Creating an Incredible Home Gym!
It's that time of year again! When sale circulars and TV commercials transition from trying to sell us holiday abundance to New Year repentance. What does this mean for you? Amazing deals on exercise equipment and "health food"! Which is good because:
You don't want to be one of these people. Be different. Do your own thing. Now, there's nothing wrong with having a gym membership. I used to work at one, of course. But what I do know is, it's really nice to have a place to get your work in at home when the gym looks like that and the roads look like this:
I know you, you're not going to brave that to go on the treadmill.
The good news is, the retailers know this (and that you enjoyed the cookies...all the cookies) and they want to sell you equipment. So, in an effort to help you, I've put together a list of the stuff you might want to get if you would like to build your own little home gym. The best part is, the investment now pays off! Exercise equipment can last a lifetime if properly maintained, and it can save you a fortune! Gym memberships average around $25 per month. If you invested that same $300 in some basic equipment, you could have a pretty well-equipped home gym. And in the words of my favorite Christmas movie character, that's "the gift that keeps on giving!" So read on and check out my recommendations, with different options based on space and budget considerations.
UPDATE: I've included links to most of the products in their descriptions, or you can click HERE for my full Amazon store of recommended products!
Level 1 - The Absolute Basics
Exercise Mat: Unless you have super plush carpet, you will absolutely want to have a mat to lay on. Not only does it protect your spine from the floor, it will also protect the floor from your sweat. There are a couple different kinds you can get - a sticky yoga mat is great if you are a heavy sweater or anticipate difficulty with your mat sliding around. I personally like a little thicker mat that will provide adequate padding under your joints when kneeling or on your elbows. If you plan to do Pilates, you will absolutely want a thicker mat to protect your spine - between 6 and 8 mm. Find my favorite one HERE.
Resistance Band Set with Door Anchor(s): If you are trying to create a basic home, this is an absolute essential! Forget piecing together some random dumbbells and hoping the weights will work. You will wind up frustrated when you're ready to move up from 10's but only have some random 25's lying around that you acquired. Dumbbells typically cost about a $1 per pound (that's per dumbbell!), so you can see how this would get expensive very fast (more on this later). The much more space-efficient and financially-intelligent decision is to invest in a set of resistance bands that can attach to a basic door anchor, allowing you to replicate many of the machines you would find at the gym. Additionally, resistance bands are variable resistance - you can step back a little further from the anchor to instantly increase the weight by just a fraction, which helps to save time and money, not to mention space. They are also excellent for traveling as they are lightweight and extremely easy to pack. I am certainly not knocking dumbbells at all - they are one of the single greatest pieces of exercise equipment - but there's a better option for dumbbell home use I will discuss in level 2. If you're trying to keep it basic and get the most bang for your buck and space, especially if you're just getting started, stick with bands.
A note on door anchors: You should have adequate space to work in front of the door, including to the sides. Even more importantly, you should ideally be using a door that pulls closed on the side you are working (this way you can't fling the door open into you). A really neat option is this anchor system that creates a multitude of anchor points, as you will need to move the regular anchor to positions over and under the door, as well as in the hinge.
Jump Rope/Ropeless Jump Rope: If you are short on space, a jump rope is one of the best pieces of cardio equipment you can buy. You can get a perfectly good one for less than $10 and jumping rope is one of the best forms of cardio you can do. It is relatively low-impact (you are jumping only a couple of inches off the ground) and, if you're tight on ceiling height, you can get one of the rope-less models (if you train with me, you know what I'm talking about!). It is also an excellent way to take your workout on the road whether you enjoy exercising outdoors or while traveling. If you want to take your jump rope game up a notch, this more premium Buddy Lee model features a neat bearing system allowing for even easier turning and faster jumping.
If you require even less impact, inexpensive options include walking DVDs (I've heard great things about the Leslie Sansone DVDs) or, for a slightly greater investment, a small "rebounder" (mini trampoline).
Mini Bands: These little bands can be used to enhance your core and lower body work. You can purchase a small set for right around $10 and are excellent for working your glutes (i.e., rear-end muscles).
That's it! That's really all you need for a good in-home workout! But, if you'd like to step it up a notch, level 2 will add on for greater variety.
Level 2 - Well-Equipped
If you have the basics and are looking for a more comprehensive program with lots of variety, check out the options below.
Dumbbell Set: The best next-level investment you can make is a good set of dumbbells. As I hinted at above, unless you have limitless space and love a bunch of dumbbells lying around, the most efficient use of space and money is to buy a set of adjustable dumbbells. Several brands include Power Block and Bowflex. My favorite is the Bowflex. They have a small footprint and feel quite similar to a regular dumbbell, with just a little extra length. They come in two different weight options - 552 (each dumbbell adjusts from 5 to 52 pounds) and 1090 (each dumbbell adjusts from 10 to 90 pounds). They also make a "tech-savvy" option that adjusts digitally but, having owned the 552's before, I would strongly recommend this one. Unless you are ultra strong and have the capacity to bench press more than 50 pounds per hand (or will be there soon), the 1090s are probably overkill. The 552s will accommodate almost all users and offer the "in-between" 2.5 pound increments through 25 pounds. I do recommend getting the rack that they make for them so you don't strain your back picking up heavy weights off the floor. The good news is that these are frequently available on Craigslist, along with tons of other fitness items looking to find a more loving home.
Bench: There is no point getting a set of dumbbells without a bench. A bench will allow you to add countless exercises to your repertoire and perform them in a safe and effective fashion. Bowflex also makes a nice bench, but you can find lots of different options online and on Craigslist. Make sure that the bench you purchase is adjustable - it should be able to be set flat and at several inclines up to fully sitting upright.
Treadmill/Bike/Elliptical/Rower: My absolute favorite piece of fitness equipment is my treadmill. I use a treadmill almost every day. As most of you know, I am a huge proponent of walking as the basis for fitness and a treadmill makes this possible year-round, especially when you live in a four-season state like Michigan. If you prefer, there are plenty of other cardio machines, such as stationary bikes (I recommend the upright/"spin" variety vs. the recumbent variety), various types of ellipticals, and rowers.
If you are looking to buy a treadmill, a neat feature is one-touch speed and incline adjustments. Some treadmills come with on-board workouts, which are fun, but entirely optional. While you certainly don't need to invest in a commercial-grade treadmill, I would not recommend the most basic model either. As you progress, you might find you want to jog or run, and some of the least expensive models do not offer adequate shock absorption, making them feel rickety.
While you will probably like most treadmills and may not need to try it out first, it is just walking after all, you may find that some ellipticals have a better "feel" than others. I would strongly recommend you do not purchase this type of item sight-unseen. Ellipticals can vary in their stride tremendously, and some behave more like steppers while others try to mimic the feel of running more.
Regardless of where you choose to purchase, I strongly recommend a store with a good return policy in case the unit is not what you expected (Costco is great for this).
Mirror: If you are going to be stepping things up a notch, an inexpensive mirror is a great investment, as it will allow you to check out your form while training. Even a simple over-the-door model is helpful and will make a world of a difference in knowing if you're doing it right.
TV/DVD Player/DVDs: There is nothing worse than staring at a wall for an hour while walking. Place a TV in front of the workout area so you can turn your workout into a great time to catch up on your favorite programs guilt-free. Additionally, placed in front of an open space, a DVD player will allow you to try fun new workout DVDs and even stream your favorite radio station, Netflix, or other streaming service. Some of my favorites include Zumba (like THIS or THIS) and TurboKick.
Fun Extras! If you have extra money to spend on additional pieces, here are some great options that you can acquire over the years to make your workouts more fun and exciting!
Fitbit/HR monitor/other fitness wearables: If you like data, try a Fitbit or other fitness monitoring device. They are incredibly motivational as well as educational. I love the integrated heart rate monitoring on many of the models, such as the Charge HR2 (what I've worn for a couple years), as well as the Ionic (likely my next model), that help to give you a better picture of your overall health as well as your cardiovascular fitness. Both devices give data on steps, sleep (even your sleep stages!), calories burned, exercise minutes (it even automatically recognizes what kind of exercise you're doing). The Ionic also has built-in GPS, so if you are a runner or cyclist, you can get real-time data on your device with your pace and splits. As a bonus, many of the models now come with removable bands that allow you to customize the look of your watch as well as dress it up.
TRX: The TRX (Total Resistance Exercise) suspension trainer is an awesome piece of equipment that can be anchored over a door or to a hook that allows you to perform bodyweight-based exercises while constantly engaging your core. The TRX is also great to travel with as it folds up to almost nothing and is extremely lightweight in luggage.
Total Gym: You may have seen the Total Gym advertised on TV, and this piece of equipment is as fun as it looks! It is incredibly versatile and allows you to work every major muscle group in your body. It replicates many of the machines at the gym and allows the user to work seated or lying down if standing is challenging. While it is quite long when fully stretched out, when not in use, it folds up to fit in a very small footprint. In my opinion, outside of a piece of cardio equipment, this is probably the most versatile piece you could buy for total body training under $1000.
Pull-Up Bar: Besides push-ups, the next best upper body strength developer is the pull-up. While you should never use a tension rod in a doorway (unless you want to wind up on YouTube), the Iron Gym is an inexpensive option that attaches inside your doorway and feels very secure. If you aren't quite ready for full-bodyweight pull-ups, fear not! You can get a large resistance band like this or this that helps you up for your first pull-ups or to do more reps once you can already get up.
Stability Ball and/or BOSU: If you would like to add more core work into your routine, stability and BOSU balls are a great way to accomplish this with their unstable surfaces. They are also a lot of fun and extremely versatile. Make sure that the stability ball you buy is appropriately sized for your height using a chart like this.
Medicine Balls: Medicine balls come in a variety of materials and weights to add additional weighted work through tosses, core work, and power exercises. Harder balls like the ones pictured below are great for exercises that involve rolling, while soft, sand-filled balls like these have some give to their surface and are easy to grip.
Ankle Weights: If you are looking to add intensity to your lower body workouts, particularly glute and thigh work, ankle weights like THESE and THESE are a great way to accomplish this. I even wear mine at times when jumping rope and, in addition to upping the intensity, they also help me to feel more "grounded," especially when learning new tricks.
Weighted Vest: One of my favorite pieces of equipment to intensify nearly any kind of workout is the weighted vest! These range in weight from about 8 pounds up to 40 or more! They are excellent for upping the cardiovascular work of simple walking workouts without increasing speed if you cannot run. They can also be added to many other types of standing workouts, such as boxing, jumping rope, as well as pull-ups if your own bodyweight isn't enough!
Kettlebells: Like dumbbells, kettlebells come in a variety of weights and can be used for full-body strengthening exercises. What makes them unique is the location of the handle and the way that the weight "hangs," which makes it perfect for some unique and fun exercises, like kettlebell swings. They are relatively compact in design and even come in adjustable versions.
Sandbags: Sandbags are a form of variable resistance in that the weight shifts within the bag. This allows for functional "real life" training that mimics tasks such as picking up children, carrying heavy bags, and loading/unloading. A variety of handle placements allows for many different exercises to be performed with a product that takes up little real estate. Some versions even come pre-loaded (versus having to load the sand yourself), which makes them a bit easier to use, although they are not as easy to change weight.
Battle Ropes: For individuals with a larger workout space, battle ropes add some serious fun as well as upper body challenge to your workouts! Perform exercises like slams, waves, and zig-zags to build shoulder and strength and endurance, core strength, as well as take out any aggression!
Level 3 - Fully Loaded
If space and budget are no impediments, here are a few ideas to help you build the ultimate home workout space - your gym membership will be completely obsolete!
Multi-station/functional fitness machine: This is commonly referred to as a "cable machine" or a multi-station machine. This type of machine offers many different exercise options, but takes up a substantial amount of space. While it is certainly an initial investment, a high quality machine will offer you tons of different exercise options, often with a great range of resistance options to grow with you, and will last you for years to come.
Second piece of cardio equipment: While I typically recommend a treadmill to 90% of clients looking to purchase a first piece of cardio equipment, if you are looking to expand your gym, a second piece of cardio equipment is a great option. It will offer you options to alleviate boredom, change up the muscular emphasis (as well as the risk of overuse injuries and certain muscles being overemphasized compared to others), as well as offering a way to do cardio together with your partner. There are tons of options here, but some good ones are elliptical machines, bikes, rowers, steppers/stepmills, and some of the hybrid varieties that combine elliptical/treadmill/stepper functions. I highly recommend trying out a machine ahead of time or at least purchasing one that comes with a 30+ day money-back guarantee in case you don't like the feel. These machines are also getting more and more tech-savvy, offering options that allow you to connect to classes going on in real time (e.g., the Peloton).
Rack/barbell/plates: If you are looking to get into more serious weightlifting, get yourself a rack and barbell. You will be able to achieve serious strength gains. This is not an item you want to get low quality as your rack/cage needs to be incredibly sturdy to handle the weight it will be holding. Having said that, you can often find individuals or gyms looking to get rid of high-quality racks on Craigslist.