No time to hit the gym? No worries. With just a few inexpensive pieces of home workout equipment, you can transform your tiny living room or hotel room into a full-service fitness center. (Well, almost.)
Many people wonder if you can really get a good strength workout at home. The answer is yes, especially with a little bit of practice and experimentation.
Are you new to strength training? If so, I have a helpful FREE guide to help you get started. Click here to skip right to it.
One exception to that rule …
If you’re doing serious sports performance training with periodization, it’s hard to nail your max strength period without machines or heavy weights. So you may find yourself grabbing a day pass or punch card to the local gym for a few weeks.
But for the rest of the training season, you should be just fine at working out with moderate resistance in your home gym.
So how can you set up a home gym that will give you great full-body workouts every time?
Here are the equipment essentials I would include.
1. Yoga mat
Whether or not you actually practice yoga, a yoga mat is essential for floor exercises. Spread it out when you’re exercising lying down, or fold it to cushion your knees while kneeling. You can also lay it over the aerobic step (details below) to create a comfy DIY workout bench.
2. Resistance loops
I especially love resistance loops for warm-ups! They’re a great way to activate your nervous system and get your muscles ready for work.
Some body stability and hiking-specific exercises that use resistance loops include:
- Banded glute bridge
- Side step (add an optional squat)
- Hip extension/glute kickback (standing or kneeling)
- Banded clam shell abduction
- Band pull-aparts
Some video demos:
3. Stability ball
Stability ball (also called a Swiss ball) exercises are especially useful for strengthening your core. You can also sit or lie on the stability ball while performing dumbbell or band exercises to add core stabilization and balance elements to the movement. The stability ball can often substitute for a bench if you don’t have room for one in your home gym. It even makes a great desk chair.
When purchasing your first stability ball, consider your height. Most people under 5’6″ do well with a 55 cm ball. If you’re taller, go up to 65 cm. You might even try 75 cm if you’re very tall!
Some useful stability ball exercises for hikers:
- Ball roll out
- Ball crunch
- Push-up ball roll out (knee tuck, atomic crunch, pike variation)
- Ball adduction
- Ball plank
- Leg curl with ball
- Ball straight leg reverse crunch
- Ball pass
- Back extension on ball
See several of these exercises demoed here:
4. Resistance tube set with door anchor
Resistance tubes are great for upper body pulling exercises. This is one of the fundamental movement patterns you need to include in every full-body workout, but the exercises are notoriously difficult to do away from the gym.
You can see people trying to do pull exercises at home on YouTube using broom handles, towels, door knobs, and clinging to the bottom of the kitchen table — which just looks like a great way to break your furniture.
An inexpensive resistance tube set will totally solve this problem. Use the door anchor to get a great workout around the house, office, or hotel room. (Be careful to lock the door if it opens toward you.) For some exercises, you can anchor the tube with your own bodyweight.
Just a few of the many exercises you can perform with a resistance tube:
- Bicep curl
- Wood chopper/dirt digger
- Abductor side step
- Chest press
- Lateral raise
- Lat pull down
For demos of some of these exercises, watch the videos below:
5. Doorframe chin-up bar
You can actually skip this one if you have jungle gym in the back yard or a playground nearby. But if you need a way to perform handing exercises, an inexpensive doorframe chin-up bar will do the trick.
Some doorframe bars like the one below can double as a frame for tricep dips or core exercises.
Some exercises you can perform with a chin-up bar:
- Chin ups (many variations)
- Hanging leg raises (many variations)
Some hanging exercise demos:
6. Adjustable dumbbell
Before you order this new dumbbells, consider that many dumbbell exercises can also be performed with a resistance band. But as you get stronger and add new exercises, you may benefit from the extra resistance dumbbells provide.
If you don’t have room for a full-on dumbbell rack in your home, an adjustable dumbbell set makes a nice substitute.
When choosing a set, consider the weight you want to lift now — and also maybe a year in the future. Does the set have the right plates to get you there?
Also, look at the size of the plates. Are they small enough so that you can fine-tune the weight? If you’re a small girl like me, it’s nice to have a couple of 2.5 lb. and 5 lb. plates so you can increase your resistance gradually.
Dumbbells are among the most familiar and versatile workout equipment available, so it’s hard to list all the exercises you can do with them! But here are some ideas for beginners:
Lower body dumbbell exercises
- Lunges (walking, forward, leaning, side, back)
- One-leg deadlifts
- Romanian deadlifts
- Bulgarian split squats
- Goblet squats
Upper body dumbbell exercises
- Bicep curls
- Overhead presses
- One arm rows
- Bench presses
- Bench chest flies
- Lying triceps extension
- Straight-arm pullover
- Lateral raises
- Reverse step-ups
- Calf raises
Core dumbbell exercises
- Russian twists
- Crunch (especially ball crunches)
- Dirt digger
- Dumbbell overhead side bend
7. Club-size workout step with extra risers
Again, this is one you may be able to improvise especially in the early stages.
Two important exercises that all hikers should master are the step-up and the reverse step-up. You may be able to find a nice curb or a sturdy bench near your house to step up on. The height of the platform should be below the level of your patella to prevent knee strain.
Reverse step-ups generally require a lower platform. The bottom step of your staircase may be the perfect height. Or you may need to go even lower.
An aerobic step lets you adjust the height quickly and easily without leaving your living room. You can also use a health club-sized step as an improvised bench for dumbbell exercises. (It’s a bit more versatile and stable than the stability ball in this respect.)
To get your step up to optimum height, you may need to buy additional risers. Make sure that the model you choose allows for this.
Watch these videos to learn the step-up and reverse step-up exercises:
Adding it all up
|Resistance loop set||$10|
|Resistance tube set||$20|
|Club step with extra risers||$110|
And there you have it! An amazing home gym for $250 (and possibly much less).
Are you new to strength training and want some help getting started?
Check out my new Intro to Fitness ebook and 4-week fitness plan. It includes an at-home full-body strength workout you can do at home.
What equipment essentials do you recommend for home gyms? Comment to share.
Originally published Jan. 11, 2018.