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Hidden Gym: Household Items That Can Give You a Workout for Hypertension During COVID-19

Natalie Stein
April 29, 2020
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With non-essential businesses closed and stay-at-home orders in effect due to COVID-19, gym workouts are impossible. Other exercise facilities, such as playing fields and public workout equipment at city parks, are also off limits. Should you just give up on staying active until life gets back to normal?

Absolutely not! 

Just as it does during normal times, physical activity lowers risk for chronic conditions, boosts mood, improves energy, and burns calories to help with weight control. With hypertension, a critical benefit of activity is lowering blood pressure. Staying active has additional benefits that are especially relevant during the COVID-19 pandemic, such as boosting the immune system and reducing stress. That is even more important for people with hypertension, who appear to be at higher risk for more serious cases of COVID-19.

You can walk, jog, and bike outside (whenever it is safe) for some cardio, but what other movements can you do without a gym? It turns out that your home can serve as a gym to stay in shape until your gym opens. These are some household items that can give you a safe and satisfying workout during COVID-19.

1. Water bottles


Did you notice how people rushed out to buy bottled water before hunkering down to stay at home. It was probably because people knew they would need those bottles to use as weights when their gyms closed. Water bottles make great dumbbells for doing a lot of repetitions, since they are light. Examples of exercises include bicep curls, shoulder and overhead press, chest flies on the ground, and tricep kickbacks. If small water bottles are too light for you to get in a good dumbbell-like workout, a pair of gallon jugs of water, or half-gallon jugs of milk, can work instead.

2. Couch


The next time someone calls you a couch potato, you can proudly say that they’re right! The edge of a couch or a sturdy chair is perfect for body weight exercises such as tricep dips. You can do push-ups with your hands on the couch and feet on the floor or vice versa with your feet on the couch and your hands on the floor. Mountain climbers, planks, and side planks with your hands on the couch can all work your core.

3. Bed


Improving balance reduces injury risk and can increase core strength. While you may not have a wobble board or Bosu ball at home, you do probably have a bed or at least a mattress. Standing on it on one leg can test your balance, and for a further challenge, try closing your eyes while on one leg (as long as you are sure you can catch yourself safely if you start to waver.

4. Liquid detergent (or gallon of water)


Liquid laundry detergent and gallon jugs of water can be substitutes for kettlebells with their hefty weight and convenient handles. Kettlebell moves include two-arm and single-arm swings, snatches, single-arm swings to chest, halos, high pulls, renegade rows, and windmills. For the core, side bends, wood choppers, and Russian twists can do the trick.

5. Tape


Painter’s tape is ideal because it is designed to be removable without leaving a mark, but masking tape should be fine as long as you remove it within a couple of days. With a single line of tape on the floor, you can do all kinds of balance, power, and agility drills. For example:

  • Walk toe-to-toe from one end to the other. Then do it backwards back to the start.
  • Stand behind the line, facing it, and jump over it. Then jump backwards over it. You can also do it sideways, jumping on one or both feet.
  • Place one can of beans on each end of the line, then stand at one end. Run to the other end and pick up the can, then as quickly as you can, run back to the other end, put down the first can, and pick up the second. Run back to the first end, put down the can, then run back to the second end, and pick up the first can, and continue for a predetermined amount of time, such as 30 seconds.
  • Shuffle sideways from one end to the other and back.

6. Towel


A towel can give you a deep stretch in many muscle groups. To stretch your arms and chest while standing, hold one end of the towel in each hand, reach up, and move your hands apart (outwards). You can also use the towel to stretch your biceps and triceps (fronts and backs of your arms), and sitting, the towel is a great helper for stretching hamstrings (backs of thighs).

7. Stairs


If you have a staircase in your home, you probably already know that climbing stairs can get your heart rate up and give your legs a good workout. Going up and down the stairs for a while can be a cardio workout in itself, and there are additional exercises you can add to vary the routine, use more muscles, and prevent boredom.

  • Tricep dips with your hands on the third or fourth stair and your feet on the ground.
  • Lunges with one foot on the second or third stair and your back facing the stairs.
  • Single-leg squats, facing sideways with one foot on the first step and the other hanging off the step.
  • Jump-ups with two feet up to the first step and back down.
  • Forward lunges with chops.

Stairs can also be useful for stretching hamstrings, calves, and quadriceps.

8. Books


Information may be more current and easier to access online, but college textbooks, cookbooks, and dictionaries can still be useful even if you have not touched them in years. Dig them out of storage and turn them into your workout equipment! Heavy books can be used as weights for bicep curls, overhead press, and crunches. You can also fill a backpack with books and walk around with it.

9. Bag of flour


A bag of flour or sugar can be a heavier weight and a substitute for a weighted ball at the gym. You may want to put it in a garbage bag in case the bag starts to leak when you are using it. Holding it with two hands in front of you, you can work your legs with squats and plies. Lunges and dips with chops and twists can help work your legs and core, too.

10. Babies


If you are lucky enough to be sheltering at home with a baby, it can be exciting to learn that babies can do more than drink milk, make dirty diapers, and cry. They can be excellent weights if you are careful. Bench press in particular is a good way to work your chest and give your baby a ride. Older children may be too heavy to serve as your weights, but they can be great workout partners, offering motivation, creativity, and excitement. With some patience and flexibility, you may be able to get in a good workout by following their lead when they are focusing, and getting in your own moves when they are taking breaks or getting distracted.

Staying at home may prevent you from being at the gym or using other public exercise equipment, but there are plenty of ways to exercise while staying at home during the COVID-19 pandemic. A quick glance around your home may lead you to see all kinds of items that can double as exercise equipment. Lark for Hypertension can help with reminders to get active and motivation from logging and getting instant feedback, along with helping you manage blood pressure in other ways with 24/7 coaching.

Author
Natalie Stein

Exercise, Fitness & Nutrition Expert | Lark Health