Getting to the gym can be tough. But just because you're stuck at home doesn't mean you can't exercise. And you don't need to have a lot of fancy, expensive equipment to do it.
It's also not necessary to have a single room in your house that is devoted to exercise, but it can be helpful to have a central place for all your fitness gear. Before deciding on a space, consider the following:
- Is there carpet? Carpet can be easily stained with oil from exercise machines and can quickly become quite odorous if you're regularly sweating. If possible, try choosing a room with a hard floor, or get a yoga or exercise mat you can use for sweaty workouts.
- Is the ceiling low? If your workouts are going to include jumping or overhead pressing, you'll want at least eight to 12 inches of extra space overhead when your arms are fully extended.
- Is the room well ventilated? If you're performing hard cardio exercise or it is warm outside, a hot, muggy room will make you feel suffocated, uncomfortable and far less motivated to exercise.
- Is the room isolated or sound-proof? If you have babies or young children sleeping at night, it might be tough for you to watch television, listen to music, use a noisy treadmill or make noise lifting weights if your exercise space is near to your kid's bedroom. You may even find your spouse complaining about your six-pack stomach if it means they're losing sleep for it.
Now that you've chosen your home gym room, you're ready to put together a home gym. If you're a big spender, you could simply go to your local sporting goods store and invest $500 to $2,000 in a multi-gym apparatus, which is typically a large piece of equipment with various seats, cables, handles, and weight stacks. If you decide to take this shortcut, then measure your room beforehand to ensure that the equipment will fit, and try to choose a sporting goods store that will deliver and assemble the device, which removes a ton of headache. Or you can try any of these multi-gym options that are smaller and easier to assemble.
While a multi-gym is certainly convenient, there are easier and cheaper ways to create an exercise environment at home. Here are the essential tools I recommend, all of which could easily be purchased for under $300:
- Elastic tubing: Although one piece of elastic tubing with handles on either end is fine, a few different tubes with varying levels of resistance can offer you more variety for exercises from pulling to pushing to twisting. One version of elastic tubing that I recommend is called a Gymstick, which is basically two elastic tubes connected to a flexible aluminum bar.
- Free weights: A set of light dumbbells or a light barbell is fine if you're just starting out. If you're more advanced, you may want a range of sizes. One very useful and space-saving piece of equipment is adjustable dumbbells, which allow you to adjust a single dumbbell from 5 pounds up to over 50 pounds.
- Stability ball: This is a big ball that you can use for crunches, squats, sit-ups and for any exercise you may normally need a bench for, such as dumbbell presses. View a variety of stability ball exercise videos here.
- Mat: I prefer a standard yoga mat, although there are thicker options if you want more padding.
- Foam roller: 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.
- Cardio equipment: Here's where you may need to start spending a bit more money. While a simple, inexpensive weighted jump rope will burn quite a few calories, you should also consider an elliptical trainer, treadmill or bicycle. Your local classifieds listing or Craigslist can often offer used equipment at much more affordable prices than purchasing new, but expect to spend anywhere from $200 to $600 on a decent cardio machine.
Of course, there are plenty of other exercise tools you can use to keep variety in your workout program. After all, doing push-ups on a mat can get boring after a few years. From Bosu balls to kettlebells, I'd recommend you add a new piece of exercise equipment every few months to keep your routine fresh, exciting and effective.
Finally, I get asked quite a bit about what kind of workouts you could do with equipment similar to what I've described above. I personally like to "mix and match" several different pieces of home gym exercise equipment into a circuit-style workout.
Here's a sample workout. Do it three to four times through, with 12 to 15 repetitions for each exercise, and minimal rest:
- Jumping jacks
- Gymstick Overhead Press
- Elastic band rows
- Dumbbell chest press on a stability ball
- Dumbbell curls
- Body weight squats
- Stability ball knee-ups
- Two-minute cardio burst on treadmill, bike, elliptical or other home cardio device.
So what are you waiting for? Why wait until you can get to the gym or afford a gym membership to exercise? Get started now with your own home gym.
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Ben Greenfield is a fitness and triathlon expert and host of the Get-Fit Guy podcast on the Quick and Dirty Tips network. His book, "Get-Fit Guy's Guide to Achieving Your Ideal Body -- A Workout Plan for Your Unique Shape," will be published by St. Martin's Press in May 2012.
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