Gazing upon your gym’s fitness floor, it might seem you’ve arrived in either a futuristic torture chamber or workout nirvana.
But should you choose to use a personal trainer, don’t be surprised if he or she points away from the pulleys, weights and padded arms toward a lower-tech side of the room.
Dumbbells, barbells and medicine balls make the body work harder, building core muscles and improving balance and coordination. Workouts with fewer technological requirements also translate better at home, if you can’t get to the gym, or to a hotel room when travel keeps you away.
So allow a few trainers to recommend alternatives to machines. You’ll look and feel just as good as you would with your mechanized tormentors, even when you can’t get to the gym or are stuck in a Days Inn in Dubuque.
“There’s nothing more functional than doing a squat, using your leg muscles in coordination with your back to lift something properly,” says Joe DeAscanis, personal training manager for Delaware Health & Fitness in Hockessin.
In the Gym Using either the power bar machine or hand dumbbells held to the side, raise your body straight up from a full squatting position.
At Home Buy a set of inexpensive dumbbells and perform the movement as you would at the gym.
On the Road Invest in a set of workout bands that use elastic instead of weight to create resistance.“You can fold them up and put them in your suitcase and you can tie them to a door or any immovable object,” DeAscanis says. “It’s good for the average Joe who’s trying to get a workout in.”
Kettlebells, cast-iron balls with handles, have been used in Russia for ages as a low-tech way to gain a ripped physique and explosive power. “The mother of all movements is the kettlebell swing,” says Jay Raymond, co-owner and trainer at Val Whiting’s GameShape LLC in Wilmington.
In the Gym Standing, hold the kettlebell at arm’s length, then squat while lifting the weight either perpendicular to the body at shoulder height or above your head. Ease the weight downward as you return to standing. “You use everything because you have to hold on,” he says. “You’re using your grip strength, and it’s a total body workout.”
At Home Buy kettlebells online, or use dumbbells, though the weights and handholds are different.
On the Road Use a gallon jug with a handle filled with water.
It targets the triceps, but, in the gym, it also works the core. “It’s definitely an area where if you were to extend your arm after a couple of weeks of doing this it would feel more toned or tighter, but it’s a smaller muscle group so you may not notice it initially,” says Marty White, senior health and wellness director at the YMCA Bear-Glasgow. “But you will notice stronger arms.”
In the Gym Grip the handles of a Roman chair. Extend your arms to lift your body while holding your legs bent at a 90-degree angle. Be careful not to lock your elbows at the top.
At Home, On the Road Sit at the edge of a sturdy chair and grip the front of the seat. Move your rear off the chair while holding on and keeping your legs bent at a 90-degree angle, then lower yourself to the floor. Raise your body back up with your arms.
Josh Stively, a personal trainer at Plexus in Wilmington, works with corporate clients whose postures have seen better days. This exercise targets the muscles of the upper back to compensate. “You want those muscles to be strong so they’re capable of pulling the bone structure back,” he says.
In the Gym Facing the functional trainer tower, grab a rope with each hand, thumbs facing the body. Pull toward your forehead, then extend.
At Home Use dumbbells to perform a reverse-motion pectoral fly. Standing, bend over so you are facing the floor. With a weight in each hand, extend your arms upward and outward in a fly motion. Keep your arms straight. To work the core, alternate arms.
On the Road Use water jugs or soup cans for weights.
Female clients are often interested in improving specific muscle groups, so this one targets some of the biggies, says Adam Howard, owner of Body Shop Fitness Center in Rehoboth Beach. “It’s great because it works your core and your butt and your shoulders at the same time.”
In the Gym Stand with dumbbells at your shoulders. Step forward in a lunge making sure the knee doesn’t extend past the toes. Fully extend the arm on the same side. Return to standing with the weight lowered, then repeat on the other side.
At Home See above.
On the Road Use water jugs, soup cans or exercise bands.
Plyometrics focuses on ballistic movements like jumping. “It’s effective in day-to-day training. You can use it to strengthen legs, build your core or work into a cardio-style workout,” says Trevor Hurd, director of training for Gold’s Gym in Dover.
In the Gym Start from standing with 5-pound weights in each hand. “It’s a simple kind of 2-inch jump in the air,” Hurd says. “In the air, you’ll split your legs, then you’ll land in a lunge position. As you land, your biceps will actually curl up and go into a biceps curl.”
At Home See above.
On the Road Use half-gallon jugs of water or juice cans.
The oblique muscles are important because they do double-duty, supporting much of the lower back while also forming the lower abdominals. Stronger obliques mean fewer injuries, says Pat Jennings, owner of One-On-One Fitness Training in Wilmington. “When you work obliques and do the windshield wipers particularly, you’re working everything” because you need other muscles to stabilize you.
In the Gym, at Home and On the Road Lie flat on the floor with legs bent at the knee. Roll your legs from side to side, knees dipping toward the floor, while keeping your back flat on the floor. As you get better, fully extend the legs.
To build functional strength that will be used every day, the tried-and-true deadlift can’t be beat, says Joe Stankowski of Absolute Fitness in Wilmington. That’s because workdays full of sitting leave the posterior chain muscles—those along our backs—atrophied and vulnerable. “Ask any mom who’s got to pick her kids up off the ground or someone who works in the garden and needs to lift a bag of mulch; you need to have that strength.”
In the Gym Using a full-sized barbell on the floor, squat and grip from above, then stand, using your legs for power, keeping the body straight and pulling the barbell up to your hips as you rise.
At Home Use a home barbell or hand weights.
On the Road Use exercise bands.
To add to the effectiveness of nearly any workout regimen, Marcellus Beasley of B.Fit Enterprises in Newark, Wilmington and Middletown recommends making yourself weigh a little more. His clients have used ankle weights while riding stationary bikes, on elliptical trainers and while doing exercises like leg lifts, inner thigh leg lifts and donkey kicks. He also recommends them to older clients to help fight the effects of osteoporosis.
In the Gym, at Home, On the Road Just strap them on and go.
The stepping motion combined with a weight turns what would otherwise be a primarily lower-body workout into one for the whole body, says Victor DelCampo, a fitness trainer at Hockessin Athletic Club. “By using a medicine ball, you’re going to use more of your body,” he says. “But the best part is you’re really going to get your heart rate up, so it’s good for cardio. Because it’s a multiple joint exercise, your heart’s going to have to work harder to make all those muscles work.”
In the Gym Stand in front of a workout step while holding a medicine ball at chest height. As you step up, lift the ball, then lower it as you step back down. Make sure to push your weight through your heel, not your toe, to protect your knees.
At Home Use your own exercise step or your home’s staircase, taking the stairs two at a time.
On the Road Use your hotel’s emergency stairs. “It’s even better on the road because you won’t have to come back down as often,” DelCampo says.