Wellness

8 Lunchtime Workouts You Can Do Without Any Equipment

Who says you need a weights rack?

RgStudio/E+/Getty Images

It can be hard to strike a work-life balance when your home is also your office. But a midday workout is a brilliant way to take a much-needed break, as it brings you a feel-good endorphin boost as you get away from your computer screen. If you don't exactly have a weight rack or spin bike at home though, don't sweat: A simple lunchtime workout with no equipment required can help power you through the rest of your day.

"If you’re trying to reset, a lunchtime walk, Pilates session, or other activity can help with not only the physical aspects of wellness but the mental benefits as well, which during this time are profound," says Donna Walker, a NASM-certified personal trainer in Chicago. Research shows that regular exercise can help boost your mood, relieve stress, and improve overall health, so using that midday break for movement has plenty of legit perks. And you don't even need any gym equipment to do it. Bustle spoke with fitness pros to get their advice on the best workouts you can do without anything except your body (and your favorite pair of leggings, of course).

Whether you're ready to go hard or prefer a more gentle, low-impact exercise break between Zoom meetings, these eight no-equipment lunchtime workouts have got your back.

1. Yoga

Stretching, twisting, or even getting upside down with a yoga sesh can help reverse discomfort from slouching at your desk all morning. "Yoga can be challenging enough that you can get in a good workout while also stretching out, loosening your body, and releasing endorphins," says Josh Siroko, owner of Lift Chicago. "Yoga is modifiable to your ability level, doesn’t take up much space, and you don’t need equipment."

Yoga can also give your brain a much-needed midday reset. Research has found that yoga is calming both physically and mentally: It can helps to lower your blood pressure, heart rate, and your stress hormone levels, all of which can calm an anxious, racing mind.

2. Barre

Barre is a ballet-inspired fitness program that uses tiny isometric movements to challenge your muscle strength and endurance. The workout modality works to strengthen your core and improve your posture, which is particularly beneficial after hours of hunching over your computer, says Sarah Ashenden, senior fitness director at Formula Fitness Clubs in Chicago.

The good news is you don't need a ballet barre to reap the benefits — you can do exercises without any dance equipment required. "All you really need is something to hold onto," Ashenden tells Bustle, pointing to certain moves that test your balancing skills. "A door handle, chair, or the back of your couch works."

3. Pilates

You might picture large, fancy machines when you think of Pilates, but there are plenty of ways to practice the low-impact workout without any contraptions or tools. The exercises are all core-based, and incorporate precise movements — think planks and arm pulses — to build strength as you practice mindful breathing, says Walker.

The core work and muscle-lengthening moves help combat the aches and pains of hours spent at a desk. "Pilates helps open up your hips, which get tight after sitting all day," Ashenden tells Bustle. Walker adds that the core engagement can also help relieve back pain. Studies have shown that Pilates helps significantly reduce pain and improve function in people with chronic low back pain, which is great news for all those slouching woes.

Also key? According to Walker, you can often return to your work without being drenched in sweat after a Pilates sesh (aka grab the dry shampoo and you're good to go).

4. Tabata

Tabata is a type of high-intensity interval training that involves repeating 20 seconds of maximum-effort exercise followed by 10 seconds of rest for a total of four minutes (that's one interval). Though it's short, the key is that you're pushing really hard, which is why Ashenden says it's the best "bang for your buck" since you're in control of how long your session is. And you don't need any equipment or that much space to do it.

The great thing about Tabata is that you can adapt it to suit your preferences and environment, says Walker. So you can choose whether you're doing more cardio or more strength training-based exercises within your intervals, and string whatever moves together that you'd like. Bodyweight exercises like jump squats, planks, push-ups, and lunges all require zero equipment but are staple movements that work a number of muscle groups.

Because these intervals are so quick, you can squeeze in a round or two whenever you have time throughout the workday while still reaping the benefits of a longer workout. Research has found that Tabata's quick bursts of all-out activity quickly drive up your heart rate, which can build endurance in less time than a lower-intensity workout — in other words, science proves that short workouts are legit.

5. Walking

Simply walking outside has plenty of physical and mental benefits: It can boost your energy, clear your mind, relieve stress, and provide a welcome change of scenery. Studies have also found outdoor strolls to improve mental wellbeing, especially when done with others. All you need is a pair of shoes to benefit. And, with walking, you can choose to push your pace or go longer distances to challenge yourself while still going easy on your joints, notes Siroko.

Ashenden's tip? "Eat your lunch, then head outside and get your vitamin D," she tells Bustle, noting that walking helps with digestion. "A lot of people experience a mid-afternoon slump right after they finish their lunch, so walking will help them not feel tired and push through the rest of their day."

6. Go for a run

If walking isn't quite your speed, try going for a run. Going for a run can reduce stress, anxiety, and depression in the short- and long-term, and it requires zero equipment to do. Short on time? Siroko recommends sticking to sprints because they take less time than longer runs at a slower pace.

If you're a regular runner, he suggests balancing your miles with frequent strength training sessions to keep your joints healthy. "Go to the park and run shuttles, like five 300-yard runs at a moderate speed or five 60-yard sprints," he says. The midday jog provides you a circulation-boosting break from your screen and feeds your body with air and sunshine. Just put on your favorite playlist and enjoy putting one foot in front of another.

7. Shadowboxing

Get out your workday frustrations by throwing some punches. Shadowboxing — which you don't need gloves or a punching bag for — makes for a quick lunchtime HIIT workout that can get your heart rate up and stress levels down while building strength, mobility, and coordination, according to Anthony Crouchelli, an NCSF-certified personal trainer and founding instructor at GRIT BXING. "Shadowboxing is low-impact, so anyone with prior injuries can feel safe inside the movements," he tells Bustle.

Box along with online workouts or try Crouchelli's 15-minute punching-based HIIT session to unwind during your afternoon break: 15 rounds of boxing intervals, alternating 45 seconds of work with 15 seconds of rest. Spend half the rounds on speed combos where you throw as many punches as you can, and half on slower power combos where you focus on core engagement and lower-body rotation with each cross, jab, or hook. If you want to add some weights for a challenge, Crouchelli suggests grabbing canned goods to punch with.

8. Stair workouts

The stairs in your house or apartment are the perfect spot to get in some cardio and strength work. "Using stairs in different ways can be a great, fun workout," Walker tells Bustle. "Run the stairs, take two steps at a time, or hop [them] to get your heart rate up." She recommends putting in your earbuds and running or hopping them to your favorite music — just stick by the hand rail if you're moving for speed.

To get a full-body workout on your steps, walk backwards to work your hamstrings and glutes or put your feet on the stairs and hands on the ground (or vice versa) for push-ups, says Ashenden.

Studies referenced:

Borges Viana, R. (2019). Tabata protocol: a review of its application, variations and outcomes. Clinical Physiology and Functional Imaging, https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29608238/

Franke, A. (2008). Postprandial walking but not consumption of alcoholic digestifs or espresso accelerates gastric emptying in healthy volunteers. J Gastrointestin Liver Dis. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/18392240/

Lin, H. (2016). Effects of pilates on patients with chronic non-specific low back pain: a systematic review. The Journal of Physical Therapy Science, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5088161/

Marselle, M. (2019). Growing Resilience through Interaction with Nature: Can Group Walks in Nature Buffer the Effects of Stressful Life Events on Mental Health? International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6466337/

Oswald, F. (2020). A Scoping Review of the Relationship between Running and Mental Health. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7663387/

Warburton, D. (2006). Health benefits of physical activity: the evidence. Canadian Medical Association Journal, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1402378/

Woodyard, C. (2011). Exploring the therapeutic effects of yoga and its ability to increase quality of life. International Journal of Yoga, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3193654/

Experts:

Sarah Ashenden, a senior fitness director at Fitness Formula Clubs in Chicago

Anthony Crouchelli, an NCSF-certified personal trainer and master/founding trainer at GRIT BXING in New York City

Josh Siroko, owner and strength coach at boutique fitness studio Lift Chicago

Donna Walker, an NASM-certified personal trainer based in Chicago