbors. 

Ho uses her own Popflex mats; I have a basic Gaiam mat, but I also recommend the dense, recycled Suga mat, though it’s pricier.

Many free online workout tutorials will also feature workouts that use weights, like small dumb bells or a kettle bell. Musholt likes a versatile piece of equipment called a Lebert equalizer, which can be used as an overhead weight, a step stool, dip bars, and so forth. My colleague Matt Jancer also builds muscle using a weighted vest.

These are nice to have, but body weight exercises will suffice for most people. You probably also have a lot of alternative weights in your house. I have danced around in my living room swinging cans of beans, jugs filled with water, and a backpack filled with books. A 3-year-old clinging to your ankle who needs to be repeatedly picked up and cuddled also works.

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