If the ancient Greeks managed six-pack abs without the wonders of modern machinery, then so can you. Using low-cost equipment together with common household items you already own, you can build a whole-body workout program that’s full of variety. Items featured here are fairly cost effective, but you may be able to find them for even cheaper at online or discounted retailers.
No need for padded pink hand weights or a full set of gym standard dumbells. All you need are two containers, some water, and a little creativity. Fill teakettles or buckets with water (you may have to pad the handles to make it more comfortable) and use them as hand weights for two classic exercises: the forward lunge and the squat.
Exercise using kettles: Squat
Stand upright with your kettles dangling by your sides. Then, gently lower your buttocks toward the ground until your thighs are parallel to the floor as if you’re seated. Slowly lift yourself back up to the starting position.
As with the lunges, start with two sets of eight to 12 repetitions using no weights, then gradually increase the resistance incrementally.
Exercise using kettles: Forward Lunge
Stand upright with the teakettles dangling by your sides. Take a large stride forward with your right foot and slowly lower your left knee to the ground. Then push yourself back up to the standing position. Repeat a second time with the left leg stepping forward.
In order to perfect the movement, start with two sets of eight to 12 repetitions with no water in the kettles. Then add water to increase the resistance incrementally.
A new exercise mat is relatively inexpensive ($18 to $28), and can come in handy for different exercises and post-workout stretching. But a camping mat, or even a nicely kept patch of lawn, would also suffice for the next exercise.
Exercise using the mat: Plank
The plank is a classic exercise that will increase the stability of your core, or the group of muscles that support the spine. To start, lie on your stomach and lift your back up, supporting yourself on your elbows with your forearms pointing forward. Then, get up on your toes and support your body weight, keeping your legs and back straight and parallel to the floor. Hold this position for as long as possible. Practicing this consistently, at least three times per week, will increase the time you can hold the pose.
Resistance bands consist of a strong elastic band, sometimes with handle grips on either end. These can be used to get a killer upper body workout, and can replace expensive gym equipment that works the same muscles. They come in different colors for different resistance levels. The price of resistance bands typically range anywhere from $19.99 to $39.99.
Exercises using resistance bands
Shoulder press: Put one foot just in front of the other, bending the knees slightly. Place the middle of the resistance band underneath your leading foot and grab a handle with each hand. Pull up on the bands with your palms facing forwards and lift them above your head.
Bicep curl: Start with your hands by your side and pull up on the handles in front of you, flexing and bending your arm at the elbow.
A chair isn’t a device you typically associate with exercise, but if you click through to the next two slides, you'll learn about some active ways to use this piece of furniture to your advantage.
Exercise using a chair: Dip
In the previous section, you learned how to work your biceps. Now it’s time to learn how to work your triceps, the opposing muscle set. Sit on a chair and gently slide your buttocks off the edge of the chair. Hold the edge of the chair with the palms of your hands, fingers pointing forward, while pushing your legs out in front of you. Steadily lower yourself down, bending at your elbow, and then lift yourself up.
Exercise using a chair: Abdominals
Lie down on your back and hoist your calves up on a chair or bench. Touch your hands lightly to your temples (don’t be tempted to pull on your head or neck). Lift your back and head off the ground by crunching up your stomach muscles. Repeat for about 20 to 30 repetitions, or until you start to feel your abdominal muscles burn.
Jumping rope is great aerobic exercise and offers the convenience of a workout indoors or in confined spaces. A basic exercise jump rope is inexpensive ($10 to $20). You can also take a braided polyester rope and tape the ends to make a homemade version. Start with five to 10 minutes of jumping between other exercises. As you get the hang of it, change it up by jumping with only one foot. If you have a heart condition or high blood pressure, make sure to consult your doctor before jumping rope.
All of these exercises follow the same principles as any strength-training program: Be sure your movements are slow and controlled to minimize the risk of injury. Also, start by doing the program three or four times a week and allow a day of recovery between each session. Increase the resistance, volume, or length of time you exercise progressively. Stick with it and soon you’ll see and feel the difference without the strain on your wallet.