Help my body hurt less.
September 28, 2022 8:07 AM   Subscribe

Thanks to the pandemic and remote work, I'm not used to moving around. I would like to change this, despite the protests of my arms, legs, get the idea.

COVID isn’t over, but the past two-plus years of being largely sedentary are taking a toll. I pull muscles with only the smallest of movements, and the pain lasts longer than I think it should. (Of course, I’m in my late thirties, so while I’m definitely not old, I recognize my age isn’t any help on that score.)

I would like to be more physically active, but I don’t have money to throw at this, nor do I have much space to integrate a regular exercise routine. I know Couch to 5K exists, but I don’t have a smartphone. Is there some kind of freely available program of exercise I can start, say, tomorrow that assumes you’re starting from square zero (or even negative one)? Or does anyone have anecdata for how to work on their physical health after so much neglect?

Thanks in advance!
posted by xenization to Health & Fitness (27 answers total) 62 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: I have really loved Darebee's programs in the past - I think the Square One or Foundation Light programs might suit you. I think they're both good ways to reacquaint yourself with your body and movement, and gain some confidence.

Good on you for starting this journey!
posted by punchtothehead at 8:10 AM on September 28, 2022 [6 favorites]

Best answer: I recommend this to literally everyone, but Liftoff: Couch to Barbell has you start with bodyweight movements and up to a reasonable point you can do it all at home. I won't soapbox at you about why strength training is so important, but regardless of your gender, I can recommend reading She's a Beast to help unfuck some of the worst stuff imparted on us by diet culture and start getting strong and feeling more at home in your body.
posted by Medieval Maven at 8:11 AM on September 28, 2022 [8 favorites]

You don't need any equipment or much space to do this:
posted by jonathanhughes at 8:11 AM on September 28, 2022 [4 favorites]

This is going to sound so small, but I drink a ton of water so I have to get up to pee. I also recently found out that my yard is filled with some invasive weeds (like literally the whole yard) and they have to be pulled at the root. So getting up to pee turned turned into walking outside for a moment, pulling some weeds (just a few handfuls!) dumping those is the yard waste bin and coming back in. I’m not saying that will turn you in to a weight lifter, but it mad eke realize how important some basic movement is each day
posted by raccoon409 at 8:16 AM on September 28, 2022 [5 favorites]

Best answer: Seconding Darebee. I came upon it when I was looking for some exercises after I got booted off physical therapy for a broken knee and still needed to work my knee a little - Darebee is a 100% free site with a whole lot of exercise plans and workouts for people at EVERY fitness level. They have individual exercises, gradual increase-your-strength programs, and full workout plans for whatever your goal may be. And some of them are expressly designed for "I'm a total complete beginner"; hell, I found three entire workout plans for "I am rehabbing a knee" specifically. (Not just "rehabbing a joint", it was specifically the knee.) They even have a couple of apps for "exercises you can do at your desk in an office" or "exercises which need zero equipment".
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:34 AM on September 28, 2022 [5 favorites]

Best answer: If your muscles are really tight take magnesium. If you take too much it can cause loose bowel movements so ease yourself into that.

Yoga with Adriene has a full range of yoga videos you can do at home. They range in length and complexity. She also has several series where videos build on each other. It's amazing how much more energized you feel if you can get a bit of circulation going in your neck, shoulders and back and how much more likely you are to then also engage more in other movement.
posted by koahiatamadl at 8:39 AM on September 28, 2022 [4 favorites]

Best answer: I'm a huge fan of just going for a walk outside every day. It can be five minutes or less, although often once you get outside you'll want to stay longer.

And FWIW the first time I did Couch to 5K I didn't have a smartphone - I think I just used my watch, or maybe I even just counted? Also if you have any way to play recorded audio (mp3 player, etc.) there are free audio programs you can download and use.
posted by mskyle at 8:39 AM on September 28, 2022 [7 favorites]

Best answer: Flexibility and balance have made the biggest difference for me. I’d start there before adding a fitness program of some kind. It’s super easy to mentally categorize some exercises as “easy” because they’re common, when actually your body isn’t ready for them yet.
posted by theotherdurassister at 8:43 AM on September 28, 2022

Best answer: The Hybrid Calisthenics YouTube channel has a great combination of "here's how to start with exercise" instruction and wonderful motivational stuff. On the Blue last year.
posted by hanov3r at 8:50 AM on September 28, 2022 [6 favorites]

Running, whether using Couch to 5K or some other program, is a high impact activity, so I'd suggest not starting with that. A regular brisk walk combined with some bodyweight strength and flexibility exercises are great ways to start.

If you do decide to take up running at some point, Couch to 5K is great. You can download free podcasts from the UK's National Health Service, but you can also use a simple stopwatch and this PDF plan to time the runs.

You don't have to go fast to get benefits from running. You can go quite slowly; see this video for some tips – but ignore its advice about foot striking patterns, which is not supported by the existing science.
posted by brianogilvie at 9:00 AM on September 28, 2022 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I'm a huge fan of just going for a walk outside every day. It can be five minutes or less, although often once you get outside you'll want to stay longer.

I've just remembered that one of Darebee's programs is almost exactly this. It's a 30-day "challenge" - on the first day, you walk 15 minutes, at whatever pace and however strenuously (or not) you like. Whether you speedwalk around your block, or just amble through your yard, it's up to you, just as long as you are continuously walking for a full 15 minutes. Then on day 2, you do that for 20 minutes. Then back to 15 on day 3, then 25 minutes on day 4, and then back to 15 on day 5....and on and on like that, alternating 15-minute walks with "add 5 minutes to what you did the day before yesterday", until by day 30 you are walking for 90 minutes.

I brought that to my old PT when we were wrapping things up and I said "I think I can do this, what do you think?" And she said that "not only do I think you can do it, I am hereby ordering you to do it." Walking is an excellent onramp to exercise.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:07 AM on September 28, 2022 [4 favorites]

Best answer: N'thing walking. You can start as slow and easy and you'd like. Walking is great for posture related difficulties and scales from the the barely-there to the most strenuous aerobic activity.

Some tips/notes in addition to the excellent ones above:
  • Good shoes will make everything feel nicer, easier and more comfortable - both during and after
  • If you have trouble walking tall with your gaze forward or climbing stairs/hills without hunching over, it can really help to start with a little glute activation. If you've not done much before I'd start with a couple glute bridges (just enough so you can feel them, don't make them sore or tired as that's not the point) and then go "walk with your butt"
  • having a regular walk is a nice thing if you're into measuring and tracking progress. Taking new & novel walks is once for engaging/keeping interest. If you are into tracking & metrics be sure to really only consider trends. Every day with a walk is a good day; even if it was a little shorter or slower than the day before
  • If you're not pretty comfortable with stretching there are lots of traps to fall into without questionable gains. Not saying that stretching isn't helpful but good stretching is often highly counter-intuitive. Spending a little money on 1 or 2 PT appointments with the goals of 1) evaluation and 2) some targeted recommendations isn't a bad idea. PT doesn't have to be a "go every week until you're dead" thing at all.
Possibly apocryphal: “If you are in a bad mood go for a walk. If you are still in a bad mood, go for another walk.” – Hippocrates
posted by mce at 9:23 AM on September 28, 2022 [9 favorites]

If you can throw a little bit of money at it: a chin-up bar, a set of gymnastics rings (to hang from the bar) and a set of rubber exercise bands all have a very high bang-to-buck ratio and take up no floor space. COVID sparked an explosion of beginner to advanced YT videos for this sort of simple home equipment.
posted by brachiopod at 9:28 AM on September 28, 2022 [1 favorite]

5 years ago I was completely sedentary, very overweight, age 50, felt pretty bad physically. Now I do HIIT and functional fitness and lift heavy weights. The thing that made this transition possible was starting small, with something I *liked* to do. In my case, I thought ice skating sounded fun, so one day I went to my local rink and rented skates. I enjoyed it (even though I was bad at it), so I went back again a couple of weeks later. A couple months after that, I signed up for an adult beginner skating class. And honestly, my entire process went like that -- do one thing, do a tiny bit more, do a tiny bit more, etc.

And now, 5 years later, I can deadlift 135 pounds. It's *nuts* that I'm so strong now. Like, I have legit muscles all over my body! And it all started by just choosing something fun.

The thing you choose doesn't have to be "exercise" either. It could be walking a dog. Going bowling. Dancing to YouTube videos in your living room. Walking through a mall or museum or at a park. Just find anything that sounds like you might enjoy it and do it once. Maybe do it again, or switch to something else. When you find something you enjoy, you'll keep going back.
posted by BlahLaLa at 9:46 AM on September 28, 2022 [7 favorites]

Best answer: You can get a used copy of Body By You for around $6 and I think it would be a good match for you; if you bought it on Kindle starting tomorrow would be within your grasp. (If you can't afford that, DM me, I'm sure I could get a copy sent to you, at least if you're in the US, other countries may vary. Also, I've made printable sheets of the record tables, if you want those.) It might say "Women's" but really what that translates to is it's very beginner and low level of fitness friendly and exercise on rails. (The author also has another bodyweight book that's targeted more towards stronger/more experience folk.) You can skip the first bit that's trying to convince you that it's good to exercise and that just focusing on the amount of calories you're burning with cardio is suboptimal and you can't just reshape your problem areas and no strength training won't immediately bulk you up into bodybuilder territory etc etc etc--Part II is all you need, which are the exercises and plan.

* It's bodyweight exercises, so the equipment required is like...a belt or towel to loop around things for doing pulls.
* It has an initial evaluation that will show where you are currently at in the chart of exercises.
* It tells you EXACTLY what to do and when to increase the difficulty.
* It is time efficient: 30 minutes three times a week
* If you have option/decision fatigue about this, having things outlined so specifically is great, you're not pawing through a million different options trying to figure out the right one.

I would also recommend supplementing it with yoga advice given above at some point once you're in a good place. But this is enough to get you started.
posted by foxfirefey at 9:46 AM on September 28, 2022 [2 favorites]

I've been recommending these all over the place: look for mobility exercise videos on youtube - they're generally in the context of physical therapy. I like Bob and Brad, Ask Dr Jo, Feldenkrais with Taro Iwamoto (he's got a recent series of posture correction videos that are a GREAT place to start before any other exercise, to prevent injury), and then Hybrid Calisthenics has both excellent attitude/mindset guidance and lots of ways to get started with simple calisthenics for exercise.

While PTs do use exercise bands and similar in some advanced exercises, you can easily start with just a chair, a towel (often rolled up, also sometimes rolled-up socks), and enough room on the floor to stand and lay down and move a bit to each side.
posted by Lyn Never at 9:47 AM on September 28, 2022 [9 favorites]

Best answer: As a much older person who has managed to maintain his fitness into his, yikes, mid 60s, I applaud your journey, and offer just a slight mental shift that might make things a little better. Embrace a little soreness. I feel that somehow society has embraced the idea that you have to feel perfectly comfortable at all times 24/7. But I don't feel normal if I don't feel just a little sore from working out. Lets me know I'm keeping with the program and making progress. Of course, pulled muscles and sharp pains are to be paid attention to. But just don't fear being a little sore from your increased activity. Wear it as a badge of honor.
posted by lpsguy at 9:53 AM on September 28, 2022 [7 favorites]

Best answer: I think if you're feeling prone to injury, the first things are a walking routine and gentle yoga. Do reward yourself with a decent pair of shoes and start walking.

Then maybe also try some gentle yoga. I like Adrienne - she has beginner videos and a lot that are aimed at yoga when you have different types of pain.
posted by vunder at 9:59 AM on September 28, 2022 [1 favorite]

Do you have insurance? If you do, can you go to your doctor and get a referral for Physical Therapy? If you have not moved in a while you can hurt yourself when you get started - Physicaly Therapy is literally designed to help you do things in a muscle balanced way so that you can start to doing more physical activity (without hurting yourself). You are not alone in this - the pandemic has changed many people's way of moving and it can be challenging to start up again if you don't know how to.
No matter what you start to do - start slow (alternate days), stretch gently, and make sure you are not just doing one movement.
posted by mutt.cyberspace at 10:10 AM on September 28, 2022 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I made a comment above already but want to add one thing I wished someone had pointed out when I started calisthenics/weights at age 58. It's that when you get older, tendons are very easy to hurt and take ages to heal. Be careful and set realistic fitness goals. Stay away from any sort of macho grind-it-out influencer BS.
posted by brachiopod at 10:21 AM on September 28, 2022 [5 favorites]

Best answer: Make sure your home workstation setup is as ideal for you ergonomically as possible, as well as pursuing more movement. I was fortunate that my employer set me up with a better chair and desk than my original ones at home after a few months of remote working in 2020, and that immediately improved a bunch of tightness, pain and source of frequent injury I'd been experiencing.

I keep dumbbells in the room that I work from at home, and I like to get a couple of sets in between meetings when I can. It's enough to build strength slowly, keep warm and keep my blood flowing when it's cold, and I don't have to psych myself up for it because it doesn't register as a significant workout.

I try to rotate through different exercises on different days; some days are bicep curls, or goblet squats (known in my household thanks to a mishearing as 'goblin squad'), or a bench press style lift on the floor. Lately I'm working on my triceps in the hope of being able to do a pull up maybe at some point in my life. The amount of weight I lift and the movements I focus on have evolved since I started doing this in 2016 or so, but I'm in no way a serious lifter (though now into it enough that I'm hoping to join a gym soon for access to a wider range of weights and machines). I haven't recorded my progress in any way, I haven't set escalating weight goals as you're supposed to do when you're serious about lifting due to restrictions on the amount of equipment I can keep at home, I don't eat a diet tailored to muscle gain, and I've still gained a ton of strength and noticed significant changes in body composition and definition just from half-assedly lifting at home whenever I remember to.
posted by terretu at 11:42 AM on September 28, 2022 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I'm not going to jump on any of the advice above, lots of good ideas for where to look for exercises, but I am going to make one slightly out of the box recommendation:


Or whatever NSAID you find most effective, but personally, I like ibuprofen.

It doesn't seem like I should need to medicate away the vague aches and pains of just moving my body, and I was reluctant to take pain pills. But fundamentally, if your body hurts less, you will willingly do more.

I don't mean, like, push yourself to the point of injury. Ibuprofen isn't going to stop you from noticing that you've done yourself harm. But taking one timed release pill in the morning, or a regular one half an hour before you set out to exercise can just make the whole thing less annoying and thus more likely that you will actually do the thing.
posted by jacquilynne at 12:02 PM on September 28, 2022 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I'm in my mid 30s and started with None to Run a couple months ago, coming from *extremely* sedentary pandemic life. It's a muchhhh more gentle and slow program than couch to 5k, and you don't necessarily need a smart phone, maybe just a stopwatch or preferably one with an interval timer.

I'm not gonna lie, I had some pretty gnarly aches and pains and it sounds like you might too, but they are beginning to subside with allowing myself the occasional week off for serious recovery time, good shoes, vigorous daily stretching, and following some of the strength/conditioning exercises in the program. And lots of motrin. I think getting the ligaments and joints back up to par is definitely going to be a process no matter what you do.

It's pretty incredible! I've gone from "person who gets winded walking up stairs" to being able to run over a mile without stopping in about 8 weeks. It's honestly the best shape I've ever been in since I was a teenager and I'm thrilled.
posted by windbox at 1:35 PM on September 28, 2022 [5 favorites]

Best answer: Along with ibuprofen when you need it, if possible, you may want to introduce a magnesium-zinc and calcium supplement regimen into your routine. Magnesium goes a long way toward improving muscle recovery and preventing cramps.

Also electrolytes. I use a product called Lyteshow, but there are many options.
posted by Lyn Never at 1:45 PM on September 28, 2022

Best answer: Nerd Fitness might have some good beginner resources and routines.

And if you are on Zoom or in front of your computer all day, you might want to schedule breaks to do these four
exercises for Dead Butt Syndrome.
posted by spamandkimchi at 6:37 PM on September 28, 2022 [2 favorites]

Nthing Darebee! It got me from the couch to daily exercise again!
posted by gakiko at 12:54 AM on September 29, 2022

Best answer: I think step one for you needs to be considering how you can make movement a habit. In my case the only way I manage to do it is to get it over with first thing in the morning: I don't THINK about my routine, I just get out of bed, use the bathroom, go for a walk, come home, and stretch every single day before showering. For you it could be setting a timer to remind you every hour to do five wall push-ups, or taking a walk every single day at lunch. The trick is to just make it something you automatically do rather than something that feels optional or requires thought.

Once you do that for a while you'll be better physically and mentally able to figure out how to increase the amount you do.
posted by metasarah at 6:00 AM on September 29, 2022

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