The deceptive allure of home exercise programs

Collage of home exercise DVDs, records, plans

Yesterday Samantha posted about the real life secrets of aging athletes.  And truer words were never spoken– as we get older, we have to pay closer attention to all the things that can limit the felicitous functioning of our bodies.  When I was in my 20s, I could ignore the needs of sleep, nutritious food, moderation in workouts, injury risks, adequate recovery from injury, etc. and still my body would keep going.  Now in my 50s, I feel like the CEO of my own personal HMO.  I have to track and adjust my food and alcohol intake for health, energy, reduction of GI symptoms and sleep.  I have to budget more time for sleep because of intermittent menopausal insomnia.  I try to do physical activity more often, but these days at a lower intensity level and shorter duration.  Doing more intense physical activity takes much longer to recover from, as Samantha points out, so I have to plan for down time too.

On the bright side, I’ve rediscovered the pleasures of yoga, which feels good and helps me focus on, care for and give thanks to my body for the ways it moves and stretches.  I’m also exploring other activities (like kayaking) that use other muscle groups (it’s all about the core)  and feed my need for nature (in particular, to paddle nearby dolphins and seals).

But the item in Sam’s post about mobility really hit home.  Here it is:

We are also all working hard to keep our mobility through our joints. See this good article on Mobility. I need to get back to CrossFit or start a mobility routine on my own.

My knees and hips get really creaky after sitting or driving for any length of time.  My shoulders are affected by rotator cuff injuries (surgery on right, physical therapy on left), and because of a history of ankle injuries (torn ligament, avulsion fracture, multiple sprains. What can I say?  I’m a clumsy athlete…) my balance is not as great as I’d like.

So what are our options for maintaining strength, flexibility and balance? Of course we can join gyms like Crossfit, take group coaching classes, hire a personal trainer, etc.  But these are both expensive and time-consuming; many of us have limited time and financial resources.

Enter the at-home exercise plan.  Why bother with an expensive gym membership, trainer, and maybe child care, when you can work out in the privacy of your own home and keep an eye on your kids at the same time?

There are approximately 4 zillion websites devoted to at-home exercise programs.  They sell DVDs, streaming services, “personalized” plans given one’s goals, apps for tracking all manner of exertion, and forums for connecting with like-minded folks also trying to sweat their way to success.  Of course, the DIY approach to fitness is nothing new.  Remember this guy?

Richard Simmons practically invented the at-home exercise plan.  He’s persisted through all the technology changes, although if you still want a VHS cassette, they’re for sale on Ebay.

Now of course there are home plans for all sorts of movement, and most of them are very inexpensive or free.  What a great thing!  Problem solved.

Or maybe not.

Do these plans actually work?  By “work”, I don’t mean “if you follow the plan, will you achieve some fitness results?”  I mean this: what are the chances that people who initiate some at-home plan stick with it for some length of time?

I decided to consult the internets to see what I information I could find. Turns out that this is a very hard question to find an answer for.  What I did find was loads of “success” stories by folks who used some particular plan (usually for sale on the site), with the requisite fitspo before-and-after photos. Lots of sites also turned the tables on us, placing the responsibility for failure on our own lack of will:

The question is not really “Do home workouts really work?”. The true question is: Are you motivated and disciplined enough to do your workout at home?

Yuck.  This story is a familiar one– every diet website tries to sell us the same bill of goods.  Nope, I’m not buying it.  But unfortunately, lots of women do, and some studies have found a variety of negative effects on body and self-image for some women who use exercise DVDs.  The Guardian published an article citing the above study and other related ones, arguing that live exercise classes are more inclusive and motivating.  Not that this is news to anyone, but it does cast some doubt on the efficacy of at-home plans.

Note to self and social science-y readers:  investigating the experiences of women using at-home exercise plans would be a great topic for a qualitative study. There are many studies on physical therapy exercise at-home plans, but I can’t find any on self-initiated plans not connected to medical care.  If anyone knows about any studies, please let me know in the comments.  I’d be most grateful.

Consulting my own experience, there have been times where I’ve gotten into the habit of flexibility, balance and strength training at home.  Often they’ve coincided with physical therapy: given that I had prescribed at-home exercises, it was not hard to add on some others.  And after the PT was over, I did maintain the regimen.  For a while.  And then it went away.  For no apparent reason.

So, back to the need for a mobility routine.  I just renewed my monthly yoga plan, which is located at a studio that’s a 10-minute walk from my house.  And I love the place, and love the instructors.  And some of my friends go regularly.  With all that support, I get there from time to time, and really enjoy moving and stretching and balancing (and teetering) and strengthening.  It would be nice (in theory) to do this at home, but for me this is not a realistic plan.

What about you, readers?  What sorts of movement or activity do you do at home?  How has it gone for you over time?  I’d love to hear your stories.









Exit mobile version