Ask Stew: Indoor Workout Ideas

Recruits of Mike Company, 3rd Recruit Training Battalion, jump rope during the circuit course event at Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego (Photo By: Angelica I. Annastas).

Starting and maintaining a workout program requires hard work, but you'll be rewarded with solid results with a little persistence and time. To make steady progress, you will need to change things up every now and then, especially when you have limited equipment or time.

Here is an email from a young man who lost more than 30 pounds and still wants to progress with more challenging workouts in a limited equipment and space environment.

Stew, a couple of years ago, your "90-Day Beginner Book" was a huge help to me losing weight and getting in shape. It gave me a plan to stick to and helped me lose 30 pounds. It was probably the best shape I have ever been in. Fast-forward three years. I am still doing well. I got engaged. I am currently doing the six-week program in your "Too Busy to Train" book, and I'm really liking it so far. The reason for my email: I am occasionally without access to a pool, treadmill or place to run outside. Do you have any good indoor substitute like a burpee routine or something similar? I could always run in place, but I just wanted to ask. Keep doing what you do. It helps people. -- Gary

Gary, congrats and good job keeping with it for years. That is the magic solution, pure and simple persistence. But yes, burpees and running in place can be good ideas for getting your heart rate up into the cardio zone when you cannot get out and run or use cardio equipment. Here is a list of ideas to help you when you want to do something, but cannot due to a lack of equipment or other reasons.

Jump rope. This is the classic method of getting cardio with very little space, no cardio machines and limited time. You will find that jumping rope is hard on both your heart and lungs, but it is also difficult coordination-wise. Limit yourself to sets of 10, 25, 50 and maybe even 100, as you get better. Time yourself each set and extend those times throughout the workout to 10-15 total minutes in 1-2 minute intervals.

Jumping Jacks. If you have no access to cardio devices or place to run, try mixing 20 to 50 jumping jacks into your workout BEFORE every exercise you do. Your heart will elevate sharply for every set, keeping your calorie expenditure higher throughout the workout.

Step-Ups. Similar to a stair machine, but all you need is a short bench or stairs. Step up and step down the 12- to 18-inch platform as many times as you can in one minute. See if you can pace yourself a little slower and go for five minutes. This is a great exercise to add in place of running, rucking or walking on a leg day.

Running up/down stairs. If you have a mile or two to run, but no treadmill or place to run outdoors, find a flight of stairs and run up/walk down them for the time it normally takes you to run a mile. If you do not know your running time, try to run up/walk down the stairs for 5- to 10-minute sets spread throughout the workout. This activity works very well on leg days.

Carrying weight up/down stairs. Grab a dumbbell in one hand or wear a weight vest or backpack, and walk up and down a flight of stairs for sets of five minutes, spread throughout your workout. If holding one dumbbell, walk upright, flexing your core while walking the stairs. Switch hands when you start to lose your grip. Once again, this is ideal for leg day workouts.

MJDB #3 (video). The multi-joint dumbbell exercise (MJDB) is like a burpee but with dumbbells (hexagonal are preferred, so they do not roll). Mixing this exercise into your workout will get your heart rate up quickly no matter what point you do it, as it is considered a full-body movement exercise.

Short Shuttle Runs. If you have a short open distance indoors -- such as a basketball court, tennis court or even a big room -- try adding a shuttle run-type sprint to your workout. The 5-10-5 is a classic speed and agility event that, when done at full speed, can get your heart rate going after a few times. A 5-10-5 consists of running 5 meters to the left, then 10m to the right, and 5m to the left again. You can also just run back and forth from one end of the room/court to the other multiple times, mixing in exercises when you change direction. For instance, we do this on a basketball court, parking lot or field: Run 25-50m, 1 pushup (or burpee), run 25-50m, 2 pushups, run 25-50m, 3 pushups, etc. Keep going up to 10 and repeat in reverse order. That is a great way to move and get some upper-body PT pyramid in as well.

More ideas for this one: Replace pushups and burpees with lower-body days.

If you don't have space, replace running back and forth with jumping rope or jumping jacks for 10 seconds each set.

If you have no place to run, replace running with stair climbs up/down in place of running 25-50m.

Hope that helps. Enjoy and keep moving forward!

-- Stew

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