Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Does Fitness = Gymness? (Part III: The Only Three Things You Need For Fitness)

I've spent a lot of time in gyms over the years.  When I was in college, the gym I went to was barely lit, had one working treadmill, a stationary bike from the 1950s, thousands of pounds of rusted free weights and one cable machine. Gyms in days of yore didn't have a lot of bells and whistles and yet people still managed to get a decent workout. 

Gyms today are different.  Every piece of cardio equipment has a built-in TV screen so everyone can watch their own programming (heck, one gym I belonged to a few years ago had built-in DVD players so you could bring movies.  My first thought was, "Does someone stay on the elliptical for 2 hours?!").  Treadmills, stationary bikes and ellipticals all have programs that mimic everything from beach running to hiking Mt. Kilimanjaro.  The weight machines are no less fancy.  There are specific pieces of equipment to work your calves, hamstrings, quads, biceps, triceps, low back, shoulders and wrists --all independently of course.  It seems that the technology boom has impacted the fitness industry as well.  I don't know if it's because we are convinced that technology improves our lives so thoroughly that it must also improve our fitness, or if we're all so addicted to technology that we can't conceive of spending a workout without it.

I think part of the reason why people dislike gyms is that the equipment is overwhelming.  The cardio machines have so many lights and buttons they might as well be computers, and then who knows what any of the weight machines actually do?  If you're new to fitness all of this can be intimidating.  No one wants to be the guy reading the instructions on the leg press machine or the gal who can't make the treadmill move.  Embarrassing.  And so two things happen.  First, (and most importantly), we assume that to be fit we have to have fancy equipment.  And second, if we're intimidated/don't like/can't afford the gym, we sit on our backsides.

But as I mentioned in yesterday's post, you can purchase (affordably) just three pieces of fitness equipment that surpass just about any piece of fancy gym equipment you would find in a traditional fitness facility and use these three items at home (or anywhere) thus avoiding the gym.

By now you're purchased your kettlebell and have the first vital piece of equipment.  Now for the final two pieces of equipment you're going to need:  a jump rope and a pull-up bar. 

The jump rope could be the Rodney Dangerfield of fitness, it doesn't get any respect.  I can't think of a more simple, inexpensive piece of equipment that provides such an excellent workout.  Jumping rope is an intense aerobic workout but also has the added benefit of targeting the shoulders, back and legs.  It's summer -- tell me you don't want rockin' arms and shoulders to be flaunting at the pool.  And jumping rope also helps us to improve our balance, coordination and agility.  As we age, many of us fear the day when we fall and break a hip.  Want to know the secret to not falling and breaking a hip at 65?  Don't fall.  You can accomplish that by working on your balance, coordination and agility now. Jump rope is the answer to hot arms, great fitness and not breaking a hip when you’re old. 

If someone asked me, "What's the single best all around exercise for fitness?" I would respond, "squats" -- but the SECOND best exercise would be pull ups.  Compound exercises are exercises that involve using more than one muscle group and more than one joint.  Pull ups are a shining example of a compound exercise (as is the squat, which is why it's number one in my book) which works back, shoulders, chest and arms.  Pull ups are hard, which is why a lot of people do bicep curls instead.  But by including pull ups in your regular exercise program, you will get stronger.  A lot stronger.  And for the record, look better naked.  If you can't do an unassisted pull up yet, fear not!  You can do assisted pull ups using bands or do jumping pull ups (stand on something so your head is just about at bar height then jump and pull yourself so your chin is over the bar).  By doing assisted pull up work, you will develop the strength to do strict pull ups in no time and then the sky is the limit. 

A gym membership can be a great investment for some people.  But I would argue that a more efficient and effective workout can be done at home (or anywhere) with just a kettlebell, jump rope and pull up bar.  Use these three tools consistently and I guarantee you'll be in the best shape of your life.  Use the $50 a month you would have spent on the gym and buy yourself a tiny little bathing suit to show-off your hard work.

Posted by Rachel L. May
School of Health Sciences 


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