Build Muscles With Just a Towel
If it's raining, snowing, the kids need watching, or you just can't stand the thought of hopping in the car and heading to the gym, don't bypass your fitness for the day. Grab a towel and supplement body exercises for a total-body workout you can manage anytime, anywhere.
It's one of the best exercises you can do for your forearms and grip strength.
Jeremy Frisch, owner and director of Achieve Performance Training in Clinton, Massachusetts
Pep Up Your Push-Ups and Pump Up Your Arms
A simple towel can add variety to pushups, says Jared Meacham, owner and personal training director at Precision Body Designs in Covington, Louisiana.
For instance, place a towel under one hand to perform sliding-out pushup flys. To execute, slide the hand with the towel beneath it out to the side as you descend, widening the space between your hands. Pull your hands together as you press back up.
You can also use the towel to engage your shoulders and back in an isometric contraction during squats and lunges, Meacham says.
Hold the towel in both hands so that when you spread your hands to shoulder-width, the towel becomes taut. You'll feel your shoulders and back engage -- if you squeeze your glutes, you'll feel your core fire, too. Keep pulling out in this way and perform 20 bodyweight squats.
Now, with your hands still pulling out to the sides, move your straight arms up above your head. "Keep pulling the towel out and squeeze your lats until you do 20 lunges," Meacham said.
When you're finished, wet the towel and get your forearms fired up with this tip from Jeremy Frisch, owner and director of Achieve Performance Training in Clinton, Massachusetts: "Try to wring it out for a minute straight," Frisch said. "It's one of the best exercises you can do for your forearms and grip strength."
Add a Slide to Core and Leg Exercises
You can get the instability and sliding benefits of slideboards and sliding equipment with a towel on a tile or wood floor, says Mike Wunsch, performance director at Results Fitness in Santa Clarita, California.
"Put the towel between your shoe and the floor to do reverse lunges," he said. The same technique works for lateral lunges. Or you might try planking maneuvers -- the towel under your feet can be used for walking, straight-arm planks or a move called the body saw.
To do the body saw, assume a forearm plank position with the towel under your toes. Slide your body forward and back slightly by bending your arms, maintaining a rigid body line from head to heels throughout the move.
Engage Your Lower Abs With This Squeeze
Ball or roll the towel up and put it between your ankles, knees or both during crunches or lying hip extensions, says Meacham.
"By squeezing the towel throughout the move, you're focusing on engaging the lower core muscles," he explained. And when you do this during hip extensions, it helps ensure you don't rely completely on your glutes, using your entire trunk and core instead, Meacham says.
Make Pull-Ups Work Harder With the Towel
Even when you do make it to the gym, a towel can still aid your workout -- and not just by wiping away sweat. The towel can make your pullups work your grip and forearms much harder, says Jeremy Frisch, owner and director of Achieve Performance Training in Clinton, Massachusetts.
To use this technique, drape the towel over one side of the bar, then grab it with one hand so it forms a loop just below the bar. Grip the bar with your other hand as you normally would for a pullup. Hanging in this way, perform pullups -- though you may not be able to accomplish more than only a few.
"It just crushes your grip. You can get maybe three or four at best," Frisch said.
Repeat on the other side.
An added bonus: This technique is used by many coaches to help clients gain the strength needed for single-arm pullups.
Greg Presto is a sports and fitness journalist and certified personal trainer in Washington, DC. He believes fitness should be an adventure, whether it's on the side of a snowy mountain, trying out a new program in your gym, or even breaking a sweat in your living room. Reach him with workout or story ideas at gregpresto (at) gmail (dot) com.