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Fitness with Found Objects


Major muscle groups, Rona Innes Art

As a Personal Trainer living and working in Leith I find myself surrounded by creative people. From this perspective you can view exercise and movement as an art form, whether it’s doing a fast walk up the Crags to check if the gorse smells like coconut yet, or putting together a webcam workout to stretch and invigorate bodies tired from slumping at a laptop - there is a level of invention required in prescribing movement without resorting to using machines (i.e. a gym).

And since we’ve been living without gyms during lockdown, people have got seriously creative in their fitness solutions. I’ve been Personal Training for over 16 years, and thought I’d exhausted all the possible ways of moving the human body. Up until last year that is, when my fitness studio shut, and things got more interesting…

Many of my clients continued their training by switching to webcam workouts; exercise sessions done via a smartphone or laptop camera. The challenges of keeping people fit via webcam is that everyone has a different useable bit of space in their homes, some smaller than others. Add to this the fact many tenement floors are unsuitable for jumping up and down on (hello, downstairs neighbours) and internet connections sometimes becoming a bit patchy.

So what can you use for a workout, when you own no fitness equipment? Bodyweight exercises (using your own body weight as resistance) are a good place to start. Think press-ups, squats, lunges, triceps dips and sit-ups. To add variety to these basic moves, you must also add resistance.

Over the years I’ve used everything from big bags of rice or pet food (many brands have a handy carry handle) to logs found beside a hearth. If you want to make a weight, but only have cans of food, pop 4 to 6 cans in a tote bag and presto! Instant weight!

If a weighted tote bag proves somewhat cumbersome for bicep curl, try a 2 litre (4 pint) milk carton filled with water. Not too heavy, but if you do loads of repetitions of an exercise, you get a good workout.

During lockdown I ran Zoom fitness classes for Leith Festival volunteers and we developed a whole workout using tinned food. If you want to add to the intensity of an exercise, just hold and ‘pulse’ the end position.

Try this: hold a can of beans (or any can really, preferably not beer, as it will get frothy) in each hand and straighten your arms out to the side, elbows straight but not locked out, and arms long and parallel to the ground. Are you there yet? Good.

Now, keep your arms straight out to the side and ‘pulse’ the moment, making tiny movements up and down. Try this for a minute. Can you feel it in your shoulders? You’ve just done a set of lateral raises that strengthens and tones the side of your shoulder (lateral deltoids). Well done!

Some of the people I train run up and down their tenement stairs for a pulse-raising leg strength workout.

The downside here is that your neighbours will either think you’re, A) Very forgetful (damn, forgot my mask!) B) Completely batty, or C) that unusual times call for extraordinary fitness solutions.

You can use steps outdoors too. My favourite step race is seeing how quickly I can run up the Scotsman steps behind Waverley Station, two at a time. I believe 22 seconds is my personal best. I’ll need to try to beat that as soon as these times allow.

Other easy ways to do improve (or keep up) leg strength is sprint drills up the wee hills in Leith Links, or for a sterner test head towards Arthur’s Seat. The nature reserve at the end of Platinum Point has some interesting sleepers, which are good for triceps dips, stretching, balancing on, or simply looking at the view!

In the old days we all used to go to a shop for our groceries, and I know many Leithers still like to walk their shopping home.

I got a great arm workout yesterday when I bought an overly large rubber plant from the Kirkgate Lidl. Carrying it home was great exercise, so it was worth it in the end. While visiting me in Leith, my brother David visited commented. “Look at all of these people carrying stuff around”. And just as he said it, two folk sauntered past carrying a rolled up carpet! So, be more old school, do some errands on foot.

Tree trunks, park benches, heavy bits of scrap metal, groceries – the most random things can be excellent fitness props. If you use your imagination, you can build a whole ‘found object fitness’ repertoire.

If you need guidance or motivation my new book Get Fit & Enjoy It: Learn Effective Exercise without a Gym may be instructive and useful. Written and photographed in Leith, it features wonderful gender-neutral muscle illustrations by local artist Rona Innes.

Info: Tracy’s book is available from Elvis Shakespeare or Logan & Malloch on Leith Walk and

Twitter: @tracygriffen


Tree trunks, park benches, heavy bits of scrap metal, groceries. The most random things can be excellent fitness props


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