Forget treadmills, rowing machines and air-conditioned exercise suites: you can get in shape with a staircase, a chair and fridge. Take it from a man who can’t afford to throw money around.
Even a basic gym membership in Britain can easily cost you £30 a month or more.
This means it’s likely to be one of the first things to get binned if you’re on a low wage during this cost of living crisis.
In my job as a licensed bouncer and security guard, I earn £11.76 an hour.
Even if I work my contracted 48 hours a week plus all the overtime I can grab, and door work on the side, I’ve got as much chance of signing up to KX Life Chelsea’s £615 per month membership, which includes a wellness assessment and access to the spa, as I do of getting handcuffed to a ghost.
But I also can’t afford to be lazy: my job needs me to have a basic level of fitness.
Along with my shift mates, I’m a first aider and emergency responder as well as just a human roadblock.
I need to be able to sprint, restrain people, carry cones, stand upright for hours, and sometimes jump up to catch an escaped 18th birthday balloon.
Away from work, I also need to be confident my heart won’t pop when I open my notifications and see the gas bill has shot up from £25 a month to £143.
Despite the cliched image of the muscle-bound doorman, I’ve never wanted to look hench.
Standing around flexing is more likely to invite trouble than keep it at bay. Also, off-duty, not many people want a life partner who spends all their downtime at the gym.
As a natural-born skinny bloke (or “Where’s Wally with an asbo,” as my girlfriend calls me), I’ve found I’m well suited to bodyweight exercises.
When I was a kid, I was transfixed by Clubber Lang’s basement drills in Rocky III, and Sarah Connor doing chin-ups in her cell in Terminator 2. As an adult, I’m too knackered to go running at night when my shift ends.
In 20-odd years of working in frontline security, here are the exercises that have kept me in decent enough shape to protect people – and to tackle all the day-to-day lifting, swinging and pushing when I’m off the clock.
Forget flashbacks to PE: you can do a push-up. Start by pushing yourself away from a wall, then choose something lower, eventually building to horizontal on the floor. Then, for an added challenge, go back to the wall with one arm.
Building up to just a few one-arm push-ups has taken me decades, but arguably paid off when a bloke tried to drive through me while I was guarding an entry gate. Obviously, I couldn’t repel his hatchback, but the sight of my arms not bending on his bonnet may have convinced him to do a three-pointer.
Don’t neglect your overhead pushing skills, either: they’re useful if you need to get crates down from high shelves, or if you’re the Leader of the House of Commons and have to carry a ceremonial sword without painkillers.
You can develop strength in this movement pattern by working up to a pike press: get into a plank position on your toes, then lift your hips back and up until you form a triangle.
Carefully bring your head down towards the floor by bending your elbows, and then straighten your arms to push back and reset.
For some added core work, swoop your chest up at the bottom of the descent to perform what’s known as a Hindu push-up. Just beware that the next morning your arms might feel like you’ve had two BCG injections.
Chin-ups (where your palms face toward you as you lift yourself up to an overhead bar) are slightly easier than pull-ups (palms away).
Start slowly by practising dead hangs, where you dangle from any overhead surface with your feet off the ground.
If you’ve got stairs, you can use your balustrade if you can reach it.
If you’re in a flat, you can try “fridge-ups”, raising your bent legs up behind you while you grip the top of a standard 70in combi unit and lift yourself up.
I once watched my fifty-something boss put his vertical pull skills to good use when we were guarding a house occupied by a stoned squatter.
Using the edge of the downstairs bathroom roof, he was able to lift himself up, walk across it and politely ask the squatter through a window on the top floor whether they’d mind opening the door.
To anyone carrying a heavy backpack who wants to keep their spine and lat muscles in good condition: I recommend also developing rowing power, which you build by doing Aussie pullups.
Lie on your back under a knee- to waist-high bar; grab it, then lift yourself up and lower yourself down again while keeping your midsection straight.
When we were learning about burns and acid attacks during first aid training, the instructor told us legs make up 36% of your body.
So anyone who focuses solely on their upper muscles will only ever be 64% healthy.
If you want to be able to hike, race up ladders, or in my case hurdle over traffic barriers when a fight breaks out in a car park, Bulgarian split squats are fantastic for training glutes, hamstrings and quads – and improving your mobility at the same time.
Push a chair back against a wall, stand a few paces in front of it, facing away, and put the toes of one foot on the seat.
Sink lower until the thigh of your front leg sinks to parallel with the ground, or just below.
Watch that your knee doesn’t track over your toes, and jump lightly or hold a dumbbell to progress further.
To develop a hip-hinge movement – essential for doing the “bargain bend”, when you try to reach the cheaper own-brand products that hide on the bottom shelf in supermarkets – you can try Romanian deadlifts, folding forward from the waist with your hands either in line with your knees, or outstretched holding a weight.
Focus on keeping your back straight rather than how much iron you can carry. No one cares about your numbers unless you’re a professional powerlifter.
Some of the bodybuilders I’ve worked with will add sets of crunches to the end of their barbell session.
My thinking is, if my midsection’s valuable enough to qualify for a protective vest on the job, it probably needs a session to itself.
Russian twists can be done anywhere, and involve turning from side to side while sitting on the ground with your heels raised. Handy for quickly unloading a van.
What about running or cardio? Strength is essential, but your body’s most important muscle – the one that beats through your chest on the run-up to payday – is life or death.
If you want to get your breathing up but have childcare duties or duff trainers, do a combination of the above exercises without resting in between sets.
That’s what the 1950s fitness pioneer Jack LaLanne did. Aged 54, he infamously beat a 21-year-old Arnold Schwarzenegger, who had challenged LaLanne to a push-up and chin-up competition after claiming the youngest-ever Mr Universe title.
Twenty minutes is enough for me to feel as if I’ve done cross country without leaving my kitchen.
Generally, it’s accepted that sets of one to five reps (repetitions) of an exercise will build power, five to eight build strength, eight to 12 build muscle and more than 12 build endurance.
So which is best to focus on? Is pushing a car once a more useful life skill than stacking bricks for an hour?
Before you fall down the Google hole and get analysis paralysis, research suggests that you should “periodise” your workouts. Spend a few weeks focusing on strength, then change to endurance, then power… whatever order you like.
Just remember that doing five sets of five reps forever will eventually plateau.
Every few weeks, I’ll get my head turned by the newest fitness fad. My mates start talking about battle ropes; I start wondering if I could make my own by connecting a load of bike locks.
That’s when I’ll take a “de-load” week and focus on yoga. Controlling your breathing comes in useful – if someone’s trying to spit on you, for example, or you’re trying to hold your emotions together while explaining to your kid why you can’t get a dog – and my favourite yogi is Cosmic Kids on YouTube.
The instructor combines poses with movie plots, telling my daughter and me that we’re Charmander from Pokémon while ordering us into the downward dog position. It costs nothing, but the fun we have is invaluable.
I only hope Cristiano Ronaldo got the same buzz when he was paying £295 (plus £350 joining fee) to cool off in the cryostasis therapy chamber at CPASE. I might have a go at that myself this winter. I reckon all I’ll need will be a stopwatch and my thermostat.
(Article source: The Guardian)