Many of us assume you need tons of heavy weights and expensive equipment to flesh out a home gym. But the truth is, all you really need is a yoga mat. Sure, it may seem strange that you could get a gym-quality workout with a $30 piece of equipment. But there are so many yoga mat exercises out there that you actually can. And even better: You can mix and match those exercises to craft an array of yoga mat workouts that vary in terms of length, focus, and difficulty.
The most obvious way to work out on a yoga mat is, well, to do yoga. And if that’s your speed, there are tons of free yoga videos you can find online to guide your at-home practice. But yoga isn’t the only thing your yoga mat is good for. There are tons of yoga mat-based exercises that come a little closer to the strength-building workouts you’d do in a gym — albeit with body weight instead of free weights.
Common core-based exercises (like crunches, planks, and mountain climbers) are a natural fit for your yoga mat. You wouldn’t use equipment for them anyway, and they’re too uncomfortable to be completed directly on the floor (sans any cushion at all). But there are tons of leg, butt and arm workouts that are just as floor work-friendly—and that can benefit from the cushion and grip a yoga mat provides.
Master a few of these exercises, and you’ll quickly realize that expensive equipment is (almost definitely) overrated. All you really need to get an effective workout is a $30 piece of rectangular foam—and a few go-to floor work moves.
Standard: Start in a high plank, with your hands shoulder-width apart and your feet hip-width apart. Your core should be engaged, so there’s a straight line running from your head to your feet. Once you’ve assumed a steady plank, lift your right hand off the ground and tap your left shoulder. Then, place your right hand back down, and repeat the exercise with your left hand tapping your right shoulder. Continue alternating your shoulder taps, all the while making sure to keep your core engaged and your hips level. (Your body shouldn’t shift back and forth as you complete your shoulder taps.)
Easier: Don’t worry about the shoulder taps—just focus on holding a steady plank, instead. Static high planks are still a great way to build strength in your arms, core, and back.
Harder: Add a push-up. Complete one shoulder tap on each side, then do a full push-up. If that’s too much of an added challenge, try tacking a push-up on after five or 10 shoulder taps on each side.
Glute Bridge Sit-Ups
Standard: Start by lying flat on your back. Your knees should be bent, and your feet should be pressing into your yoga mat, about hip-width apart. Your arms should be straight at your sides, with your hands pressing firmly into your yoga mat. Once you’re there, engage your core, squeeze your glutes, and press into your foundation to lift your butt into the air. When your butt is elevated, there should be a straight line running from your shoulders to your knees. Then, lower your butt back to the ground. (This is a glute bridge.) Engage your core to roll up until your chest can touch your knees. Keep your core engaged, your back straight, and your arms reaching out in front of you to ensure proper form. Once your chest has reached your knees, you can slowly roll back down to the ground. (This is a sit-up.) From there, continue alternating between glute bridges and site-ups.
Easier: Instead of combining glute bridges and sit-ups, focus on one or the other. If you’re looking to build strength in your glutes, focus on the glute bridges. If you’d rather active your core, focus on the sit-ups.
Harder: If you want to up the ante, you can lift your feet off the floor and straighten your legs during your sit-up. This will force your core to work even harder to keep you balanced as you roll up. Just make sure to focus on your form while you do this. The extra challenge isn’t worth sacrificing your form.
Tabletop Oblique Crunches
Standard: Start in a tabletop position, with your hands shoulder-width apart and your knees hip-width apart. Your back should be flat, and your core should be engaged. Then, rotate your right hip to lift your right knee off the ground, and keep raising your knee until it’s in line with your back. (This is called a fire hydrant, for reasons I’m sure you can understand.) Then, bring your bent knee toward your elbow to do a tabletop oblique crunch. Then, carefully swing your leg back around until it’s straight behind you. Make sure your leg stays lifted throughout the entire motion; you should come through your fire hydrant position before you straighten your leg behind you. Then, repeat that motion, continually alternating between bringing your bent knee to your elbow and kicking your leg out straight behind you. Complete as many reps as you see fit, then switch sides.
Easier: Simplify the movement. Don’t do the tabletop oblique crunch, and don’t kick your leg straight behind you. Instead, focus only on lifting your leg up and down (in other words, focus only on doing fire hydrants). Tabletop oblique crunches work your abs, arms, legs, and glutes in equal measure. But fire hydrants are a great way to strengthen your legs and glutes. Fire hydrants also work your abs, because you’ll have to engage your core to remain balanced as you lift your leg up and down.
Harder: Instead of doing oblique crunches from a tabletop position, do them from a plank position. Assume a high plank, then bend one knee and bring it around to touch your elbow. Hold it there for a moment before stretching it back into your plank. Your weight may shift forward and backward, but it shouldn’t shift side to side.
Standard: Start by bending your right knee, and planting your right foot firmly on the ground. Then, reach your left leg straight behind you, making sure to plant your left toes firmly on the ground. Place your hands flat on the floor, about shoulder-width apart, in line with your right foot. Make sure your right knee is directly above your right ankle (not behind or in front of it). Then, engage your core, your thighs, and your glutes, so that you can straighten your torso and lift your hands off the ground. Keep your hands on your waist or lift them in the air. Hold your high lunge until you feel appropriately challenged, then switch sides.
Easier: A lunge can be a challenging exercise, even if you keep your hands on the ground. So instead of straightening up and balancing only on your feet, keep your hands on the ground, and hold your high lunge from there. You can also modify the exercise by lowering your back knee to the ground, to form a low lunge. You can hold your low lunge with your hands on the ground, or you can lift them off the ground and straighten your torso to build strength in your core and legs.
Harder: Add some baby pulses to your high lunge. Once you’re in your high lunge with your torso straightened and your hands off the ground, pulse by sinking a little deeper into your lunge, then by pressing into your foundation to return to your original high lunge. Continue to pulse until you feel adequately challenged, then switch sides.
Standard: Start in a high plank, with your hands shoulder-width apart and your feet hip-width apart. Then, bend one knee and bring it into your chest. Then, kick it back out. Then, bend your other knee and bring it into your chest. Then, kick it back out. Continue alternating from side to side.
Easier: Slow down. Mountain climbers can be great for cardio, but they can also be an effective way to build strength, even if you do them slowly. So don’t feel the need to speed things up. Instead, focus on engaging your core, keeping your back straight, and making sure your hips stay level. Take your mountain climbers as slowly as you need to to maintain that form.
Harder: Pick up the pace. Challenge yourself to do your mountain climbers a little faster—and for a little longer—than usual.
Standard: Start by lying on your yoga mat face-down. Your legs should be stretched out behind you, and your ankles should be engaged so your toes are pointing toward the floor. Your arms should be stretched out from side to side, so that your body looks like the letter “T.” Once you’re there, bend your elbows so that your forearms are stretched straight up (at this point, your body will look a little more like a cactus). From there, engage your back, chest, and core to lift your chest, head, and feet off the floor. To prevent pain in your neck, tuck your chin, and maintain a straight line from the top of your head to your chest. (Keeping your arms bent, rather than stretched out straight in front of you, may also help you keep things more comfortable for your neck.) Hold your superman for a second, then lower back to the ground, then repeat.
Easier: Focus on holding your superman, instead of repping it. Static holds can be a useful way to build strength, especially when you find yourself exhausted after a few reps. Instead of lifting up and down in your superman, focus on lifting, holding, and lowering once you’ve met your edge (this could be after 5 seconds, 10 seconds—or even 30 seconds!).
Harder: Add an arm extension. Once you’ve lifted your chest and feet off the ground, hold that lift for a second while you stretch your arms in front of you. Hold that position for a second, then bend your elbows to return to cactus arms. Then, lower your entire body to the floor. You can add this arm extension to every rep, or you can tack it on to the beginnings and ends of sets.
Standard: Start in a high plank, with your hands shoulder-width apart and your feet hip-width apart. Then, bring your hands in a little bit, and use your forefingers and thumbs to form a diamond shape. The tips of your fingers should be touching, positioned toward the center of your chest (but they should still be in line with your shoulders). Bend your elbows to lower your chest until it’s hovering just above the floor (the same way you would with a standard push-up, though in a standard push-up, your elbows can bow out). Then, engage your core and press into your foundation to lift your body back up, before repeating the exercise.
Easier: Modify your push-up by bringing your knees to the floor. Make sure there’s a straight line running from your head to your knees, then complete your diamond push-ups the way you would if you were in a more standard plank.
Harder: Hold your push-up a little longer when you’re hovering above the floor. It’s common to take push-ups relatively quickly. So adding a static hold to the lower part of the push-up can be a great way to increase the challenge.
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