Working out from home has obviously gained in popularity over the past months – so we take you through some of our favourite home gym essentials.
Why develop a home gym?
There is no doubt that the continuing impact of coronavirus in 2020 has changed many things. For months people were unable to even go to a gym for their regular workout. And now, as the country tries to heave itself back on its feet, some might find that continuing with gym memberships is no longer affordable.
Ok – so treadmills and exercise bikes do cost a bit of money and do need a bit of space, but there are plenty of pieces of kit that can help you stay fit and active – and it does not need to cost an arm and a leg!
What do you need to know before you shop?
If you are new to working out, consider what your aims are. Strength work (e.g. dumbells, resistance bands) help build muscle while cardio (treadmill, exercise bike) burn fat and will improve your heart and lung health.
Then give some thought to the amount of space you have. We can’t all afford to dedicate a specific room for a home gym, and while it might be tempting to use a garage as a workout space, consider power requirements if using a treadmill, and also how well they (and you) will perform when conditions are cold.
Let’s start with the sweating (with) the small stuff
Innocuous looking, but when you start rolling your limbs along it, you will feel it! They help to improve your blood circulation and also to help those inevitable muscle aches and pains.
The good news is they are pretty cheap and a great start to your regular workout.
Calves – sit on the floor and extend your legs and with the foam roller at your calves, raise yourself off the ground and roll forwards and backwards.
Quads – Place the roller above your knee, as you lie on your front (imagine being in a planking pose with the roller under you) and again roll forwards and backwards applying even pressure to your quad muscles.
IT Band – Lying on your side, position the roller at the top of your thigh and cross your other leg over with your foot on the floor and gently roll from the top of your thigh towards your knee. This one can hurt to begin with, but it can release the muscles around the knees.
Hamstrings – Place the roller at the back of your knees and raise your body of the ground. Use your hands to move yourself forwards and backwards.
Upper Back – With the roller positioned under your shoulder blades, lift your hips and use your own bodyweight to apply pressure to your shoulders.
This can be used for similar work on your muscles but I tend to use it like a massage bar – the bar consist of lots of mini-rollers and I find it helps to use on tired muscles after a workout.
Resistance Bands & Tubes
There are two types we like for this simple bit of kit that helps you work on a specific muscle group. And if you have ever had to see a physio, they will often send you off with resistance band exercises to help work an affected area.
I use two in particular – one is a medium grade thin band for physio-related stretches, and the other is a tube with handles that I use when I do my strength training.
Examples of exercises include:
Arms – A handled band is perfect for these kinds of exercises. Place both your feet in the middle of the band and holding the handles, stand upright so you should feel the resistance as you raise and lower your arms.
Hamstrings – Place your feet in the middle of a band folded over, and gently lift and straighten your leg to feel the pull in your hamstring
Physio exercises – I have found using the flat bands ideal for several physio related exercises, using them tried to a solid object for specific stretches. Often, they will be able to give you a small strip but you can invest in a set with varying strengths to increase the resistance.
Not just any medicine balls though, I found that ones with handles really helped to replace using the cable machines at the gym for rotational work. They are weighted balls and are great for working out your core, abs, hips and thighs.
I particular use them to replace the ‘wood chopper’ I used to use a cable machine at my gym for. Holding your arms outstretched with the ball out in front of you, rotate to the side and back to work your core and abs.
Pick a weight you feel is appropriate for your strength – I went for 5kg based on what I was using at the gym.
Dumbells, Kettlebells & Weighted bars
No gym is complete without these – and your home gym should not be either! You can either look for graduated sets with the weights you want, or a full set of pairs of weights – it all depends on what you are doing with them, and also bear in mind space for a full range of kettle bells.
I have a set of 3kg dumbells, one 8kg and 12kg kettle bell and a 4kg weighted bar and with those I can do a session that matches a gym session for a fraction of the membership price.
Steps and Mini-Trampolines
While rehabilitating a pair of wrecked knees, I used an adjustable step and a mini-trampoline daily to start building up muscle strength. They can be stood up on their ends/sides out of the way when not in use, and I worked with a personal trainer for a 10-minute step routine that helped build up my wrecked knees and got the heart rate going, simply by changing the height of the step. The mini-trampoline allowed me to jog on the spot without impacting my knees.
All about the space
The kit listed above is ideal if you are a bit space confined. In general, I have everything mentioned above in my room for when I do my warm-up before heading down to my home office, where I have an exercise bike and a folding treadmill. In truth it could all fit in the office around the corners if I wanted it to.
If you can put aside an area of space in your house to work out, that is ideal, but just work to your own circumstances.
On to the pricier stuff
I have mentioned my treadmill and spin bike, and during lockdown they have both proved to be invaluable. Not only have they been worth their purchase price in saved gym memberships alone, but when the future of gyms is still in jeopardy the longer the pandemic lasts, it is one way to guarantee a chance to get in a solid cardio work out.
Exercise bikes and treadmills often come in a foldable variety which is ideal of you want to make the most of the space you have. But also, do think about what you are wanting to get out of your exercise.
For me, knee injuries meant looking for a way to exercise without putting too much pressure on my knee joints. I opted for a spin bike, but it is possible to get a very budget-friendly folding exercise bike for a lot less. I need to be able to replicate the ‘run’ part of interval training up on the pedals and so wanted a more robust bike where I could also increase the resistance. It is not foldable so I had to make sure it was more towards the edge of the room to be able to have a foldable treadmill alongside it.
My challenge is putting my knees with no cartilage through a session on the treadmill and having one that folds away when not in use just maximises the space I have. I limit myself to one session on the treadmill, and then tuck it away behind a desk for the remainder of the time. If running proves to be too painful it is still possible to walk with altered intensity, especially if the weather starts to close in.
Why stop there?
I could include other great kit like weights benches, free weights, rowing machines, and cross trainers, all of which can be bought quite reasonably and go up in price depending on what you want, but for now I have gone with the home gym equipment I use on a weekly basis and can vouch for.
With this combination of kit, I’m able to work through three or four sets of physio exercise sessions, before using the more expensive gear for full on cardio workouts, all within an hour, and all done and dusted before settling back into my home office for a day of work.
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