10 Frugal Fitness Tips For Winter

There's no lack of fitness tips on the Internet, TV talk shows and bookstore shelves. Yet they tend to overlook that long, cold period between November and March when traditional exercise requires bundling up or braving icy roads in bike exercise. Why sacrifice life and limb when, ultimately, those limbs are what you're trying to tone?

Many hard-core fitness junkies scoff at home fitness programs, but with the right workout, they can be just as effective as a gym membership. You can hit the three major types of exercise -- endurance, strength and stretching -- with workouts built around calisthenics. These simple gymnastics exercises use little more than your body weight to tone and shape major muscle groups (think push-ups). Translation: Calisthenics are cheap, relatively simple and living-room friendly, making them the ultimate cure for winter weight-gain blues.

As with any exercise regimen, proper form is invaluable to prevent injury and make the most of your sweat. If you're at a loss, snag basic fitness manuals or ask a trainer at your local gym or city rec center. Armed with good form, motivation and the following 10 tips on everything home-fitness related, you'll be amped to run circles around Old Man Winter without once braving his chilly breath.

EQUIPMENT

1. Fit Balls
A fit ball is one of the best investments you can make for home exercise. Also known as stability or exercise balls, they come in a variety of sizes and add much-needed spice to traditional core and upper-body workouts. Grab one or more, or browse Gaiam's outlet store for up to 80-percent off. Quick tip: A properly inflated fit ball should have around an inch of give when pressed with your thumb.

2. Resistance Bands
Resistance bands are good for those with joint problems or recent injuries and offer another simple way to riff off basic calisthenics. Unlike free-weights, they allow you to easily control resistance while providing a larger, fuller range of motion. Bands come in a variety of sizes, thicknesses and designs, most for under $10. Plus, they take up less space than the dust in your corner.

3. Jump Ropes
The ultimate exercise muse of boxers and hop-scotchers alike, jump ropes are cut-rate cardio at it's finest. Chances are you won't use one in-home, but 15 to 20 minutes a day in the garage or on the back porch is enough to satisfy those jonesing to jog. And not much beats the cheap price tag of a jump rope.

4. Balance Trainers
A balance trainer is basically a fit ball chopped in half and set atop a flat, no-skid base. Most people use them to add an extra dimension to squats, crunches and calf exercises. But balance trainers also make for challenging upper-body workouts, fit for the most die-hard gym rats. 

5. Dumbbells
A small collection of dumbbells isn't required for a good home workout, but if you know how to incorporate good gear and training into a routine, free-weights are surprisingly effective. Combine them with any number of common calisthenics for a more varied, challenging workout. Comfortable vinyl-covered models can be found for around $25 per pair. Leave anything over 20 pounds for the gym unless your heart is set on Ahnold-esque bulging.

EXERCISES

The key to a stellar calisthenics program is circuit training, where you blend various exercises into one fluid workout. Ideally, you want to hit all 11 major muscle groups while keeping a steady, even pace to build up endurance. There's no need to sweat like Richard Simmons; just keep your body moving enough to raise your heart rate while maintaining proper form, steady breathing and a full range of motion. If you need to stop, then do so. This isn't the Ironman competition. As always, ask your doctor before beginning an exercise regimen if you have any concerns.

6. Basic (15 to 20 minutes)
The most simple calisthenics programs combine leg and upper-body exercises. This one is culled in part from Military.com, a website for servicemen with training tips from former Navy SEALS and the like. Repeat the following circuit of exercises five times, adding 20 jumping jacks in between sets. For a more complete cardio workout, keep your rest under 10 seconds when switching exercises.

  • Push-ups: 10 reps
  • Crunches: 20 reps
  • Stationary Lunges (step forward with one leg, drop opposite knee to ground, stand without touching): 10 reps per leg
  • Triceps Push-ups (form diamond with thumb and forefinger, keep elbows close to body): 10 reps
  • Reverse crunches (lie on back, place hands palm-down at sides, pull knees toward chest until hips raise slightly): 20 reps
  • Squats (keep back straight, eyes forward and shoulders back, drop hips straight down with weight over heels): 25 reps
  • Wide Push-ups (set elbows at 90-degree angle): 10 reps

7. Intermediate (30 to 45 minutes)
This circuit is a bit harder, longer and involves more dynamic exercises. Repeat the whole set five times with 30 jumping jacks in between. The hardest part is staying on a strict time, so give yourself 15 to 20 seconds rest between exercises.

  • Jog in place or Jump Rope: 3 to 5 minutes
  • Crunches: 30 reps
  • Side Bridge (support body on right arm with hips facing forward and side flat): 20 seconds per side
  • Toe-Taps (run in place while lightly tapping bottom stair of stairway): 20 reps per leg
  • Push-ups: 20 reps
  • Hip Bridge (lie on back with hands behind head and knees bent with feet on floor, slowly raise hips until abs and legs create "bridge," hold for 2 seconds): 10 reps
  • Dips (using dining chair, place hands palm down on seat with legs straight, dip body until several inches above floor, raise until arms are straightened): 10 reps
  • Reverse crunches: 30 reps
  • Squats: 25 reps
  • Triceps Push-ups: 20 reps

8. Advanced
To turn either of the previous circuits into an advanced workout, pull your home exercise equipment into the mix. These suggestions will get you started, but the only thing stopping you are the limits of your fitness imagination.

  • Balance Trainer Push-ups: Set trainer on a hard surface with half-ball facing down. Place hands on furthest edges of the base and do 20 reps of push-ups. For an additional challenge, hold for five seconds at the bottom of each push-up without dropping body or hips.
  • Abdominal Twists with Fit Ball: Sit on ball with hips set slightly forward and knees at 90 degrees. Place hands behind head and lean backwards, keeping back straight. As you rise, twist fully to the left, then reset facing forward. Repeat 15 times for each side.
  • Calf Press with Resistance Band: Sit on ground with legs straight and back propped against a wall for stability. Wrap band around toe, raise heel slightly off ground, and press down with toe while holding onto each band end with both hands. To adjust resistance, hold ends lower or higher.

EATS

We all know about calories -- oh, dreaded calories. Magazines and television make a big to-do about them and food labels attempt to unlock the secret caloric code. Truth is, calories are much more than something to fear. Unless extreme weight loss is your goal, increased activity means you'll need to take in more throughout the day or run the risk of fatigue, injury and, as is often the case, little reward for your hard work. Use this exhaustive calorie calculator to judge what's right for you by age, gender, weight, height and activity level.

9. Snacks
The latest advice from health professionals says snacking regularly is the key to curbing cravings and controlling weight. However, no doc will tell you chips, pop and candy bars can do the trick, lest they run the risk of breaking the Hippocratic Oath. Instead, they suggest the dreaded alternative to salty, delicious grub: Health food.

But if you've made it this far in your journey to stay cold-weather fit, why ruin it? Some smart, seasonal and surprisingly delicious things to nosh down on between meals include cashews, almonds, granola, bananas with peanut butter, whole-wheat toast, homemade fruit smoothies and hard-boiled eggs. As long as you avoid covering any of these in chocolate syrup or Crisco, they'll supply you with the healthy fats, protein and calories you need to get the most from a home exercise program. Check out the 911 Health Shop for tips.

10. Meals
Ditto on the calorie spiel from above, but with balanced snacking, your meals can slowly shrink in size. This ultimately saves you money and time, all while crafting a healthy bod. Try and work at least one source each of protein, grains, low-fat dairy, and veggies or fruits into every meal. 

Without a doubt, breakfast is one meal you can't afford to miss when trying to stay fit. An extra cup of coffee doesn't make up for the boost a simple bowl of oatmeal provides, and numerous studies show breakfast eaters regularly weigh less than those who forgo a morning meal.

Lean proteins and whole grains are integral to a decent fitness-fueled breakfast. Try switching out your bagel for an English muffin and sausage for Canadian bacon. Further research shows you can never go wrong with traditions, so load up on eggs and breakfast cereal.

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2 Comments

Thanks for the great article! As a personal trainer, here's what I recommend to people who prefer to exercise at home as it might be even harder to get in your workouts since you do not have access to all the machines available at a gym. Nevertheless, you have even more flexibility because you can just make up your own workout right in your living room, or try exergames, use videos, or, may be, go outside. Music is a great way to motivate yourself, so you can put on your favorite workout playlist and start moving. You can keep it simple by choosing some basic cardio exercises such as jump rope, side shuffles, jumping jacks, front kicks, jogging in place, etc. and do each one for a minute or so. Even if you only go for 10 minutes, that's 10 minutes you're not sitting around watching TV.
Posted by Pec Workouts

This is great information. Winter is a time when we seem to just want to hybernate and do nothing. With the holidays, it makes it a bad combination. If we can maintain a good level of diet and exercise program through the winter it's almost certain we'll continue through the spring and summer months. I find that it's easier if I can work out in the privacy of my own home. I've had a lot of success with P90X.


Posted by Michael