Previous generations didn’t think about how it would firm their thighs or strengthen their pectorals, but they stayed in great shape doing it. Long before Stairmasters and aerobics, men and women kept with daily doses of good, old-fashioned housework.
Though times have changed with the introduction of the vacuum and other so-called labor-saving devices, there’s still a lot of benefit to be gotten from household chores.
“Many people don’t realize that you can get a workout cleaning your house or washing your car,” says Kiana Tom of Sunset Beach, who is co-host of the ESPN television show “BodyShaping.”
If you want to work out, but don’t have the time, or would like to augment your current exercise routine, the answer may be in the dust on your tables or the mud on your car.
To get a good “exer-cleaning” workout, you’ll probably need to change your cleaning methods a little. “When doing cardiovascular work such as vacuuming and dusting, pick up the pace,” Tom says. “Also exaggerate movements more than usual and take more time with some tasks than you might otherwise.”
For an optimum workout, you may also want to add a few inexpensive workout items that you can use in conjunction with cleaning exercises.
The best exer-cleaning workout starts with cardiovascular work and ends with strength training. To get yourself in the workout-cleaning mode, Tom suggests putting on some upbeat music.
Here’s how to get a head-to-toe workout while cleaning your house from top-to-bottom.
Vacuuming is a high energy chore that is comparable to brisk walking, says Jerry Tyler, a personal trainer at the Sports Club/Irvine, where he specializes in recreation and sports conditioning. “Vacuuming not only provides you with cardiovascular conditioning, it also does a good job of working your legs and shoulders.”
To cardio-vac effectively, exaggerate your movements and change hands frequently so that you give both sides of the body a comparable workout, Tyler says.
For maximum benefit, it’s important to vacuum nonstop for at least 20 minutes and preferably more, because you don’t begin to burn fat until after 20 minutes, Tom says.
In order to get in enough cardio time, you can either vacuum and re-vacuum parts of the house, switch to another type of cardio-cleaning or try jogging in place after you finish vacuuming.
Make dusting an aerobic activity that will also work your arms and shoulders by quickly and briskly dusting, using not only your forearm and hand, but your entire shoulder, Tom says. “Do circular movements until the muscle starts to burn and then switch arms,” she says. So that you can continue without stopping, it might be a good idea to clear the furniture you want to dust before starting.
Workout and Wash the Car
“Washing the car will not only give you a good overall cardio-workout, if you keep moving, it will also really work your arms,” Tom says. “Just make sure to change arms frequently.”
If you have stairs in your house, they provide you with a great vehicle for working out. As a matter of fact, running steps and bleachers is often done by athletes in training, Tyler says. Doing stair work will condition your legs and give you an aerobic workout at the same time.
Try to make several trips up and down the stairs while cleaning. Depending on how often you run up and down them or how many there are, it may be a good idea to temporarily stop housework and do some stair work.
Keeping a steady pace, travel up and down the steps for a few minutes. To add interest, you can vary the stepping pattern and do backward and forward lunges off the bottom step, Tyler says.
When using your steps for exercise, to prevent falling, concentrate on what you’re doing and use the wall or handrail for support.
If you have no steps in your house, you may want to add to your workout by purchasing a step platform, which is used in aerobic classes. It can be used during the cardio portion of your exer-cleaning between vacuuming and dusting. The platforms cost from $80 to $130 and often come with videos.
Once you’ve completed cardio-cleaning, it’s time to do some resistance exercises. There are a variety of chores you can do to strengthen muscles.
Firm-and-tone with the dishes
When unloading the dishwasher, instead of just bending over from the waist to reach for dishes and putting them in the cupboard, do squats, Tom says. To do these, hold the dishes close to your body, keep your back straight and lower yourself slowly to a sitting position. Wait for a second or two and then slowly stand up and put the dishes away.
Do this 20 to 40 times and you’ll give your bottom and legs a good workout.
Strength-train with the groceries
Make a weightlifting session out of bringing in the groceries and putting them away, Tyler says. “Paper bags of groceries are often good to use for exercise because most range in weight from eight to 10 pounds,” he says.
With your back straight, carry each bag in the house close to your chest. Then when you get inside, stop and work your legs by doing squats like you did at the dishwasher. “Do this exercise with two or three bags, 15 to 20 times per bag,” Tyler says.
Once you’ve brought in all the groceries, you can isolate specific upper body muscles with bottles and cans.
“Many canned items are about 16 ounces, which can make a good light weight, while a jug of water or milk makes an even heavier weight,” Tyler says.
With cans and jugs, it’s possible to do a variety of upper body work including biceps curls, triceps extensions and kickbacks, flies for the chest and bent over rows for the back. Work each upper body area by repeating 12 to 15 times a two- or three-count move.
You can also do calve raises by holding onto your “weights” and raising and lowering each calf 15 to 20 times.
Inexpensive equipment you can buy to do more strength training in between chores includes dumbbells, which are just a few dollars a piece, depending on their weight; a barbell, which costs $20 to $30 and exercise tubing and rubber bands, which cost $2 to $10. Floor work is also a good addition to exer-cleaning. Do pushups, sit-ups and leg lifts.
Tighten thighs while polishing floor
Because we tend to move back and forth during most of our daily activities and even exercises, we often neglect our lateral body parts, such as the inner and outer thigh, Tyler says.
When vacuuming or mopping the floor, try to also move side to side when possible. You can even carefully walk sideways across the floor or up the steps or try something most of us used to love to do as kids--slide across the kitchen floor sideways. If you decide to do this, Tyler says to be very careful and make sure you have something to stop your slide, such as a wall.
For a safer way to strengthen lateral muscles and still slide, Tyler suggests using a slide board, which is a polymer or plastic-surfaced slide about six feet long and two feet wide. Spread this on your floor and slide back and forth on it, strengthening lateral muscles in between household chores. Less expensive models run from $70 to $130.
Another way to work the inner and outer thigh between bursts of housework is to do floor leg lifts.
Reach and stretch.
During exercise and especially after exer-cleaning, it’s important to stretch. Anytime you need to reach for something provides a good opportunity to stretch, Tom says. “When you’re reaching for something, stop and hold the stretch for 30 seconds before coming back down,” she says.
You can also stretch while washing the windows. When stretching, make sure to stretch to both sides and maintain a good posture, to avoid injury.
Once you’re done exer-cleaning, it’s also a good idea to take a short break and finish stretching out the entire body.
Other exer-cleaning tips.
Just as it’s important to keep on top of the house-cleaning, it’s also important to work out on a frequent basis. To maintain your current weight and stay healthy, you should do cardio work for at least 20 minutes, three or more times a week, Tyler says. If you want to lose weight, you will have to work out more. If your house isn’t a large one, you will probably need to do other exercise activities to reach your fitness goals.
As for frequency of weight training, new studies have shown that working out each muscle group once a week is sufficient to stay toned, Tom says.
When exer-cleaning, always be certain to keep good posture and stop any activity if you have pain.