(Image credit: Danil Nevsky)
We typically think of home—and the living room in particular—as the place where we avoid exercise: it’s the source of cozy blankets, squishy couches, and Netflix binges, after all. But when we spend so much of our time there, finding little ways to set up your space to reach your goals, rather than inhibit them, can make all the difference. That’s exactly what I did back in 2008. I’d hit bottom with my self-esteem: I was so out of shape and felt so unattractive that my life was constantly compromised as a result. I didn’t want to join a gym because I was terrible at forcing myself to find the time to actually go, and my confidence issues made me feel awful around all the hard-bodies. Plus, my chiropractor scoffed at gyms, saying I just needed to squat and use my bodyweight to my advantage.
At first, when working out, my cramped quarters disrupted and distracted me. I couldn’t move freely when exercising, so I’d lose my rhythm. My beautiful living room literally got in the way of my success.
With my chiro’s encouragement and my aversion to gyms, I realized the best way to embrace change was to be surrounded by change. I’d never had great success at working out at home, but had never gone all-in on it, either. My room always had to be “set up” for exercising, and returned to order afterwards.
So, I rearranged my living room. The couch went back against the wall, I turned the coffee table lengthwise for more space, and eventually, put 1-inch casters on its legs to easily roll it aside (which took $10, a power drill, and an hour). My rugs went in storage, for bare hardwood floor under my yoga mat, creating a proper foundation for workouts.
Then my gear needed to be front and center too. My $20 set of hand weights emerged from the cupboard for a new home by my sofa, along with my yoga mat and Pilates straps. I hiked my rocking chair into my bedroom, where it became a great place to read before bed, and in its place, by the TV, went an inflated balance ball.
By the time I was through, a new seven-foot radius in front of the television meant I could stretch and move to my heart’s content while watching anything I wanted. The simple act of creating this space meant I walked out there daily and saw a stage I’d created for success, inspiring me to act. If I didn’t work out, guilt struck, because my “change” space was in my face.
That setting created constant focus. I worked out more than I’d hoped I would. I’d watch TV while engaging my core regularly on that balance ball. Weights by the couch often inspired light lifting during commercials.
For workouts, I did a routine I’d been assigned by a fitness trainer, including leg lifts and other body-weight exercises, like squats, crunches, and planks. I also subscribed to an online yoga site for some variety. In focused workouts, I probably did 30 minutes a day, but slowly, I changed everything in my life. I parked further away from stores. I walked home with groceries and used them to do “curls” as I walked. I took stairs, not escalators. I grilled food instead of frying it.
Soon, this new strength helped me push even more boundaries. Being in Vancouver, I could throw my bike on a bus bike rack and transit past hard, hilly terrain to cycle flat stretches to rekindle my cardio slowly. (Many cities allow bikes on trains and buses. Investigate in your city! It’s a great way to introduce cycling into your life.)
Eventually, I could cycle 25 miles in a day, hills included. After a year, I’d gone from a size 22/24 to a size 14. I became the kind of woman who could walk up 15 flights of stairs in a highrise down the street, then go pitch-and-putt golfing later.
Despite those successes, I became a cautionary story of how critical it is to know stretch properly and listen to your body. A year into that life, serious back injury began unravelling my progress. I was down 75 pounds and feeling powerful—most of the time. Unfortunately, I ignored persistent lower back pain and didn’t consult a trainer about what was going wrong. Years later, I know now that I never learned the correct balance between hip flexor and hamstring stretching, and compensating for back pain with excessive hamstring stretching meant overtight hip flexors, which eventually led to a serious hip and back injury.
I should have learned the correct form before diving in, and I should have listened to my body and asked for help before the day when I stood up and felt a “snap” that became a years-long back injury. Today, I know how to stretch and am working on returning to the progress I found a decade ago. In the meantime, I’ve chased other dreams—ones that mean I don’t always have a living room. Now I’m a nomad traveling the world and I’ve lived in 18 countries in the past 28 months. In the past month, I’ve begun rediscovering cycling in rural Thailand. While it was simpler to reconnect with fitness when I was home with a routine, I’m determined to find a new way.
But if you’ve resolved to get a little more active this year, you can learn from both my successes and my mistakes. Instead of the complications and cost of a gym membership, just $50 in gear and a smart living room plan can change your life (check out our at-home workout ideas here—and remember to speak to your doctor before starting any new health or exercise program). The only regrets I have are that I splurged to learn a fitness routine but didn’t invest the same amount in learning proper stretching, or understanding how to recognize symptoms of overworked muscles.
This year, I suggest treating yourself to a couple of fitness coaching sessions, and then change your life just by changing your surroundings a bit, and creating new habits that start at home.