Working Out at Home: How to Get Started

Whether your New Year’s resolution is to start exercising or you’ve decided to

Whether your New Year’s resolution is to start exercising or you’ve decided to skip the gym and work out at home to stay safe, it’s actually a great time to start a home fitness program. For one thing, regular physical activity has benefits like boosting mood, improving sleep, controlling weight, and lowering heart disease risk. For another, you can find pretty much any type of exercise online and try out whatever you want, whenever you want. Plus, thanks to COVID-19, many fitness instructors are now teaching classes via conferencing software like Zoom so you can join in from the comfort (and safety) of your own home.

Convinced? Here’s what to consider when you’re working out at home.

Choosing Equipment

To start, Lauren Korzan, a certified exercise physiologist and regional program manager for Aquila, an on-site health and fitness consulting firm, recommends a yoga mat, a good pair of shoes, and some type of resistance like dumbbells, tubing, or a TRX suspension trainer. She says investing in an expensive piece of equipment like a “smart” fitness machine might be worth it depending on your budget and personality. “For some people, just the act of spending that amount of money helps keep them accountable.”

Your workout equipment doesn’t need to be fancy or expensive. “Exercise effectiveness is all about consistency, frequency, intensity, and proper progression of your goals,” says Ben Fung, DPT, a physical therapist and spokesperson for the American Physical Therapy Association (APTA). But if a smart machine is in your budget and it’ll help you exercise regularly, Fung says go for it.

For heart-healthy aerobic exercise, a step is really all you need, according to Susan Dawson-Cook, a personal trainer in San Carlos, Mexico, and author of Fitter Than Ever at 40 and Beyond. You can get a step with platforms for less than $100, then watch YouTube videos to learn basic moves and how to step safely, she says. If you have the space and budget, consider a treadmill, elliptical, or a stationary or spin bicycle. You can save by buying used equipment from gyms or on Craigslist.

Whatever type of workout you choose, safety should be your number one concern, Fung says. If you’re using weights, invest in a non-slip mat and furniture pads. Make sure areas around large equipment like bicycles, treadmills, or rowing machines are clear so you aren’t tripping over things.


Setting Things Up

Korzan recommends a minimum of a 6’ x 6’ space for most workouts. “If possible, find space in your home where you can minimize distractions and interruptions,” she says. Even with limited space, you can still do calisthenics (like sit-ups and pushups), kettlebells, rowing, yoga, a bike, or a treadmill, Fung adds.

For tight spaces, consider a TRX trainer, which takes up no space at all and is portable too. It attaches to a door frame and you just store it away when you’re done. “You can strengthen every major muscle group in the body and do some killer core work with it,” Dawson-Cook says.

Really, the best setup is whatever keeps you inspired to get, and stay, physically active, Fung says. Think about what types of exercises you’re willing to explore and commit to, as well as what you can use safely in your available space.

Picking a Workout

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommends that adults get at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity or at least 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic exercise every week.

Korzan suggests finding the activities you enjoy most and doing them a few times a week. Remember as you surf the web that anyone can post content, so make sure any instructor you follow is reputable or certified by a nationally recognized organization like the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM), the American Council on Exercise (ACE), or National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM).

Consider taking an online class or hiring a virtual personal trainer if you want the accountability but don’t want to be exposed to potential illness. “Find an instructor that motivates you and provides you with the safety cues you need for your individual limitations,” Dawson-Cook says.

Want the whole family involved? Head out for a family walk. There are also lots of family workouts available online, or you can download an app (like Just Dance Now or Super Stretch) that gets you all active.

If you have a small space, Fung says it’s important to mix up your activities. This keeps your workouts interesting while giving your body new challenges.


Getting Started

If you’re a newbie to regular workouts, Fung says it’s important to focus on steady progress, especially because it can take 6 to 8 weeks for your body to adjust to getting regular exercise. “Be sure to pace yourself and know that you can take breaks or modify the exercise when you need to,” Korzan says.

If you’re moving your workout from the gym to your home, keep in mind that any equipment you use could be somewhat different than what you’re used to. This means you may have to make some adjustments and that your progress could be different too.

Be sure you’re taking the same safety precautions at home as you would at the gym too, like using a spotter, Fung says. Korzan suggests checking to see if your gym is doing virtual classes so you can stay connected.

The Age Factor

If you’re worried that heading into your golden years might affect your ability to work out, consider this: Korzan says your current health status is actually a bigger concern than your age. “You can become fit at any age,” she says.

That said, especially if you haven’t exercised for a while or you have underlying medical conditions, Fung says you should talk to your doctor or a physical therapist before you start.

As an older adult, you’ll need to work up your exercise frequency and intensity slowly and plan for more rest days (Dawson-Cook recommends a minimum of one full day off per week if you’re 55 or older). She says low-impact exercises like walking, rowing, swimming, and bicycling are easier on your body and less likely to cause injuries or aggravate arthritis.

Fung says adults 65 and older should do a variety of workouts that include balance training, aerobic exercise, and strength training. In fact, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommends exercise or physical therapy to help prevent falls in this age group, another good reason to get active.

Whatever you decide to do, give yourself flexibility and grace. We’re all dealing with pandemic stress, so if you miss a day of exercise, don’t beat yourself up. “Just get back on your program the next day and don’t feel guilty about it,” Korzan says.

WebMD Feature


CDC: “Benefits of Physical Activity.

Stanford Recreation & Wellness: “Virtual Fitness – Online Fitness Classes via Zoom.”

Lauren Korzan, regional program manager, Aquila, Atlanta, GA.

Ben Fung, DPT, co-founder, UpDoc Media; spokesperson, American Physical Therapy Association.

Susan Dawson-Cook, personal trainer; author, Fitter Than Ever at 40 and Beyond,

San Carlos, Mexico.

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services: “Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans.”

U.S. Preventive Services Task Force: “U.S. Preventive Services Task Force Issues Final Recommendation Statements on Prevention of Falls and Fractures.”

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