Exercising at Home


Exercising at home refers to physical workouts done indoors in the person's home, as distinct from exercise done outdoors or in a fitness center or gym.


The purpose of exercising at home is to obtain the benefits of a physical workout—improved strength, balance, flexibility, endurance, and possible weight loss—with or without specialized equipment in the privacy of one's home. Very wealthy people may be able to construct swimming pools or large fitness centers in their homes; however, this entry focuses on the types of exercises that can be done or exercise equipment that can be installed inside an average-sized apartment or house.

People may prefer to exercise at home for a number of different reasons:

JANE FONDA (1937–)

Jane Fonda was born on December 21, 1937. She became an acclaimed, award–winning actress. After fracturing her foot during the filming of The China Syndrome, Fonda could no longer engage in ballet, her fitness program of choice. She turned to aerobics and strength training, and was hooked.

Fonda opened her first exercise studio in 1979. In 1981, while starring in On Golden Pond, her character took her shirt off and the forty-year-old actress revealed a fit and toned bikini-clad body. This image served as fabulous publicity for her ground-breaking, best–selling book Jane Fonda's Workout Book, published the same year.

Fonda paired this book with a record (Jane Fonda's Workout Record), which sold two million copies, and a best-selling videocassette (Jane Fonda's Workout). Fonda had successfully created a multimedia fitness dynasty. Her name was synonymous in the 1980s with fitness, as she produced over 20 videos.

Exercising at Home

(Trinity Mirror/Mirrorpix/Alamy Stock Photo)


It is difficult to estimate how many people in North America regularly exercise at home, as this form of exercise does not exclude participation in yoga, Pilates, or martial arts classes, or membership in a gym or fitness center. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about 27% of all adults over the age of 18 (including the elderly) regularly participate in body-strengthening exercises. The CDC's statistics, however, are broken down only by age group and sex, and not by the location or type of exercise.


Exercising at home following a doctor-approved program or individual exercise prescription has been highly recommended by mainstream physicians as one of the best things an adult can do to maintain overall health and independence, speed recovery following surgery or illness, manage a chronic health condition like osteoarthritis or osteoporosis, participate in social activities, and lower mortality risk. Several studies have also reported that home-based exercise programs are equally effective as those carried out in fitness centers.

Many individuals have chosen to exercise at home because of time limitations, financial constraints around gym memberships, or preference for a familiar environment. For quite some time, at-home exercise routines, whether induced by daily routine or intentionally determined, have been a widely recognized plan of action for individuals seeking the associated physical and mental health benefits.

As of 2011, sports medicine specialists are able to provide exercise prescriptions for the following special populations: seniors; persons with lung disease, coronary artery disease, obesity, diabetes, or osteoporosis; and pregnant women.

A quick self-test to evaluate one's readiness for physical exercise is now available through the Physical Activity Readiness Questionnaire or PAR-Q. It is available online at http://www.d.umn.edu/kmc/student/loon/soc/phys/par-q.html .


Exercise at home may involve using only the body (sometimes called bodyweight-only exercise) or various exercise equipment and machines.

No-equipment home exercise

Some types of exercise—particularly those intended to improve flexibility and balance—can be learned in a class or from a personal trainer and then done at home. Yoga, t'ai chi, calisthenics, and Pilates matwork can all be done with a minimal amount of floor space and no equipment other than a floor mat (or a door frame for pull-ups).

Another approach to exercising at home that does not involve specialized machines or equipment is to turn housework into exercise. Running up and down stairs, vacuuming vigorously rather than slowly, washing windows, carrying laundry up and down stairs, and mowing or doing yard work are all activities that can improve endurance and maintain muscle strength.

The American Council on Exercise has a sample home workout to improve strength and endurance that does not require any specialized exercise equipment:

Home exercise equipment and machines

Some people who want to do more than bodyweight-only exercises but do not have space for a stationary bicycle or similar machines can purchase a set of weights or dumbbells, a jump rope, and a fitness ball for less than U.S. $100. It is possible to have a challenging aerobic workout with these simple pieces of equipment. Those who practice Iyengar yoga at home can purchase blocks or straps to help them assume the poses, as well as use chairs or blankets that they already have.

Those who have the space and income to purchase specialized exercise machines may consider the following:

Exercise machines can be expensive, as much as U.S. $1500 for a stair climber or more than U.S. $3000 for a high-quality treadmill. A Pilates Reformer for home use can cost between U.S. $260 and U.S. $1300. Ski machines can cost between U.S. $700 and U.S. $1000, while stationary bikes are a more reasonable U.S. $150 to U.S. $300. Multistation home gyms run between U.S. $2200 and U.S. $4500.



Some questions that people should ask themselves before committing themselves to a particular type of workout or purchasing equipment or machines are as follows:

Before determining what equipment to use and to buy for in-home use, the potential buyer should decide what equipment will best help them to meet their exercise goals. They should also check the machines for safety features, durability, good design, and ease of use (that is, it should not be difficult for the average person to learn how to use the machine). Moving parts should work smoothly and should be easily repaired or replaced when necessary.

Training and conditioning

Physical preparation for regular exercise at home includes starting to get in shape as well as getting a physical checkup. In addition, people should begin to think at this point about the type of exercise that interests them and their goals for exercise. Most people have one or more of the following goals:

The person's goals will influence the type of workout they should consider and the type of equipment (if any) they may wish to purchase. For example, someone concerned about joint flexibility will want to consider t'ai chi or yoga. Treadmills, elliptical trainers, and stationary bicycles are intended for cardiovascular workouts, while weights and barbells are used to build up muscles. Those who are not sure what type of exercise might be most appealing can purchase or rent exercise videos to get an idea of what is involved in a certain type of workout before they invest money in exercise equipment or classroom instruction.

Aerobic fitness—
A measure of the amount of oxygen delivered to muscle tissue to keep it working. Any type of exercise that raises the heart rate and keeps it up for a period of time improves aerobic fitness.
A type of exercise consisting of simple movements intended to improve body strength and flexibility by using the body's own weight as resistance. Calisthenics includes such exercises as sit-ups, crunches, lunges, squats, push-ups, and pull-ups. The English word comes from two Greek words meaning “beautiful” and “strength.”
Loss of physical fitness due to illness or inactivity.
Exercise prescription—
An individualized exercise and fitness plan drawn up by a specialist in physical therapy or sports medicine.
Therapeutic exercise—
Physical exercise undertaken to treat a chronic illness or as part of rehabilitation, as distinct from exercise done for general physical fitness in a healthy person.

A cool-down phase should always be included and conducted at the end of a workout.


The risks of exercising at home are similar to those of any other fitness program. In most cases, strained muscles or soreness from starting the exercise program too rapidly or intensively are the most serious injuries that occur. Seniors, however, are at increased risk of falls when exercising at home and should include exercises to improve their balance as part of their exercise program. There is also an increased risk of sudden death during exercise if a deconditioned person begins to exercise too vigorously after years of being in poor physical condition.

People should always check with their primary care physician before beginning any exercise program. The American Council on Exercise notes that people in the following groups should be particularly conscientious about visiting their doctor before starting a home exercise program:

People who want to exercise at home in spite of a chronic health issue should consult a specialist in sports medicine for what is called an exercise prescription. An exercise prescription is an individualized program of physical activity intended to improve the person's overall health as well as assist recovery from specific health problems. The prescription plan is based on four considerations, sometimes called the FITT model:

Small children in households with exercise machines—particularly treadmills and stationary bicycles—are at increased risk of hand injuries from playing with these machines. Parents are advised to take extra care to make sure the safety features on these machines are functioning properly.

Caregiver concerns for seniors participating in a home exercise program include checking the senior's house or apartment for safety (adequate lighting; rugs and electric cords firmly secured; floors checked for slippery areas and obstacles, etc.) to minimize the risk of falls as well as monitoring the senior's adherence to and progress in the exercise program. Caregiver concerns in households with small children include monitoring the child's use of any exercise machines installed in the home.


Depending on the person's age, health status, and exercise goals, they may want to consult a personal trainer, specialist in sports medicine, or physical therapist.


The results of exercise at home should be the same as those gained from workouts in a gym or exercise class. Depending on the individual's goals, he or she should be stronger, have more energy, feel less stressed, lose some weight, and improve heart and lung capacity.

The results of a therapeutic home exercise program should include improvement in or recovery from the person's specific disorder or injury as well as improved overall fitness, flexibility, and strength.



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American College of Sports Medicine, 401 W Michigan St., Indianapolis, IN, 46202-3233, (317) 6379200, Fax: (317) 634-7817, http://www.acsm.org .

American Council on Exercise, 4851 Paramount Dr., San Diego, CA, 92123, (858) 576-6500, (888) 825-3636, Fax: (858) 576-6564, support@acefitness. org, http://www.fitness.gov .

American Physical Therapy Association (APTA), 1111 N Fairfax St., Alexandria, VA, 22314, (703) 684-2782, (800) 999-2782, Fax:(703) 684-7343, memberservices@ apta.org, http://www.apta.org .

Rebecca J. Frey, PhD
Revised by Laura Jean Cataldo, RN, EdD

  This information is not a tool for self-diagnosis or a substitute for professional care.