Minimal Equipment? No Problem!

by Elizabeth Weizman on Feb 25, 2012

Do you think you need lots of exciting equipment options to make your group ex workouts fun and effective? Think again. With only one or two simple pieces, you can still challenge your students. Check out this trade-off format to see how a “big” exercise experience is perfectly possible with very little equipment.


A New Challenge

While teaching at a new facility that had limited equipment, I had to challenge myself to offer a good workout for multiple levels. The interval training class alternated cardio and resistance work. I had about 15 people in a small space and wanted to keep the moves simple and familiar.

I broke the class into two groups: A and B. After a warm-up and a 10- to 15-minute cardio section, group A grabbed resistance bands, and group B took the dumbbells. Group A performed chest flyes with a resistance band, while group B lay on mats and did chest presses with a light set of dumbbells. I timed the class with a stopwatch instead of using repetitions. This allowed people to go at their own pace, focus on form and resist the urge to “keep up” with others or with the music. They already did that in the cardio section, so they enjoyed a feeling of ownership in being able to go at their own pace.

After 45-90 seconds, everyone did a set of push-ups, either on the floor or against the wall, depending on fitness level. I cued participants to do 10-15 reps, but timing them would have been another option. After a 60-second rest/water break, the groups switched. Since this was the second time around, participants performed the moves on one leg for an added balance challenge. We did another set of push-ups to finish. As we transitioned to the second cardio section, students simply pushed the equipment to the side of the room. After 10-15 minutes of cardio, we used the same equipment to focus on the triceps.

Finer Points

Depending on how much time you have and how the class is structured, you can do multiple trade-offs for the two groups; however, resist the urge to grab another piece of equipment. See what else you can do with the same gear. This means knowing your stuff!

Even if you’re fortunate enough to have many different tools to choose from, use only one or two. You’ll find you can use a few pieces in very different ways while still keeping students comfortable and active. If an exercise isn’t tough enough, make it last more than 45 seconds, vary the cadence or add a balance challenge.

It’s fun to see the two groups working on a different exercise at the same time; however, you’ll need to be in tune with your students more than ever. Make sure you keep an eye on both groups.

The Payoff

This trade-off concept works well if you teach at a school or church and have to provide your own equipment. In fact, this might even be a better, more effective workout than one you’d offer if you had a bevy of options. Bands are inexpensive, and most students are happy to provide their own mat or set of dumbbells. If you’re nervous about starting a trade-off workout, begin with a small group to test it out, and use notes.

Here are some additional benefits I’ve noticed when teaching this type of class:

  • Students enjoy doing a workout that is out of the ordinary. They also appreciate not having to fight for equipment or put a lot of toys back after class.
  • Participants who arrive late find that it’s simple to join in. They pick up wherever the class is, without interrupting the flow.
  • People find this workout unexpected--it keeps them on their toes.

If you feel “weighed down” by all your equipment options, reorganize your classes and give participants--and yourself—a new choice, by using just one or two items at a time.

For examples of more exercises to use in this class format, please see “Maximizing Experiences With Minimal Equipment” in the online IDEA Library or in the January 2012 issue of IDEA Fitness Journal.

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About the Author

Elizabeth Weizman

Elizabeth Weizman IDEA Author/Presenter