What do you do when you can’t get to the gym, can’t afford a membership, or are forced to figure out how to workout at home – such as in the immediate case of the 2020 COVID-19 crisis when you’re just allowed to briefly leave home?!
Whether it’s too far, too expensive, a super busy day, or under our current circumstances – avoiding a rapidly spreading virus – sometimes life prevents us from continuing our fitness journey!
In this article, I will give you 17 pieces of equipment I recommend for setting up your best home gym, in the following format.
Home Gym Essentials Breakdown
- Ten Essentials – Necessary and/or multi-purpose cost-effective items
- Three “Get if Possible” items – larger equipment for a bigger space and budget
- Five “Nice to Have” – non-essentials that still add some great benefits.
I am blessed that when I got married a few months ago, my husband had already set up a pretty awesome home gym. Both of us are weightlifters and triathletes, but workout differently for various personal needs and preferences. So now that I’ve used it alongside him daily for several months – and training clients here – I have a solid idea of what truly makes for a quality home workout space to meet almost anyone’s needs.
Benefits of Home Gyms
As much as I’ve always loved the options and energy found at big gyms, I’ve discovered the beauty of home workouts. In fact, you may even find that once this COVID-19 crisis is over, you might want to do many of your workouts at home!
The benefits of having either a home gym or a designated fitness area include:
- Low Cost
- Choice of music
- Ability to wear any attire you want
- No creepers or looky-loos
- No judgement
- Ability to try new exercises without feeling self-conscious
- More sanitary and healthy
10 Essentials for Your Home Gym
While you don’t absolutely need every single item on this list to get started, at least a handful of these home gym ideas will enable you to get a well-rounded workout without having to get too wildly creative.
1. Exercise Flooring and Mats
The first step is finding somewhere both comfortable and safe to exercise. Regardless of whether you have wood floor, carpet, or are setting up on concrete in your garage or basement, cushioned home gym flooring makes a world of difference. This is crucial for protecting sensitive areas like hips, back, sit bones, and knees during certain movements like core exercises, but also for protecting your floors from heavier pieces of equipment.
Two great options are:
- Puzzle Mat – these can be pieced together to fit a wide variety of room sizes. Even individual squares can be used to protect walls and specific spots on the floor from equipment leaving marks. It also helps to keep carpet clean from sweat and any dirt equipment may leave behind.
- Foldable Mat or Thick Pilates/Yoga Mat – From yoga to Pilates to basic core exercises, a thick mat is another great and simpler alternative to an entire floor. If your workouts are taking place in a small space like your family room in front of your TV, then a basic mat can suit your needs, keep costs down, and make for quick clean-up.
There’s very little you can’t do with dumbbells. Dumbbells require more balance, isolation, and coordination than machines, and also let you work in a more natural range of motion. They also take up very little space. These are a staple in any workout, even if you can just get your hands on one set. A full rack is expensive and bulky, but if you can get a weight that challenges you in most exercises, then you can get creative and use that for so many different workouts.
You can hold them for extra resistance while doing lunges or squats, then use them for a shoulder press and bicep curls. When you need to get creative to increase or decrease the resistance, you can hold both in one hand for unilateral (one-sided) exercises, slow your tempo, or hold one in both hands.
Look for hexagonal dumbbells which prevent the weights from rolling around the floor. Another good option (but more expensive) is an adjustable dumbbell set, which can be about the size of a 25-30 lb weight, but allows you to use anything from about 5 to 50 lbs.
3. Resistance Bands
A great alternative to dumbbells is a set of resistance bands: loop bands, stackable bands, power bands and therapy bands. I personally have some of each type at home to target muscles in various ways, and I use them almost every single workout. Like dumbbells, they are space-saving, but even more affordable! Elastic bands are probably the biggest bang for your buck, because they’re so versatile yet so inexpensive.
- How to Use: Use a set of small loop bands or mini bands for glute and hip strengthening; use therapy bands and power bands for mobility, priming work, and stretching (power bands can also be used for pull-ups and other strength exercises); use resistance bands with handles and stackable bands in place of machines and free weights;
- Note on Bands with Handles: Get some that comes with a door anchor and ankle strap because it will allow you to do more exercises like lat pull downs, leg extensions, standing chest presses/flys, glute kick-backs, shoulder presses, bicep curls, tricep extensions, kneeling crunches and much more. In fact, they’ve become a life-saver for swim training while pools are closed, and are an excellent training tool for athletes of all types.
Visit my YouTube channel for more home and travel workouts you can do with bands.
4. Stability Ball
Stability exercise balls are perfect for core workouts, practicing squats, stretching, light chest presses and sitting on instead of a bench (also makes for a great home office chair!) The variety they add to your workout space will help keep things interesting and ensure you’re always working on your core strength and balance. I use one of these at least once per week for core work like ball planks and crunches, and for leg exercises like hamstring curls. I also use it to help stretch out my back and chest.
While a bench may not be completely essential, it will add so many more options to your routine. A basic one is not hard to find on places like Craigslist or a garage sale. You may even be able to get creative with items you have at home like a coffee table, couch, or stability ball in place of a bench if needed. A bench is essential if you’re doing things like barbell chest presses, but they’re also great for seated exercises like shoulder presses. I also recommend using them for weighted hip thrusts, single leg bridges, step-ups, crunches, and IYTs.
6. Pull-Up Bar or Suspension Trainer
Targeting your back can be tricky when you don’t have lots of weights and machines to work with. Luckily, pull-ups are one of the best exercises and you can do them in any doorway with the help of a pull-up bar. A multi-grip bar will allow you to do pull-ups and chin-ups from a variety of angles, as well as hanging leg raises for abs. If you aren’t able to do one pull-up yet, then start with a power band to assist you. This can be hung on any very sturdy object, such as a squat rack. Otherwise, head to your closest park and try them on one of the bars there.
Another option instead of traditional pull-ups is a TRX or suspension trainer (you can find a variety of types and prices on Amazon). These allow you to do inverted rows and they can be easily adjusted for your strength level simply by adjusting where you stand. The suspension trainer, unlike a pull-up bar, can be used for a variety of exercises for the core, arms, and legs as well. I like doing single leg lunges, incline push-ups, planks, and bicep curls, as well as close and wide-grip rows. Alternatively, at my home gym, we use gym rings in place of a TRX as a less expensive (but slightly less adjustable) option.
7. Aerobic Step/Plyo Box/Bosu Ball
Cardio can be a challenge when you’re stuck indoors, but an aerobic step or Bosu Balance Trainer can help solve that problem, especially for high intensity bursts, which are great for burning calories. An aerobic step or plyometric box will allow you to do exercises like box jumps, step-ups, lateral jumps, runs and more. A Bosu ball can be used for lots of plyometric/jumping moves and balance, as well as core exercises. Bonus: the vibration that comes from bouncing helps to activate your nervous system for better muscle recruitment, and improves ankle strength.
Not only are these pieces of equipment excellent for cardio, but can assist with tons of leg exercises when combined with weights (such as single leg squats, box squats, incline push-ups, etc.
8. Jump Rope
If you don’t have the square footage or budget for a treadmill or stationary bike, a jump rope is a great (and cheap!) way to get in cardio. In many ways, the high-intensity of jump roping can be even more effective than boring steady state cardio, and takes much less time. I like to use this as a warm-up, and then do one-minute sessions at the end of each circuit I’m doing, or between exercises, depending on the type of workout. If all you’re doing is cardio, then you can get in a great session in less than 20 minutes.
In place of big, heavy plates and barbells, a variety of kettlebells are perfect home gym equipment to have around due to the variety of exercises you can perform with them. Not only that, but these exercises get your heart pumping, so you get in some cardio at the same time. These can be used for total body exercises like kettlebell swings and Turkish get-ups, as well as single-arm shoulder presses, back rows, goblet squats, farmer’s carries, deadlifts, Russian twists, and much more. Generally, a vinyl-coated style is good for home workouts for protecting your floors and reducing noise, but a standard cast iron should be safe if you’re using thick flooring as previously discussed.
9. Foam Rollers
While you’re not going to be building muscle with a foam roller, this is essential for recovery from your workouts. Starting and ending with some rolling can help a lot with blood flow and mobility so you work your muscles properly, and also get out the knots when you’re done to prevent/heal muscle imbalances and pain. If you’re not sure how to use these or want to understand the benefits more, check out my blog on how to use a foam roller.
Get If Possible Equipment
If you have a bigger budget and extra space at home or in your garage, then here are a few items that can make a world of difference and almost make you forget about your commercial gym.
1.Power Rack/Squat Rack
I’ve already mentioned squat racks a few times, because they are so versatile and helpful when you’re trying to build muscle. I would recommend a power rack or squat rack with four legs connected by bars at the top. There are some basic squat stands and racks that only have two legs and no top bar. These are great for squats and chest presses, but most of the benefits stop there. I love having a rack with four sides and top bars because these open up many more exercise possibilities .You can loop bands around the top for pull ups or lat pull-downs, connect various attachments for arm exercises, loop bands on the sides for core and mobility, chest presses, back rows, etc. This (in addition to the actual bar and weights you’ll use with it, of course) can give you just about all you need for serious weight lifting.
2. Barbell (and plates)
An Olympic barbell and some weight plates will nicely decorate your power rack and enable you to build some serious muscle without a gym membership. If you find the right sale online or deal on places like Craiglist, these don’t have to put you back too much financially. Another option is EZ Curl bars or smaller barbells which can be used without a rack for lighter lifting as long as you have a bench. For exercises like deadlifts no rack or bench is required, which works out well since they’re one of the best compound exercises you can do. As far as weight plates, you’ll probably want a range from 5-45 lbs (one set of each) to start with, and then add as needed.
3. Cardio Equipment
A solid piece of cardio equipment can be really helpful, especially if you want to keep impact low. If you can spare the space, a small treadmill, rower, or stationary bike is fantastic to keep your heart healthy and weight loss on track. These make warm-ups, cool-downs, and circuit training really easy, and are a life saver on rainy days.
Nice to Have Equipment
The last few items aren’t going to make or break your workouts, but if you can add them, they’re really nice to have to mix things up and give you more versatility.
Weighted medicine balls can fill in as dumbbells for things like squats, lunges, Russian Twists, etc. You can get them in a few varieties, enabling you to do build strength and power through wall balls, slams, and rotational throws. These are awesome for athletes, and can also be easier for some people than managing two weights at once. They also just tend to be more fun!
2. Agility Ladder
You don’t have to be an athlete to make good use of an agility ladder. I have used these with older, deconditioned adults to help improve coordination and simply make the workout more fun. I’ve also used them with athletes for speed and agility drills. I personally love using them because it jacks up your heart rate, keeps your mind engaged, and improves speed and footwork. Only a few rounds through a ladder and you’ll be huffing and puffing. Another great option for cardio when you can’t squeeze in a machine.
3. Dumbbell Rack
If you have the space and budget, then I’d definitely recommend a set of dumbbells and a rack to hold them. Having more weight options can allow you to progress and regress workouts more easily, and make sure you keep progressing in strength.
4. Ankle Weights
Adding weights to your ankles can make bodyweight moves like reverse lunges more challenging, and exercises like leg lifts more effective. You can also leave them on for your whole workout, unlike mini bands, so it’s easier to switch between exercises quickly. These are also great for people who are newer to working out and still building leg strength before moving to heavy weights.
5. Core Sliders
These little discs are so small you may as well have them around to keep things interesting. They’re great for various core exercises and easy to use on both carpet and wood floors. Just a few minutes using these and your abs will be burning! You can watch this core sliders video for a variety of ways to use them.
There you go – these 18 items will definitely set you up for success at home. Feel free to start with 3-4 and add more as you’re able.
Tips for Getting Started:
- Plan a routine. Know what you’re going to do from day to day so you don’t just wander around or spend 45 minutes trying to find a good workout on YouTube. If you’re not even sure where to get started, then contact me for a personalized training plan built around your home gym.
- Set up ahead of time. If you know you’re doing squats, push-ups, band rows and shoulder presses, then get your weights and bands ready and set up so that when you start you don’t have to pause to go find something.
- Create a motivational space. Find some motivational quotes or YouTube video, good light, pump-you-up music, and floor space free from obstacles. It doesn’t matter what your “pain cave” looks like, just put some thought into what look and vibe will make you want to workout so you’ll look forward to each workout!
What about you? What do you consider essentials in your home gym? What are your favorite exercises to do inside with limited space and options?
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