Exercise at Home: A Beginner’s Guide from Physical Therapists
Learn how to start an at-home exercise routine, and the best exercises to help prevent and manage joint pain, according to physical therapists.
The message that exercise is good for our health is not novel. It’s something we’re all aware of, but — as you may very well know — implementing an exercise routine is much easier said than done. Maybe you struggle to find the time for workouts, or perhaps joint pain and lack of mobility interfere with your best intentions.
“Getting started on a workout routine can be pretty daunting to people,” admits Courteney Kemp, PT, DPT, a physical therapist for Hinge Health. “It’s hard to know where to begin, what to do, and how to commit time.” Joining a gym sounds great in theory, but it’s expensive and can cause people anxiety for a lot of different reasons.
Enter at-home workouts, where you can sweat up a storm in the privacy of your own den, or even bedroom. “I find that my patients often do better with working out at home since it’s a more accessible option and they can work around their own schedule and lifestyle,” Dr. Kemp explains. It’s also increasingly popular — the average American doubled their spending on exercise equipment from 2020 to 2021. But you don’t have to spend thousands of dollars on costly exercise equipment to reap benefits, Dr. Kemp stresses.
Although exercising can feel challenging, especially if you're coping with musculoskeletal pain, starting a simple at-home routine is a great way to get back in the habit. Here’s what Hinge Health physical therapists recommend to get started — and stick with it.
Our Hinge Health Experts
Courteney Kemp, PT, DPT
Jonathan Lee, MD, MBA
Valerie Black, MBA, CWC
Dylan Peterson, PT, DPT
The Benefits of Working Out at Home
Not sure if a home workout is worth it? If so, you’re not alone. Many people feel that a workout in their living room can’t possibly be as good as a workout in the gym. But this isn’t even close to true! Exercising at home is no less effective than exercising anywhere else.
Research shows that at-home workouts can help you effectively manage persistent joint pain, feel better, boost energy levels, and provide many other health benefits. For example, a 2019 study published in the International Journal of Exercise Science found that people who followed a 12-week at-home training program (combined with a healthy diet) lost significant amounts of body fat and lowered their blood pressure and heart rate. They also faithfully stuck to their exercise program. Here are some other benefits of at-home workouts:
It’s less time-consuming. Changing your clothes and doing a quick workout in your house (or garage or backyard) saves a lot of time in an already busy schedule. You don’t have to get into your car, drive to your gym, and park — all of which sometimes takes more time than your actual workout.
It’s usually less expensive. Unless you really want to buy cardio machines and big pieces of equipment like a squat rack, you can easily set up a home workout space without having to purchase anything other than a pair of sneakers. “You can use your own body weight for many exercises, or use household items like water bottles and a gallon of milk as weights,” says Dr. Kemp.
You can exercise when you want to. You don’t have to worry about rush hour crowds or fitting a workout in during your gym’s hours of operation. Want to sneak a 15-minute workout in between meetings while you’re working from home? Feel like moving to shake out some stiffness or a sore back in the middle of the day? Want to get your heart rate up on a rainy or cold day when you don’t want to go outside? Go for it!
You can do the workout that you want. Sometimes, equipment is limited at a gym. At home, you don’t have to rush through a set of exercises because someone is waiting for the machine you’re using. It’s your home — you call the shots.
It’s more comfortable. Let’s be honest — going to the gym can be overwhelming and intimidating for some people. It can be hard to work out when you’re worried about people watching you. And sometimes, there are simply too many options. Trying to decide between 100 different machines can send anyone into analysis paralysis. At home, you have the space to think through your workout and what you want to do that day and feel more confident trying a new workout without worrying about “funny looks” from other people.
How to Set Up Your Home Workout Space
Ready to lace up your sneakers and get started on a home workout? Here are a few tips to keep in mind:
Figure out what you enjoy. The best workout is the one you’ll do. So if you’re new to an exercise routine or are just getting started with a movement habit, start with a plan that you’re excited about. This might involve a handful of exercises that combine cardio and strength that doesn’t require any more space than a small corner of a room. If you like a lot of variety in your workouts, you may find that you need more space, say in your basement or garage, says Dr. Kemp.
Pick a space. It doesn’t matter where in your home it is, but most people benefit from using a consistent space, as opposed to picking a new space in their home for each workout. “It can be a corner of your bedroom, as long as it’s a designated place where you work out and keep your equipment,” explains Dr. Kemp. “Picking a specific space can be really helpful in building your exercise habit.”
Get the right equipment. Remember: You can set up an at-home workout space without any equipment. But if you want some equipment to start, feel free to keep it simple, suggests Dr. Kemp. A mix of light, medium, and heavy resistance bands and a few sets of hand weights (usually lighter for upper body work and heavier for lower body work) can go a long way in supplementing a bodyweight workout.
What about cardio equipment? Turns out, you don’t need a treadmill, stationary bike, or elliptical to get your heart rate up during a home workout. “You can get a great cardio workout through activities like jumping jacks, jump rope, walking lunges, running up and down stairs, burpees, or power walking or running outside,” says Dr. Kemp. If you do want to purchase a piece of equipment, think about what makes sense for you. If running is a major contributor to joint pain flares for you, a bike or elliptical may be a better option to start. Then you can build up to running if you want, perhaps outside, in short intervals as you get stronger and more resilient to that activity.
Mix it up. “Just like at the gym, it can get tiring to do the same workout routine day in and day out,” says Dr. Kemp. How you work out, in addition to how often, is an important consideration. For example, mix up your cardio by going for a brisk walk outside one day, then do sets of jumping jacks or jogging up and down stairs the next, and take your bike for a quick spin another day. In between cardio sessions, sprinkle in a few sessions of strength training.
Workouts for Beginners
Not sure where to start? The given exercises recommended by Hinge Health physical therapists might help. These exercises help to build and maintain strength, mobility, and flexibility throughout your entire body. This not only improves fitness but helps manage and prevent joint pain, as well as reduce the risk of injury. Start by doing this whole body routine two to three times a week to round out your workouts.
The information contained in these videos is intended to be used for educational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice or treatment for any specific condition. Hinge Health is not your healthcare provider and is not responsible for any injury sustained or exacerbated by your use of or participation in these exercises. Please consult with your healthcare provider with any questions you may have about your medical condition or treatment.
Want a bonus move?
Try the I, Y, and T. This classic exercise, where you move your arms from an overhead I to a Y and then a T, works your scapula and shoulder muscles. “They are great if you have any neck or shoulder issues because they improve coordination between your shoulder blades and shoulder muscles,” says Dr. Kemp.
How to Make Exercise at Home a Habit
If you’ve struggled to make exercise a habit in the past or if it’s been hard to do it consistently due to joint pain and other injuries, getting an exercise routine to stick may feel like a major endeavor. Here’s the key: small steps and consistency. Studies show that consistency and repetition are very effective in turning action into an automatic behavior. And as it turns out, the brain really likes automation. Studies have found that around 40% of our daily tasks are automatic habits. Who’s to say your at-home workout routine can’t be one of these automatic habits? Here are some different ways to take little steps that, over time, can lead to lifelong habits:
Figure out where to fit it in. In order to squeeze in exercise consistently, you’ll need to displace something else from your daily routine, says Valerie Black, MBA, CWC, Director of Behavior Change at Hinge Health. “Look around and ask yourself what are some habits you can get rid of? For example, that time you spend scrolling through your Instagram each morning,” she says. “Figure out what you can give up that will involve the least amount of disruption to your life.”
Have some self-compassion. This is easier said than done for a lot of people. But if you miss or skip a workout (or a few days or weeks), try not to beat yourself up about it. “It’s hard to make new habits in the presence of negative emotions,” says Black. Instead, think about what you’d say to a good friend who is also struggling to find time to work out. “Offer yourself the same amount of encouragement that you’d offer them,” she advises.
Take a small step. It’s tempting to set a strict goal for yourself, but that approach can backfire for some people. Initially, even 15 minutes a day most days of the week may be too ambitious, Black advises. In these situations, baby steps are best. “A good way to start is to carve out time to do three minutes of stretches or strengthening exercises each day,” says Dr. Kemp. Once you build that into your day, you’ll be able to gradually increase from there.
Set the right cues. Initially, it may help to give yourself cues that it’s time to work out, such as setting a timer as a reminder. Just know: cues dull with time. “Your brain will gloss right over them after four or five reminders,” says Black. To get around that, switch your cues up. For example, if you used sticky notes on your bathroom mirror to motivate yourself initially, switch them to your fridge, or set a workout reminder on your phone. If that doesn’t work, offer yourself a small treat every time you work out (e.g., granting yourself permission to listen to a new podcast you’re excited about or a tiny cash reward). According to a 2021 study published in the journal Nature, these types of incentives work well to encourage people to keep exercising,
PT Tip: Squeeze Exercise in Throughout Your Day
“If it’s too hard to set aside a certain block of time, then pick a couple exercise moves that work well for you — for example, push-ups, and then running up and down stairs — and do them a few times each day,” Dr. Kemp advises. This sort of activity, known as exercise “snacks,” has been shown to boost physical strength and endurance, according to a 2022 review published in the journal Exercise and Sport Sciences Reviews.
How Hinge Health Can Help You
If you have joint or muscle pain that makes it hard to move, you can get the relief you’ve been looking for with Hinge Health’s online exercise therapy program.
The best part: You don’t have to leave your home because our program is digital. That means you can easily get the care you need through our app, when and where it works for you.
Through our program, you’ll have access to therapeutic exercises and stretches for your condition. Additionally, you’ll have a personal care team to guide, support, and tailor our program to you.
See if you qualify for Hinge Health and confirm free coverage through your employer or benefit plan here.
This article and its contents are provided for educational and informational purposes only and do not constitute medical advice or professional services specific to you or your medical condition.
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