Fitness Friday: Home Gym Essentials

DSC_0002 With the new year fast approaching, you might be thinking about setting a fitness goal or two for the coming year. If one of those goals is to exercise more, having a few pieces of equipment to use at home can really help, even if you have a gym membership. By having the things you need to complete a workout at home, the excuse, “I just couldn’t make it to the gym,” becomes invalid and you’ll be able to exercise even when you only have 15 or 20 minutes.

It doesn’t take a lot of money or equipment to have everything you need for a variety of challenging workouts. In fact, there are really only four key pieces of equipment. Here’s what you’ll need:

1. An Exercise Mat – If you have carpeting or a rug, throwing a towel down can work, but I like the cushioned and non-slip surface that an exercise or yoga mat offers. Opt for a thicker one so that you can do crunches and other floor exercises pain-free. I also like the psychological signal that a mat sends, that this is my workout time and I’ve designated this space just for that purpose. Cost: $20-30

2. A Piece of Cardio Equipment – When I say cardio equipment, your mind probably goes to treadmills or elliptical machines, but there are lots of cheaper and smaller things you can use to complete an aerobic workout. I most often use a jumprope or the stairs in my condo building for my wintertime home workouts, and when the weather agrees, I just head outside on foot or on my bike. If you love to cycle, you can get a decent magnetic trainer for under $150 – this is a gadget you put the rear wheel of your bicycle up on so that you can pedal in place with the bicycle you already own. You can also use no equipment at all – any time of year – by turning on some music and dancing. Get creative and mix it up! Cost: $0 – $1,000

3. A Set of Adjustable Dumbbells – Much more economical than a full set of individual dumbbells, adjustable dumbbells also take up much less space. They can be a bit awkward to use at first, but once you’ve done a few sets with them, I think you’ll find them easy to use. There are a lot of different styles and brands on the market, but there are two I’ve found to be easy to use and high-quality. The Bowflex 552 “dial”-type dumbbells are top of the line. The weight ranges from 5 to 52 pounds in 2.5 and 5-pound increments. A set of two costs $300 and replaces 32 individual weights.
Much less expensive is the screw-on style of adjustable dumbbell. There are many different brands ranging in sets from 40 to over 100 pounds, but they’re all basically the same: the rods, weight plates and screw locks are all of metal construction, and you basically just thread as many plates onto the rods as you want to put together the desired weight. They’re not quite as slick as the 552s, but at a starting price of only $50, they are much more affordable.
If you already have a set of individual dumbbells, or you’d really prefer to buy those, then just be sure you get a light, a medium and a heavy pair, so that you can work safely with the light weight when needed, but challenge yourself with medium and heavy weights when you’ve progressed to that point. You can buy single weights across a wider range and do repetitions on one side of your body at a time, which is a bit more economical, but not practical for every exercise. Individual dumbbells are usually sold by a certain price per pound, which can range from $1 – $3 per pound, depending on the features of the weight.

4. A Bench or Ball – While it is certainly possible to do a workout without either of these, having a bench or a ball will help you get the most out of your dumbbells. There are many exercises where it’s safer and more effective for your body to be supported. Flat and incline chest presses, seated overhead presses and triceps extensions, prone reverse flies and back extensions are a few that come to mind.
If you use a ball, you need to be a bit more careful, and you should practice sitting on it and transitioning into and out of various exercise positions before you pick up the weights and start your reps. A ball gives you the added bonus of working your stabilizer and balance muscles, and it also can be used for a variety of core exercises on its own, so it’s worth considering. There are different sizes, and you want one that allows your knees to bend at an approximate 90 degree angle when you’re sitting on the top center of the ball with it fully inflated. The biggest drawback of the stability ball is that it’s kind of bulky and doesn’t really blend into a room the way a bench can.
If you’d rather use a bench, get a simple but sturdy one that adjusts from a slight decline (10 or 15 degrees) to a 90 degree (upright) incline. Cost of Ball: $30-40; Cost of Bench: $80 – $200

There are a few other of pieces of equipment that are not as necessary, but nice to have. Some of the ones I use regularly include good-quality resistance bands with a door anchor; a medicine ball; yoga blocks and straps; the Body Bar (or other weighted bar); my beloved foam roller; and balance pods.

Altogether, I’d say I own about $500-worth of exercise gear and it all fits into a 3′ X 5′ space on my floor. I hide it behind a little screen, so it’s out of sight but always there when I need it.

If you have questions about putting together your own home gym, connect with me on Facebook. I’d love to help!

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