No equipment exercises for nerds who can’t lift good (yet!)

Back in 2018, my current roommate had a serious health scare. With only the aspiration to spark some inspiration in him to try to improve his health for his own sake, I started to exercise to set an example for him to follow. I rallied a few friends along too, hoping peer pressure would amp up my efforts. It’s been 3 years since then, and I’ve found myself enjoying exercise quite a bit for various reasons. 

My friends and I originally started our exercise routines by following this beginner’s guide on Nerd Fitness. Since then we’ve built our own, idiosyncratic routines by adding various pieces of equipment and exercises to various degrees of success for our own reasons. At the encouragement of one of my friends, I purchased a pull-up bar and use it every day. Sometimes I just hang from it like a cliffhanger for 30 seconds, which increases grip strength and is great for the shoulders, spine, and posture. 

“But Mr. Jacky the Nerd, sir!1” I hear you frantically and fanatically type on the keyboard (Google and the NSA watch our every move, so why can’t I watch yours?), “I don’t have a pull-up bar! And this is supposed to be exercising in the kitchen with no equipment!” 

Fear not. There are plenty of great exercises that require no equipment. You can up the ante on some of these exercises by improvising equipment using what’s at home such as chairs, stools, bags, books, and milk jugs. Many of these exercises will come from the Nerd Fitness beginner workout and some things I’ve picked up from vlogs, blogs, and my own experiments along the way. If you’ve ever wanted to start exercising but don’t know where or how to start, I strongly suggest the kitchen or living room or anywhere there’s some extra space. There’s no gym memberships, no commutes, and all you really need is you and your own bodyweight to get started. 

1: Push-ups (Recommend minimum set: 1. 5 to 20 reps).

Push-ups are a compound exercise that engage muscles in the arms, shoulders, and back. There are dozens of variations with different levels of challenge and difficulty. To perform a basic push-up, start by lying horizontal on your stomach. Really curl up with that kitchen floor and get to know it better! Next, align your wrists and shoulders with your palms facing down, tighten your butt cheeks (heuh heuh, I said butt) and keep your pelvis forward to help keep your hips aligned with your back, and push yourself up off the ground. Keep your back and neck as aligned with each other as possible. The nice thing about push-ups is that they are simple to learn. Even if your form starts off poor, you can learn to correct it in little to no time at all with extra practice and by paying attention to how your body feels or doesn’t feel in alignment. I had to get corrected by a friend and start focusing on how aligned or unaligned I was by focusing on how certain muscles and muscle groups felt. The video below from Calisthenic Movement explains doing push-ups a lot better than any nerd or bro I know.

I personally like to do declined push-ups. This variation involves resting the toes on an elevated surface, like a kitchen chair or stool, to increase the difficulty. It’s a more advanced variation of the push-up that emphasizes upper body strength and it feels really manly to pull off. Another variation I do are rotational push ups, sometimes called T push ups (I call them “twisty high fives”). Basically, you twist your body to one side after lifting yourself up off the floor, rotating until one arm is parallel with the other for a second or two before placing it back on the floor to lower yourself. (INSERT PICS) If a basic push-up is too difficult to do, start off by doing knee push-ups. The same basic rules apply, but you rest your knees on the floor instead of your toes and execute more of what feels like a “tilt-up.” There’s a whole list of variations here, so try experimenting after mastering the basics.

2: Squats (Recommend minimum set: 1. 10 to 20 reps per set.)

Squats are an easy-ish lower body exercise. I say easy-ish because I was able to start doing them pretty much immediately, but some people who have mobility issues may find them challenging to do at first. Get your feet shoulder width apart, place your arms and hands in front of you parallel to the floor, and bend your knees forward with your butt sticking out to lower yourself. Once your thighs are parallel to the ground, you can begin to lift yourself back up unless you want to go into a deeper (and harder) squat. If you go into a deeper squat, it’s important to keep your heels on the ground (it takes practice, but it can be done). You can also start off doing squats by doing assisted squats using a table or desk to help support your body weight. The Nerd Fitness blog has some great gifs and videos explaining this simple and effective exercise. You can also hold a weight in your hands to increase the resistance and perform what is commonly referred to as a “goblet squat.” A bag of books, a full milk jug, or an actual weight will work perfect.

3: Dumbbell (or random weight) row (Recommend minimum set: 1. 10 to 20 reps per set.)

If you don’t have a dumbbell, that’s ok. Nerd Fitness recommends using a 1-gallon jug filled with water as an easy starter weight. That 1-gallon of water will weigh about 8 pounds. Keep an empty milk jug, rinse it out a few times, and fill it up with water. Boom. Instant and easy weight. Gotta start where you can start. Alternatively, fill up a backpack or tote bag with some books, canned foods (most weigh about 16 ounces, or 1 pound), bricks, or something that adds around 5 to 10 pounds of weight to it for a light (if bulky) weight. It’s what I did when I first got started until I invested in a 20 pound kettle bell.

The dumbbell row is another exercise recommended for beginners by Nerd Fitness. It focuses mostly on the arms, specifically the triceps (those are the muscles on the back of your upper arm. Not as sexy as the bicep, but just as critical!). Begin by resting one hand and one knee on a kitchen chair or two (effectively making a bench) with your body parallel to the floor. Grab your weight and lift it up, pulling your elbow past your body. Then, lower the weight steadily to the start position. Rinse and repeat the slow-motion ripcord motion until you reach your rep goals with each arm. 

4: The Plank (Recommend minimum set: 1. Hold position for 15 to 30 seconds.)

A plank is an exercise which requires holding a position for a set amount of time, almost like a yoga pose. Planks are good for working lots of muscles. Calisthenic Movement has another great video explaining the benefits and how-tos of a plank, but I recommend the straight back form for beginners. I like to wear an old watch to help me keep track of the time and give me eyes a focal point to maintain the form, but a cell phone timer will also work.

5: Walking Lunges (Recommend minimum set: 1. 10 to 20 reps per set.) 

Lunges are another easy exercise that can be done in place, but I recommend moving around and using your available space to make it more interesting and fun because so many of the exercises above are done in place. A lunge is performed by lifting one leg up and taking one giant step forward until you’re in an exaggerated kneeling position. Alternate the movement for each leg to give each leg some exercise. There’s no skipping leg day in my kitchen! 

Variations include using a weight to increase the resistance. Try doing some lunges wearing a backpack full of books to increase the difficulty or carrying weights in your hands. If you have trouble doing lunges, place one arm on a door frame to support your weight and momentum while you move into the lunging position. Make sure each leg is worked at least 10 times for a full set.

6: Dashing (Because sprinting sounds less fun…Just go outside and dash from one side of the yard to the other 5 times.)

Sprinting is one of those necessary movement skills we don’t really put much stock into. Many of us may never encounter a situation in which we need to save our lives from a ne’ero-do-well or dash into danger to save another life (say grabbing a kid from running into traffic, an act which I’ve done in a Wal-Mart parking lot once). While this can’t be done in the kitchen necessarily, it’s a good exercise to do. Make it fun by imagining you’re trying to catch up with your favorite fictional character. Sure you can’t catch the Flash, Wonder Woman, or Link riding Epona, but that doesn’t mean it ain’t worth a fair and honest shot. 

Extra Exercising Tips

1: Set a goal for yourself. It can be simple and practical, such as losing some weight to be healthier and feel better. One of my friends started losing weight and exercising to be able to wear more clothes that he likes. Personally, I set the goal for myself to be stronger so I can pull someone out of rubble or a burning building.

2: Spend a few minutes warming up. Doing an easy house chore or pacing around for a bit will wake up the muscles and prepare them for greater movement. 

3: Remember to breathe. Inhale and exhale during exercises and create a rhythm. I breathe in when I lower myself during push-ups, and exhale while lifting up. Same thing goes for squats. Your body needs oxygen and while it takes a little time to remember to breathe, it’s a necessary thing to remember to keep your blood oxygen rich to make that workout better.

4: If your form is not perfect, get it right the next time. It takes time to develop muscle memory and strength for newbies to develop that perfect form. The better the form, the more difficult the exercise feels, but the better it will be for developing that strength and endurance. 

5: Stay consistent. Find an accountability group or buddy. These people will keep you on track by giving you someone to report into about exercising. This is helpful for new people who may lack the motivation to make this life-style change because forming new habits takes time. Consistency is the most important aspect of physical fitness and health as even half an hour 3 or 4 days a week beats the snot out of 0 minutes 0 days of the week. Having that helpful accountability might be just the good push a newbie needs.  

Why Exercise?

I’m of the opinion that any exercise is better than no exercise, and exercise is especially important for people like me and others that I know who enjoy and partake in more sedentary activities like movie watching, gaming, reading, writing, and internet surfing. It improves physical, mental, and emotional health. Regular exercise helps me be less prone to being nervous and anxious, and the mental health benefits of regular exercise are why so many people and health professionals recommend sustained exercise routines to help treat and mitigate depression and its accompanying symptoms (I recommend doing some reading here). I exercise primarily for my health and to make myself more physically useful in emergency situations. Ideally, I would like to reach a point where I can one day drag a 250 pound person out of a burning building to save their life. I’m currently at a point in my fitness where I can at least save myself if I have to. 

The important thing to keep in mind is consistency and having a good, honest, and healthy reason to exercise. Having a good why will help find a how. That and this song really helps too.


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