How to set up your own exercise program

Health and Fitness
Working out at home or at work – and giving your heart health a boost – has never been easier. With so much information available, from fitness apps for your smartphone to articles and videos on the Internet, it’s almost like having a personal trainer on call.

If you’re time poor or a gym just isn’t your style, there are a lot of exercise programs that you can do at home and with very little or no equipment. Most basic exercises are based around normal body movements and biomechanics, and a lot can be modified to account for injuries. In the case of pre-existing injuries, you may need to consult a professional for advice on appropriate modifications.

You don’t need to have equipment to start exercising. Using just a wall or the floor, or a chair if you want to get fancy, will do. To take things up a notch, steps are a great prop. If you want to add some extra resistance, especially for the upper body, resistance bands are excellent. These can be purchased at most sports stores.

If you have a personal trainer, chiropractor, physiotherapist or exercise physiologist, you could ask them to give you some recommendations or put together a program for you. Otherwise, there are some excellent apps out there which have a wide variety of exercises to suit everyone’s needs, such as Skimble, an app that has multiple exercise ideas and programs that you can do on your own at home or in the office. All of the programs are designed by qualified fitness professionals, and interactive and group options are becoming increasingly available. If you are someone who gets bored easily and needs to change it up, then this could be a great choice for you.

Another program that can either be done through an app or by just following a list of exercises and using a timer on your watch or phone is The Seven Minute Workout, which incorporates all the major body movements usually used in any exercise program. Research published in the Journal of Sports Medicine and Physical Fitness showed a decrease in percentage fat mass and waist circumference in people doing this exercise over a few weeks. The researchers concluded that this program is great for people just starting to exercise as it is simple and there are minimal constraints.1,2

Back to basics

While there are plenty of apps and online guides for exercise programs, don’t forget the good old basics for squeezing some exercise into your day. Park farther from the office or get off the bus a few stops early so you have to walk, use the stairs instead of the lift or take your dog for an extra loop around the park. In fact, if you have access to stairs, walking up and down them for 5 to 10 minutes is an excellent quick aerobic kick for the body. Research published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine showed that even 30 second bursts of incidental exercise (like vacuuming vigorously, walking uphill or using the stairs) throughout the day can have health benefits.3

Some basic body movements you can do in the comfort of your office, home or local park include:

  • jumping jacks – to get you warmed up and your blood pumping (do modified jumping jacks if you’re less stable or have concerns about your lower limbs)
  • a brisk walk up and down a few flights of stairs while swinging your arms – another option to warm up
  • push ups – to work your chest, biceps and core
  • tricep dips – to work your triceps
  • squats and lunges – to work your legs and backside
  • step ups – focuses on the full leg
  • dead bugs – these work out your core (start with the simple version and work your way up)
  • bird/dogs – exercises the back of body stabilisers and core.

To avoid injury, make sure you are doing all of these exercises properly. It may be worth your while to visit a trainer or other physical medicine professional and go through the exercises to iron out any kinks before you start. Most importantly, remember that even just a few minutes of exercise is better than none.


1. Mattar L, Farran N, Bakhour D (2017). Effect of 7-minute Workout on Weight and Body Composition. Journal of Sports Medicine and Physical Fitness, Vol 57(10):1299–1304.

2. Stamatakis E, Johnson NA, Powell L, et al Short and sporadic bouts in the 2018 US physical activity guidelines: is high-intensity incidental physical activity the new HIIT? Br J Sports Med Published Online First: 20 February 2019. doi: 10.1136/bjsports-2018-100397

3. Klika B, Jordan C (2013). High-Intensity Circuit Training Using Body Weight: Maximum Results with Minimal Investment. ACSM’s Health and Fitness Journal, Vol 17(3):8–13.

Disclaimer: Reference to any product or service does not constitute or imply endorsement by the Heart Research Institute.

Image: Scott Broome / Unsplash

Dr Susan Tyfield
Susan Tyfield is an evidence-based chiropractor who utilises a wide range of treatment techniques and rehabilitation in her sessions. She has been practicing for over 13 years, having achieved board certification both in South Africa, where she had her own private practice, and in Australia, where she has practiced since 2011. She has special interests in sports and performing arts healthcare as well as chronic pain management. She practices out of Waterloo and Darlinghurst, Sydney NSW.

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