News / 

The Couch Potato Workout

Save Story

Estimated read time: 7-8 minutes

This archived news story is available only for your personal, non-commercial use. Information in the story may be outdated or superseded by additional information. Reading or replaying the story in its archived form does not constitute a republication of the story.

Trying to squeeze workouts into the daily routine can be an exercise in frustration. Who has time, what with work, kids, errands, all those episodes of "Law & Order" ...

Admit it, couch potatoes: You can usually find time for your favorite TV drama or sitcom, ballgame or talk show. And with the new TV season under way, there's plenty of must-see viewing. With that in mind, we have devised and tried a workout you can do in front of the tube - heck, you don't even have to leave the couch for most of the moves.

Walter Pukala, aquatic coordinator, boot camp fitness and cycling instructor and personal trainer at Galter LifeCenter in Chicago, gave us a major boost by suggesting and demonstrating moves.

"Any kind of exercise is better than nothing," said Pukala, who was pumped about the idea of a TV workout from the get-go. "Couch potatoes get into a lazy routine and decide it's easier to just lie around and say, `I'll work out later.' Then 20, 30 years down the line, they have to fix what's wrong with them.

"Hopefully, by having them at least do something, they'll catch the bug and want to do more."

First things first. Below you'll find the workout Pukala helped us devise to accompany "Law & Order" or any of its variations. The show is on about a squillion times a week on various channels, offering plenty of chances to work out. Read the workout over, then try your own variation on "L&O," or, if murder and mayhem don't do it for you, find your own show.

Before starting, grab some light hand weights; nothing fancy required. "Substitute beer cans - full for more weight - soda or water bottles, the kids, the dog, even a loved one, if they're not couch potatoes themselves," Pukala suggested. (We used water bottles and Appy, a friend's Yorkshire terrier.) Also, have drinking water and a towel nearby.

Ready? Not so fast. "You don't want to start working out after lying around watching six hours of TV," Pukala said. "You don't want to stretch cold muscles. So walk around a little bit, get the blood flowing."

Also, remember to work out with fluid motions, not jerky ones, Pukala said. Maintain good posture and don't lock your joints. Take the weights slow and easy and don't work to the point of fatigue (you'd be surprised how heavy a beer can gets if it's not steadily being emptied).

Now you're ready.


Fitness instructor Walter Pukala helped us put together a routine to accompany a favorite show, "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit." We've included segment and commercial times from the hourlong episode we used to sample our workout; with a little flexibility, you can adapt our workout to your favorite show.

Also, just for thrills (as the bad guys would say), we threw in additional moves: Whenever someone would "lawyer up" - or, for those of you who aren't crime-show devotees, refuse to talk to the cops without an attorney present - we would do a floor pushup; whenever Detective Munch (Richard Belzer) appeared, we'd do an abdominal crunch or two; if Detective "Fin" (rapper Ice-T) ever smiled, we would drink extra water.


This segment sets up the whole show. Someone invariably stumbles upon a dead body, and you don't want to get distracted. So go for some easy stretching.

Leg stretch: Lie on couch sideways with legs straight. Lift top leg, wrap arm around it and pull it toward you. Hold it for a few seconds, release, then repeat a few times. On last one, alternate flexing and pointing your toes. Switch sides. (Do every exercise the same number of times on each side.)

Neck stretch: Sitting or standing, gently roll your neck clockwise, then counterclockwise a few times. Tilt head to left and gently pull toward shoulder with left hand. Repeat on right side.


Cardio: Run in place, do jumping jacks, run an errand. Oops ... we forgot the water bottles to use as weights. Ran to the fridge and grabbed them.


Weighlifting with cans or bottles or dogs: Do reps light and slow, 15 reps or so. Try to lift evenly on both sides. Rest a few seconds between reps. Don't just swing weights around; make your muscles, not momentum, do the work. Do bicep curls, overhead tricep curls, overhead presses, forward or to-the-side straight-armed lifts. (You've seen these a bunch; you just haven't been finding time to do them.) Having only one terrier, who refused to let us do overhead lifts, we limited our dog lifts to a few forward straight-armed lifts. Water bottles work nicely when the dog quits on you.


Cardio: We tore downstairs and put clothes and quarters in the dryers, ran back up, lifted the dog for good measure and drank some water (rehydrate often).


Resistance exercises: If you're alone, sit on the couch, wrap a towel around one foot and pull on the towel while pushing with your foot. Keep knee slightly bent. After 10 seconds, release; repeat. Do it a few times, then switch sides. (Pukala mentioned that some people can't handle resistance and will benefit simply from lifting the leg and holding it in the air for a few seconds.) If a fellow couch potato is beside you, sit face to face on the couch, bent legs in front of you a foot or so off the couch, and press your soles against each other's and push.


Cardio: We played tug-of-war with the dog and his chew toy, ran in circles, ran to the bathroom, stopped running long enough to use it, then ran back.


Pushups: Do them against the wall if you're so inclined. Keeping your back straight, shoulders back and knees bent slightly, stand about a foot away from the wall. Rest your palms on the wall, fingers spread. Bend elbows and move toward the wall, then push yourself away, in slow, fluid movements.

Ab curls: Lie on your back on the couch, knees bent and hands behind your head. Using abdomen muscles, curl forward slightly. Keep neck and body aligned so you're not just jerking upward. Concentrate on having your abs do the work. Do these for a bit, then lie on your side and curl upward sideways, using your oblique, or side abdomen, muscles. Switch sides. For more oblique work, lie on your back with hands behind your head and knees bent. Move right leg so right ankle rests on top of left knee. Curl up so left elbow and right knee touch. Switch sides.


Cardio:We ran to the corner White Hen for cigarettes. (Kidding; we bought water. Really.)


Squats: The trick here is to keep your balance. Standing straight with feet shoulder-length apart, squat slightly, as if you're about to sit in a chair. Keep your heels on the floor, and don't let your knees go farther forward than your toes (your legs should be at a right angle). Keep your shoulders square and your gut stable and look straight ahead. Hold for just a second, then gently stand back up. Do a handful, take a 30-second rest, then do some more.

Lunges: With legs slightly spread, lift one leg, then place it down a few feet in front of the other. Bend legs and ease yourself downward, lift back up and return to starting position. Technique is everything. Doing them wrong isn't just ineffective - you can hurt yourself.


Cardio: We ran downstairs, snagged clothes from the dryer, ran back upstairs... ran down to retrieve dropped clothing, ran back up... missed a sock, ran down... ran back up.


Cooldown while sitting: You've worked hard, so sit back, take slow, deep breaths and watch as the bad guy squirms. Then catch the final drama - in our case, it was the bad gal hanging herself after being cornered in court - while doing a full body stretch. You can lie facedown on the couch with arms and legs straight, then reach as far as you can with your fingers and toes.

Or, do it standing: Bend knees slightly, round your back and bend forward, with arms dangling. Slowly uncurl, one vertebra at a time, until you're standing straight. As you're uncurling, start to lift arms, so that by the time you're standing they're overhead. Reach for the sky. Now that the bad girl is finished, so are you. (Getting a workout while watching TV ... that's so easy it's practically criminal.)


(c) 2003, Chicago Tribune. Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune News Service.

Most recent News stories


Get informative articles and interesting stories delivered to your inbox weekly. Subscribe to the Trending 5.
By subscribing, you acknowledge and agree to's Terms of Use and Privacy Policy.

KSL Weather Forecast