I spent the last few months as an Undergraduate student counting down the days until I could work with athletes and strongmen. I thought that the best clients were simply those who were good at exercise and were always motivated. I envisioned barbells stacked with plates and hungry athletes soaking up every word I said.
Reality then slapped me upside the head.
Upon entering the working world, my views and opinions were turned upside down. Athletes turned out to be genetically gifted individuals who would rather sleep in than train hard. It was brought to my attention that the clients that tried the hardest, were the most motivated, and bombed my email with questions about where to find the best organic groceries were actually stay at home moms. The women running the household were outworking the guys making millions while chasing a ball around.
Had I not been so young at the time I would have known better. A mom is all things fitness: she needs to be agile to keep up with little ones, strong to break up a fight over a toy, and nutrition needs to be on point because taking care of a family is definitely a marathon and not a sprint. These women took their training seriously because they knew that they needed to be strong in order to succeed in other venues of life.
To give back to all the stay at home moms who helped shape my career, I thought it would be nice to give out some workouts you can do at home. If the kids are acting up to the point that even your own family is scared to watch, thus nixing your plans to go to the gym, it doesn’t mean that you can’t get a workout in. More importantly, you can get an effective training session that will increase your metabolism so your body is working at shedding some pounds while you’re trying to get the kids in bed. No more silly home workout DVDs that make you do a bunch of karate kicks in your living room – just old school training that works.
Just because you might be limited on space and time doesn’t mean your conditioning has to suffer. Research from nearly twenty years ago shows that exercise sessions as short as four minutes (4 times a week) stimulated fitness gains in test subjects that equaled another group that trained much longer for five days a week (1). If you’re in the know then you understand that I am talking about the famous Tabata study, in which researchers showed the effects of high intensity exercise on VO2 Max (a marker that exercise physiologists use for fitness).
High Intensity Interval Training, or HIIT, works well because it forces your body to do a lot of work in a short period of time. It’s kind of like reading the Cliff Notes version of a book prior to writing a book report. As a result, you impose a huge demand on your lungs, cardiovascular system, and metabolism. Your body will secrete large amounts of growth hormone after the exercise, and this hormone helps break down body fat at a greater rate than normal.
Another interesting study compared three different exercises: using a battle rope, a burpee (a conditioning exercise that you could literally do in a closet), and free weight exercises. Researchers were surprised that the burpee had a higher metabolic cost (meaning it burned more calories) than the free weight exercise routine (2).
Does this mean you should only do these exercises? Or never lift weights? Of course not! These studies simply show you that you can lose weight and get in shape even with limited resources. Here’s a few examples of how:
Complexes: For the purpose of this article, a complex would be a series of moves done with a dumbbell or barbell. I would prefer to use a barbell, but you can still make it work with dumbbells. Simply pick between 6 to 10 moves and perform them in succession with no rest in between each movement. Each move should be about 8 to 12 reps. On paper, It looks easy but anyone who has down them knows that they are BRUTAL. In fact, no research studies have been done on them because I personally feel that subjects wouldn’t complete the workouts.
Here is an example:
Movement Reps Tempo
Dumbbell Squat 15 2-1-1-1
Dumbbell Row 12 2-0-1-1
Dumbbell Stiff Leg Deadlift 8 3-1-1-1
Dumbbell Shoulder Press 15 2-0-1-1
Dumbbell Curl 12 3-0-1-1
Simply perform these moves one after another and rest for 2 minutes. Four rounds total should be all you need. Complexes are used in the strength and conditioning world to help athletes lose a little bit more body fat prior to a season starting up.
Just a note: the tempo refers to how fast to do the exercises. For the squat, a 2-1-1-1 tempo means that it should take 2 seconds to lower yourself, a 1 second pause at the bottom, 1 second to return to the top of the squat, and a 1 second pause at the top.
Shuttle Runs: If you have a decent size backyard, then let the kids play outside while you get a quick workout in. Similar to intervals, shuttle runs require you to sprint/run between two distances repeatedly. This distance can vary depending on what you have around, but I wouldn’t make the distance shorter than 10 meters or longer than 20. Sprint between two cones several times (select a total distance of 40,60, or 80 meters) and rest for several minutes. Your neighbors might think you’re crazy, but the workout is similar to doing intervals on a track. You’ll get the last laugh when they see the results of your hard work.
Met-Con: Met-Con is short for metabolic conditioning, and the term can cover a lot of ground. For our purpose, we’re going to talk about someone trying to get in shape in a small room without any equipment. This is where things can get fun: simply pair several exercises together and perform them with minimal rest. Perhaps you do a push up paired with a jump squat. Or a burpee combined with jumping jacks. The point being that you want to mimic the same effect as with the complexes and shuttle runs: you’re challenging your conditioning level with movements that require a lot of muscle mass.
If you’re not sure where to get started, try this out:
Workout Movement Time Movement Time Rounds Rest Repeat
A Burpee 30 s Jumping Jack 30 s 5 2 ½ min 3X total
B Mountain Climber 30 s Run in Place 30 s 5 2 ½ min 3X total
Will you get in tip-top shape with these workouts? Maybe not. But I guarantee that you’ll get pretty close. I’m not a big fan of big box gyms and haven’t worked out in one for over 8 years now. I’ve built my gym around the concept that you don’t need 7,000 square feet to get in shape. A hard working mom knows that the basics are really all you need.
1. Tabata, I. Nishimura, K., et al. “Effects of Moderate Intensity Endurance and High Intensity Intermittent Training on Anaerobic Capacity and VO2 Max” (1996) Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise 28;10, 1327-1330
2. Ratamess, N. et al. Comparison of the Acute Metabolic Responses to Traditional Resistance, Bodyweight, and Battling Rope Exercises. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research