Is lazy exercise always an oxymoron?
April 5, 2012 2:24 PM   Subscribe

Recommend some quick exercises that I won't get bored of and can do at home.

I am lazy. Besides fitness classes my parents forced me to enroll in when I was young, I've never had anything remotely resembling an exercise routine. I've tried and failed many times, and I just don't know what to do anymore.

I don't need to lose weight, I just want my arms (and thighs) to be less squishy and shapeless. I have a small apartment, a set of 5lb weights, and a set of 25lb weights. What are some exercises I can do in, say, less than 20 minutes, that will eventually result in better definition (or whatever, not hip to the workout lingo, sorry)? Also, about how long will it take before I'll start seeing results? This probably sounds like an absurd question but I do better with measurable progress, and any kind of estimate is appreciated.

I've read conflicting information regarding which weights to go with - for example, is it better if I do 5 reps of the heavy ones, or 25 of the lighter? I can barely lift the heavy ones so this could be a moot point.

How often should I be doing this? I think I've seen it recommended to skip a day to let your muscles heal, but it's not like I'm going to be doing intensive workouts, so is that necessary? I think if it were an every day thing I could more easily turn it into a routine.

posted by krakenattack to Health & Fitness (15 answers total) 41 users marked this as a favorite
I am lazy and hate exercise too, and I have had good results with a 100 Pushups app on my smartphone. It really helps that it offers to automatically set a reminder for my next set in 48 hours.
posted by Rock Steady at 2:28 PM on April 5, 2012 [4 favorites]

I've read conflicting information regarding which weights to go with

depends on your goals: I just want my arms (and thighs) to be less squishy and shapeless.

Pushups, swings, squats, goblet squats, push press, dumbbells rows, lunges, star jumps, shoulder press.

ExRx has good examples.

that will eventually result in better definition

This is a function more of fat loss than muscle buildup, though both are helpful. Muscle size and strength comes from progressive loading through weight increases, which you can't really do. You can increase the repetitions, which will give you more endurance.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 2:38 PM on April 5, 2012

Best answer: Try these exercises using your body's own weight. You can do them almost anywhere.

Start by doing jumping jacks or running in place until your heart rate comes up.

Then do the following:

10 Pushups. Start on your knees if you need to.
10 Burpees.
30 seconds of plank on your elbows for strengthening your core.
10 Chair dips.
10 Squats (spring up into the air and back down into a squat 10 times)
30 seconds of plank on each side for strengthening your obliques. Times 3.
10 Lunges, alternating legs.

Cycle through that list three times. Remember to stretch before and afterward.

Do this three times a week for five weeks. You should start to notice a difference in how you feel and your strength levels. If you start to get bored, change to tricep pushups or do mountain climbers instead of lunges.
posted by gauche at 2:40 PM on April 5, 2012 [15 favorites]

I did that wrong. What I described as a squat is basically a burpee.
posted by gauche at 2:41 PM on April 5, 2012

Try doing exercises while watching TV, maybe just for commercial breaks to start. Here is a very good website on some of the basics free weight exercises for arms and legs. There's plenty of video on YouTube too. Aim for one set of 8 reps with your 5 pounders to start, then two sets, then three. Then up the weights. I'd pick up a set of 8 and 10 pounders myself. An
posted by bearwife at 2:51 PM on April 5, 2012 [1 favorite]

Oh, and you'll see results within weeks if you aren't carrying a lot of extra fat.
posted by bearwife at 2:52 PM on April 5, 2012

And when I say "one set," etc., I mean per exercise. You'll want 2-3 exercises each day for biceps, triceps and shoulders, and 2-3 for legs to begin. As you get stronger, add or change the exercises you are doing for these muscles.

If you want to do this daily, try alternating the muscle groups worked each day. E.g. arms one day, legs the next.
posted by bearwife at 2:55 PM on April 5, 2012

If you're into leveling up and earning points (like a video game), then join Fitocracy. Log the things you do and see your points build up! Not sure if it's still closed beta, I can give you an invite if needed.
posted by lucia_engel at 3:06 PM on April 5, 2012

I did the burpees set described in the video below, two-three times a week for a few months, and got good results. Prepare to fail in the beginning though, it's rough:

Doing chin-ups every once in a while during the day also was more rewarding than I thought. You'll notice strength and posture improving within a month or so, if you're like I.
posted by monocultured at 3:11 PM on April 5, 2012

So it looks like you got your goals right. Just make sure you keep it up consistently. Assuming you haven't worked out in a while, stick to working out different parts every day. Arms one day, legs another or biceps and thighs one day and triceps/chest and calves another.
Make sure you do some cardios, even if its running and walking on short terms.

Sooner or later, you'll be doing P90X or Insanity.
posted by ates at 3:37 PM on April 5, 2012 [1 favorite]

So your weights and squats aren't necessarily going to be the most fun thing you ever do, but you can always increase the lolz. A friend and I used to meet and lift at her house. We called ourselves 'Tuff Club' and had to wear headbands while we did it. We'd put on music like the theme from Ghostbusters and pull Very Serious faces while we did it. We had a lot of fun. Get yourself some ridiculous shorts and have some fun.

(Pretty soon you'll notice you are stronger and that will feel so good you won't need the clown props to motivate yourself.)
posted by Trivia Newton John at 9:11 PM on April 5, 2012 [3 favorites]

Tabata interval training is great for extreme exercisers and for people who get bored when exercising. It's an 8-set interval program, wherein you do one exercise for 20 seconds, rest for 10 seconds, and repeat that 8 times for each exercise (or, as many reps as you can do). Some good exercises to do in this manner are:

Jumping jacks
Mountain climbers
Jump squats
Side crunches
Tricep dips
High knees

Do four Tabatas (pick four exercises/day for a 20-minute workout), and if you do this 3-4 times a week you'll see a difference in no time. Good luck!
posted by eenagy at 6:25 AM on April 6, 2012

Best answer: If you're not in incredible shape already, please don't follow a tabata protocol. Your system isn't ready for it.

If you're looking to add muscle or maintain lean mass while losing fat, and not just to build muscular endurance, heaver with fewer reps is best. You won't bulk up. If you are new to strength training, you'll probably have some initial weight gain and the muscles might appear bigger. This is water weight and inflimation, not really muscle. When you add new strain and activity to your muscles, they need to adjust their water balance and stuff to be able to handle the new stress they're experiencing. The swelling from inflimation will reduce, and the water balance will readjust. As long as you continue to exercise the muscle, it will stay at a bit of a higher water weight, because that's what it needs to function in a healthy way. It's not really a huge difference. But you won't add new muscle or bulk without an increase of caloric intake, especially as a women. Just think about how obsessive male body builders are about adding a couple of new pounds of muscle. It's hard to do, and they have the advantage of higher testosterone. Female bodybuilders (even without steroids) achieve that bulky look through massive and obssessive effort, along with dieting down to unbelievable levels of body fat. So don't worry about lifting heavy making you bulky.

You need to rest a muscle after training it. That rest period is when the change actually happens, the exercise is just the stress on the muscle that induces the change. If you don't take that rest day, it will impede your progress, and greatly increase the risk of injury.

Are you just concerned with your arms, or do you want the rest of your body less squishy as well? Are you already decently strong, or are you like most of us women with piddly upper body strength?

5 lbs is a good start for muscles the size of your arms and shoulders. You might consider some steps between 5 and 25. 25lbs is too heavy right now for your arms and shoulders. Depending on your current strength level, it might even be too heavy for the larger muscles of the leg, back, and chest. As a beginner, I don't think you could do a 25lb dumbell row, which is a good pulling movement for your mid-back, and secondarily the pulling muscles in your arm and shoulder. 10 or 15 would be a better starting point for something like that.

Please don't do something like just pushups, or any other movement that just targets the pushing muscles. It will lead to imbalance and possible injury. Most of us already have weak backs in relation to our chests, and we have very tight chest muscles from always having arms forward at a keyboard. This leads to all sorts of bad stuff, from headaches to bad posture and rounded shoulders. If you push with your chest, you need to make sure you pull with the opposing muscles of the back. For a horizontal push up, you need something like a horizontal pull like a row. For a vertical shoulder press, you need a lat pull-down, or a pull up. This is very important for your safety and injury prevention.

If you haven't really done any exercise before, you're probably not ready for a standard pushup (which is a fantastic movement) and a pushup from the knee removes a whole log of what makes pushups great. The primary mover of a pushup is the chest, but you're also engaging all of your upper body pushing muscles. And you're involving all of your stabilizing muscles (your "core") to maintain balance and good form. You're holding yourself steady with muscles from your legs to your neck. Your back muscles are holding your lumbar spine and your shoulders in a safe position. Your abdomen is engaged and balancing you and keeping up off of the floor. When you move up to the knees you loose a whole lot of that, and it really doesn't prepare you for a full pushup. It took me FOREVER to be able to do a real pushup, but it's awesome to finally be able to do it. I started by holding myself in pushup position, and lower myself as much as I could and pushing back up, trying for five times in a set, five sets. When I started, I barely moved, and couldn't always do all 25 (hah! not even close). But I was strengthening all of those stabalizer muscles, which wouldn't have happened with a knee pushup. I followed it up with dumbell chest presses. And eventually I could do real pushups.

Oh! I see you want to work on your thighs too. Movements that engage the big muscle groups, full body movements, are going to be to most effective for you. For both arms and legs, and you'll get the side benefit of core and back strength :)

The classics are squats (press, thighs and butt), deadlift (pull, thighs and butt), chest press/pushup (horizontal press, chest and arms), row (horizontal row, midback and arms), shoulder press (vertical press, shoulders and arms), pullup/lat pulldown (verticle pull, upper back, arms).

Squats and deadlifts are great, and useful to learn. But they're dangerous if not done properly. It took me like six months just be able to figure out the balance and get the flexibility to squat my bodyweight properly. You'd probably get some great results just doing bodyweight squats and lunges.

I already talked about pushups. Rows are pretty basic, just make sure that you're pulling with your back muscles and not your arms. Shoulder presses are good, but make sure that your shoulder blades are down and back, that you're not extending out too far, and that the weight isn't to heavy to maintain good form. It's easy to pull or injure a shoulder.

I'm convinced that pullups are a mysterious and insurmountable challange for me right now. They're hard, and I'm sure you don't have a lat pulldown machine at your place. I bought some of those hard core resistence bands off of amazon, and use those.

So I recommend starting with some good basic bodyweight stuff for lower body. I'd recommend the same for upper body, but chances are you aren't strong enough for those yet. Pushups and pullups are hard hard. So I'll say chest presses, shoulder presses, and rows. 5 lbs might work for the shoulders, but aren't heavy enough for rows. And 25 is probably too easy, so you might head to walmart and pick up a couple of cheap hex dumbells for 10 and 15 (maybe even 8) pounds.

I like starting any new exercise with 5 sets of 5 reps, and I see 3 sets of 8 recommended for beginners as well. I like 5, because when you're starting out you really need to focus on good form, and to learn the movement the right way so that good form is natural for your muscle memory. And, at least for my adhd brain, keeping it at 5 reps really ensures that I'm focused and attentive for every rep. So I always start with 5x5, then up to 3 sets of 8, then maybe up to 10 reps, 12 for movements that don't involve lots of muscles, but I don't like to. It's boring, and more likely to cause soreness. Oh! good thing to mention. Lower weight, higher rep sets really increase soreness the day or two afterword. And a warning, when you start this up you're going to be so fucking sore for like 3 days if you start to gung ho. You'll be sore no matter what, but if you rush out of the gate then toilets and chairs are going to be your worst enemy. Your muscles will get used to it, but you'll get sore again when you increase a weight or something. Regularity will help. Like 3 times a week instead of two. If you're sore the next day, you're not going to want to move, but light activity like walking or arm circles will help circulate that soreness out faster.

Always warm up your muscles first. Only ever do static stretches after a workout, never before. In fact, never do a static stretch for a cold muscle. I usually warm up with some jumping jacks, hip circles, arm circles, legs swings, stuff like that. Those sorts of things are active stretches and get your muscles ready for more intense use. Stretching after is good for you, and helps reduce soreness, but I know people who just skip it and are fine.

You might look up dumbell swings and dumbell snatches. They're tons of fun, and very effective.

Feel free to pm me for any questions or whatever. You might have noticed by my inability to shut up and keep this brief that I like to talk and nerd out about this stuff :)
posted by f_panda at 9:39 AM on April 6, 2012 [4 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks everyone! Lots of good info and tips. Hopefully there are enough exercises here that I won't get bored too quickly!
posted by krakenattack at 11:00 AM on April 6, 2012

I've mentioned this before on AskMeFi, but I am the biggest fan of the Nike Training Club app. It is a SUPER convenient way to do bodyweight exercises at home, with explanatory videos and pictures so you don't get into any bad technique habits. It also gives you goals to work toward which keeps the motivation going. I don't know if it's the best for weight loss but I have toned up substantially using it!
posted by thebots at 11:03 AM on April 6, 2012

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