Help a busy college student come up with an inexpensive home workout?
December 29, 2012 6:10 PM   Subscribe

I'm a girl looking to build strength, burn fat, and tone up. I prefer to work out at home, where I have a yoga mat, a stability ball, 6lb dumbbells, a doorframe pull-up bar, and full 5 gal / 19 Liter water-cooler bottles. I also have a road bicycle and know how to swim. Using the above, what are some of your favorite exercises that I can do for balanced fitness on the whole body?
posted by grifninetoo to Health & Fitness (19 answers total) 53 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: OH! Also, I don't have room or money for any expensive home gyms. The most I can get are either a $50 dumbbell set that goes up to 20lb/dumbbell, or some kettlebells. Which of them do you recommend?
posted by grifninetoo at 6:14 PM on December 29, 2012

My main recommendation is, which is a great resource for home workouts that aren't equipment intensive.
posted by Sidhedevil at 6:18 PM on December 29, 2012 [7 favorites]

I'd definitely recommend kettlebells, because you can get a great aerobic workout with them at the same time as toning up.
posted by essexjan at 6:22 PM on December 29, 2012

Are you able to get to a community pool? Where I live there are community pools and they are open to the public for free. Swimming (Australian crawl) is really great for the whole body.
posted by fifilaru at 6:23 PM on December 29, 2012

How high are your ceilings? I ask because you can start a kettlebell routine with your dumbbells, and because kettlebells are quite inexpensive move up in weight as you get stronger without breaking your budget. You need a ceiling about a foot higher than you can stretch to reach, though.
posted by mhoye at 6:34 PM on December 29, 2012

Response by poster: I can get to a pool... My college has a gym complete with an olympic size pool but it's a 1.5h commute to and from.

My ceilings are more than a foot higher than my reach. I'm 5'3 and 120 lbs... I do cardio but I'm just beginning with bodyweight exercises. How heavy should I start?

I'm looking at right now. Thanks for the recommendation, looks like a wealth of info.
posted by grifninetoo at 6:58 PM on December 29, 2012

Do you have an iPod touch or iPhone? If so, there is an AMAZING app called "Nike Training" which has tons of workouts based on what you're looking to accomplish or focus on for the day. The workouts are designed with the user in mind and range from 15-45 minutes, focus on different things like cardio and weight lifting, allow the user to choose between three different levels (beginner, intermediate, and advanced), and allow the user to play music of their choice while exercising.
posted by livinglearning at 7:01 PM on December 29, 2012 [7 favorites]

If you could see me, you would know I have never done this, but I have a lifelong female friend that 6 months ago was up late at night watching one of those infomercials and ended up buying the P90X workout program. She is a type A sort that is disciplined to do it everyday. She looks amazing. (Not that she didn't look great before that in case you are reading this). All you need are a dvd player hooked up to your TV, some dumbells, a few stretch bands and a lot of motivation to move.

There are many of these types of workouts you can find, but she has lost weight, toned up, increased endurance, and gained beaucoup confidence. This is a woman celebrating the twentieth anniversary of her 29th birthday this year.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 7:03 PM on December 29, 2012 [2 favorites] has a great and easy bodyweight workout, with steps to make it more difficult as you get better. It's definitely a good one to try.
posted by markblasco at 7:59 PM on December 29, 2012 [4 favorites]

I'm a girl looking to build strength, burn fat, and tone up.

Which one do you want to do first? What you will need to do to lose fat is rather different than what you will need to if you want to build strength. Also, there is no such thing as "toning up". You can lose fat to make your muscles more prominent, but they aren't getting any more "toned" than they already are.

I also prefer to workout at home, so I am a big fan of bodyweight exercises. In addition to what has already been mentioned, you might take a look at Convict Training. I am not really interested in the mumbo-jumbo talk about life in the "big house" in the book, but the progressions for the exercises are very helpful. If you don't feel like getting the book, you can find descriptions of the workout progressions online by Googling.

I know you received some recommendations for kettlebells, but I am not really a big fan and find them to be faddish. People who depend on their bodies being at peak strength for their livelihood such as soldiers, boxers, and football players don't swing kettlebells all over the place. That is why you were asked about your ceilings - so you could whip kettlebells around over your head. This is dangerous and I wish the fad and hype would die out. If you are interested in doing presses, I recommend getting the dumbbell set you mentioned. They will not strain your wrist as kettlebells would for those movements.
posted by Tanizaki at 9:28 PM on December 29, 2012

I have some friends who're fiendishly devoted to the P90X workout. Personally, though, I'm a fan of DDP Yoga, which requires a DVD player, a heart rate monitor, and about a half an hour. He gets recced fairly often in this sort of thread, and there was a post to the blue about him recently--you should check it out and see if it's the kind of thing that might appeal to you.
posted by MeghanC at 9:34 PM on December 29, 2012

You need the girls.
posted by pised at 9:49 PM on December 29, 2012

I love the NYC Ballet Workout. It's not intensely athletic per se, so maybe not your thing, but I find it challenging because it's something different. Needs as much concentration as yoga, but to me more structured than you would be learning yoga at home yourself. Also it's done wonders for my posture and the way my muscles look.
posted by undue influence at 10:20 PM on December 29, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Zuzka Light, formerly of, now has her own website that has workouts to help you accomplish all three goals with the equipment you currently have. You can also look up the older bodyrock videos on youtube with her in them, before there was more equipment involved (anything pre-2011).
posted by Fuego at 11:16 PM on December 29, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I found that this article has some very good insights in this matter, especially on the strength vs. mass department.
posted by KMB at 2:35 AM on December 30, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Sworkit (it's a free app too) is great for home-based circuit training and yoga workouts. You can target certain body areas or do 'anything goes' and also you can choose any length of workout 5min to 60min. It's great!
posted by atlantica at 10:04 AM on December 30, 2012 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Go for the dumbbells, if they're adjustable (have bars, collars, plates) and not fixed-weight hex style. This means you could add to them, or possibly use the plates on a barbell later. Kettlebells aren't terrible but wind up being more expensive - you're stuck with the weight you buy - and it's good to get instruction with them anyway (heavy weight + momentum often = lower back issues).

I'd avoid using the water cooler bottles for lifting. Even if you somehow rigged them to a broom for leverage, it'd be work placing them to optimize useful, muscle-growing stress while minimizing potential for injury (e.g., if they're too far out on the broom edges, you could hurt your neck). Stumptuous and Nerd Fitness offer good ideas for improvising with things around the house, including diy sandbags, which are, I think, a bit safer than the bottles (they'll be closer to your body, and sloshy in more manageable ways).

If you're new to exercise, I wouldn't worry about focusing on body composition just yet (which is mainly about diet + strength). You can get pretty far in terms of general fitness doing 2-3 strength and 2-3 aerobic sessions a week, if your diet's in check. In my opinion, it's worth delaying a reduction in consumed calories until you're a month or so into your new exercise regime, because you'll need them to get used to and recover from workouts. One thing at a time :)

Here are the ACSM's guidelines for general fitness. As mentioned, Zuzka, Nerd Fitness, Convict Conditioning or this workout by Alwyn Cosgrove should cover cardio, neuromotor and flexibility work, and keep you busy resistance-wise for a few months, after which, yeah, dumbbells or sandbag etc for the heavier compound movements that will do the most for your muscle-making.

You could add yoga or pilates for more in terms of flexibility/neuromotor stuff (tons on YouTube for that).
posted by nelljie at 11:09 AM on December 30, 2012 [1 favorite]

I'm in the same boat as you, and I LOVE pilates. It's like yoga. But BUFFER!
posted by Grandysaur at 6:18 PM on December 30, 2012

P90X is not without its issues. Be aware that there seem to a lot of reports of injuries from this workout.

My advice to working out is to go very slowly on your increases of weight and intensity. Slow and steady is better than quick and hurt. It is very easy to get over excited about progress when working out.
posted by srboisvert at 7:42 AM on December 31, 2012

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