Making FItness Work for You...How to Exercise Without A Gym | A Couple Cooks

As passionate as we are about food and health, we know simply eating a whole foods diet is only one piece of the puzzle. Staying fit and leading an active lifestyle is just as important to overall wellness. Here’s the secret we’ve found to fitting in regular exercise: making it work in your lifestyle and with your personality. In this next post in our Healthy & Whole series, here’s a bit about where we’ve come, and what our fitness routine looks like now. 

Like many Americans, my life is non-stop. Weekdays are packed minute-by-minute between running a business, running a blog, running to social commitments…ironically leaving little to no time for actual physical running! Until about 10 years ago, regular fitness often took a back seat in my life to professional or artistic pursuits, socializing, or, well, anything to give me a good excuse.

I must confess: I’ve never been a gym person. I don’t feel inspired around exercise equipment and mirrors and big muscles. Instead, I feel inspired when I’m in my home, walking in my neighborhood, dancing, or hiking up a mountain. After some ill-fated attempts at becoming a gym regular, I realized a gym membership was not the answer.

Instead, several years ago as an experiment, I started using some Pilates DVDs. To my surprise, within a few months I started to slim down and build muscle without even having to leave my home, which was perfect for my busy schedule. A tradition of waking up early before work to do Pilates began. While I didn’t look forward to the early mornings, I felt great and it left my evenings free. After we got married, Alex encouraged me to start some new videos, partly because I could recite Denise Austin by heart but mostly to start working some new muscle groups. We decided it was time for some cardio as well, and purchased elliptical machine for our home. I started alternating cardio (while listening to my favorite podcast) with strength training workouts on weekday mornings, but left the weekend free for “rest” from my weekday workouts. 7 days a week sounded burdensome, but 5 weekdays: that was doable.

What started as an experiment turned into a tradition of exercise that Alex has now joined me on. He’s pushed to prioritize strength training, so we’ve moved to using You Tube videos in our attic workout space. And for cardio, we’ve started jump rope (surprisingly difficult), and just purchased a stationary bike to replace our elliptical, since it’s smaller and can provide an even more targeted workout. And when he doesn’t want to get up, we carve out some time in the evening.

Overall, we’ve found that creating a fitness plan in our home has worked surprising well. We’re able to exercise doing what we want, when we want — and even better, it’s working! Our new strength training regimen has allowed us to build some serious muscle while enjoying some time together.

Below are a few tips on how to start a workout routine in your home, as well as a plan of what we do and some links to equipment we use. We’d love to hear your thoughts on exercise, how you’ve made it work for you, or where you’re looking to grow!

1. Embrace your identity. Before I became interested in cooking, I had a very strong identity about who I as not. “I’m not a cook. I’m not a crunchy granola hippie who loves health food and wears yoga pants.” In the same way, I had the same prejudices about being into fitness. “I’m not a body builder. I’m not a runner. I don’t wear spandex and sports bras.” But guess what? You don’t need to change your identity or your personality to start integrating fitness into your life. Same with cooking healthy foods. You can still be you, even if your habits might start to look different.

2. If it doesn’t work, ditch the gym. With the craziness that is my life, there’s just not enough time in the day to drive to a gym, exercise, shower, and drive home. To make working out work for me, I get up 30 minutes early before work to exercise in my home. This saves the time of taking a trip to the gym, and I have my evenings free to catch up at the office or go for a walk with a friend. I started out with just an exercise mat, and have since purchased some free weights to go along with our exercise videos.

3. Work out, then rest. Making a goal of working out 7 days per week for the indefinite future is daunting. We’ve found that aiming to work out every weekday works for us, since we’re able to be more naturally active on the weekends, especially in the summer. This also gives your muscles a break and a chance to rebuild.

4. Give yourself grace. Lots of it. Working out regularly is hard work, and it takes diligence to build up a routine and find what works for you. If you have some rough patches and stop/starts, it’s ok! Give yourself the grace to move forward, and try not to guilt-trip yourself into giving it up altogether. (We’ve been there.)

What We Do: In-Home Workouts

  • Daily: Walk as much as possible during the day (I use a Fitbit to track my steps and shoot for 8,000 to 10,000)
  • Weekly (~30 minutes total on weekdays):
    Strength training + light cardio You Tube videos, 20-30 minutes / 4-5 times per week
    Cardio on elliptical or stationary bike, ~20 minutes / 3 times per week (to keep your interest, try listening to podcasts!)
  • Weekend: 
    Bike rides
    Walking dates with friends
    Dancing! (I love it, he hates it)

What We Use




About the authors

Sonja & Alex

Meet Sonja and Alex Overhiser: Husband and wife. Expert home cooks. Authors of recipes you'll want to make again and again.

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  1. We share a love for a lot of the same youtube channels/videos. I love using Youtube exercise videos when I want to get in a good workout, but don’t have enough time, or sometimes motivation to go to the gym, it’s a great resource!

  2. Another great post in the series! I’ve embraced working out in my home over the last year, and I’ve noticed that by following workout videos I’m able to get a better workout in a shorter amount of time, AND I don’t have the commute time between home and the gym. And it’s cheaper. It’s a total win-win! Finding what works best for you and your lifestyle (as well as giving yourself some grace) is really key to making your fitness lifestyle doable.

  3. I’m a home workout person too and love your tips here! I just discovered this site called Grokker and have been using some of their free videos. Really like them as an alternative to Youtube

  4. Working out at home definitely has its advantages! My husband and I always say that we wish we had space for an in-home gym, since both of us like to to strength training with weights. I have also found that working at home can save time, since you are not driving to and from the gym. I often run for cardio and either do a HIIT or strength training routine at home (using mostly my bodyweight) and when I want to switch it up, I’ll take a class such as barre or yoga!

  5. If you love dancing, have you tried Zumba? I recently tried some video workouts by RefitRev on YouTube. Boy, am I glad I was alone in the house! I can’t think of a time in the last few years that I’ve felt sillier – but I also tried it again a week or so later, and smiled (partly at myself, partly at the fun of it) the whole way through.

    I don’t know if Alex would go for it, but I bet you’d like it :)

  6. I think exercising at home is sometimes better than going to the gym. It has its pros and cons. Pro – don’t have to pay for gym membership, Con – restricted to certain exercises. But on the other hand you can buy equipment just like the gym equipment if you have the space in your home. You don’t even have to buy machines or DVDs YouTube is great for workouts. Studies and doctors recommend 30 minutes of exercise/physical activity everyday and I think this can be done at home than having to travel to the gym which will take up time depending how far away you live. Working out at home there is many mobile apps you can get to track your workouts and diet to monitor your weight loss is that is one of your goals.

  7. I workout from home too and I use the Nike Training App. It is a great resource for strength training and toning. Someday I hope to have an elliptical machine for the winter months.

  8. Fabulous post! Such great tips for working out at home! I’ve gone back and forth between gym + home workouts and end up falling in the middle. I like having some things at home when I’m in a time crunch, but I also like the gym! But being active outside will always be my favorite. :)

  9. Yes, it’s definitely more important that you get around to actually do your exercise than wait (indefinitely) for the optimal time do it! It’s also about eliminating excuses. Right now I’m focusing a lot on high-intensity training which is very effective, and when going to the gym, I’ve stopped bringing things to use the shower there, instead I just put on my gym clothes, ride my bike for 10 minutes there, do 30 minutes of lifting, then go home. Much more effective and much higher chance of actually being consistent with it when there’s less planning and packing involved.