A 10-Minute Equipment-Free Home Workout Plan to Build Strength

By: Michael Lynch, M.S., RDN, CDE, ACSM-RCEP

Improve your strength, stamina, and balance in just 10 minutes.

Being active is at the core of managing diabetes. But first, we must be able to move—and enjoy moving! And that's where functional fitness comes in: These exercises mimic ­everyday movements to build strength, stamina, and balance for real-­world activities you enjoy. And they promote stability to prevent injuries, so you can feel good and incorporate more movement into your life (something all of us could use). Best of all, this routine takes just 10 minutes and uses ordinary household items—no gym required.

The Goal

Aim to do this functional-fitness routine three to four times per week. These movements are a lot like walking—they activate and tone muscles, but do not leave them exhausted—so you can do them on most, if not all, days of the week. Remember, if you have just 10 minutes, you can fit it into your day.

Your Game Plan

Prep: Wear comfortable clothes and shoes, and clear your floor area. Grab a sturdy chair, a pillow, and a timer or a stopwatch. (Keeping an eye on a clock with a second hand also works.)

Workout: Start your timer and keep it running as you move through this workout. For each exercise, do the movement as many times as you can in the time allotted. For moves 3 and 4, hold the position for as long as you comfortably can until time's up. Keep in mind: more is not always better! Focus on the quality of each movement and on moving through the full range of motion as best you can. Need a break? Take a few breaths and see if you can do a few more reps or hold the position for a little bit longer until time's up.

After each exercise, rest for 15 seconds before moving on to the next one.

Need more of a challenge?
Try the "make it harder" moves, do the circuit two or more times, or add a weight that is reasonable for you. For a real free weight, save an empty milk container and add water. One full gallon of water is 8 lbs., and a half-gallon is 4 lbs.

1. Chair squats

woman standing with pillow chair squat

woman squatting with pillow over chair

45 seconds

Hold a pillow to your chest and stand in front of a chair as if you were about to sit down. Place your feet slightly wider than shoulder-width apart, with your toes pointed slightly outward, and engage your core (as if bracing for impact) (A). Keeping your eyes forward and your chest up, push your hips back and down until you feel yourself at the chair's edge (B). Without sitting, drive through your heels to push back up to standing (A).

Make it harder: Trade the pillow for a 5-lb. weight.

2. Shoulder circles

woman doing shoulder circles holding pillow in front of her

woman doing shoulder circles with pillow to her side

45 seconds

Stand tall and, keeping your arms slightly bent, hold the pillow straight out in front of you, at eye level (A). Keep your arms straight and circle them to the left and down, dropping the pillow below your belly button (B). Bring your arms around to the right and back to the top to complete one full circle. Pause at the top (A) and change directions, performing one full circle starting to the right. Continue alternating sides.

Make it harder: Trade the pillow for a 3-lb. weight.

3. Plank

woman doing plant with hands on chair

1 minute

Stand in front of a chair facing the seat. Lean forward and choose a comfortable position for your hands, with your palms either on the seat or wrapped around the edges for greater security (as shown). Engage your core to protect your low back and gently walk your feet out to create a straight line from your head to your heels (A).
Hold here.

woman doing plank against chair raising legs

Make it harder: Alternate lifting each leg off the ground, with heels reaching toward the ceiling.

4. Single-leg balance

woman with hand on chair doing single leg balance

30 seconds on each side

Stand next to a chair with your inside hand resting gently on the chair back. Engage your core, plant your outside foot firmly on the floor, and lift your inside foot behind you (A). Hold here.

Make it harder: Try placing just one or two fingers on the chair for balance, lifting your hand off the chair for a few seconds, or taking your hand off the chair completely.

5. Chair pushups

woman doing pushup against chair upright

woman doing pushup against chair bent other

45 seconds

Place a chair against a wall, facing away from you. Place your hands ­shoulder-width apart on the chair back. Point your elbows out and bend them slightly. Engage your core and walk your feet out to plank position, creating a straight line from your head to your heels (A). (If you are not comfortable with your feet this far back, move them closer toward the chair.) Keep your body in a flat line as you bend at the elbows and lower about halfway down (B). Press back up to start (A).

Make it harder: Lower more deeply into the pushup, stopping when your elbows are at a 90-degree angle. Or do this move with your hands on the seat of the chair.

Protect your wrists when doing planks and pushups by focusing your weight and strength into your shoulders and upper arms.

6. Side leg lifts

woman holding up pillow with other hand on chair

woman holding up pillow with hand on chair and leg raised

30 seconds on each side

Stand next to a chair with your inside hand resting gently on the chair back. Grip a pillow in your outside hand and extend that arm out to the side (A). Engage your core, plant your inside foot firmly on the floor, and lift your outside leg out to the side until it is under the pillow (B).Lower your outside leg, just grazing the floor.

Make it easier: Don't lift the pillow up quite as high.

Make it harder: Hold your lifted leg at the top for three ­Mississippi‑counts before slowly lowering.

7. Knee raises

woman holding out pillow preparing to raise knees

woman raising knee while holding pillow in front of her

45 seconds

Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and point your toes out slightly for balance. Hold the pillow straight out in front of your chest with your arms slightly bent (A). With control, lift your right knee until it makes contact with the pillow (B), then lower back down to the start position (A). Alternate raising your right and left knee.

Make it harder: Slow down each raise or hold your knee at the top for three Mississippi­-counts before lowering.

8. Hip raises

woman raising hips to the right with hand on chair

woman raising hips to the left with hand on chair

30 seconds on each side

Stand next to a chair with your inside hand resting gently on the chair back and your other hand on your hip. Bend your inside knee to bring that foot behind you. Keeping your torso upright and core engaged, gently lower your inside hip 2 to 3 inches (A). While keeping your outside hip still, use the glute (butt) muscles of your outside leg to lift your inside hip up slightly higher than your starting position (B). Lower back down.

Make it harder: Hold your lifted hip at the top for three Mississippi-counts before slowly lowering.

Keep moving:
Best Exercises for Diabetes
How Working Out Impacts Your Blood Sugar When You Have Diabetes
12 Healthy Ways to Lower Your Blood Sugar