How to work out at home safely (and effectively)
All about how to work out safely at home and be effective too.
If you’re a home workout warrior, good for you! You’re definitely saving time driving to the gym and saving money on a gym membership too. But just because you’re working out at home, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t follow some basic safety rules, even if you’re exercising in the comfort of your pajamas. (Side note: I don’t think you should work out in your pajamas, and we’ll get to that later in the post.)
Truth be told, working out at home has never been my preference, but I’ve certainly done it a lot. As a group fitness instructor, I live for the community and energy of other people — and you pretty much need to do that in a studio or gym setting. However, I worked out at home for the first six months of Brady’s life, and it totally got the job done. There were definitely some things I liked about it, and I even wrote this post “How to get the motivation to work out at home” based on my experience.
There are MANY benefits to working out at home, including the following …
- You don’t have to pay for a gym membership or for expensive studio classes.
- You don’t have to drive to or from the gym, which cuts down on a lot of transportation time there and back.
- The locker room is always functional and private, because you can get ready in your own bathroom.
- The equipment you need is never in use by someone else, nor is the floor space too crowded with other bodies to do what you need to do.
- You don’t have to worry about group fitness classes filling up or being cancelled.
- You don’t have to worry about gym germs.
- Nobody is ever watching or judging your movements, grunts, noises or sweet dance moves.
- Your workouts never get rained out.
So if working out at home is for you, GO for it. But because you’re doing it alone and not with the help of an in-person professional in a fitness setting, proceed with caution …
How to work out at home safely (and effectively)
Create a dedicated workout space with plenty of room to move.
One of the most common ways people get injured is by kicking or falling on furniture. It may sound silly, but you HAVE to clear the area where you will exercise. You never know how big a move will be, nor do you know if you’ll trip a little while moving around and end up landing on the coffee table.
Not to mention, you don’t want to limit your range of motion or stifle your ability to go full out just because there’s not enough room around you.
Reconfigure the furniture in your living room, find a spare bedroom or create a space in your garage if you need to. Of course, space requirements are format specific, and if you are doing mat Pilates, it’s pretty safe to do that in a small area, but almost all other workouts require more square footage.
Wear the appropriate sneakers for the workout at hand, and change out your sneakers frequently.
I don’t know how many times I’ve had to tell gym members that they need to replace their sneakers that they’ve been wearing to every single workout class for six months or more. And that’s because if you only work out at home or indoors, you may find that your shoes don’t get dirty, so it’s hard to notice that they are worn down. But you are still wearing them regularly and thus causing wear and tear on the insides, soles and functionality, and this can lead to knee and ankle pain.
I recommend changing out your sneakers every three months if you do a lot of cardio or impact work (impact is jumping). Speaking of sneakers, try to wear cross trainers for cardio workouts and flatter sneakers for weightlifting workouts. If you do a lot of HIIT (high-intensity interval training) that includes both cardio and weights, then go with the cardio cross trainers, with padding and lateral support (running shoes don’t have great lateral support, so I’d skip those altogether unless you’re running).
- These are my current cardio sneakers of choice.
- These are my current weightlifting sneakers of choice.
Choose your barefoot workouts wisely.
Here’s the deal: It can be very beneficial to do some heavy weightlifting in your bare feet because it challenges your proprioception and even recruits more muscle activation, but this option is only a good one if you are a seasoned exerciser and have proper form nailed down. (In fact, here’s a super old post I wrote all about it when I was experiencing with barefoot weightlifting at Equinox as a trainer “Is it better to work out in bare feet.”)
If you’re doing your workouts at home and are at the beginner or intermediate level, I’d always wear sneakers if I were you. That way, you won’t be putting too much pressure on the bones of your feet when they aren’t used to that kind of feeling. I’m not saying you need to have super padded shoes, but keeping your sneakers on ensures your feet are a bit more protected from impact.
As a note, I think it’s always safe to do Pilates and yoga workouts in your bare feet. Sometimes you can do dance workouts in bare feet too — but they also apply a lot of pressure. Barre workouts are best done in the bare feet, but only if you’ve got a floor with some give, like a group fitness studio. I’d be careful about doing too many barre workouts in the bare feet if you have to exercise on wood or tile, because it can lead to injuries in the ball of the foot, which I’ve experienced myself.
Don’t skip a proper warm-up. Ever.
I think one of the big problems of working out at home, especially if you do it first thing in the morning, is that you roll out of bed and just want to immediately get going. You want to get to the workout as quickly as you can so you can get it done and don’t lose motivation or let any distractions get to you. That’s great, but you can’t skip a proper warm-up, otherwise you don’t get as good of a workout right from the start and you could also risk injury.
A lot of streaming workout programs will include a warm-up for you to follow along, which is awesome — but some do not. And if they don’t, it’s up to you to do some arm circles, kicks, chest openers and hip openers and maybe even some foam rolling before you get started. Here’s a post I wrote on “Foam rolling 101: How and why you should be using a foam roller.”
Even if the program you’re doing includes a warm-up, if you know that your shoulders get extra tight, then you should do your own shoulder dynamic warm-up before getting going. Be smart and prepare your unique body so you have the most chance for success.
(Side note: Make sure you are fully awake before getting going — you don’t want fatigue to cloud your judgment and result in a fall or dropping a weight on your foot.)
Video yourself or watch yourself in a full-length mirror to check your form.
If you have the ability to put full-length mirrors in your home workout space, I’d do it. That way you can watch your body moving and make sure that you aren’t doing things that you don’t know about, like rounding your shoulders during rows or letting your chest drop too much in squats, etc. However, if you don’t have access to a mirror to check on your form, I’d suggest setting up your iPhone and recording yourself doing your workouts. That way you can play it back to see if you are doing anything out of the ordinary that could cause injury. You could even show the video to a friend, trainer or group fitness instructor to get a little feedback.
Quite honestly, it’s beneficial for everyone to video themselves sometimes to get real feedback on workout performance and technique.
I think it’s helpful for everyone to work with a personal trainer at least once in their lives to get some help on form and address any incorrect movement patterns, but if you can’t do that — trying capturing video and playing it back and matching what your body is doing up to what the streaming workout instructor is recommending that you do. If they don’t line up — make adjustments.
If you’re watching a workout, put it on a laptop or big screen TV and situate it directly in front of you at eye level.
This is HUGE! Do not, and I repeat, do NOT, try to follow a workout on a tiny iPhone that is propped up on its side on the ground, while you are standing. This is a recipe for neck injuries and back injuries and much more. You have to be careful that your neck is always in line with your spine. You don’t want to strain to watch the screen.
I’d recommend positioning the screen so it is right at your eye level. And then if you do any work on the ground, move the screen a bit lower. It’s also best to watch your workouts on as large of a screen as you can. That way you can see exactly what the instructor is telling you to do and you don’t have to squint or scoot up closer to catch the details.
Suit up in sweat wicking gear and a supportive sports bra.
I think you should wear regular workout clothes when you work out at home. Why? Because sweat-wicking fabrics not only pull the sweat off your body, but they don’t weigh you down, so you don’t get overheated. In addition, supportive sports bras are a MUST! Don’t make the mistake of starting a workout with a regular bra and then decide you have to stop.
Plus, I like to think that getting dressed in real workout clothes gives you a little mental and motivational boost. So just do it.
Follow a workout program or do streaming programs created by reputable fitness professionals.
If you choose to work out at home, you don’t have to go at it alone. There are so many streaming services you can try out to see if they work for you. There’s Beachbody (which I have minimal experience with, so can’t say whether the workouts are good or bad; there’s the Sweat app (which I tried and enjoyed, and you can read my review here); there are the Tone It Up programs (which are easy, but fun and doable); there’s Peloton (no experience with that one either); and of course — my personal favorite, there’s Les Mills On Demand. I love Les Mills workouts at home or in the gym, and you can do them all for 21 days for free using my special referral link here, and you can read my review here.
Quick note: There are a lot of great trainers out there selling their programs to individuals to do at home, and I support them and their growing businesses (especially women, go women!)! However, there are also some bad trainers out there. Before you buy a program from someone, make sure that they have a valid and current personal trainer certification, make sure that they have actually trained clients in person or taught classes before (professionals with nothing but online training do not have the best background), and make sure that you are cleared by your doctor before beginning a new program. End rant.
Complete a variety of types of movements throughout the week. And don’t forget your rest day.
Nobody should be doing the same workout every single day. If you’re a home workout warrior, try not to get so attached to a single program that you repeat very similar exercises too many days in a row each week. This will eventually lead to overuse injuries, and it will also lead to plateaus in your fitness gains.
Depending on your fitness goals, you should try to do at least 2-3 resistance sessions and 2-3 cardio sessions with a full day off from your workouts in between. You don’t want to jump every single day, and you don’t want to do squats every single day either. If you’re following a program created by a fitness professional or following along a branded program, hopefully they will guide you in the right direction to make sure you have a variety of movement by the end of each week.
And that, my friends, will cover it.
Thank you so much for reading! If you have any questions, please let me know in the comments. Have an awesome day and be safe in your workouts! 🙂
Other helpful posts you may like …
- Review of Les Mills On Demand streaming workout service — and this post also includes my special referral link for your FREE 21 day trial of the service
- Review of Kelsey Wells’ PWR workout program and the Sweat app
- How to get the motivation to work out at home
- Foam rolling 101: How and why you should be using a foam roller
Questions of the day
How was your weekend?
Do you usually work out at home or the gym?
If you do work out at home, what type of set-up do you have?
Hi Ashley! I was just wondering what your thoughts are on using kettlebells for strength training are. I’m training for an ultra marathon at the moment and don’t want to do HIIT classes (offered at my gym). Do you think you can get a decent strength workout in at home using kettlebells? Have a great day – loved this post!
Please ignore the second “are” :/
ehhe didn’t even bother me at all! 🙂
Hi Shelby! That’s SO awesome you are going to do an ultra marathon – WOW!! And the answer is, YES you can get a great workout in with just kettlebells. They are more challenging to use than dumbbells because of how the weight is situated further from your grip. I would recommend a light one and a heavy one. If you’re new to kettlebells, you may need some wristbands, as your wrists take a beating with some moves. I’d also look up some basic kettlebell technique before getting going. You can do a lot of squatting with a heavy kettlebell held at your collarbone with your elbows tucked. And even some lunging and lateral lunging with the same hold (lighter kettlebell). Try to focus on lots of lateral movements to compensate for all the front/back running you’re doing, if that makes sense. Good luck to you!!!!
Thank you so so much! I’ve been following you for ages and LOVE your blog <3
Have a lovely festive season with your family! Xxx
You are too sweet, Shelby!! Hope you have a very festive season too! 🙂
How did you heal the ball of your foot?! Mine’s been hurting awhile but it’s impossible to avoid walking on it.
Hi Angela, So I irritated an old stress fracture on the ball of my foot from doing bare-feet barre workouts on my wood floor, this was a few months after Brady was born, and I was extra sensitive to injury while nursing. I did a few things to heel: Stopped all bare foot workouts and wore supportive sneakers. I took a couple weeks off of barre workouts in general. I also upped my hydration and calories and sleep as best I could to help repair. I had it x-rayed and there were no signs of strain, so it was very minor. Hope you can take time off to heal!!
Thanks!! Good point about nutrition– the only time in my life that I had a stress fracture was when I wasn’t eating enough.
Good nutrition is SOO important, especially if you’re an exercising woman!! Eat up, friend! 🙂
Great tips! I prefer working out in the gym as well but have been primarily working out at home in the mornings the last few months (following an online streaming program) so I can leave work at a reasonable time. I worked out during the day at work for years but changed roles recently, so now I have more meetings during the day and need to be here earlier and get to leave earlier. I really like that top you have on in the pictures, where is it from? Also love that one with Brady on the fireplace 🙂
Hi friend! These pics are from the summer, but the top is still available from Athleta (http://bit.ly/2RPPIoS), and I wear it all the time and have it in two colors. That’s good you’ve accommodated home workouts in your schedule — you’ve got to do what works for you in the moment. Keep up the great work! 🙂
Oh and what program are you following?? I love to know!
I did 21 Day Fix Real time on BeachBody a few times. Now I’m in the middle of the Morning Meltdown 100 program, which has a little more cardio than I’m used to, so I skip the high impact one sometimes and do my favorite class at my work gym (a hip hop step class).