Editor’s Note: Dana Santas, known as the “Mobility Maker,” is a certified strength and conditioning specialist and mind-body coach in professional sports, and is the author of the book “Practical Solutions for Back Pain Relief.”
With spring still nearly a month away, the continued wintry weather and shorter days with less sunlight could be taking a toll on your motivation to get out and exercise. Understandably, you may be inclined to skip the gym in favor of staying cozy inside. But don’t let the winter blues keep you from moving your body!
By getting creative, you can get the exercise you need at home not only to boost your physical health but also to increase the feel-good brain chemicals serotonin, dopamine and noradrenaline to help you beat those doldrums.
There are lots of ways you can work out in the comfort of your home quickly and simply — without expensive gym equipment. With a little ingenuity, broom handles, backpacks and other everyday household items can serve as useful tools during your workout. If you have access to stairs, there are numerous exercises you can do using just two stairs. Even a paper plate can be used for exercise.
That’s right, just a single paper plate can provide all the means necessary for a surprisingly challenging total-body workout that strengthens your core and improves your balance. It may sound far-fetched, so I’ve outlined the exercises below and included an instruction video at the top of this article so you can try it for yourself.
Important note: Before beginning any new exercise program, consult your doctor. Stop immediately if you experience pain.
Perform eight to 10 repetitions of each exercise on each side of your body while maintaining a focus on good form and being able to breathe well. The instability of the paper plate is what creates the challenge. In each exercise, the side of your body that’s not using the paper plate is the stabilizing side, so that side will feel the burn of working harder to maintain balance.
If you struggle with strength or balance limitations, start off by practicing the movements using the suggested modifications for each exercise.
Place one foot on the paper plate and slide that leg back into a lunge position, bending your knee to gently tap it on the floor, if possible. The forward leg should also bend into a lunge position with your knee aligned above your ankle.
Use the strength of your core and stabilizing front leg to return to standing. That’s one rep. Go through all reps on one side and then repeat on the other side.
How to modify: Decrease how far back you slide and place a hand on a wall if balance is an issue.
From a standing position, put one foot on the paper plate and perform a slide-out lateral lunge by sliding your foot out to the side while taking a half-squat position with your opposite leg. Keep your chest up, trying not to lean forward too much.
Use the strength of your core and stabilizing leg to return to standing. Go through all reps on one side and then repeat on the other side.
How to modify: If you aren’t strong enough to hold the half-squat position, you can put a chair under your hip to sit back on as you slide out your opposite leg. Place a hand on a wall if you need help with balance.
From a plank position on the floor with your feet positioned a little wider than hip distance apart to help with counterbalance, place one of your hands on the paper plate. Maintaining a strong core and neutral spine, make circles with the plate on the floor.
Go as wide as your shoulder mobility will allow while still being able to stabilize. After making four circles in one direction, go in the other direction for another four circles. Switch to the other side and repeat the pattern of four circles in each direction.
How to modify: If you feel your back arching, lower to your knees to make it a bit easier to engage your core and keep a neutral spine.
From a plank position with your feet a little wider as noted above, place the toes of one foot on the paper plate. Just like you did with the shoulder circles, use your hip mobility to draw circles with your foot.
Make four circles in one direction and four in the other direction, then repeat with the other leg.
How to modify: You can lower to the knee of your stabilizing leg if you have difficulty maintaining a neutral spine. If you struggle to make a circular motion, try a mountain climber forward-back motion instead.
Depending on your current fitness level and how you feel while doing these exercises, do the four exercises sequentially through three to five rounds. You might be surprised by how exhausted you can get using just a paper plate! Be sure to take short breaks in between rounds to drink some water and catch your breath.
To help you overcome the winter blues and strengthen your body — especially your core, I recommend doing this workout a few times per week. Once spring arrives, look for more opportunities to exercise outside.