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Whether you hate exercising in front of people, don’t want to pay a monthly membership fee, or don’t have a lot of time, setting up a home gym is an effective and convenient way to get a workout in.
Exercising in a small home or apartment where space is limited can be tough, but it’s still possible (and even easy)if you have the right tools. Experts say it’s not always how you move that matters, but that you actually get moving.
“When you’re stuck at home it’s easy to get lazy and fall into an unhealthy routine,” says Matt Williams, a NASM-certified personal trainer from Los Angeles. “Doing a workout or even just going for a brisk walk can dramatically improve your physical health and overall mental well-being. It can also help reduce anxiety during these times of uncertainty.”
Williams, who has hosted live workout classes on his Instagram page this year, says you don’t need a ton of fancy equipment. “If you happen to have a set or two of free weights, the possibilities are endless,” he says. “But at the end of the day my go-tos are the basics: squats, lunges, (bicep) curls, crunches and twists.”
The CDC recommends adults get 150 minutes of exercise per week, through a mix of muscle training, moderate-intensity aerobic activity (walking), and vigorous intensity aerobic activity (running or jogging). That sounds like a lot, but it’s a small investment for your overall health and well-being.
Fortunately, it’s never been easier to exercise at home, whether you want to set up a home gym or just pick up a few equipment essentials. We’ve put together this guide to help you get a full workout from equipment that’s small enough to fit in a closet — or in some cases, a desk drawer. Whether you live in a cramped apartment, or are ready to convert a spare room into a fitness center, here’s what to get.
1. Free Weights
If you’re space-constrained, dumbbells are an effective tool you can use to work your arms, back, and abs. The weights on Huep’s dumbell set can be adjusted between four and 55 pounds, so you can crank up the intensity of your workout over time.
The dumbells can used individually, or connected to one another with a 46-inch connecting rod to use them as a bar bell. The dumbbells are made out of a mixture of iron powder and cement, cement, and covered in polyurethane. Their rods are coated in rubber, which makes them easier to hold when your palms are sweaty.
2. A Yoga Mat
Doing yoga on a hard floor can hurt your back, and a towel or carpet may slide under you while you’re doing complex poses, so it pays to have a yoga mat.
This one from BalanceForm is 71 long and 24 inches wide, so it should accommodate most people. It’s half an inch thick, which the company says can comfortably cushion your spine, hips, knees, and elbows while you’re practicing yoga.
The mat is made out of a double-sided, non-slip surface to help you avoid falling, and a moisture-resistant technology that makes it easy to clean. We also like that the yoga mat comes with a strap, which keeps it bundled when you’re not using it.
3. A Jump Rope
“Jumping rope is a great form of cardio especially when you’re stuck indoors,” says Williams. “Just 10 minutes of jumping rope has been found to be similar to 30 minutes of jogging.”
Isilver’s Jump Rope is digital, so it can keep track of how many calories you’ve burned, how many times you’ve jumped, and how long you’ve been working out. It’s made out of PVC coated steel wire that’s durable but flexible. The rope comes with a nine and a half foot cable, which can be adjusted using four velcro binders, so it’ll be comfortable to use for most adults.
“If you want to ramp up the intensity (of your workout) you could mix in the rope with some burnouts of other exercises,” Williams suggests. “Try two minutes jumping rope with burnout of squats, two minutes jumping rope with burnout of pushups, two minutes jumping rope with burnout of bicycle kicks, etc.”
4. A Rowing Machine
Rowing machines work your arms, chest, glutes, and legs by having you repetitively pull on a handle attached to a magnetic wheel while pushing against a pair of pedals.
This machine from Sunny Health and Fitness has eight adjustable levels of resistance, foot-straps to keep your feet in place, and an LCD screen to display how many calories you’ve burned, the duration of your workout, and how many times you’ve completed a row. Its cushion is extra-padded for comfort during long workouts, and the foam on the handlebars is designed to prevent calluses.
One knock against larger workout equipment is its size and weight, but this rowing machine folds up for easy storage, and its front feet have wheels for easy movement. When folded, the machine is 37 x 19 x 53.5 inches, so it could fit in the corner of your room, or a walk-in closet. It’s 82 inches long when it’s fully extended though, so you’ll definitely need a large space when you’re working out.
Want something more storage-friendly? Sunny makes a portable rowing machine that’s just slightly larger than an ironing board for under $100.
5. A Stationary Bike
Spin classes have become very popular lately, but studios have been shut down due to coronavirus concerns. Our solution: pick up Cylcace’s well-reviewed stationary bike, which lets you get the same workout at home.
Stationary bikes work your arms and legs by replicating a bicycle ride at different levels of resistance. This bike has eight resistance settings, five handlebar positions, and four height options. Cyclace says this bike’s seat adjustments make it a good fit for people between 5.1 ft and 6.5 ft.
This bike has a 36-pound wheel and uses a belt-drive system that Cyclace says is smoother and more quiet than traditional chain-based systems. The bike has a built-in LCD screen to show your speed, distance, calories burned, and how long you’ve worked out. It also has a holder for a tablet, so you can watch videos to distract yourself while you work out.
While this bike cannot be folded up, it does have wheels on the front, so you can tilt it forward and move it more easily. It’s a steal for the price too, at just over $300 — or about the price of 10 spin classes at a name-brand studio.
Don’t have room for a full bike setup? Try the Cubii, an under-desk elliptical that promises to “help you get fit, while you sit. It’s super quiet, pairs easily with a phone tracking app and comes with adjustable resistance levels, to slowly increase your workout as needed. Cubii Pro, $349, available at Amazon
6. A Suspension Training System
TRX’s All-in-ONE Suspension Training System can give you a full body workout, with straps that fit inside a desk drawer.
The set comes with two straps, which use an anchor and looping mechanism to attach to a heating pipe or tree, and an anchoring system, that lets you attach the straps to the back of a closed door. Once the straps are attached, you can perform a series of body weight exercises, which use tension between your body and the straps to work out your muscles
TRX says its system can teach you to use seven foundational moves: push, pull, plank, squat, lunge, hung, and rotate to work every part of your body. Its straps are capable of supporting up to 360 pounds of resistance, which you can work up to gradually.
If you haven’t used suspension straps before, TRX includes a 36-page guide to show you the basics, and includes two online workouts to walk you through the motions. Literally.
Don’t have anywhere to hang these suspension straps? Use resistance bands instead. From strength training to toning, resistance bands are one of the most versatile pieces of exercise equipment. We like this 12-piece set, available for just $24.95 at Amazon.
7. A Smart Treadmill
If you want to get a full run in while you’re indoors, you’re going to need a treadmill. We’re recommending this one from NordicTrack because it’s full of smart features designed to help alleviate some pain points you may encounter on an indoor run.
The T-Series has several settings to help scale your run’s intensity. It can be adjusted to move up to 10 miles per hour at up to a 10% incline. Its speed controls are located on the front of the bike, along with an LCD screen showing your speed, the duration of your run, your current incline, how many calories you’ve burned, and the time.
Large start and stop buttons make it easy to begin and end your workout at any time. The machine also has a 3.5mm audio jack, and a pair of stereo speakers, so you can connect a device to it and listen to music.
This treadmill was designed to work with iFit’s Interactive Personal Training system, which requires its own membership. Members gain access to a series of on-demand workout programs, which let professional trainers lead you through guided exercises. These training sessions adjust the speed and incline settings on your treadmill automatically to create a full workout.
At 73 x 35.8 x 67.5 inches and 203 pounds, this treadmill is the largest piece of home gym equipment in this list, but it has wheels on its back for easy movement, and can be folded up for storage. It’s still an investment, but this treadmill would be the centerpiece of your home gym.
8. A Balance Board
The Level is a skateboard-shaped platform that’s set on top of a curved piece of metal. It helps you exercise by requiring you to make small adjustments to your posture to keep your balance.
FLUIDSTANCE, the company behind The Level, used research from the MAYO when designing the board to optimize its effectiveness. We tried the board at the office and were impressed by its effectiveness.
It’s harder than you think and really forces you to work on stabilizing your legs and core. Because of its skateboard-like shape, it’s easy to chalk it up to a “toy,” but it’s definitely become an essential part of our stay-at-home workout. It’s small enough to tuck under your bed or desk and we’ve started taking some calls while standing on it too, to get in a few extra minutes of exercise.
9. An Apple Watch With Apple Fitness+
Apple’s smart watch has become a popular wellness tool in the past few years, but it’s taken a big step forward thanks to Apple Fitness Plus.
The new workout service costs $9.99 per month or $79.99 per year (Apple offers a three-month free trial to new Apple Watch owners) and features video workouts from professional trainers. New workouts are added weekly, and are designed to help beginners get into better shape while providing a challenge if you’re already fit.
During these workouts your Apple Watch (which is required to use the service) will track your progress, and show your current heart rate, calories burned, and the duration of your workout on the screen to help motivate you. Instructors can also give you information, like telling you what your heart rate should be at specific points in your workout routine.
We’re wary of recommending a gadget as a workout tool, but it definitely qualifies if you keep up with Apple Fitness+.
10. A Medicine Ball
Holding a medicine ball while you exercise can help work your arms and core, whether you’re twisting, lifting, or balancing on it to augment your pushups. AmazonBasics’ medicine ball is made out of textured rubber, which makes it easier to hold when you’re sweaty, and more comfortable too.
Williams says he uses a medicine ball for a “solid full body burner.” His instructions: “Start with your feet a little wider than shoulder width apart, then hold the ball under your chin. Perform a squat and on the way up, press the ball overhead. If you want to ramp it up, toss the ball into the air and as you catch it, slowly come back down into the squat.”
This medicine ball is available in multiple weight classes, but we’re recommending the six-pound option for beginners. If you exercise regularly, the 10 lb option might be a better pick.
11. A Massage Roller
A good post-workout routine can help you from overworking your muscles, and overcome soreness. This foam roller from TriggerPoint gives you plenty of surface area to roll out your joints, and can be used on everything from your legs and quads, to your stomach and back.
A good foam roller can help increase blood flow and ease tension after a workout, or just a particularly stressful day of work. This set includes access to a free online instructional video library on foam rolling best practices from the experts at TriggerPoint.
12. Theragun Elite
Facebook / Theragun
It’s normal to feel sore after a workout, but you can alleviate some of that pain by using Theragun’s Elite Massage Gun.
The massage gun comes with six attachment heads and two interchangeable batteries to make sure you’re prepared for all your muscle recovery needs on the go. What makes this device standout from other massagers is that it provides a 16 mm extension into muscle which allows for deep tissue impact — making it the perfect choice for anyone that has a tough time with relieving muscle tension.
On top of it all, the Theragun has an adjustable arm with four angles to you attack those hard-to-reach spots.
13. Tempo Studio
There are no shortage of fitness brands vying for your attention — and dollars — these days, but the most effective at-home workout system we’ve tried comes from Tempo.
We named the Tempo Studio display as one of our Rolling Stone Essentials for 2020, thanks to its fun, upbeat workouts, small footprint (it’s about the size of an easel) and AI-powered monitoring, which uses a built-in sensor to make sure your form is on point. No more hunching over.
Choose from a variety of classes, from cardio to stretching, all taught by motivating instructors that are surprisingly supportive, even separated by a screen. It’s a dazzling screen too, with a vivid touchscreen display, built-in speakers and the ability to see everything from your reps to heart rate and more.