In the last few years, I have only been to the gym twice. Shocking, right? The reason I can do that and still stay in top condition is due to the fact that I have a few (not a ton) of key exercise gear at home. With the gift-giving season sneaking up on us, it seems like the perfect time to make a list!
I know, I know. When you read the words “home gym” you probably picture an unfinished basement or garage with storage boxes piled up around a weight bench and an old treadmill covered in cobwebs or laundry. Or maybe you go the other way and picture a mansion, with a dance studio-sized room that features mirrors on every wall and every exercise device known to man lined neatly up around the perimeter. Well, neither of those versions of a home gym is what I am envisioning. The style of home gym that I am a fan of is minimal and affordable, yet entirely functional.
If you know me, you will know that I don’t go in for the idea that you have to have the latest, greatest, cutting-edge, and newfangled device in order to get a decent workout. I know many amazing athletes, like body weight and callisthenics master Al Kavadlo, who do the majority of workouts in parks and playgrounds. Then there is Darryl Edwards of Primal Play fame, who shuns gyms altogether and prefers to make all of his workouts into playtime. And my buddy Katy Bowman who basically walks herself into physical health.
So throw away the idea that your home gym needs to be obtrusive and filled with expensive gear. My idea instead is to start with the bare minimum and work from there.
But before we get into the gear, let’s find a suitable area in your home to set this up.
Choosing the Space for Your Home Gym
It is definitely not necessary to have a single room in your house that is devoted to exercise, but it is important to have a location for fitness equipment to live in. Preferably a space that isn’t “out of sight and out of mind,” as well. Before deciding which room will house your exercise gear, let’s stop to consider a few things.
- Is there carpet on the floor? Carpet obviously is really good at soaking stuff up (especially red wine, am I right?) That means that it can quickly become stinky if you are sweating all over it on a daily basis. So, choose a room that isn’t carpeted and has flooring that can be quickly and easily wiped down after a heavy sweat session. If that is not possible, you may want to invest in some oversized yoga mats or a tarp that you can pull out before you get your sweat on.
- How high is the ceiling? Even if you aren’t super tall, if you want to do workouts that include jumping or hoisting objects over your head, and you don’t want to have to wear a helmet during your routine, you will want at least one foot of extra space overhead when your arms are fully extended.
- Is there decent airflow? If you are hitting it hard or the air temperature is high, a hot and stuffy room will make you less likely to want to exercise. Having at least one (hopefully two) windows that open is handy, or at least invest in a portable fan that you can point in your general direction.
- Is the area unobtrusive? My partner is an Emergency Room Nurse, meaning she works odd hours. If I kept my workout gear in the bedroom, this would pose a serious problem for either my workouts or her sleep. Choosing a location that is convenient but also isolated enough can be a trick for us small home dwellers but with a little ingenuity, it is possible.
OK, now that we have our location sorted out, let’s look at some gear!
Home Gym Equipment
If you are a big spender, you could simply go to your local sporting goods store and invest $500 to $2000 in a multi-gym apparatus, and we’ll get to that type of stuff in a bit. But as I said before, I don’t think that is necessary. If you start minimal and only add pieces of gear as you decide they are necessary, I think you will find (like I did) that you can cover most of your bases with some smart purchases and some clever alterations.
Here are the tools I recommend (and if you use the links below, you can support me without paying anything extra!):
1. Mat: A standard yoga mat will likely do, although there are thicker options if you happen to be standing on concrete or something else with no give. If you are using the mat to protect the floor (or carpet) from sweat, you may want to get an extra large size, but generally, the run-of-the-mill exercise or yoga mat is perfect for the job and can be washed easily in the shower. I have a set of the Everlast FIT mats and I recommend them.
2. Stability Ball: This is a big inflatable ball that you can use for crunches, chest press, squats, sit-ups, and can even double as your desk chair. You can see my favourite Devebor ball in action in many of my YouTube videos.
3. Elastic Resistance Bands: Although one piece of elastic band (with or without handles on either end) is fine, a few different ones with varying levels of resistance can offer you more variety for exercises from pulling to pushing to twisting. I encourage you to get a set of long bands and looped bands for greater exercise possibilities.
4. Free Weights: A set of light dumbbells or a light barbell is OK if you’re just starting out. But as you get stronger, you are going to want more weight variety. The best space-saving piece of equipment I have found is called the Powerblock adjustable dumbbell. These allow you to adjust a single dumbbell from five pounds up to over 50 pounds without having dumbells scattered all over the room.
5. Pull-up Bar: The pull-up bar is adaptable and effective and it allows you to use your own body weight to exercise a range of muscle groups in ways that are nearly impossible to fudge without a bar. Believe me, I have tried! I have been using a tension bar for years now and love it – but a word to the wise: use the screws and rubber wall mount.
6. Foam Roller: They are usually long and cylindrical, but they come in many shapes, sizes, lengths, textures, and densities. A foam roller can be used for a warm-up or cool-down muscle massage, as a balance device, or as a fulcrum for doing variations of crunches and back bridges. I have a whole set of the Triggerpoint rollers and use them daily.
7. Step Platform or Yoga Blocks: Whether you’re using it for cardio, bodyweight exercises, or plyometric workouts, picking up a sturdy and lightweight, adjustable platform will allow you to do certain exercises with ease. If you want to save space, do what I do and just get a few yoga blocks, or just use a set of stairs or a sturdy footstool (that you don’t mind getting sweaty).
8. Recovery tools: I am a big fan of rollers, balls, sticks, pants and massagers that help me feel better quickly after a workout. Although not all of them are 100% science-backed, I subscribe to the theory of “if it makes you feel good, it is doing its job.” One of my faves is the Ekrin Athletics massage gun (use code: BROCK20 for 20% off).
Bosu Balls, Jump Ropes, Kettlebells, Medicine Balls, Suspension Straps, and so on are some small items that you can add every few months (or years) if you decide that you have the space and the need. But I suggest starting minimally and waiting until you are sure you need more before you buy more.
Home Gym Tips
Now that you have your home gym all decked out, here are some quick and dirty tips to help you make the most of it.
- Make sure to keep a paper towel or dishcloth, along with a non-toxic cleaning solution, in close proximity to your fitness equipment so you can give them regular wipe-downs. Sweat is not only sticky but it is surprisingly corrosive. Don’t let it shorten the lifespan of your gear.
- Don’t forget to cool down! Just because you can finish your workout and immediately start cleaning the house or making dinner doesn’t mean you should. Cool-downs are important so don’t skip it just because your own shower is calling you.
- Gather ideas from friends, fitness websites, books, and my podcasts, and create a solid list of at least 5 tried and true workouts you can do with your equipment at home. If you have something all planned out and ready to go, you will be more likely to do it.
- Have a stereo, computer, or entertainment system near your home gym. Not only are there some great streaming fitness services these days that you can use to make your routine more fun, but being able to listen to music or a podcast while you work out can make you more likely to come back to this fine establishment.
When I am asked for my “secrets to staying fit”, especially for a busy working stiff with plenty of hobbies that don’t involve pumping iron or running on a treadmill, the best secret I have to share is to “hack your environment.” By making exercise and movement as easy and available as often as possible, you can truly stay as fit as possible without having to dedicate time to the gym.
Of course, if you have fitness goals like running a marathon or competing in a triathlon, you will need more dedicated exercise time, but my philosophy is that a true workout should be the optional “dessert.” The movement that you can sneak in when you have these essential home gym equipment items around the house, is where the true exercise “meals” can be had.