A Simple Approach to Living With Less

Simple Ways to Improve Your Fitness for Free

This is a guest post by Rachel of The Minimalist Mom.

Me and free exercise go way back.

At the age of 14, I found my sport of choice: rowing. Rowing is all lungs and legs and I was soon made aware of my weak cardiovascular capabilities. The easiest most accessible way for me to improve my fitness when I wasn’t out on the water rowing, was to start running. I clipped out the 12 week to 10k program from the newspaper and started from day one. I made a calendar and stuck it on my bedroom wall and crossed off the runs one by one. In 12 weeks I went from running one minute/walking one minute x 10, to running non-stop for 10 kms. All it cost me was time and motivation.

That was, gasp, almost two decades ago. I went on to win two NCAA titles, be named an All-American (while still holding Canadian citizenship) and win a bronze medal at the World Rowing Championships representing Canada. Since retiring from sport in 2005 I’ve done lots of things to stay in shape: marathons, boot camps, spin classes and, most recently, Crossfit.

The most important thing about a workout routine is that you do it. That can mean one of two things:

  • find something you like
  • finding something you don’t like and stick with it long enough until you do like it

Yes, you might not like something when you start. I didn’t particularly like running before I did the 10k program. In fact, I did whatever I could to get out of running in gym class. I felt awkward, out of breath and bored when I ran. When I ran to get in shape for rowing I had a goal. And a set program. And a discman to listen to. After a few weeks I began to look forward to getting out for my runs. I liked crossing the runs off my calendar and I liked that quiet time out by myself.

My change of heart about running is not unique. Most people I know who’ve taken up running later in life, who previously swore it off, eventually began to like it. Enjoying your exercise of choice is imperative to continuing with it long term. That doesn’t mean some days won’t be a slog or a challenge. But you’ll have enough inspiring and feel good workouts to balance those out and that’s what will keep you in shape long term.

Running is a great way to exercise because it is mostly free. Get a good pair of running shoes, throw on a t-shirt and shorts, and you’re good to go. There are lots of fancy and expensive ways to time and track your runs but a simple wrist watch works great too. Again, the best way to find success is not by investing in a GPS running watch or a new workout wardrobe, the simplest way to success is just to get out there.

Free Ways to Increase Your Fitness

Crossfit: I’m no longer a member of a Crossfit gym but I still do Crossfit workouts. Here is a great list of travel Crossfit workouts. Crossfit is about intensity and most of the workouts are between 15-30 minutes. Some involve running but most of them can be done in your living room. This is imperative for me at the moment. I have a young son and need to be able to do workouts at home.

BodyRockTV: I heard about BodyRock.tv from a personal trainer who said the workouts were really hard. I’ve tried a couple of them and I have to agree. Like Crossfit, these workouts are short and intense. Most of them have an instructional video to get you started. Some of the workouts require specific equipment but there are plenty that just require a timer or stop watch. The moves can be really challenging! I’m still working on my break-dance push-up.

Yoga: free Yoga! I’m a big fan of YOGAmazing’s free podcasts. I’ve played them on my laptop for a workout in my living room and I’ve also played them on my iTouch at the gym to run through a routine. There are over 200 of them on iTunes and they range from sport specific to emotion specific routines.

If you’re new to body weight bearing exercises here is a simple routine you can start with:

  • 20 push ups: this is a great video that shows a progression from wall push ups to full push ups. Try out the range shown in the video and find the level that you can safely start at.
  • 20 squats: your legs are the strongest part of your body! Work on good technique and aim for a full range of motion. Here is a video of correct posture.
  • 20 sit-ups: they seem simple but check out the pointers in this video to make your sit ups effective.

Try this routine three times a week. Bump up the reps by 10 for each exercise every week. You should feel a bit sore the day after a workout.

What are your favourite simple and free ways to improve your fitness?

Rachel and her husband are striving to live a minimalist lifestyle while raising their young son. To read more about their experiences, please visit her blog, The Minimalist Mom.

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  1. Rowing is my cardio exercise of choice, though only at a gym. I have never done it in water. Much easier on the knees and works out your whole body.

    Chin-up and pull-ups are great body weight exercises too. Best upper body workout. The park close to my house has a little fitness run around it, where I can do these.

    • Faith Janes says

      Rowing sounds fun actually. My parents had a rowing machine when we were growing up, but without a gym (or huge body of water) it’ll have to wait for another day. 🙂

      I tried P90X a couple years ago and while I did enjoy the results I was getting, I couldn’t do a chin-up or pull-up to save my life. I vividly remember being able to do them on the playground when I was younger. I am convinced part of it is trying to use those in the door frame pull-up bars. It just feels strange. I’d love to get my arms back in shape though so I might have to figure out a good alternative.

      • Faith – you may want to try kettlebells for the arms…

      • If you’re doing pull-ups correctly your arms aren’t the primary muscle groups being worked – your lats are primary, being assisted by other groups.

        If you’re interested in working your arms specifically you could do an exercise that I like to do a the gym.

        Get yourself a curl bar and enough weight to give yourself a bit of a challenge (1″ curl bars with screw-on collars can probably be had at your local Wal-Mart; the weight plates certainly can).

        Hold the bar shoulder-width apart with palms facing downward, and raise your forearms toward your chest. At the top of that motion, push the bar upward until your arms are completely extended overhead. Then reverse the motion to bring the bar back down. The idea is to keep your elbows close to your body during the motion.

        If you keep a tight grip on the bar, that will help your forearms. The reverse curl (the first part of the motion) is also good for the forearms, plus the biceps. Any exercise where you’re pushing something overhead will work the triceps, and the deltoids and trapezius will come along for the ride.

        If you had access to a bench and a spotter, bench presses are also good stuff for the upper body – but it’s easier for most people to get a curl bar and a few bucks worth of weights than it is for them to put their hands on a competent weightlifting bench.

  2. I love the CrossFit instructional video for a sit up you included here Rachel. I’ll bet a few sets of those would be more effective than hundreds of crunches. I’m adding them in tonight!

  3. I’m with you Rachel, running is my choice for maximum workout for free. There’s nothing quite like it for results. It has such benefits for the whole body. In fact it’s a known fact that the most effective way to tone your tum isn’t ab exercises/sit ups it’s running. When I hear someone say ‘It’s not for me’ I always encourage them to just try it. I never thought I’d be a runner, and seriously whilst I am running it’s probably the last place I want to be. But how I feel after is what makes me do it. I feel clean inside – sounds daft maybe? But I can breathe better, I can feel the benefits of my labour. I’ve now started running with friends rather than just me and the ipod, we have a bit of an informal club going, and it’s amazing how quickly that 45 mins or an hour passes putting the world to rights, having a laugh and egging each other on!
    ps – I did my cardio today 4.5 mile run – worked hard… as soon as the kids are asleep will write my post for Day 2…
    pps – Don’t forget about that half…I hear places are being snapped up 🙂

    • ps – had to add… I’ve stopped timing my runs. I only time specific (not all) runs when tracking progress for entering a race. I stopped timing them as I found on the days I wasn’t feeling very ‘olympic’ I was putting off going out as I didn’t feel I could beat my time or improve. It was counterproductive for me. That may be due to my personality, I’m not overly goal orientated and tend not to track things that specifically. I know when I get back how hard I’ve worked generally. It’s not for everyone taking a more relaxed approach, but without a doubt it means I do more miles overall.

    • Hmmm… maybe I should just sign up and get a spot? If I can’t go maybe someone will be looking for a last minute entry.

      I’m keeping my ears open for an informal running club. There are some serious ones but I need something casual and flexible right now. Most of my running is with the stroller,

      Running is an ab workout. The other week when I upped my mileage I felt it in my legs and my abs.

      • Start the club yourself Hun – That’s what I did, I keep inviting new people when I hear they run or want to get into it… people probably think I’m some crazy lady.
        In fact it has motivated me tremendously – kind of leading by example, I have no excuse not to go when I am talking everyone else into it.
        In fact had an e-mail last night and I quote ” you are a very good motivator, or a good con woman” – made me laugh 🙂

  4. The push-ups/squats/sit-ups is my favourite resistance workout combination! So simple and hits all the major muscle groups, and can be so easily converted to a tabata type of workout.
    And THANK YOU for the list of the travel Crossfit workouts, Rachel! Awesome 🙂

    • I wasn’t sure when I would get my squats in yesterday. We were out all day and I was watching my son and two of his little friends in the afternoon. I realized as the kids were playing nicely together that I could just start doing the squats then. It’s great to have a list like the travel Crossfit workouts of things you can literally do anywhere at any time. Makes excusing yourself from a workout pretty hard.

      Tabata is fantastic. I need to start doing some of those here.

  5. I love the simplicity of the 100 push-up and 200 sit-up systems (http://www.hundredpushups.com/ & , but even then I had trouble sticking to the routines. Now I started with 10 push-ups and 20 sit-ups every day for a few weeks. When they seemed ‘too easy’ I added to them and now I’m up to 20 push-ups and 30 sit-ups. I do that about 4/5 times a week and do a 10 min yoga routine the other mornings. I’ll think about adding the squats too. Thanks for the other resources.


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