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When gyms began to shut down across the nation thanks to social distancing measures, I didn’t panic. Instead, I got my personal trainer certification from the American Council on Exercise to help folks make the most out of the space in their homes. After working out in tiny spaces in my living room for the better part of two decades (it all began with low-resolution Pilates DVD’s I bought from infomercials back in the early aughts), I’ve garnered enough strong opinions about the most important home gym essentials you can fit into any space and budget.
While working out at home might sound daunting after so many sedentary months of re-watching The Office, or relying on the familiarity of equipment and trainers at your local gym, introducing more at-home movement into your daily routine is an incredibly rewarding experience.
You’ll gain strength that’ll make activities of daily living easier, you’ll boost your cardiovascular endurance to help you master those stairs when your building’s elevator shuts down *yet again*, you’ll sleep better at night and wake up more rested, and you’ll boost your mood thanks to the release of endorphins. Not too bad for an initial commitment of 20 minutes every second day of the week. Now all you need is the right workout equipment to get started.
Building your home gym doesn’t need to evoke images of intimidating squat racks and barbells. Instead, my recommendations include user-friendly pieces of equipment that are relatively portable, affordable, and a total blast to use.
Renoj Resistance Bands
Resistance bands are an efficient way to engage virtually every muscle group whether you’re just starting your fitness routine or looking to ramp up the intensity of an existing one. The Renoj resistance bands provide five levels of intensity ranging from extra light to extra heavy. Unlike stiff woven material-based resistance bands, this set is made of highly elastic natural latex that allows for an improved range of motion while also providing ample resistance.
To use the bands, place them just over your knees to increase the intensity of a squat or squat pulses, or challenge yourself in a push-up by wrapping them around your wrists, pushing out on the band as you both lower and raise your torso off the ground.
Sportneer Adjustable Ankle and Wrist Weights
Ankle and wrist weights are a fantastic way to add resistance to your workout without really trying (i.e.: you don’t need to hold onto anything or adjust your form in any noticeable way). The Sportneer ankle and wrist weights are made of a soft woven Oxford fabric that doesn’t cut into your skin, and stays secured via a durable Velcro strap. You can adjust the 3.5-pound weight via sand-filled inserts, slowly increasing resistance as you get stronger. I’ve been using this brand regularly over the last year to promote muscle confusion and break through strength plateaus. Remember: a little bit of weight goes a long way when it comes to adjustable weights, so always start at the lowest weight of 0.6 pounds and build up incrementally.
To use them, simply strap them on each ankle to engage your quads and glutes in leg raises, leg circles, or one-legged bridge. For an upper-body workout, wrap them around your wrist to engage your shoulders, back, and biceps during punching/boxing-like movements, or to boost the intensity of pulsing movements during barre workouts. Additionally, you can always strap them on your ankles or wrists before a simple walk to get your heart pumping quicker.
KLB Sport 31" Adjustable Workout Aerobic Stepper
Admittedly, I bought my first aerobic step yesterday, though I wish I had done so sooner. Steps are an excellent way to (quite literally) step up your cardio game while making for a more dynamic and multiplanar workout. The KLB Sport adjustable stepper includes two levels that fit neatly into the 31-inch plank for a total possible height of eight inches. Its shock-absorbing non-slip legs ensure it stays put on any surface without scratching your floors. The plank itself contains grooves and traction so you can feel stable with every step, and the wide step itself ensures you have enough clearance room for advanced plyometric moves like straddle jumps or box jumps.
A step is a solid way to both increase the intensity of a workout and tone it down. Here’s how: to ramp it up during a lunge, place your back foot on the step and plant your front foot firmly into the ground, ensuring you distribute your weight towards that heel. You can also place both feet on the step during a push-up, forcing your upper body to assume the brunt of force. To decrease the intensity of a burpee, place your hands at the base of the step instead of the floor during the plank portion of the movement. And of course, you’ll love using a step for a range of cardio-based dance moves that’ll make you feel like you’re straight out of a Richard Simmons workout video.
Amazon Basics Neoprene Workout Dumbbell
No home gym is complete without a set of hand weights. Coming in at 3, 5 and 8 pounds each, these color-coded cast iron hand weights allow you to gently add resistance to your workout routine. The hexagonal shape of each weight allows them to stay firmly planted on the ground during movements like elevated plank without rolling out from underneath you like rounded weights tend to do. The smooth and rubbery neoprene coating coupled with the included foldable steel weight rack ensures your floors stay scratch-free.
There are virtually an infinite number of ways to introduce these hand weights into your routine: while standing on all fours, place them behind your knees for glute-enhancing kickbacks or fire hydrants. Hold them in each hand for bicep curls, squeezing tightly once the weight reaches your shoulder, and slowly lowering down for at least two to three seconds. Hold a weight in each hand and laterally raise them until they reach shoulder height, slowly lowering down. To further engage your abductors (the side of your thigh that moves away from your midline), place a weight on the side of your thigh during a leg raise, holding onto it firmly with your hands during both the ascending and descending portion of the movement.
BalanceFrom GoYoga High Density Anti-Tear Exercise Yoga Mat
While it might not seem like much at first glance, a proper exercise mat is the foundation of any solid workout plan. This uber-popular model from BalanceFrom is made of half an inch of high-density foam material that works to absorb shock, thereby reducing the impact on your joints. Both sides of the mat are non-slip to decrease the likelihood of injury and improve balance. It comes with a carrying strap making it easy to transport from room to room while staying neatly rolled up.
Though you can easily bring your weighted workouts to the mat if you’re working out barefooted (be sure not to place the actual weights on the mat), they’re especially great for bodyweight workouts. Use the mat to perform abdominals or functional movements like bird-dog and glute bridge. Because recovery is just as important as the workout itself, take advantage of your exercise mat to cool down, stretch, or massage out any kinks via self-myofascial release using a foam roller or massage ball.