Gym membership has increased considerably in recent years, on average growing by around 5% a year, but not everybody is able to go to the gym or even wants to. There are a multitude of reasons for not going to the gym but regardless of the reason chances are you’ll want to do a similar sort of workout at home. I know you’ll probably be thinking how can I do that as gyms spend tens of thousands on equipment. The good news is that you absolutely can and at a fraction of the cost. Having spent a number of years as a self-employed personal trainer we’ve learnt a few tips as well as what equipment you need and what you can do without.
When it comes to investing in home gym or workout equipment the first question you need to ask is what sort of workout are you planning on doing. This might seem like a daft question but if you want to focus mainly on core and aerobic workouts then there’s no point in investing in a cross trainer, if on the other hand you want to build muscle and improve your strength a yoga mat wouldn’t be necessary. That said regardless of your workout we would always recommend a decent set of earphones. Music can be good at helping you to set the pace but can also help to stop you getting bored. Another piece of equipment we would also recommend is some sort of foam roller or massage ball. This can work wonders when it comes to aches and pains, and IS a lot cheaper too!
Core workout equipment:
Consisting of three elements, strength, balance and stability, core exercises are amongst the easiest to do at home with the least amount of equipment needed. Things like a proper exercise or yoga mat are a must have though. They’re a lot more comfortable than a hard floor and will help you to keep your position as they’ll prevent you from sliding about.
Other pieces of equipment that can be helpful are:
Swiss ball – Sometimes called an exercise ball they will help you to strengthen your core much more effectively and quicker too. This is because although you can do the same exercises without a ball, using one will force you to use your core to keep your balance.
Hula Hoop – Everybody remembers the hula hoop from their youth but aside from being fun they are extremely good for your core. You have to use your abdominal muscles a lot to keep the hula hoop up, this is not only great for strengthening your core but also good for your posture.
Kettlebell – Far better than dumbbells for improving your core they will also help work other muscle groups. A kettlebell can be used for a number of squats, thrusts, swings and deadlifts, all of which will help improve your core as well as your shoulders and arms. Some exercises performed with a kettlebell will also work on your quads, hamstring and back. There’s a range of different weighted kettlebells depending on your level but there are also ’soft’ kettlebells which, over time, won’t become uncomfortable to hold.
Ab wheel – Perfect for some of the most difficult core exercises out there, the ab wheel is amazingly effective because it forces you to use your whole core. This in turn also works the ‘invisible’ muscles underneath the visible abdominal muscles. In fact if you only have one piece of kit for your core then we’d go as far as suggesting the ab wheel be that one item.
Step block – I’m sure you’ve all seen those workout videos from the 80’s with people in leg warmers stepping up and down on a plastic block. Well a step block is one of those crazes that turns out was more than just a craze. Yes when a bunch of celebrities say they use it every day to keep in shape it was bound to become very popular, very quickly but in reality the step block really is all it’s cracked up to be. It’s extremely versatile and can be used in such a wide range of exercises that it could almost be considered a one stop gym of its own.
If you have the space and the budget then here are a few machines you can’t go far wrong with:
Rower – Everybody knows that rowing machines are great for strengthening your back and shoulders as well as reducing back pain but did you also know that you can use them to work on your biceps, pecs and abs which will also help to improve your core. You don’t have to sit on the rower to get a workout though, many people place their feet on the saddle and workout that way – it’s surprising effective and will work your core more that the traditional way because you’re using your core to help keep you upright and balanced while moving your legs and lower body.
Vertical knee raiser – A relatively new piece of equipment a vertical knee raiser enables you to perform the ‘captain’s chair’ exercise. This is where you raise your knees up off of the ground and bring them towards your chest whilst still being upright. It’s one of the best abdominal exercises for the rectus abdominus but to do it properly you’ll need something like this.
Trampoline – No longer solely for kids the trampoline has become very popular for a variety of core workout exercises. As well as just being plain fun, jump and tuck exercises are good for not only getting your blood flowing but will also strengthen your core.
HIIT workout equipment:
When it comes to high intensity intermittent training there are a couple of essential low-tech pieces of equipment that although they don’t really help your actual workout you can’t really do without. Things like a comfortable pair of trainers and sensible clothing, these might sound like the most obvious of things but at the same time often get over looked. You want a pair of trainers that allow your feet to breath and have cushioned souls while still offering you support. With regards to clothing you want to wear something that isn’t going to get in the way and will allow you to move freely. For example a gold lamé pair of ‘MC Hammer’ trousers will not only get in the way and prevent movement they’ll also become annoying very quickly!
Resistance chute – You might think that this is an odd piece of kit but believe us it’s amazing and we think essential, and when you realise that it can give as much as 50 lbs of resistance we’re sure you’ll agree with us. It can significantly increase the resistance when you’re running and when you’re not it can easier be sorted in your gym bag and used anywhere. In fact a resistance chute is so good that many professional athletes such as rugby and football players and even sprinters practise with it.
Agility ladder – A relatively inexpensive piece of kit that is unbelievably versatile. It can be used for lateral plank walks, drop squat hops and high knees to name a few. On top of that it folds away neatly for storage too. Agreed you don’t have to use one but with a set distance between each rung it certainly helps to make sure each exercise is the same and that you’re not moving a shorter distance by time it gets to your last lateral push up.
Skipping rope – You may think that it’s just for kids at playtime but a skipping rope can work wonders. A skipping rope is perfect for HIIT and you’ll burn a considerable number of calories. There are wide range of ropes out there, some will even count how many jumps you do. Personally we prefer a simple skipping rope without the bells and whistles but that’s just us.
Slam ball – Although they can be somewhat noisy, after all you do ‘slam’ them against the floor, they’re very good for HIIT workouts. Working a number of muscle groups as well as hand eye coordination they’re also great for really getting the blood pumping.
Aerobic stepper – Ideally with resistance straps aerobic steppers (sometimes called mini steppers) are good for resistance, while the stepper is mainly concentrating on your lower body the resistance straps will give your arms a more realistic workout at the same time. The resistance also helps the improve your cardiovascular health too which is what HIIT is all about.
Weighted ankle and wrist bands – Perfect for increasing the resistance of your workout weighted bands can work wonders when it comes to any type of HIIT workout. They’re comfortable enough to not really notice you’re wearing them and come in a variety of weight levels to give you the exact resistance your body needs.
If you’re not limited on space then we would also recommend an elliptical trainer or a skillmill.
Elliptical trainer – Unlike a treadmill people using an elliptical trainer won’t suffer any impact injuries. You can therefore emulate an outdoor run without ever impacting your joints. This is one of the reasons why they’re so good the HIIT.
Skillmill – If you prefer to use a treadmill over an elliptical trainer, and let’s be honest a lot of people do, then we would highly recommend a skillmill instead. A non-motorised treadmill, the skillmill combines power, speed endurance and agility into one. It’s self powered so you can go at a pace that’s right for you. You can use a skillmill in a variety of different ways too, for example you can attached resistant bands and ‘pull’ as you run or you can use the bars on it to push away as you run or if you’d prefer you can just free run.
Muscle/strength building workout equipment:
Before starting out on a muscle and strength building regimen a lot of people think that all you need is a set of weights. While they are important there’s a lot of other equipment that’s often either over looked or not even considered. Two items that we would say are absolutely essential are gloves and a belt. Gloves help you to grip the dumbbells and barbell even when your hands are getting hot a sweaty but also give your wrists support. This enables you to lift properly without straining your wrists at all. A weight lift belt on the other hand will help increase your core stability. It works by increasing the intra-abdominal pressure, this pressure is what increases your stability.
Weights – This is of course stating the obvious but the type of weights you go for is important. There are some exercises that can only be done with a barbell and some that are only possible with dumbbells. Then there’s the kettlebell, this often makes exercises where you hold one dumbbell in both hands easier, it also helps to distribute the weight evenly on both sides. When it comes a barbell there are two options, a straight or curved bar. The curved bar tends to be shorter and therefor lighter (an Olympic straight bar is around 45 lbs whereas the curved bar is usually between 25 lbs and 30 lbs). Another difference is the muscle groups they generally work. A curved bar tends to be used for smaller muscle groups such as biceps and triceps.
Punch bag – A great way to workout is with a punch bag, it not only helps your muscles and strength to grow and develop it also gives you am intense cardio and aerobic workout as well as improving your hand eye coordination. There are two main types of punch bag, free standing (this is exactly as it sounds, a weighted base keeps it upright when hit) or suspended (great if you have the space and the beams in your ceiling is strong enough). Both are good but a free standing bag tends to have a more responsive rebound and be slightly softer. A suspended bag on the other hand gives you the ability to move around as you punch and is preferred by boxers as it resembles a real fight better.
Pull up bar or station – Whist not essential a pull up bar or station is great for upper body strength. To use a bar at home though you must make sure your door way is able to support the load. Although they’re more expensive pull up stations offer an alternative to the classic bar and also have the added benefit of helping you to keep your back straight.
Push up bars – Extremely effective, push up bars are a must have and are also very easy to store when not in use. They add an extra level of difficultly to your workout because they increase your range of movement. This will strengthen your core muscles but also the muscles in your arms and shoulders. You don’t need to spend a lot on these at all, just a few dollars is enough.
Bench – A bench is without doubt a must have item for any home gym. That said there is no such thing as a standard bench, they range from a basic bench with a section that can be angled to an all bells and whistles weight bench station that allows you to do also work your legs, shoulders and back. Which one you opt for is dependant on space and budget. A bench is extremely versatile and can not only be used for bench presses but also for a range of other exercises such as crunches and burpees.
Endurance workout equipment:
Endurance isn’t so much about particular exercises it’s more about increasing the time you’re able to spend exercising. With this in mind most of the items already covered here are excellent for endurance too. Especially things like the Skillmill and elliptical trainer along with lower tech equipment such as the the Swiss ball and agility ladder. That said there are a few things that we’ve not covered already but would recommend.
Resistance bands – These are great because in order to stabilise your body and control your movement your muscles are forced to contract. These bands also versatile in their use and can be used while standing or sitting, leaning or pulling. Unlike some equipment, resistance bands have the added benefit of being able to be used by anybody regardless of age or fitness level.
Indoor cycling bike – Considered a low-risk exercise they’re great for giving you an intensive cardiovascular workout. Sometimes called an exercise bike, an indoor bike focuses mainly on your lower body. Like the elliptical trainer it doesn’t impact your joints so you can workout without risk of injury.
It really doesn’t matter what your reasons are for working out at home but as you can see not going to the gym doesn’t mean you have to loose out, if anything in the long run you’re gaining because you’re saving on annual gym membership fees. Working out at home also has the added benefit of enabling you to do so when it’s convenient for you and without having to wait for somebody else to stop using the equipment you wanted to use.