Ditch the Gym: An Expert’s Advice on Getting Fit at Home

For many people, gyms are a convenient way to get into shape. But sometimes, gyms can be quite a scary place where people feel judged, get stared at, and feel self-conscious. Besides, why workout in a sweaty, musty gym when you can train outdoors with fresh air, or in your living room or basement where you don’t have to worry about any weird looks or awkward moments.

Today’s guest, Jon Ham, runs a personal training company called Fitness on the Run, that specializes in training people from within their house and out in the great outdoors.

Jon Ham

I asked him for some tips on where you should start if you’d like to train at home, and he shared his favourite exercises, tricks to stay motivated, and some thoughts on training in general.

If gyms aren’t your thing, check out what Jon has to say about working out at home.

Jon Ham Interview

Jon Ham’s Bio

Jon’s been a personal trainer since 2001 and before that he was a competitive gymnast for nearly his whole life.  He runs a personal training company called ‘Fitness on the Run’ which specializes in training clients from their homes.  He also runs a popular YouTube channel with nearly a million views and over two hundred videos covering all aspects of health and fitness.

Full Transcript

Spencer: Today we’re talking to Jon Ham. Jon’s been a personal trainer since 2001 and before that he was a competitive gymnast for nearly his whole life. He runs a personal training company called ‘Fitness on the Run’ which specialises in training clients from their homes. He also runs a popular YouTube channel with nearly a million views in over two hundred videos covering all aspects of health and fitness. Jon, it’s excellent to have you here today, man. How you doing?

Jon: Thank you Spencer, I’m doing well, doing well.

Spencer: All right. So today we’re going to be talking about training at home.

Jon: Right.

Spencer: So first thing. What do you think are some of the advantages to training at home?

Jon: Well I definitely would say it saves a bunch of time and it’s more likely that you’re going to be more consistent if you train at home as opposed to going to a gym. I went to a gym for years and when I got a job and I started getting busy and working, I found myself not able to take the twenty minutes to drive there, twenty minutes to drive back and an hour workout. I just wasn’t doing it and so as soon as I was able to I definitely…the first thing I did was set up a home gym and or space to work out in a gym at home as my gym and there’s no better decision that I’ve made than doing that, for sure.

Spencer: OK. If someone’s watching this and they’re interested in training at home but there isn’t someone like you in their area, where should they start? What can they do today?

Jon: Well, I’d check out my internet gym for one. I try to bring my experience of what I’ve been doing for the past ten years so and put it on a channel. It can be – some people are going to be more advanced than others of course, but get some little pieces of equipment that are really easy to set up in the home, some dumbbells, a ball, a suspension trainer, and I’m a huge fan of the Indo board for balance training. Those are like, my must-haves for my clients when I go to their home and I would expect that for people at home that want to get started, that would be the first place to go.

Spencer: OK. If someone hasn’t heard of an Indo board, what exactly is that?

Jon: It’s a balance trainer for, almost like a yolo board, but they make a few different versions of it and they do different things. One has a roller that the board goes on and it rolls back and forth. The other one is a cushion that you can roll up, and you can put more or less air in to make it more or less stable and standing on the board and doing your exercises whilst standing on the board makes you use more muscles. It increases your core reception and makes you balance better and gets you to be more aware of your surroundings and I then do a lot of stand up paddle surfing and I got to tell you there are days where it’s bb out there, big huge waves, and I have these moments when it’s like, had I not been training on the Indo board I would been face first. I would have fallen, but the fact that you can train on the board and do your daily exercises on the board makes your balance way better. That’s my practical application of paddle surfing.

Spencer: And when someone’s on that they’re probably activating a core like crazy.

Jon: That’s right.

Spencer: So, just a little note about technique with that. Should they be kinda sucking in their stomach or make their pelvic bones touch to really squeeze their abs during exercises on the Indo board?

Jon: Yes, you want to to kinda draw your abs in. You don’t necessarily want to change your pelvics angle though…

Spencer: Until?

Jon: Neutral, but drawing the abs is a definite must. Also you could do push-ups on your hands on the board. That makes it a little more unstable. Yeah, the technique is there, there’s tons of stuff on YouTube about it. Lots of different exercises to do. On that cushion you can be balancing on one foot – doing one leg squats on there. For me, we haven’t talked about it yet, but when I was a gymnast I actually fell off the high bar and broke my neck, so doing weighted squats on my shoulders really really hurts my neck and I’ll end up with tingling fingers so, you know I’ve had surgery twice so I cannot put anything on my shoulders that weighs, but I can put dumbbells in both of my hands but as soon as I put like a bar on my back it hurts and so doing balance stuff is a way to increase the muscle activation and it more focusses on the actual contractions and doing more, as opposed to just adding more and more weight. That really seems to work well.

Spencer: You know that’s an important side point too, because I think a lot of people, that might follow some plan that they find online, like StrongLifts, and it says to do deadlifts and squats and stuff like that, but they may have pre-existing injuries and it may just make things worse for them.

Jon: Absolutely, absolutely. I’m a perfect case of that too, and yeah, yeah be careful.

Spencer: Do you think if someone’s training at home that a routine is best or should they just do what they feel like that day?

Jon: I like to bring out a little plan, a little schedule of what I’m going to do for the week, and depending on the weather, actually depends on whether or not I get that done or not, so you want to be adaptable. If I can I’m always going to want to get out on the bike, or if the weather’s good than I’ll do something, but if the waves are good I’ll cut out the training for a day on the weights, and I’ll get out on the water and I’ll surf. So I try to plan as much as I can, but there’s other things that take priority and I’m not going gymnastics anymore. I really like trying everything and the stuff I do in the gym is meant to make me better at all the other stuff that I’m not too good and I want to get better at, so I try to tailor my training towards my mountain biking or my paddle surfing to make me better at those.

Spencer: OK.

Jon: But yes, following a plan is important, I think, unless you have to be adaptable.

Spencer: Yeah, it kinda depends on the person I think, but it really seems like a plan works best for most people because they’ll always find a way to make an excuse if they don’t have a plan in place.

Jon: Absolutely, or a buddy that’s going to do the plan with you, that helps. Actually now, most of my clients are between fifty and seventy five years old, but I do have one really fit forty three year old that has been asking me to work out with him and that’s actually fun for me. We push each other and it’s been a blast.

Spencer: As a side note we did some, at Bodyhack we did some surveys and questionnaires with people to find out, you know, what helps someone to get into their best shape and people that go to the gym and they quit after a couple of weeks. What’s the difference between the people that stick to it and those that quit and having some social person there to work out with is one of the biggest factors in success.

Jon: I totally agree, I totally agree and my clients tell me even like ‘if you’re not coming I’m not doing it’ and I’m like, “come on you’ve got to do it” but even still I see it when I go on vacation and when I come back it’s like eighty twenty. Eighty per cent did nothing or did very little and twenty per cent actually did something or did really well, which is kind of a bad thing, but it’s good job security, I guess.

Spencer: Yeah, well I guess it’s just how we work as humans I guess. So we already talked a little about the Indo board which you, I’m guessing you’d say that’s probably one of the first things people should pick up if they’re training at home. What do you think are some of the other best bang for the buck exercises?

Jon: Exercises, I would say like squat thrusters, squat and shoulder press, and I would love to do those and Indo boarding. Lots of muscle activation without the huge load on the spine. That would probably be like, my number one, I would think. That just works a little bit of everything, or a lot of everything. Aside from that, pullups, dips, pushups and if you could do a suspended pushup with a top or a one leg system that you could pushup with a TRX or trainer or pulley system or whatever you might have access to, I think that is really good for your core. It doesn’t mean my top, for sure.

Spencer: If someone doesn’t know what a suspended pushup is, is that where your arms are in the TRX rings or something like that, or your feet are in the air or…

Jon: Feet are in the straps and your hands will be on the ground or in perfect pushups or in suspended part is where your feet are hanging from the straps.

Spencer: OK and that really activates the core I suppose.

Jon: Absolutely. It makes certain that you can arch your back or even better if you put one foot in the straps then you have some torsal strain on the spine without a compression strain so that’s really really good for your core.

Spencer: OK cool.

Jon: Very good for your lower back. It’s funny like, I don’t know how old your followers are, but I train like older. Fifty or seventy and if they’ve had a desk job or they let their core go, it’s like the first thing is damage control. How bad is their back? First we do is get them doing is back to the wall, holding up their body and part of that is doing suspended pushups and suspension training work. Their core really has to work.

Spencer: OK, so that’s for older individuals or someone that hasn’t trained in a while. That’s probably a place where they should start strengthening their core.

Jon: Yeah, absolutely.

Spencer: OK cool.

Jon: They may not be able to do pushups right away but that’s one of the things that we work towards, and the next thing you know, you have these sixty year olds that are total bad asses doing really difficult stuff on those pieces of equipment.

Spencer: Right on. OK, do you think there are certain ways to emphasise goals that your clients may have such as gaining muscle or losing fat?

Jon: Yeah, absolutely. Number one was going to be diet especially for fat loss. I’m a big fan of not eating junk food, especially sugar and trimidol. Eat real food not processed. Lots of fruits and vegetables if you can do it, organic is the way to go and for muscle building, you gotta eat man, you gotta eat, eat, eat and eat good sources of food that has lots of nutrients and minerals included in fruits and vegetables and nuts. I’d just stay away from dairy and I don’t have a sweet tooth and I hope that I can get my clients off all the sweets too. That’s been a challenge. Sodas, that’s pretty easy for most people to quit sodas, I think. At least that’s what they tell me, but yeah I would definitely say eat real food, stay away from junk food and especially sugars and candy and processed foods.

Spencer: It’s interesting because there’s a lot of debate in the diet community about what the South Beach diet, the Atkins diet, the Paleo diet, the vegan and vegetarian diet etcetera etcetera, but it seems like almost all of them would agree that you need to eat real food and cut out the crap so…

Jon: Yeah, I wouldn’t subscribe to any one, I call them, tribe. I think that all of them have some common values like you just said. Eat real food, eat loads of fruit and vegetables and stay away from sugar, and I don’t see any diets out there saying “go eat candy” or “sodas are good for you” or “go eat a bunch of whole nuts.” It’s not just there, but they all will say don’t eat sugar; eat a load of fruit and vegetables. If you can be organic, eat organic, eat good sources of food. The vegans and Paleos will differ on whether to eat meat or not. I do eat meat; I don’t have a problem with it. I try to eat good sources of meat, but I don’t think it’s going to give you cancer, but yeah, I think balance is important too, and you’re going to have to live life, and you’re going to have the days when you’re not as good as you’d like and days when you did better and those days you pat yourself on the back and you say “good job” and days you don’t do as good, you try to do better the next day.
Spencer: I just interviewed a guy named Jesse Stilwell who lost almost three hundred pounds and what he was saying was…

Jon: It’s a lot of weight…

Spencer: It’s a lot yeah. He did an amazing job. What he said was he would have bad days occasionally, but he didn’t beat himself up over it, and just kept moving forwards the next day. I think that’s really key for people to do.

Jon: Yeah, along that same line I’ve had a lot of success with people doing food journals, and if you really want to know what you’re eating write it down because somehow the junk food, we just forget about it and we write it off, but if you keep an actual food journal and there’s plenty of apps on your phone, or there are apps that you do, it is the best experience. Even if you do it for a week, you learn a lot about your habits and having good habits and starting the day off with something right and following up on that in writing it down is a very educational process. I think that’s one of the best things. I’ve had a lot of success with my clients.

Spencer: Yes, so anecdotal success and then I also believe that there’s been some studies on that, that have found it to be successful in the scientific community so that’s great advice. So what if someone finds training to be boring and they don’t want to be inside their house doing pushups and situps and squats?

Jon: You know this is one of those things where I try to get people outside, and they can do a lot of work out, at least in Southern California. I know it’s different – you’re in Canada, right?

Spencer: Toronto, yeah we have winter here.

Jon: Yeah so if I were were in Illinois where I lived for six years, where it’s cold and it kept snowing and there were no mountains, I don’t know if there are mountains in Ontario but I try to take up outdoor sports even in the winter – skiing, snowshoeing, I don’t know – what do you guys do out there is Canada?
Spencer: Skiing, hockey…

Jon: Ice fishing – sorry no, I’m just kidding.

Spencer: No, no we do – we ice fish, yeah.

Jon: Oh well, yeah. I mean outdoor activities I gotta say, you’re breathing fresh air. That is motivating. I ride mountain bikes with my neighbours two days a week, sometimes more. Getting together with people is really important no matter what you talk about, but I think that getting outside, and then the inside stuff is a supplement to the outside, to me at least. I try to get in the gym two or three days a week and the rest of the time I get out and it might be going to the park and doing a circuit of the park when they have bars and dip bars set up or monkey bars, and I go and harass the kids, but that is what motivates me and I have fun with it and I don’t take it too seriously. You know there’s always going to be someone who’s stronger or faster whatever. I just go out there and put a smile on my face and after breaking my neck and going through almost not walking again I’m just grateful and happy that I’m able to enjoy life, and that’s the truth and I count every day as a blessing. It might sound cheesy but you know what, not every person can say that and there’s a lot of people out there with bum knees, bum back, bum shoulders and they use that as an excuse not to move, when in reality they should be moving more to get blood flowing, and using their body makes them stronger and happier. You know it’s good for your brain and it makes you smarter. There’s a lot of benefits and they kind of feed on each other. I really do believe this. A lot of my best ideas and thoughts come when I’m riding a bike. I listen to books in my ears when I ride the bike. It makes you think, all the blood flows and that’s when ideas come and you get passionate and happy about life and I wouldn’t have that if I was just sitting behind a desk all day or just you know, not doing the work. It doesn’t become work anymore, it becomes fun. It feeds on how you live your life and how your passions evolve and, I don’t know, maybe I’m sounding like a preacher now, but I think it’s, and I tell my clients this too, you’ve got to get out and move. The blood flowing, that’s when you get your best stuff and it makes you happy.

Spencer: As soon as people commit to some sort of plan where they’re exercising regularly they suddenly realise all the benefits they were missing out on and it’s like night or day with some of the people I’ve trained and I’ve known so, yeah.

Jon: You’re totally right and we can’t take that for granted. When you have it you need to work harder at it to keep fit. It’s harder so don’t do something stupid like, I broke a couple of ribs paddle surfing a couple of years ago and that set me back. It’s not a fun injury and I have a client right now that fell off his mountain bike two weeks ago and broke his collar bone in five spots and cracked six ribs, well, broke four and cracked two and he had to get air-lifted out of the mountains, that wasn’t good, and you know we gotta be careful and we gotta be safe and we can’t take it for granted because it can be gone tomorrow, yeah.

Spencer: What about people that say they just don’t have time to train?

Jon: Yeah, that’s one I don’t have any sympathy for. I kinda feel you don’t have time not to train. What that means, you get up at four in the morning, so what, and do it. There’s always, you have to make the time and you have to schedule it as an important date with yourself and you just have to do it. If you work out at home or at a gym it doesn’t matter, you have to find what’s going to work for you, but it’s got to be part of your daily activity, you know, it’s just like brushing your teeth. You have to get something in and you don’t have time not to – life’s too short, you must do your best to take care of yourself. I’m sorry I’m not very sympathetic to it, I’m sorry, suck it up, do it, shut up.

Spencer: I find that with a lot of people who will initially say they don’t have time, but as soon as they start to make time for it, and they do it regularly, like we were talking about a minute ago, the benefits come in and then they’re more productive throughout their day, so yeah it’s very interesting.

Jon: Yeah I often tell people to start working out first thing in the morning and get it done, get it over with because the people who work out in the morning get better results and I think it’s simply for the fact that they’re just getting it, and 99% of that is doing it. You know if you’re consistent in the afternoon, if you have time put away do it, but the important thing is just do it. You don’t have to set the land speed record or heaviest lift record every time you lift or you have a workout. You’re not always going to be your best, you’re not always going to feel your best but the most important thing is to do it and even if you have to go through the motions, go through the motions, you’ll feel better afterwards.

Spencer: So with staying motivated one thing I recently read, I believe a Harvard professor or someone was doing this – they’d go to bed in their gym clothes and then they’d have all their stuff beside their bed, their gym shoes in their bag and everything, so they’d get out of bed, they’d set their feet on the floor and they knew it was so easy to put on their shoes and go to the gym so that’s what they did and it helped instil that habit. Do you have any more motivational strategies or tips for people?

Jon: Actually you know yeah, I’m a big believer in self talk and being positive with yourself and it sounds funny but I used this a lot in gymnastics, and in gymnastics you fail a lot. You fall, you miss and it takes a lot to be perfect and you want to be perfect. Well 99% of the time you’re not going to be perfect until you’ve got the skills to be perfect at one thing and when you fail it’s important to follow that failure up with – it’s like a mental process – “it’s not like me,” and when you ran and you do something good you say, “that’s like me, it’s like to to do that correctly,” and every time you do something to make it a habit, follow it up with positive self-talk it’s a good thing, and when you do something wrong, follow it up with “it’s not like me” you shrug it off and move onto the next thing equally as important, so I actually think that’s a lot to do with motivation too. Staying motivated and staying positive and self-talk, talking yourself up, telling yourself you can do it when you don’t want to, it all helps and that’s a little trigger when getting ready for the gym the night before. That’s important; I do the same thing for work, because I’m up at 4.15am every day. I get all my clothes ready for work, I set the coffee pot so I have – my first cup of coffee it’s like as soon as I wake up. I can’t wait for it, it smells good and it gets me out of bed and seriously when I’ve got a coffee and I’m drinking it at 4.15am…but I think that staying positive keeps you motivated. Having friends that are encouraging and positive with you are also important. Pick your friends wisely, you know, pick friends that are going to help you, encourage you and motivate you and make you better as a human being, not ones that guide you down, because your friends they get inside your head too you know, if you’re on a downer all day, you’re going to be getting downer, and you’re not going to do anything. Then you start to believe you can’t do anything as against being around people who are winning and doing well. They’re successful and doing well, but just people that are lovely and passionate about what they do whether it’s…well it doesn’t matter. I think picking good friends, staying positive and being the best friend you can to yourself is like, it’s hard enough man. Life is tough enough to get through to put a smile on your face without being around negative people and talking yourself down. So being around good people that are happy and able to be happy, put a smile back on their faces and tell you “good job. Hey it’s great to see you” and smile at you are all very important. Then you gotta do the same thing to yourself.

Spencer: OK. So Jon, where can people find out more about you?

Jon: YouTube.com/fitness training by Jon is my fitness channel and I’m posting a new video every Monday and right now I’m doing a body weight training series that’ll go on for a few more weeks, that how you can work out basically using your body weight as resistance, whether it’s at the park or home. That’s a series of, I think, nine videos on doing that. That’s what I’m currently working on, but I’ll be doing more stuff on nutrition. Some stuff on local industry trends at trade shows. I’ve got some stuff going on there. I go to different trade shows and profile different strategy for working out at home or the gym, so I got some stuff on there. Some challenges on there from the shows. Also my website is fitnessontherun.com or fitnesstrainingbyjon.com. They go to the same spot and they can all find me there. Facebook.com/fitnessontherun and Twitter.com/fitnessontherun as well.

Spencer: OK, so if you guys are listening and you’re looking for a starting point, Jon’s YouTube channel is probably a great spot. Just mention the body weight training series he’s doing right now, so that’s awesome.

Jon: Thank you Spencer for having me and yeah, love your site. Doing awesome. Keep it up.

Spencer: Thank you. All right. Take care brother.

Jon: And you too, thank you.

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  • http://twitter.com/TaniaDakka Tania Dakka

    Awesome interview! I’m a biiiiig fan of getting it done without a gym. The easier we make it, the more we facilitate success for ourselves! Thanks for the awesome share!