It’s that time of year when everyone is hyped to get fit and lose weight! I’m pregnant so losing weight is not a goal of mine, but I still wake up before my one year old to get in my weights and cardio, plus I start teaching yoga this year, so keeping fit is definitely a goal!
Losing weight and getting healthier requires commitment, but not everyone wants to jump in and join a gym. You know what? You don’t need to! It’s easy and inexpensive to set up a home gym that you can use free of charge everyday, without having to share equipment or avoid glances from that creepy guy in the corner.
Truth be told, you don’t even need a home gym to get in a good workout, all you really need is a little bit of clear space. There are tonnes of exercise routines out there that are extremely effective and don’t require anything more than your own body weight, and maybe a skipping rope and a chair. I am a huge fan of Zuzka Light–she used to be involved in a YouTube series called bodyrock.tv but that website has since changed directions and she’s created her own new brand. I found a playlist of her old bodyrock videos here, or check out her new website here. Her workouts are all around 15 minutes long and require very little besides your own body, and man they are effective!!
But if you’re ready to commit to creating even a small home gym, I have some suggestions on what you absolutely need, what are some great extras, and what you won’t need (for a while, at least). My husband and I both trained for fitness competitions using our home gym (he does bodybuilding, I did bikini), so it’s possible to completely change your body without paying for a gym membership!
So here are what you need (and don’t need) for a great home gym set up:
one: dumbbells. Ladies, you need to lift weights if you want to change the shape of your body. Endless hours of cardio won’t do it. You need to reshape your muscles to create leanness and length and fullness and shape. And lifting little pink 2 lb dumbbells is not going to cut it. You need to lift heavy! You will NOT get bulky. You will NOT look like a man. Seriously. Unless you are taking steroids, you’re not going to look like a female bodybuilder just from lifting some heavy dumbbells. I promise! So get yourself a small range of dumbbells. I used to be a personal trainer in a women’s gym, and in my experience all you will need to get started are a set of 5, 10, 15, and 20 lb dumbbells.
two: ball. A fitness ball is a great tool for a home gym. It allows you to change the angle of moves or do things seated or lying that normally you’d have to do standing. Because it is unstable, it constantly engages your core muscles. It’s a particularly great tool for ab exercises, but even things like a bench press can be done on a ball, especially if you don’t have a bench!
three: bench or chair or box: There are going to be times when you need to step up onto something, or do a move sitting down (not on your ball). You could absolutely use a staircase if you have one, but sometimes that’s a little narrow and dangerous. Having a chair or workout bench or even a step aerobics step gives you something to sit on, lay on, and jump onto. It’s useful for weights as well as cardio.
four: cardio equipment. Ok, this one is a matter of space and preference and budget. I live in a place where we have bitterly cold winters that last for more than 6 months of the year (I’m talking in the -30 degrees C!). So doing cardio outside is not an option. I personally love running and use our treadmill almost every day. To me the treadmill is the best piece of cardio equipment because it’s a natural body movement (unlike the elliptical) and it’s versatile–you can walk, jog, run, sprint, do hill training, do walking lunges and other plyometric exercises on it. But maybe the elliptical is more your thing, or the stair master or bike. Whatever, so long as you use it and work up a sweat! But if that’s not in the space or budget allowance, you don’t need anything fancy. A jumping rope is plenty! You can get an insane workout just using your body doing things like squat jumps and jumping jacks, so you don’t need to invest in cardio equipment if you don’t want to. But…sometimes having the equipment (and paying for it) is a good motivator to get moving.
five: stopwatch. It’s incredibly important to pay attention to the time when you work out. It’s so easy to take way too long of a break in between sets, or to not realize how long a minute really is (especially when you need to bust your butt for 30 more seconds!). You can use your cell phone or computer for this one, no new equipment necessary!
Ok, that’s it. That’s all you really need to get in a great workout at home! Not bad, right? Now here are a few extra goodies that I have in my gym that I use regularly and recommend adding to your home gym, too.
one: yoga mat. For me this is actually a requirement because not only do I do yoga everyday, I’m teaching yoga, too! But not everybody does yoga at home (or at all–and if you don’t, you should start!). Having a mat to lay on when you’re doing floor exercises is nice, especially to prevent rug burn if you’re on carpet or to keep you off the cold cement floor.
two: ab wheel. This thing is AMAZING. Every single time I use this my abs hurt. Every time. It’s a super inexpensive little wheel with handles sticking out (no more than $15) and it’s by far the most effective ab workout tool I’ve ever encountered. You just roll your body out and back in. That’s it. It’s so intense, I love it! (In the pictures I have a larger version called the Lifeline USA Power Wheel 2 that has red foot pedals–this guy is opposite, you attach him to your feet and roll with your legs rather than holding with your hands. Even harder! Not necessary for the beginner’s home gym!)
three: bands. Stretchy bands (with or without handles) are super useful in a gym. You can do all sorts of exercises with them, especially when there’s a particular piece of equipment required to do a move that you don’t have. For example, my workout program right now has me doing lying leg curls, but I don’t want to lay on my pregnant belly, and I don’t own a leg curl machine. So I tie an exercise band to a post, loop it around my shins, sit on the edge of my bench and boom, seated leg curls! Another great use of bands is when your dumbbells are too heavy–maybe you can’t quite do shoulder lateral raises with those 5 lb dumbbells, but you can do them with your band!
four: chin up bar. If you don’t have something to hang on in your house, you can get an inexpensive chin up bar that fits into your door frame. It’s a really useful tool for training your back and arms and is great when doing circuit training, too.
And now for the things you definitely won’t need right away but can keep an eye on the sale flyers for when you build a great hardcore home gym!
Don’t Need Anytime Soon:
one: barbell weight set, bench, and squat cage. There will come a day when you will want to use a barbell with weight plates rather than dumbbells for particular moves like squats and bench presses. Even when you up your dumbbell collection to include heavier weights, it’s just nice to switch things up. This will mean, however, that you will need a workout bench, and if you’re lifting really heavy you’re going to eventually need a squat cage. We have one in our gym because my husband lifts heavy…I do too, and having the barbell racked (rather than on the floor) is a life saver. And there are attachments for the squat rack that allow you to do cable exercises, which comes in handy. But I don’t need to use it every day and could modify my exercise choices back to dumbbells if I didn’t have one.
two: balance board, thigh squeezer and other gadgets and gizmos. The balance board is a challenging piece of equipment that you (try to) stand on while doing things like curls or squats. Similar to the ball, it’s an unstable surface so it really challenges your core while you’re working on other body parts. I got this as a Christmas present from my Hubbie and use it now and again, but it’s definitely not a requirement. Same goes with the little pink thigh squeezer–nice to use now and then for a change, but doesn’t replace a good set of lunges. Really, all these gizmos and gadgets are just to add a little variety to keep some spice in your workout and challenge your bored muscles in a new way; you don’t need anything special when starting out.
three: push up handles. If you’re doing a lot of push ups in your routine and have any kind of wrist issues, push up handles can be a great option. However, a set of heavy dumbbells can do the trick just as nicely.
four: kettle bells and weighted balls. These heavy things can be used for different exercises than typically done with dumbbells or barbells. The movements are often more advanced because they require motion, and I find you don’t need to incorporate them until you’re really tired of what you’re doing. I don’t own any kettle bells (yet!) and never use our exercise ball–though it’s a fun thing to use in partner workouts.
So there you have it, a very short list of what you do (and don’t) need to set up a killer home gym. Put up some motivating pictures, get some tunes playing, have a pair of snazzy sneakers on, and you’re all set to accomplish all your fitness goals!