Exercise Programs for Couch Potatoes

— The Atkins Diet has changed American expectations. If we can gorge on fatty bacon and still lose weight, how else can we beautify ourselves and still remain lazy slobs?

Can you take the "work" out of workout? And if you can't, who's going to come up with an exercise regime for exercise haters? Sit down, take off your shoes, and check out these developments in modern fitness:

1. The Couch Potato Workout:

What does it say about America now that the American Physical Therapy Association is recommending a "Couch Potato Workout," a fitness plan that includes "Soda Stretches," an arm-strengthening workout, in which you use soda cans as barbells?

The association — a group of more than 63,000 health professionals — says the aim is for sedentary Americans to devote at least a half hour every day — even Super Bowl Sunday — to physical fitness.

"Physical activity does not necessarily mean step aerobics and spinning classes," says Patricia Winter of the APTA. The Couch Potato Workout is designed to loosen joints, increase circulation and, ultimately, inspire more vigorous activity.

You don't need to turn off the TV for Soda Stretches, and if they still sound too tough, here's my personal tip: Guzzle the soda for quick energy and vigorously lift the empty cans.

Other Couch Potato exercises include leg lifts, back stretches and other routines that, at the very least, help you scratch hard-to-reach spots.

2. Toilet Training:

Won't go to the gym? Now, the gym will come to you. New York fitness trainer Marc Hupert says he teaches clients how to use bathroom fixtures as gym equipment.

The loo might be the smallest room in your house, but it could provide a lulu of a workout, one that rivals that of a fancy health club.

"It's not as crazy as it sounds," say Hupert. "Two reasons people don't work out: Gyms are expensive and filled with beautiful people who only make them feel fatter."

To begin your toilet training: Sling your legs over the side of the tub and you're ready for stomach crunches. For upper body strength, do push-ups with your hands on the toilet seat and your feet perched on the tub.

For abs, sit on the commode, grasp the tank behind you and lift both knees to your chest repeatedly.

Huppert says he's showed his clients how to use kitchens, offices and dens as gyms. What makes a bathroom such a good place to work out? "Simple," he says. "They're easy to clean" 3. Shop Till You Drop:

Even the laziest American finds strength to shop, and that's why this country is destined to win gold medals in mall-walking, if this new sport ever becomes an Olympic event.

These days, some malls are now opening earlier to accommodate a new brand of shop-till-they-drop jocks.

"Walking is the easiest way to stay in shape, and a mall is a large area that's safe and temperature-controlled," says Andrew Flach, co-author of Walk the Weight Away (Healthy Living Books), an eight-week fitness plan that embraces mall walking as an exercise alternative.

Senior citizens are especially keen on using malls as free gyms, Flach says. At a pace of 3.5 miles per hour, you can burn about 120 calories in 30 minutes.

Of course, at that speed, you'll be limited to window shopping. Still, there's ample parking, a food court, and video games. 4. Image-Building Gyms: Here's the great exercise conundrum: If you don't like the way you look, you probably need to go to a gym. But if you go to the gym, every wall will be mirrored, and you'll be bombarded with sweaty reflections of your chubby self.

Now, a new breed of mirror-free health clubs that cater to non-beautiful people are springing up. Curves Health Clubs for women promises "no mirrors, no men and no wait."

If you're considerably overweight and want to lift weights at New York's Phoenix Fitness, the club offers exercise machines with extra-large seats, as well as extra-slow treadmills with specially designed cushioning on the tread.

Phoenix welcomes obese, sedentary and disabled clients. "We do have a couple of professional models," says founder Jim Eatroff of his $80-a-month-club. "They are probably tired of other clubs that are more of a pickup joint than a place to exercise."

Weaklings are welcome, too. Phoenix is equipped with exercise machines that have extra-low weight settings, so that members can feel they're making progress.

5. Bet on Losing: Gamblers who play slot machines have never had a problem shedding excess weight from their wallets. Slimming down the rest of the body, however, is a long shot.

But the odds might be slightly better in Atlantic City. The Tropicana Casino now offers high and hefty rollers a new sort of action — Pedal 'n Play slot machines, a one-armed bandit with a bicycle seat.

You mount this slot machine just like a stationary exercise bike. Handlebar buttons control the amount of the bet and the spin of the wheel. A cup holder stores quarters.

If you lose $100, don't sweat it. And if you do, that's the whole point. Maybe you don't have the heart of a gambler.

6. The Virtue of Imaginary Exercising: A lot of people think of working out and never get off their butts. Maybe that's not completely a bad thing.

Psychologists at Manchester Metropolitan University in England have issued a study that could fulfill every couch potato's deepest wish: They say just thinking about exercise stimulates your muscles.

The simple act of visualizing exercise makes a difference, according to researcher David Smith.

In a four-week study, Smith and his team asked one group of 18 male students to perform a series of hand and finger exercises. Another group simply imagined performing the same movements for the same amount of time.

Hard work did pay off for those who actually exercised. Researchers say their hands were 30 percent fitter.

However, the pretend exercisers improved 16 percent — not to bad for the effort they invested. Certainly, it seems like it's a lot better than doing nothing.

Just imagine what future psychological research might hold. Could thinking about a beer give you a buzz?

Buck Wolf is entertainment producer at ABCNEWS.com. The Wolf Files is published Tuesdays. If you want to receive weekly notice when a new column is published, join the e-mail list.