Tag Archives: exercise

19 Handy Household Items to Use for Exercise


The duality of paper plates: food and exercise.


Who needs fancy gym equipment when you have several items in your home that could serve a similar purpose? Check out the list below to see if you already own any of the following creative fitness solutions in the privacy of your own home!


  1. Canned foods – Work well as dumbbells. They could also serve as mini-foam rollers. Be careful with the semi-sharp edges.
  2. Chair – Great for dips, inclined push ups, and reclined push ups. Use two chairs side-by-side with space in the middle to do some inclined push-ups .
  3. Broom or mop – A great alternative to a weighted bar. You can also hold up the broom or mop overhead with straight arms and wide grip and wide leg stance to do overhead bar squats. You can also let the broom rest on your shoulders while letting grabbing hold of either end and complete some torso twists.
  4. Paper plates – Who needs Valslides? Use paper plates instead!
  5. Milk or juice jug (filled with liquid or sand) – This makes a great replacement to several medicine ball activities, but don’t slam it…it will get messy! You can lug this around instead of something like a sandbag.


    the infamous collection of plastic grocery bags

  6. Plastic grocery bags – Another great alternative to Valslides! Just place them underneath your hands or feet and start sliding. They work best on carpet or smooth surfaces. Double or trip bag something heavy inside and use these as weights!
  7. Towel – Fold up into a square or rectangle and use this instead of a balance disc. You can also do something like an overhead bar (towel) squat.
  8. Pillow – Work those abs with a lying (face up) hand-to-feet pillow exchange.
  9. Coasters – Another item to use instead of Valslides.
  10. Step / Stairs – Do some basic step ups and jump ups. Do a few calf raises. Bust out some inclined and declined push ups. Knock out an elevated plank. Depending on step height, you can crank out some dips.
  11. Dresser or counter top – Do some inclined push-ups!
  12. Books – You can also use these as an alternative to Valslides. Use a thick book to do some elevated push-ups. Heavy books could also serve as dumbbells and the different grip works those forearms.
  13. Old extra long phone cord – Use this as a jump rope. You could also use this as a stretching strap to help with some stretching exercises (be careful because the thickness of the rope may not be strong enough to support your weight).
  14. Wall – Do some wall sits or modified standing push-ups. Lie on your back, slide your butt close to the wall and do a leg inversion up against the wall.
  15. Sofa – Take those shoes off, lie on your back, and rest those legs up on sofa and do some assisted crunches. You can also tuck those toes underneath the sofa to help hold your feet down as you do some crunches. Lastly, do a plank facing your sofa and do some single arm punches into your sofa as you continue to hold your plank position.
  16. Bottle – You could use this as a mini foam roller for extremities (be careful, it’s GLASS).
  17. Water bottles (filled) – These work well as light weight dumbbells.
  18. Laundry detergent jug (full) – See filled milk or juice jug above (#5).
  19. Children – Small children make excellent weighted vests, sand bags, and large weights! Proceed with caution! Safety first!

Did I miss anything? Household items? Creative exercises? Please share!
Also let me know if you want me to provide details about any specific exercises using the items listed above.

To Foam Roll or Not to Foam Roll, that IS the question…

Have you ever wondered what that black tubey looking thing is sitting over in the corner at the gym? Have you watched someone use it and wondered, “what in the world is the point of doing that? What muscle does it work out?”


High density foam roller.

Admittedly, the foam roller entered my life right before I started studying for my personal training certification. And trust me, there’s been no looking back.

To get started, let’s talk about the geometry of a foam roller. It’s a cylindrical tube made out of ethylene vinyl acetate, or EVA, foam. I’m not a chemist, so you will have to research the safety of this material on your own. I don’t think EVA is made from carcinogenic substances, but a few articles I found online recommend infants and young children to NOT come in contact with products made from EVA. EVA is a durable, semi-soft material that is highly conducive to long-term usage. It can withstand repeated use over an extended amount of time.

Next up, foam roll sizes. Foam rollers come in multiple sizes, colors, and density. A good rule of thumb is the darker the color the harder the density. I personally own a 3 ft black foam roller, but for traveling purposes it may be better to also purchase a smaller foam roller (I’ve seen some as small as 5″ x 5″!). There are several brands to choose from. I don’t endorse any particular brand, but I purchased mine from a small business fitness equipment company. Feel free to email me if you’re interested in receiving the company’s information. There are also foam rollers that help target various trigger points, or knots within muscles, on the body.

Next, let’s chat about a physiological concept called, “self myofascial release,” or SMR, for short. Self myofascial release helps correct muscle imbalances, overactive muscles, and helps alleviate knots within muscles. Foam rolling is a way of performing self myofascial release. The National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM) recommends SMR to be conducted prior to stretching and physical activity. You can also do SMR after exercise.

photo credit: http://wiki.bluebuddies.com/Grouchy_Smurf_%28cartoon%29

“I hate foam rolling!” -Grouchy Smurf. A common misperception is that foam rolling hurts. The foam roller doesn’t hurt; instead, the knots on your muscles hurt!

You may be wondering, why should I do SMR before stretching and exercise? SMR helps break up any muscle adhesions and knots PRIOR to activity; thus, it helps elongate your muscles. Lengthening your muscles plays a significant role in static and active stretching, let alone subsequent physical activity. Lengthened muscles allows you to get a deeper stretch and increased flexibility helps increase overall neuromuscular efficiency, or your body’s ability to efficiently utilize muscles in all planes of motion, within your workout.

So, what exactly happens when you do SMR? SMR focuses on both the neural and fascia systems in our bodies. When we apply gentle and steady pressure to the knots within our muscles, we help flatten and realign muscle spindle fibers. Our muscles’ tendency is to contract, but thankfully, our Golgi tendon organs help our muscles relax and trigger a process called, autogenic inhibition. In order for autogenic inhibition to occur and for us to truly maximize SMR, we must hold pressure on the knots within our muscles for a minimum of 30 seconds. It’s important to relax and hold steady pressure on knots. It may take longer for some of us to relax and allow autogenic inhibition to kick in. Be patient and ease into the slight discomfort of steady pressure on your muscles.

Let’s start foam rolling!
The best way to tell you is to show you how to do SMR. Please review the following video that provides a comprehensive overview of SMR. Enjoy!

NASM Performance Enhancement Specialist training video. Feel free to fast forward the video to 01:25 to view the specifics about how to conduct self myofascial release.

Do you have questions or comments about SMR? Comment below!

Additional reading about foam rolling and self myofascial release:

Penney, S. (2013). Foam rolling-applying the technique of self myofascial release. Retrieved from http://blog.nasm.org/training-benefits/foam-rolling-applying-the-technique-of-self-myofascial-release/

MacDonald, G.Z., Penney, M.D.H., Mullaley, M.E., Cuconato, A.L., Drake C.D.J., Behm, D.G., & Button, D.C. (2013). An acute bout of self-myofascial release increases range of motion without a subsequent decrease in muscle activation or force. Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, 27(3), 812-821.


What does BALANCE have to do with increasing MUSCLE SIZE?

Many of us have heard the saying, “we must crawl before we walk and walk before we run.” A key word missing from this old adage is “balance.” To rephrase, we must balance our body while crawling and do the same for sitting, standing, walking, hopping, running, and any other movement or static hold exercise. 

Q: “So, why do I need to do balance exercises if I’m trying to gain muscle size?”

Image source: http://www.how-to-draw-funny-cartoons.com

BONUS KNOWLEDGE: Learn more about how and why flamingos stand on one leg. Click image.

A: Balance and stability exercises help improve body stabilization, align imbalanced muscles, and increase joint strength. And with a stabilized body, balanced muscles, and increased joint strength, your body is in an ideal position to gain muscle size.

Oftentimes, we get caught up doing common exercises that involve weight machines, free weights, and group fitness classes. But the reality is that these exercises become more effective when anchored by a solid balance training program.

What exactly do I mean by balance training program?

Dynamic balance is the “ability to move and change directions under various conditions without falling,” (Clark, Sutton, & Lucett, 2014, p. 246). Balance training develops “synergy and synchronicity of muscle firing patterns required for dynamic balance and neuromuscular efficiency,” (Clark, Sutton, & Lucett, 2014, p. 248). In other words, balance training helps our muscles move more efficiently. Thus, dynamic balance is interconnected to hypertrophy (i.e., increased muscle size) and other neuromuscular skills (e.g., speed, flexibility, endurance).

The National Academy of Sports Medicine’s (NASM) integrated performance paradigm states that force reduction and stabilization are required for force production. In other words, the ability to successfully execute dynamic balance exercises (i.e., balance training) helps us increase force production for strength exercises. Increases in strength helps us achieve hypertrophy or an increase in muscle size.

Kinetic Chain

Kinetic Chain

Balance training also helps correct kinetic chain imbalances; thus, improve muscle imbalances and flawed movement patterns. As a result, joint stress is relieved, neuromuscular efficiency is improved, and we are less susceptible to injury. With increased neuromuscular efficiency, we are able to maximize prime movers in strength building exercises and in turn, increase the size of muscle fibers.

Enough with the talk about balance training.

Let’s chat about a couple of BALANCE TRAINING EXERCISES.

1. Multi-planar lunge to balance: Stand with feet shoulders width apart and pointed straight ahead. Place hands on hips. Begin with a basic single leg forward lunge. Keep toes pointed forward and knees aligned with toes. Push off the front foot and maintain balance on the back leg. Repeat. Switch legs. Repeat. You can progress this exercise in different planes of motion (frontal plane, or lateral lunge; transverse plane, or turn 90 degrees). You can also add weight (e.g., weighted vest, dumbbells) to make this exercise slightly more difficult. I found a video that demonstrates this exercise.

Single Leg RDL

2. Single leg Romanian dead lift: Stand with feet shoulders width apart and slightly raise one leg (the knee of the raised leg should be slightly bent). Place hands on hips, bend from the waist down and reach the hand opposite of planted foot down to touch toe. Planted leg will slightly bend. Keep spine in neutral position and try not to hunch over and round the back. Slowly come back up to starting position. Repeat. Note: if you can’t reach your toe, you can regress this exercise by reaching down to touch your shin or knee. You can make this exercise more difficult by standing on an unstable surface (i.e., balance beam, half foam roll, balance disc) and eventually adding weight (i.e., dumbbell).

For both exercises, play around with the duration of the isometric movement or the point in which you return to the starting position. For example, lunge forward for 1 second, hold the lunge for 1 second, return back to single leg balance and hold for 3 seconds. You can also play with the tempo of the concentric (acceleration or movement against the direction of resistance) and eccentric (deceleration or movement in the same direction of the resistance) movements. Have fun with it!

Feel free to ask me about other ways to progress (increase difficulty) or regress (decrease difficulty) these exercises.


Clark, M.A., Sutton, B.G., & Lucett, S.C. (Eds.) (2014). NASM essentials of personal fitness training. 4th ed. Burlington, MA: Jones & Bartlett Learning.

Photo Credits

Kinetic chain. Retrieved from http://www.opedix.com/kinetic-health

Pink flamingo. Retrieved from http://www.how-to-draw-funny-cartoons.com/cartoon-flamingo.html

Single leg deadlift woman. Retrieved from http://www.fitnessmagazine.com/workout/abs/exercises/ab-exercises/?page=7

Additional Reading

Millar, A.L. (2012, Feb). Improving your flexibility and balance. American College of Sports Medicine. Retrieved from http://www.acsm.org/access-public-information/articles/2012/02/02/improving-your-flexibility-and-balance

Rogers, M.E. (2012, Jan). Balance and fall prevention. American College of Sports Medicine. Retrieved from http://www.acsm.org/access-public-information/articles/2012/01/10/balance-and-fall-prevention

Zech, A., Hübscher, M., Vogt, L., Banzer, W., Hänsel, F., & Pfeifer, K. (2010). Balance training for neuromuscular control and performance enhancement: a systemic review. Journal of Athletic Training, 45(4), 392-403. Retreived from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2902034/


CAUTION: Trendy Group Cycling Classes

Recently, the internet and social media sites have become inundated by videos showcasing “trendy” cycling classes in various cities across the United States. My first reactions to witnessing these classes were disbelief and fear. Although classes may look very engaging and entertaining, I sincerely fear for the safety of each and every person in the classes — instructors included.

The video originally posted to this blog post was removed from this site; however, here’s a link to it.

Here’s a quick overview of my initial concerns about these classes. For clarity purposes, I refer to these trendy cycling classes as TCCs.

Image credit: http://70point3andme.wordpress.com/2012/03/25/on-why-spinning-bikes-are-my-archenemy/ via http://www.whataboutki.com/

Click image for source.

Concern #1: If you wouldn’t do it on a road bike, then it has no business being in a cycling class. Several TCCs have riders taking not one, but BOTH hands off the bike during the class. This is a big no-no. Each and every time you take one or both hands off the bike, you increase the likelihood of falling off the bike (i.e., injury). Similarly, fast cadence (pedaling) + 1 or 0 hands = a recipe for disaster. Likewise, pedaling in a standing position with one or no hands on the handle bars equates to a significant chance of injury.

Rapid, bouncy, up and down movement on the handle bars and/or saddle of the bike compromises proper form, increases strain on your back and other points along the kinetic chain, and minimizes your ability to properly target specific muscle groups during your workout.

Concern #2: Indoor cycling and our love-hate relationship with the resistance knob. In the TCC videos I watched, it looked like cyclists, including the instructor, used light resistance on the bike, regardless of cadence (i.e., speed of pedal rotations). I’m pretty sure there is a resistance knob on the bikes, but it looks like there was one pace–FAST–in these classes. It’s possible that video footage was only taken of the more exciting, fast-paced parts of the classes. It’s also possible that these classes are primarily fast paced, or high cadence classes. A good group cycling class will use the resistance knob to regulate heart rate, increase strength, build endurance, and promote active muscle recovery.

Concern #3: A word about brands and trademarks. The majority, if not all, group cycling certifications are trademarked. In other words, a person who is not a certified Spinning(R) instructor cannot lead a cycling class named, “Spinning.” It doesn’t hurt to ask TCC instructors about their cycling certifications, if any. Keep in mind, not all gyms require group fitness instructors to hold certifications.

Most popular and accepted certifications:
Mad Dogg Athletics Spinning
Les Mills RPM
Moi Cycle

Concern #4: Is there a method to the madness of TCC structure? Are instructors monitoring heart rates or rate of perceived exertion? Is there intentional progression and regression of speed, resistance, and bike position? Are instructors correcting your form on the bike? Are TCCs choreographed performances on a bike with the latest and greatest music? Is it anchored by the philosophy, “if I sweat it’s a good workout?” Just because you sweat and the instructor played music that got you hyped, doesn’t necessarily mean you had a safe and effective workout.

Concern #5: There is liability if someone gets injured during a TCC. Personal trainers and oftentimes group fitness instructors are required to have liability insurance. On occasion, gyms cover their trainers and fitness instructors with an umbrella liability insurance plan. But what about the TCCs? Are the instructors insured? Do the owners of the facility provide liability insurance to all of their trainers and group fitness instructors? I hate to say it, but it’s only a matter of time before someone gets hurt in a TCC (if it hasn’t already happened). Proceed with caution and TCC instructors, PLEASE make sure you have liability insurance.

Before I close, I would like to commend all of the TCC instructors and cycling class participants for their commitment to incorporating exercise into their lives. However, please be safe as you proceed with future group fitness classes. Safety and good body mechanics are essential!

Indoor cycling resources:
Indoor Cycling Association
(articles and research)
Les Mills RPM

Moi Cycle

Note: This blog post reflects my thoughts and opinions and are not affiliated, endorsed, or supported by any professional fitness organization.

Another TCC example

Full Body Workout [intermediate level]

WARM UP (3 sets)

A simplified look at the 3 primary planes of motion.

A simplified look at the 3 primary planes of motion. Photo from http://mariamaestevens.com

50, 4 count jumping jacks (multi-form arm & leg movement in sagittal, transverse, and frontal planes)
10 stationary inchworms with push-ups
25 resistance band squat with row
20 lunges (10 each leg) with overhead extended arm leaning reach w/ weight
50 squats (w/ varied foot positioning and leg widths)
10 bent single leg lift with calf raise on opposite foot
1:00 rest

15 x 3 – straight arms resistance band pull apart (transverse plane) while kneeling balancing on Swiss ball
20 x 3 – kneeling resistance band pull down
4 x each grip x 3 – assisted pull ups, multi-grip (pronated, supinated, neutral, mixed)
25 x 3 – resistance band bicep curls (zottman, standard supinated grip, neutral grip, pronated grip raises)
15 x 3 – bodyweight dips
5lbs x 10 x 3 – I / T dumbbell lateral raises
10 x 3 – TRX suspended rows

jog 10:00 mile

15:00 Stretching


Work Smarter and Harder: Change up Your HAND Grip and FOOT Position

If you’re anything like me, you’re always looking for ways to diversify your workout and oftentimes get caught up doing the some of the same exercises. You can drastically change your workout intensity and targeted muscle groups by simply changing your hand grip and/or foot position. Below is a short list of hand grip and foot position variations you can apply to your workout. As with anything, if it hurts, STOP doing it, consult an expert, or try something else.

HAND GRIPSVarious hand grips

Pronated (also called reverse grip): Palms facing up
Supinated (also called downward grip): Palms facing down.
Neutral: Palms facing inward, in a more natural position.
Mixed: Have one hand pronated and the other supinated. Dependent upon the exercise, you may be able to incorporate a neutral grip with a supinated or pronated grip.
Close: Position your hands approximately 4-6 inches apart.
Medium: Position your hands approximately shoulder width apart.
Wide: Position your hands approximately 4-6 inches wider than shoulder width apart.

A few examples of applicable exercises include bicep curls, bench press, lat pull-downs, push ups, EZ bar curls, tricep press, pull ups, and push ups. Play around with your hand grips and challenge yourself! Have fun with it.


This picture depicts toes straight, toes out, and toes in for a close stance. The same foot positions can be applied to a medium and wide leg stance.

This picture depicts a wide, medium, and close foot stance. The same foot positions can be performed with toes out, in, or straight. You definitely want to be mindful of proper form to avoid knee and back injury.

Close: Position your feet approximately 4-6 inches apart.
Medium: Position your feet shoulder width apart.
Wide: Position your feet approximately 4-8 inches wider than shoulder width apart.
Toes outward: Angle your toes inward approximately 20-40 degrees. Helps target outer leg muscles (i.e., biceps femoris).
Toes inward: Angle your toes outward approximately 30-45 degrees. Helps target inner leg muscles (i.e., semimembranosus)
Toes straight: Good for overall muscle development.

Of course you can double up on these foot positions. For example, wide stance with toes outward.

As with any exercise, consult a certified personal trainer to ensure proper form, minimize the likelihood of injury, and maximize your workout.

A few resources:
Hardgainers Bodybuilding Handbook
Anatomy of Exercise
Livestrong.com articles about hand grips and foot stance

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