Strength exercises for someone out of shape to compliment Couch to 5k
November 13, 2018 9:26 AM   Subscribe

I am trying to improve my body and my relationship with it by running three times a week, and I'd also like to be strong. What is a good strength routine/workout I can do at home to compliment running that won't make me feel so badly about myself that I stop doing it? I'd be especially interested in weightlifting but I don't want to join a gym so that might be out.

I am extremely out of shape and also very overweight and I would like to increase my body's ability to do stuff. I would especially like to be able to run more/faster and to be physically stronger. I am interested in weightlifting but I don't now how to get started or if it will work with my caveats below. I'm doing Couch to 5K to help with the running and I'd like advice for the best way to manage getting stronger. Something I know about myself is that I need to set myself up for success by having as few barriers as possible between myself and a desired behavior, so anything that involves a lot of preparation or tracking is probably a bad choice for me. Other criteria are below:

1) I'd like something I can do at home in my basement with limited equipment -- is weightlifting possible here? Is it worth getting a cheap weight set or something and, if so, do you have any links/suggestions? If not, what should I do instead?

2) I will be unmotiviated and depressed by a workout that I don't feel like I can do -- I can't really do any push-ups or planks and when I try it makes me feel sad and humiliated, so a workout that emphasizes and builds on what I can do instead of making me aware of what I can't do is really important.

3) I'd like something that has a clear routine and with as little downtime as possible, so for example "Do arm thing five times, then leg thing five times, then arm thing five times" works better for me than "Do arm thing five times, rest for thirty seconds, then do arm thing again". I am WAY MORE LIKELY to stick with something if I don't have keep track of what day I'm on or similar; the simpler the better. If there's, like, an app or something that will track any progress so I don't have to then that's cool as long as it's all extremely low effort (I know this might sound dumb but that's the kind of thing I will absolutely use as an excuse to quit doing this).

4) I recognize that this will take work but I'd definitely like to be efficient so if there are, like, moves or something that will do lots of things at once or help people get strong faster or something that'd be great.

5) Of course I want to make sure I don't hurt myself.

I expect to do this probably half an hour or so three times a week (unless that's bad? Please tell me if it's bad! Is it not enough time to become strong?). As you can doubtless tell, this is very new to me so I'm really grateful for any guidance you can provide. Thank you so much!
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl to Health & Fitness (32 answers total) 94 users marked this as a favorite
The Seven-Minute Workout seems tailor-made for your description.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 9:30 AM on November 13, 2018 [9 favorites]

I really like the Nike Training Club app. It lets you pick from their library of workouts and lets you specify whether you are beginner/intermediate/expert as well as whether you want no-equipment workouts. The on screen prompting is good and they keep you moving for the time they say.

In terms of weights, what I did was start with some small sets (3 and 5 lbs) and then just added on heavier sets as it became clear that the 5lbs was too light.
posted by machine at 9:34 AM on November 13, 2018

Kettlebells are a great way to build strength without having to get the whole bench and rack kit or join a gym.

What you're looking for is a "circuit" routine where you go from one exercise to the next instead of repetition of the same exercise. The link above describes some kettlebell circuits. There are lots of variations.
posted by dis_integration at 9:34 AM on November 13, 2018 [3 favorites]

I'm a runner who's been a professionally paid sitter for 20+ years. When I'm consistent with Myrtl (now called SAM) I tend to do pretty well. If I stop doing it for a few months, I get annoying niggles, or worse.

SAM is relatively low time needs. If there's more time, I'll also do body weight squats, deadlifts, one-legged balance work, and calf raises while on a stair, emphasizing the eccentric part of the exercise.
posted by nobeagle at 9:38 AM on November 13, 2018 [8 favorites]

Sorry, hit post too soon. SAM has planks - pretty much any routine for running will have planks. If you can't do them for the required times yet, then modify the plank by putting a knee/hip on the ground. The rest of the phase 1 for SAM I think should be pretty approachable. Search for "modified plank progression" and you should get some intermediate exercises to get you to a plank.
posted by nobeagle at 9:42 AM on November 13, 2018 [4 favorites]

How about yoga? Yoga makes me stronger. Yoga with Adriene has an extensive free YouTube library and she is so patient, so dorkily upbeat, and so intent on making her videos accessible to everyone - she is a superstar these days and it's easy to see why.
posted by something something at 9:42 AM on November 13, 2018 [15 favorites]

This really is Seven Minute Workout territory here.
posted by kevinbelt at 9:56 AM on November 13, 2018

The NHS has this workout plan which is designed to be done alongside Couch to 5K.
posted by xmaspudding at 9:58 AM on November 13, 2018 [3 favorites]

The Sworkit app includes 6-week strength workout plans for beginners, no equipment needed.
posted by atlantica at 10:06 AM on November 13, 2018

I too want to suggest yoga -- no equipment needed, you don't even really need a mat. Learning a sun salutation plus a few other poses can give you a good all-over workout and get you more limber, which helps with avoiding running injuries. It's also easy to see progress (I can stretch longer/I can reach farther/I can balance easier), which is motivating.
posted by fiercecupcake at 10:09 AM on November 13, 2018

This is what I came up with for strength/cool-down when I was doing C25K:

Use one dumbbell to do a simple circuit for your arms (using one weight/going one arm at a time helps with balance). Personally, I used to do flies, curls, overhead tricep extension, and lawn mowers (2-3 sets of 10 for each exercise, but you can increase/decrease as desired). Start with a 5 or 10 lbs weight and go up from there. When I was in really good shape, I would use a 25 lbs weight, and now that I'm not in great shape, I would struggle immensely with a 10. So don't feel like you need to have some crazy heavy weight for it to be "respectable."

If planks are too much for now, you might want to try doing supermans. The upside is that they're also good for your back. I would also try doing sit-ups and/or crunches. Again, doesn't have to be a lot. You'll improve rapidly in any case.

Definitely at least try getting into plank position (i.e., in a modified pushup position) and in side-plank position (basically, you're resting on one elbow and the other arm is raised to the sky) once in a while. You don't have to DO anything in that position if it's too difficult, but even just getting into and out of position will help give you something good to build on over time.

When you're finished, definitely take your time doing a cobra pose and then a child's pose to stretch out your abs/back. It will hurt like hell but in a way that feels SO good.
posted by rue72 at 10:11 AM on November 13, 2018 [2 favorites]

I'm a big fan of Warrior X-Fit. All you need to purchase are resistance bands, you can buy a set for under $25.
posted by tman99 at 10:24 AM on November 13, 2018

Okay, this is very early '90s, but the video I always liked was Kathy Smith's Lifting Weights to Lose Weight. It's two 20-minute workouts (upper body and lower body) and a 10 minute abs workout. I would generally do one of the 20-minute workouts and the abs a few days a week. All you need is a sturdy chair or bench and a couple of hand weights--I had two three-pound weights and two five-pound weights. You can get them at Target for $20.

There's probably something more current that does the same thing, but I highly recommend something this simple and straightforward for a true beginner.
posted by gideonfrog at 10:51 AM on November 13, 2018 [1 favorite]

If 7 minute work out looks intimidating with bodyweight-based stuff, it can definitely be toned down to require lower intensity/strength and increase the intensity as you go. Pushups can be done on knees or vertically against a wall using as much body weight as is comfortable, for example. Some of the deep knee movements bugged my knees, so, I ran up and down the stairs in my house for that section of it, and did slightly less-deep squats. I was surprised at how rapidly I saw improvement, and that was super motivating.
posted by tchemgrrl at 10:54 AM on November 13, 2018 [1 favorite]

Convict Conditioning is body-weight only exercises and goes from wall push-ups gradually up to hand-stand push-ups. It is good in that it expects you have little equipment (table, chair, wall, self) and increases gradually at your own pace. The exercises change as you get better. One was an inclined pull-up that I moved up to and couldn't quite make, so I just changed the incline and it was easier.

Good luck!
posted by jillithd at 10:57 AM on November 13, 2018 [5 favorites]

Came in here to recommend Convict Conditioning, was not disappointed. It's the most baby steps way to get started in bodyweight exercising available. Bonus points if you want to pretend you're in solitary and wear an orange jumpsuit while you do it :)
Good luck!
posted by Major Matt Mason Dixon at 11:18 AM on November 13, 2018

I also am a big fan of the Myrtl routine (PDF link from the same coach as nobeagle's but a PDF of the older version).
posted by slogger at 11:30 AM on November 13, 2018 [1 favorite]

My circumstances are different to yours but I also needed something to supplement my exercise routine that met your criteria. My chiropractor recommended Foundation Training. This video is free and can give you an idea but obviously see if you feel it's appropriate for you. I signed up for the streaming service two months ago and this is the first time I've ever gushed over an exercise programme. Now both my SO and I do it daily and most of the back pain we had has gone. It's been a game changer for me. It's also brief enough that it doesn't become a chore : ) See below for why it's a good fit.

1) You can do at home with no equipment.

2) Progressive workout that you will be able to do and you should be able to do better as you do more of it.

3) The online streaming service is clear and straightforward and prescriptive enough to follow with little thinking at your end. It builds in a progressive programme that feels well thought-out. It also has specific exercises for runners.

4) You will work and activate the chain of muscles you need to run and do everyday tasks more efficiently (partly because you'll be stronger).

5) The exercises are safe for accident-prone people and strengthen your body within its limits. I've had accidents and dislocations in the past so this was very important to me.
posted by mkdirusername at 11:40 AM on November 13, 2018 [1 favorite]

If you have a way to stream video (even just on your phone) in your workout area, I’ll recommend MommaStrong. It’s mostly bodyweight stuff, but the instructor (Courtney Wycoff) is great about showing modifications for everything. You’ll come away from it feeling much more positive about your body and your abilities, and you’ll really gain strength. Typical workouts are about 15-20 minutes long.
posted by Kriesa at 11:40 AM on November 13, 2018

Planet fitness has an “express workout” section which is a 30 minute circuit training that alternates weightlifting and cardio. (I believe it’s two minutes of doing and a minute of rest but I can’t remeber). I really liked that it was kind of “mindless” to follow like C2K was and the only thing I had to worry about or switching was amping up my weights every so often. Also o owing that it would be exactly half an hour each time really helped (I usually did some extra core work at the end as well that added on a little time).
posted by raccoon409 at 12:12 PM on November 13, 2018

(Can someone please explain the Myrtl name to me? The linked PDF says, "The Myrtl routine gets its name because it focuses on your 'hip girdle.'" Is this just a ha-ha Myrtl(e) is an old lady name and old ladies wear girdles? And if so, why "Myrtl" and not "Myrtle"?)
posted by fiercecupcake at 12:40 PM on November 13, 2018

Re: spelling - it might just be a regional thing for the lack of e? On reddit here, Jay Johnson comments that that really does appear to be it. Later, in another comment he further recommends doing SAM instead of myrtl.
posted by nobeagle at 2:19 PM on November 13, 2018 [1 favorite]

So he doesn't know how to rhyme or spell. Ha! Thanks for the explanation, that was driving me batty.
posted by fiercecupcake at 2:26 PM on November 13, 2018

Darebee! Free, no equip, super supportive community. Do the Workout of the Day and download the free app.
posted by fritillary at 5:53 PM on November 13, 2018 [1 favorite]

Convict conditioning or a similar bodyweight exercise program sounds great for your needs.

7 minute exercise, while a circuit with minimal equipment, is more cardio-y than I think you would want if you were getting your cardio from C25k already. It makes me feel out-of-breath tired, not wobbly stairs-are-hard-now tired.

However! If you are willing to go to a gym or invest in a few hundred dollars of equipment at home, I would strongly encourage you to consider Starting Strength, Stronglifts 5x5, or a similar powerlifting-style program. Slow compound movements with a barbell are an extremely versatile, efficient, and well-understood form of exercise; there's a reason just about every kind of athlete does it. Try Stumptuous if you want a more explicitly woman-oriented presentation of this stuff, but note that women emphatically do not need any special treatment.

is weightlifting possible here?

FYI, a lot of people say "weightlifting" (one word, unqualified) to mean Olympic weightlifting. It would be an extremely bad idea for you to teach yourself Olympic weightlifting alone in your basement.

posted by meaty shoe puppet at 9:43 PM on November 13, 2018

You can absolutely get stronger by doing resistance training three times a week; any amount of strength training you do will make you stronger than doing no strength training.

It sounds like you want a minimalist training regime which is actually easier if you go to a gym, but you can work around that if you really don't want to. is a really good resource run by fitness nerds. They have a library of exercises showing a video of how to do each exercise with a text description. You can search by which body part you want to work. They also offer training templates and guidelines on how to develop your own program - you might want to look at their Basic Weight Training Template. (Note: a lot of the exercises shown with a barbell can be done with dumbbells or with no weight.)

I also really like the New Rules of Lifting series. Any book in the series would be fine, except probably the New Rules of Lifting for Women, because it's focussed on getting women to do barbell training (which is great, but not where you're at currently).

I have the New Rules of Lifting Supercharged. The first sections cover some basic sports science and the principles underlying the workouts. The middle (and biggest) section covers exercises in different movement categories (squat, hinge, push, pull etc.) including multiple levels of difficulty for each exercise. For example, the level 1 squat exercise is an unweighted squat and the level 5 exercise is an overhead squat. This book also has the push up regression that I found infinitely more effective than doing knee push ups: doing push ups with your hands elevated.

The last section has a set of workout programs that are designed to be progressive. For each program you can choose your preferred exercise from each movement category. They're also designed to be supersetted so they can be completed relatively quickly.
posted by aussie_powerlifter at 1:25 AM on November 14, 2018

I love the 7 Minute Workout and doing it twice a week (along with cardio on other days) made a big difference for me -- but I was starting from a place of moderate fitness and even so it routinely kicked my butt when I started doing it. Plus, 2 of the 7 minutes involve either planks or pushups.

But even though the 7 Minute Workout itself isn't right for you, I would recommend The Original 7 Minute Workout App. In addition to the standard 7 minute workout, it has a "Smart Workout" option, which asks you about your level of fitness and tailors a short routine to your abilities. At first, it might suggest exercises you can't do, but you can give thumbs up or down to specific exercises, and it should eventually figure out what you do and don't like.
posted by yankeefog at 4:15 AM on November 14, 2018 [1 favorite]

Try some of the apps / programs above, pick one you like and stay consistent until it starts to feel easy. Don’t worry if you can’t do everything. Most bodyweight exercises have regressions that you will be able to do and you will improve quickly. Google some alternatives for exercises you are having difficulty with.

One reason that people will recommend lifting weights is that things like push ups and planks are easy to train and hence easy to “top out”. That said, my personal experience is that if you very your routine enough, you can keep it challenging.
posted by clark at 3:09 PM on November 14, 2018

I recommend Jerzy's Happy Body. I have been doing it for two years, lost weight and am much more toned. What I like about are several things:

1. I do not have to go to the gym. Commute is a waste of time for me, and I do not lack motivation to do the workout on my own at home.

2. never stay hungry. He recommends eating five or six times per day (lunch and dinner) and snacks before and after. This was important to me because I thought staying hungry makes me lose weight. Not true. At least for me.

3. The workout should not get you tired, nor drained, nor exhausted. Finish fresh. Otherwise, you won't want to do it again. The idea of integrated relaxation and not being drained after a workout is what continues to attract me to this work out.

All three points, for me, keep me with going back to this handout. In the past few months, I had to substitute the squat exercise he has in the routine with another one because I has getting knee pain, but other than that I highly recommend it.
posted by Kitty_Levin at 3:12 AM on November 15, 2018 [1 favorite]

If you want to be a stronger runner working your butt muscles and your core will help. You can make your own circuit to do this.

When I went to physical therapy for a running injury the PT I worked with encouraged me to do more squats. So, do some squats. You can add weights to your routine when doing squats on their own seem easy. You can add different kinds of squats if you get bored.

Hip raises are good to build butt strength too.

Remember to squeeze your butt cheeks when you do them.

I like doing "dead bugs" because they don't strain my neck.

You don't need to do a 10 min plank like Cher does, you can start with like a 5 second plank (or 2 second plank) and build up from there. And you don't have to do a plank with straight arms. I do them on my forearms because it's less stress on my shoulders.

I hate pushups. If I do them, I do them half way - with my knees on the floor. Or I lean on a counter and do them standing up. They're all still pushups!

Hip exercises like the Myrtyl routine help too - add a few of those into your routine.

Get some exercise bands and do some arm exercises with them. You can also add resistance bands to some of the exercises above.

I like to incorporate yoga. I found the Yoga Studio app helpful. It has yoga for runners that has good stretches for your hips and hamstrings.

Play around with what works for you. I hate having a break between doing things too, so I just do exercises in a series, no breaks. Sometimes I do everything once, sometimes I do two sets. Depends on the day and how I'm feeling. Once you're comfortable or bored with body weight exercises or band exercises, look into getting weights. I went from only doing these exercises at home to going to the gym and lifting weights (I hired a trainer to show me how) because I didn't want to buy any more exercise equipment but had gotten bored with what I was doing at home after a lot of years of doing it. I still incorporate the exercises above into what I do every week, it's a decent basic workout. Squats really do help running.
posted by BooneTheCowboyToy at 8:28 AM on November 15, 2018

I found convict conditioning reasonably motivating. apparently the reddit bodyweight exercise sub has some modifcations to suggest to the CC workout to make it better and more effective/efficient, but to be totally honest I have yet to actually sit down and read through their wiki to take their advice (but, their wiki is free). So a major benefit of CC to me is it told me what to do and I didn't need to think about it or do additional research or anything. (Another benefit is it's reasonably safe? He's pretty careful about describing how to work yourself up gently and that was important to me as someone terrified of injuring myself in the pursuit of better health)

I found 7 minute workout to be boring, demoralizing, and torturous. I did it every day, couldn't really see results, and hated it. Just the same thing over and over and over and over and over. Eventually I stopped forcing myself to do it anymore. CC had the major benefit, to me, of being c25k-esque in having tangible progress and goals that you can then take at your own pace as necessary.
posted by Cozybee at 12:02 AM on November 18, 2018

I've come to third the yoga suggestion. I have the daily yoga app and there are plenty of different sessions available. The pilates ones I did for a while and really noticed the difference.
posted by Fence at 10:42 AM on November 19, 2018

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