3 Household Items That Can Help You Get Fit

By Locke Hughes |

Take your workout from blah to brilliant when you add these three exercise props to your routine.

exercise prop

While you can certainly work up a sweat using just your bodyweight, integrating a few everyday props into your routine can change a been-there-done-that workout into something entirely new. These tools can provide additional stability, improve your form, and level up the fun factor as well.

Below, fitness experts share 11 clever ways to use three common items—a chair, yoga block, and towel—as exercise props to mix up your workout. For some moves, we share modifications that will make certain exercises easier or harder.

As always, safety is key. The exercises here may be different or more advanced than those you’ll experience in a SilverSneakers class. If you have a chronic condition (including osteoporosis), an injury, or balance issues, talk to your doctor about how you can exercise safely.

Exercise Prop #1: Chair

“One of the biggest declines we see as people age is in their power, or the ability to apply strength with speed,” says Kristian Flores, a fitness coach who specializes in working with people over age 40.

Using a chair is a great way to build up the power in your lower body without the impact or risk of injury that comes with dynamic movements like jumping, he says.

Chair Squat

Squats are best known for developing the glutes. But they really do hit every muscle from the waist down—and that includes your all-important core muscles.

Do 1 to 3 sets of 8 to 10 reps

How to do it: Sit in the chair with your feet slightly wider than shoulder-width apart. Stand up as quickly and safely as possible. Sit back down slowly—try to take three seconds to lower back down. That’s one rep. Pause two seconds between reps.

Make it easier: Use a sturdy chair with armrests, but for as many reps as possible, try to stand without using your hands and arms for help. Need to brush up on your basics? Check out our beginner’s guide to the squat.

Reverse Chair Squat

Sometimes called the box squat, this move works the same lower body muscles as the chair squat, but in a different way—helping to increase your range of motion.

Do 1 to 3 sets of 8 to 10 reps

How to do it: Stand with your back facing the chair, feet hip-width apart and arms straight out in front of you for balance. Think of gripping the floor with your toes. This will help keep your knees in line with your toes, which in turn helps prevent knee strain.

Inhale and slowly push your hips back, bending your knees to lower until you touch the seat of the chair. Tap the top of the chair with your bottom—don’t actually relax into a sit if you can help it—and exhale as you push through your heels to return to standing. That’s one rep. Pause two seconds between reps.

Calf Raise with Chair

This classic exercise zooms in on your lower leg. Bonus: When you build up power in your calf muscle, you take some stress off the tender Achilles tendon, which joins your calf to your heel. Win-win.

Do 2 to 3 sets of 10 reps

How to do it: Stand behind a sturdy chair with your feet hip-width apart. Point your toes straight ahead, and lightly hold the chair for support.

Exhale and shift your weight to the balls of your feet, pushing up as high as you can go. Hold for a count of two before lowering to starting position. Try to not touch the floor with your heels before your next repetition.

Make it harder: Perform the move one leg at a time.

Seated Leg Extension

Leg extensions target your hips and core, so you have better support for your spine when you’re walking.

Do 1 to 3 sets of 10 reps on each leg

How to do it: Sit toward the front of your chair with knees bent and feet flat, holding on to the sides of the chair for balance.

Keeping your left foot planted and upper body still, straighten your right knee until your leg is parallel with the floor. Try not to lock your knee. Hold for two counts, and then lower it back to the floor. Do 10 reps on the right, then repeat on the left.

Side Leg Raise

This move strengthens your hips, a muscle group that’s often undertrained but essential for balance and everyday movements.

Do 1 to 3 sets of 10 reps on each leg

How to do it: Stand behind a sturdy chair, and lightly hold the back for support. Raise your left leg to the side while balancing on your right leg. Be careful to keep your torso upright. Slowly return to the starting position. Do 10 reps on each side.

Make it easier: Try a seated heel tap. Sit toward the front of the chair, and move your one leg out to the side and then back to the middle. Repeat using the other leg. Plus, check out more great chair exercises.

Exercise Prop #2: Yoga Block

A yoga block is a lightweight, rectangular block usually made of hard foam or cork. While it’s commonly used in yoga class for added stability and alignment in certain poses, you can use it for other types of exercise. It’s especially handy for adding an element of resistance during core-strengthening exercises.

“A lot of people focus on core strength, but before you think about building strength you need good stability,” explains Sierra Graham, a personal trainer and sports performance specialist.

That’s because a stable core is the key to protecting the spine and preventing injury. “Working on core stabilization is extremely important, especially as we age,” says Graham.

Seated Twist with Yoga Block

This gentle exercise helps shore up the muscles that support your spine. The twisting motion increases your flexibility.

Do for 1 minute

How to do it: Sit tall in a chair, facing forward with shoulders pulled down and back. Hold the block with both hands in front of your chest. Inhale as you pull your tummy in tight.

From here, exhale and gently rotate your upper body to the right, as far as you can comfortably twist. Make sure the rotation comes from your core, not your shoulders or arms. Pause, then return to the starting position. Repeat on the opposite side. Continue alternating.

Glute Bridge with Yoga Block

Strengthen your entire backside and prevent back pain with this one simple, effective move.

Do 1 to 3 sets of 8 to 10 reps

How to do it: Lie on your back with your knees bent, feet flat on the floor about hip-width apart, and heels a few inches away from your buttocks. Place the yoga block upright between your thighs. Squeeze the block to keep it from slipping.

Press your arms into the floor for support, and brace your core to minimize the arch in your back. Push through your heels and squeeze your glutes as you lift your hips up until your body forms a straight line from your knees to your shoulders.

Hold for a count of two before lowering back down to starting position. That’s one rep. Do 8 to 10 reps, or as many as you can with good form.

Make it easier: Place the yoga block under your hips for added support. See how to do this glute bridge variation.

Dead Bug with Yoga Block

If you hate the crunch, you’ll love the dead bug because it targets the same ab muscles—without straining your lower back and neck. In this version, you’ll add a stability challenge as you hold the block up with one arm and leg.

Do 1 to 2 sets of 8 to 10 reps on each side

How to do it: Lie on your back. Place the yoga block between your right arm and right leg, bending both to a 90-degree angle. Your knee and elbow will be pointing toward each other. Use your left forearm to press the block into your thigh—you’ll need the tension to hold the block in place.

From here, extend your left leg and left arm. Inhale and return to the starting position. That’s one rep. Do eight to 10 reps, or as many as you can with good form, then switch sides.

Exercise Prop #3: Bath Towel

Who knew an ordinary towel could prove so useful to your fitness routine? The truth is this simple household necessity is quite versatile.

Here, we’re using it to take common strength exercises up a notch by adding an extra layer of resistance in a way that’s easier on your joints than using a dumbbell or kettlebell.

You can also use a towel to help you go deeper into a stretch or even help you warm up your muscles at the beginning of a workout.

Towel Shake

This is a great warmup move to get your heart rate up, and loosen up your shoulders and arms. It also strengthens your shoulders and core.

Do 1 to 3 sets of 20- to 30-second rounds

How to do it: Stand tall with feet hip-width apart and knees slightly bent. Grasp the corners of the towel, and brace your core as if you’re expecting a gut punch.

Raise and lower the towel in front of you as fast and safely as you can. Continue for 20 to 30 seconds, or as long as you comfortably can. Pause for 30 seconds, and repeat one to two more times.

Make it easier: Use a smaller towel, or try the move seated in a chair.

Make it harder: March in place while shaking the towel.

Push-and-Pull Chest Press

Your chest, arms, upper back, and shoulders get all the love with this no-nonsense exercise.

Do 1 to 3 sets of 8 to 10 reps

How to do it: Stand tall with feet hip-width apart and knees slightly bent. Hold the towel tight at chest level with your hands shoulder-width apart and elbows bent.

From here, push your left arm forward while pulling your right arm back, keeping tension in the towel. Hold for a count of two, then slowly push and pull to switch hands. That’s one rep. Do eight to 10 reps.

Ankle Stretch

It’s easy to overlook your ankles during a workout. But stiff or weak ankles can change your walking stride, and force your knees and hips to pull double duty. That shift can lead to muscle imbalances and leave you prone to injury. This move makes sure your ankles get their due attention.

Do 2 sets of 8 to 10 reps on each leg

How to do it: Sit toward the front of a chair. Wrap the middle of the towel around the ball of your left foot, then flex your foot. Keeping your heel on the floor, gently pull on the towel until it’s taut. At the same time, lift your toes toward your body, and slowly lower them back down while keeping your foot flexed and the towel tight. It might help to think about stepping on and off a car pedal.

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