Toning up doesn't have to mean frequent trips to the dreaded gym. While dumbbells, free weights or weight machines can help, you don't necessarily need them to gain strength and build muscle. Instead, create a routine that gives you the flexibility to sit in front of your television in your own living room. Not only will it be more comfy, it will be a lot less expensive than investing in a gym membership.
You've probably done them -- and feared them -- before, but pushups are going to be your best friend when you're looking for exercises that don't require equipment. They're a great all-over exercise that tones not just the arms, but also the core oblique and abdominal muscles. If you have to, start off with your knees on the floor, tighten your glutes and abs, and do as many pushups as you can muster. Then slowly add more as you gain strength. Also try yoga's Downward-Facing Dog to work your shoulders, arms, butt and legs -- basically all of your muscles at once. Start in the "up" position of a pushup, and then press your weight back behind you, bending at the waist to create a "V" with your body. Press your heels toward the floor and hold for a few breaths.
Some of the biggest leg-busting exercises are variations on the squat and lunge. Try the basic squat, in which you stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, and then bend your knees and lower your buttocks toward the floor. By moving your legs farther apart or closer together, you can work different groups of muscles. Also try the basic lunge, in which you stand with your feet together and then step forward with one leg and touch the back leg to the floor, then step back and step forward with the opposite leg. Another exercise for the glutes, hamstrings and quadriceps is the "jump and reach." Start with your feet shoulder-width apart and raise your arms above your head. Swing your arms down next to your hips, and bend your knees and then quickly burst upward, straightening your legs and jumping in the air as your arms go back above your head.
Crunches and situps require no equipment, and have many variations. On top of the standard sets of crunches, try bicycle crunches in which you hold your arms in the "crunch" position, raise your legs off the ground and "cycle" your legs as you move your elbows to touch the opposite knee. Also, lie on the floor, arms at your sides, and raise each leg in succession to work your lower abdominals. Borrow from yoga once again and do the Plank position, in which you place your body in the starting pushup position and hold it for as long as you can, squeezing your glutes and abdominals to keep your core stable.
Adults should be doing strength training at least two days a week, as recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. If you plan to do the above exercises on a daily basis, separate your workout into specific muscle groups. Muscles need time to recuperate following strength training, in order to build more muscle tissue. As such, break your daily routine up so you're doing two days of arms, two days of legs and two or three days of abdominals. Give your muscles rest by not working the same muscle group on consecutive days. For each exercise, do two sets of 10 to 12 repetitions, with a 30- to 60-second break in between each set. As you get stronger, add more repetitions and sets.
Nicole Vulcan has been a journalist since 1997, covering parenting and fitness for The Oregonian, careers for CareerAddict, and travel, gardening and fitness for Black Hills Woman and other publications. Vulcan holds a Bachelor of Arts in English and journalism from the University of Minnesota. She's also a lifelong athlete and is pursuing certification as a personal trainer.