Fitness Friday :: The Essential Elements of a Home Gym
Nothing beats the convenience of home when it comes to daily exercise. For the time it takes you to drive to the gym, drop off your gym bag in the locker room, check your child into the Germ Factory of Fun and wait your turn for the treadmill, you could be finished with your at-home routine. And be showered. Maybe even blow-dried.
I’ve been a gym-rat on and off since college, but home is definitely my workout venue of choice. Over the last 28 years, my husband and I have created a well-equipped home gym—piece by piece, little by little. I couldn’t be a slug, even if I wanted to. The guilt alone would eat me alive.
If, currently, you have no gym equipment, it may seem intimidating to have a “home gym” when you consider the expense of building one from scratch. So, I thought I’d list for you the home gym equipment I consider essential, in the order I would (and did!) buy it.
The Free Version
Good news!! You can work out from home for abso-free-lutely with no equipment, whatsoever. Here’s all you need:
- The great outdoors, where you can walk or run (that’s all the cardio you need, right there).
- An 8’ x 8’ space of your home, where you can strength train using your own body weight (think push-ups, squats, lunges, planks, crunches, etc).
- Self-discipline, to keep you going when there’s no one there to encourage you. Except you.
- Fitness knowledge, to put together a thorough and safe exercise program for yourself.
- Creativity, to combat the dreaded fitness plateau and/or boredom.
If you want actual exercise equipment, these are The Essentials:
- A mat, if you do not have carpeted floor. You can buy flooring like this. A giant mat like this. Or just a nice regualr yoga mat like this.
- Water bottle and towel.
- A decent pair of shoes. For running I have these. And for working out at home I have these.
- Free Weights. If you are a female just starting out, you only need a set of 2 lb, 5 lb and 8 lb dumbbells. If you are strong and consider yourself to be reasonably fit, you will probably also need a set of 10 lb and 15 lb weights. I have been working out almost every day for 25 years, and I RARELY use weights higher than 15 pounds. If you are a male, start with a set of 10 lb, 15 lb and 20 lb dumbbells.
- Resistance Bands. This would be an alternate to free weights, not in addition to the free weights. I personally prefer free weights, but resistance bands are very versatile, easy to store and easy to take with you when you travel (yes, I’m a freak and work out on vacation.)
- Workout DVDs and a TV/DVD player or computer. As I stated, unless you are highly disciplined, very creative and have extensive knowledge of the way different exercises work various parts of your body, you will need DVDs. A good home DVD program will give you variety, keep you on task, and show you proper form. You can build your library slowly over time and add to it as you reach fitness plateaus or boredom. I would recommend something well-rounded to start out. Something that works the entire body, and includes a cardiovascular element, a strength training element and a flexibility element (like yoga or a really good stretch.)
- A mirror. If you are just starting out and exercising alone in your home, it’s important to perfect your form. Bad form is one of the main causes for exercise-induced injuries. (Bad Form + Out-of-Shape Body = BAD NEWS) A full-length mirror will help you see if your lunge looks like the lunge on the DVD. It will also let you see the grooves in your thighs when you start building muscles BECAUSE of that lunge. Bonus! (I don’t have a mirror in my gym, mostly because I have worked out in front of the mirrors at the real gym long enough to know when my form is bad. I can feel it. But I want one. I think it really helps.)
- A Cardio Machine. Our very first cardio machine was the Nordic Track. Remember the Nordic Track? They actually had a Nordic Track store in our mall back in the early 90’s, because the Nordic Track was da BOMB. Then we moved our family and our Nordic Track to sunny Florida, where all our cardio could be outdoors year ‘round. #ThoseWereTheDays. Then we moved to Kentucky, where our cardio could be outdoors only part of the year (depending on your fondness for cold/rainy–of which I have ZERO!), so we ditched the Nordic Track and upgraded to an elliptical. Our elliptical continues to be well-loved by everyone in our home—evidenced by the tape holding it together. [Updated: We have a new elliptical without masking tape holding it together. We also added a stationary bike and a row machine.]
Since my husband has morphed into a Triathlete, he has this contraption going on (is that a high chair back there?) I have no clue. But assume it has something to do with cardio and bikes and stuff.
And he would like to add a treadmill at some point. But we have run out of room, so something else would have to go…like maybe this guy.
- A Bench. This is great for chest exercises, sitting bicep curls, back exercises, tricep-dips, and one-legged balance lunges. Alternatively, you can use a floor and a chair—which is why I consider this piece of equipment optional.
- A jump rope. Have you tried to jump rope since you were a kid? Yeah, it’s HARD. Cheap and effective cardio, right there.
- A universal weight machine. I personally think free weights provide the best all around weight training experience, because you can do almost anything with them and you get great range of motion. But if you are looking for some variety and have extra room in your home, a universal weight machine is fun. I bought this as a birthday gift for my husband a few years ago, and it gets a ton of use. It’s not cheap, though. So, don’t start here. This is the kind of thing you work up to and save for.
- A weight rack. This is a total luxury because we have so many stinkin weights now. I just didn’t like have them all over the floor. You can put this in the “frivolous” category.
Sometimes a workout DVD requires specific equipment. Here are the things I added as I needed them for new workouts:
For P90X: Yoga mat, yoga block and pull-up bar*
For P90X2: Stability balls, medicine balls, push-up stands (LOVE these push-up stands from Beachbody!), and foam roller
For Jillian Michaels: Kettle bells
For Insanity The Asylum: This ladder thingy (not the official name)
At the end of the day, the Essential Equipment for any Home Gym will be the stuff you use. Start small. Build it over time. The end.
Do you have a home gym? What equipment is in yours?
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Thanks for the post and ideas! I have a home gym (small) consists of a treadmill, stair stepper, 2 & 5 pound weights, resistance bands and one of those ab roller gadgets:) Oh almost forgot it’s quick access to the outdoors:)
Do you like the stair stepper? For a long time, our “home gym” was just the corner of the family room. You do what you gotta do.
And I love that you have an ab-roller! Let’s get hook it up with one of my old Denise Austin videos for a blind date.
We currently have an exercise bike (for my husband) and a treadmill (for me, which, by the way, I should be on, as soon as I’m done with my “me time on the computer” 😉 and an assortment (3-10 lb) of hand weights. I also have workout videos – Kathy Smith is a fave! And just so you know how old-school I am, I have a VHS tape that I used to record the Denise Austin workouts on Lifetime! (I really miss those being aired daily!) Just goes to show that the old way is sometimes the best way:)
Kathy Smith rocks. She’s got a few workouts she sells through Beachbody. I need to check them out.
I have a treadmill which I use 4-5 days a week in the colder months. I own a kettlebell that is adjustable, a set of 10lb weights, some bands, bosu and mat. You could have amazing workout with NO equipment- your body is can provide resistance training in itself!
What’s a bosu??? I agree that you can have an amazing workout with no equipment. But most people don’t know what to do or won’t push themselves hard enough on their own. I don’t, anyway, 🙂
Great post and reminder we can workout anywhere. We have a Treadmill, elliptical, bike trainers, some free weights, stability ball, BOSU and DVDs so plenty to get moving 🙂
Sounds like you have a GREAT gym!!
I prefer working out at home. I have P90X and P90X2, Insanity, Insanity Asylum, and a half dozen other workout regimes. I have a way to hook up my computer to my tv so I can youtube all of the workout videos I would want. I have a 300 lb weight set and bench. I have dumbells, and kettlebells. 2 medicine balls and exercise balls. Jump ropes, balance things, exercise bike, bowflex, and I made up a 16 foot 2 inch diameter rope that I can do different exercises with using the rope hanging from the ceiling. I have a home made pull up bar and a treadmill. I also have a mirror, clock and a tabata timer.
OK…so your space must be huge. And why haven’t you done P90X2 yet???? 😉
This looks like a great home gym. But I need accountability. I have tried DVD’s, Wii games, ABS Diet workout. I am great at them for about a week or two, then I get lazy. And bored. And lazy.
So last summer I signed a 2 year contract with a gym (anyone in Canada MUST check out your nearest GoodLife Fitness – best gym ever!). And I took the plunge and bought 80 personal training hours (but from kijiji for about $20/hr, not from then gym directly which would be $45-$65/hr). I LOVE my trainer. For many reasons. 1. I have an appointment. Nothing gets my but to the gym like an appointment. 2. I don’t have to think, I just do what I’m told. 3. I can’t quit. I have walked out of fitness classes and wimped through exercises on my own, but if he says 12 reps at 10 lbs, I have to do it. 3 or 4 times. 4. I’m not bored. Ever. Not only because he changes my workout almost everyday, but because listening to a 23 year old talk about his night out or his trip to mexico or the girl he’s dating or if he should keep his Mohawk and/or beard is highly entertaining and makes the hour fly by. And makes be grateful for my quiet happy suburban life.
My hours run out this summer. I don’t know what I’m gonna do. Probably cry.
Definitely benefits to workout out with a trainer. That’s why I am working on getting my certification…for all the people like you who need them.
One day when the kiddos are older I would love to workout at home more! Currently trying to squeeze in an extra 30mins here and there at home:)
It’s hard with little ones. I used the stroller a LOT when they were babies. Or I’d stick them in the porta-crib or exasaucer while I lifted weights. Nothing wrong with short workouts so you can take care of your babies.
Honestly speaking this is the best article on home fitness and gym I have ever read…I am your fan Sandy Cooper 🙂
I really loved this article. I’m currently working on expanding my home gym but I’m on a budget. I really like the idea of putting a TV in my gym and having a collection of workout videos. Cardio machines get boring and it would be nice to have something else to do for variety.
TRX Cables make a great addition as well!
hi, nice article, working out with sculpting exercise bar is better because you don’t have to use heavy weights and if you work out at home you can feel relieved that your children won’t get hurt with the heavy weights.
That’s really cool. This is one of the most in-depth reviews of workout equipment at home. Thanks for the great work.