by Lee Kurisko, MD
It is a common misconception that to get fit, one either needs to join a gym or spend a pile of money buying equipment for their home. This is simply not true. In fact, if you have a body, you already have a gym. In his book, “You Are Your Own Gym”, Mark Lauren makes this point with a broad array of exercises that require no equipment. Pushups, planks, squats, and lunges are examples that require no equipment. Other good books are “Your Body is Your Barbell” by BJ Gaddour and “Bodyweight Strength Training Anatomy” by Bret Contrares.
Although equipment is nice to have, none is absolutely essential. The one piece of equipment that I consider close to essential for building upper body strength is a pull up bar. Pulling strength is an important component of overall strength.
As an aside, it is my own personal bias that women should include pull ups in their program. Most women cannot do any pull ups at all, but it is completely achievable to learn. Perhaps on a future blog, I will give tips on getting that first pullup. An excellent goal for a woman would be five non-stop pullups. For a man, 20 is excellent.
It is possible to address all aspects of fitness using bodyweight. Strength, flexibility and endurance can all be built readily without any equipment. It is a fallacy that you need barbells to build maximum strength because calisthenics are “too easy”. Handstands, pushups, one arm pushups, muscle ups, and one leg squats are examples of exercises that require tremendous strength and I would wager that most of the guys frequenting the weight room would struggle with these. Easier progressions exist and although I personally am fairly strong and can do all of these advanced exercises, I spend plenty of time doing easier exercises building a base for these challenges.
Great physical endurance can be built linking calisthenics together with very short breaks between. It is folly to think that a stair-stepper is necessary to build stamina. The human body is capable of moving in so many ranges and planes of motion, why confine oneself to just moving the feet up and done on a machine? Besides, such repetitive movements done over and over can lead to injury. Low intensity steady state exercise is passé for what most people would like to achieve from their fitness program (ie. improve functional ability and improved appearance) and yet this is what most people use as the basis for their fitness program. It is now well established that brief bouts of intense effort with short breaks is very effective at both building fitness and promoting fat loss. Some people even go so far as to claim that lower intensity sustained activities promote appetite excessively thereby negating any potential fat loss. Case in point; how many of those people at the gym that spend their time on the steppers, have radically changed their bodies? Most of them look the same month in and month out. Also keep in mind that for fat loss, nutrition is key. In my opinion, fat loss is 90% nutrition and 10% exercise. The primary purpose of exercise is not to lose fat but to strength and conditioning while contouring the body.
Although I am adamant that there are no absolutely essential equipment purchases, there are some things that are nice to have. Stretch bands are quite amazing at how they can make your muscles burn. These do not cost much and do not take up much space. I also have an array of dumbbells ranging from five to 30 pounds. If you want to spend the money, kettlebells are a useful tool but are by no means essential. I have two Olympic bars that can be loaded with hundreds of pounds. I don’t use them anymore because I believe the injury risk is too high and the workout is not even as good.
TRX straps are useful, but again, not necessary. Many of the TRX exercises could probably be reproduced with a length a rope and a secure anchor point. A couple of medicine balls of different weights are nice to have. Gymnastics rings are a useful tool that capitalize on the theme of moving your own bodyweight through space. To repeat, these implements are nice to have, but not having them should not impede your ability to have a great workout.
Save your money and do not spend a lot of expensive equipment or even gym fees. One of the most basic reasons to exercise is to impose physical challenges on our bodies because they are lacking in our modern lifestyle. Cavemen did not work out on the elliptical machine, and yet they were probably extremely fit simply interacting with the real world. Don’t feel that it is a requirement to blow your bank account on expensive equipment to get fit. It is simply not necessary.
Lee Kurisko MD is Chief Medical Officer of www.medibid.com. He is trained as a family physician, radiologist, and neuroradiologist. He is author of “Health Reform-The End of the American Revolution?” He is now pursuing Board Certification in Anti-Aging and Regenerative Medicine.