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Monday Medical: Building a simple home gym

Susan Cunningham
For Steamboat Pilot & Today

As the weather turns cold and the pandemic continues, don’t give up your exercise routine. With a few pieces of basic equipment, you can create a home gym that helps you build strength while social distancing.

Below, Alyssa Hornbrook, a physical therapist with UCHealth SportsMed Clinic in Steamboat Springs, outlines how to do just that.

The components

Building strength requires loading your muscles with weight, which you can do with a set of light- to medium-weight dumbbells — think 5 to 12 pounds each — and a kettlebell.



“Those are nice and small and also incredibly versatile,” Hornbrook said. “People can be intimidated by increasing weight when they’re starting to train, and a lot of times, that’s a barrier to improving. If you’re moving appropriately and know how to lift, don’t be scared to get a 30- or 40-pound kettle ball. That can really make your home gym dynamic.”

A yoga mat creates a stable, safe area for working out, while a step, box or stairs help when increasing intensity.



Hornbrook also recommends getting a set of thick exercise bands, with or without handles, and a pullup bar that can be mounted in a doorway.

If the pandemic results in another run on home exercise equipment, think outside the box.

“You can fill up heavy water bottles to use as weights,” Hornbrook said. “Or put all your dumbbells in a backpack and do lunges and squats. That was a really great idea from a patient. He’s gotten so strong, and I know it’s because he got creative.”

The space

There’s no need for a designated workout room or large garage. When it comes to creating a good workout space, don’t hesitate to keep it small and simple. You can get a burn-producing workout staying within the confines of a yoga mat spread on the floor. Store weights and bands in a box and put them back in the closet or under the bed when you’re finished.

The routine

No fancy, complicated moves here — simple works for your routine, too. For a whole-body workout, just include a push, a pull, a squat, a hinge and a lunge.

“You can do so much strengthening with a squat, a lunge, a deadlift and a pushup,” Hornbrook said. “It doesn’t need to be this crazy, complicated workout.”

Within those basic moves, you can introduce variety. For instance, a push might be pushups on the floor or on a counter, while a ”pull“ might be rows with a band, bent-over rows while holding a dumbbell or pullups.

Increase the challenge

To make your workout harder, change your angle or tempo.

“A squat that you hold is a little harder than a squat bouncing up and down,” Hornbrook said. “For a pushup, you can increase the angle by putting your feet on the couch and your arms on the ground.”

Consider how you hold your weights, too.

“Holding weights in both hands, one hand or above your head is going to change the intensity so much without having to think of a new, complicated exercise,” Hornbrook said.

Find the time and stay motivated

Even with the best gear, it can be difficult to work out regularly. Start by finding a time you know will work with your schedule and don’t hesitate to limit your workout by setting a timer for 10, 20 or 30 minutes.

“If I try to make an amazing, hour-long workout happen every day, I know for me and my schedule, I just couldn’t do that,” Hornbrook said.

To keep motivation high, remember that strength training comes with various benefits, from improved mood to preventing injury.

“With strength training, you’re priming the system to allow it to be able to react appropriately in whatever fun activities you do,” Hornbrook said. “We don’t go to the gym to go to the gym. We want to go to the gym to be able to perform better in the things we like to do.”

Susan Cunningham writes for UCHealth Yampa Valley Medical Center. She can be reached at cunninghamsbc@gmail.com.


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