The Most Basic, But Effective Home Gym

Woman doing at home workout with dog
John Barry
Having grown up, lived and work in New York City, I’ve found one major thing to be evident. Space is very limited and most often already spoken for. I can consist of a large commercial space, or the already cramped corner of an apartment living room/dining room/bedroom/kitchen. Because I lived in places like this and having family and friends in similar circumstances, I can understand how difficult it is to start an exercise program at home. I have worked with several people to create an “in home gym” with whatever limited space and budget they have. The best thing a person can have is an imagination, and/or trusted source for workout routines that best fit the space and goals you have.
This is a list of some of the basic, bare bones equipment a person can get, but still have a great training experience. I’ve chosen the equipment that I believe delivers the best bang for the buck in terms of cost, storage and usage space, most effective training results and variability of exercises that can be performed.
However, with this in mind, there are certain variables that will change depending on an individuals own fitness goals and level. To correct for this, I will leave certain descriptions vague, but others more concrete. Speaking of concrete, it’s not that comfortable to lay on, so our first piece of equipment is:
Woman doing at home workout

Yoga Mat $13-32

There are a number of different options with yoga mats. I feel it is essential to starting an exercise program. The number of core/posterior chain exercises, flexibility, stability, upper body and lower body exercises are almost countless. The yoga mat not only adds a comfort, it is more sanitary then just laying on the floor normally. The thickness of the mat can also determine the cushioning and instability of stood on or balancing. It is a great place to start.

Lacrosse Ball $3-8

Even if you don’t play lacrosse, a lacrosse ball is a great and cheap stand in as massage ball to help alleviate tight myofascial tissue and workout cramps in muscles. It’s best used on the bottom of feet and specific spots in muscles throughout the body. It is very inexpensive and has an incredibly small footprint. In addition to a lacrosse ball another relatively inexpensive implement for tissue work is a…

Foam Roller $5-75

The cost and size of foam rollers is vast. I prefer to have one that is 36” long so that it can be utilized, not just for tissue work, but also stabilization exercises. It can be used to balance on while in supine, placed under legs in supine or prone to progress planks and bridges, along with several other movements. It can be used to create tension isometrically for certain muscle groups such as abdominals and hamstrings.

Small loop band $10 for multi-pack

You’ll recognize this as the small, rubber loop that you’ll put around your knees to do monster walks (if you’ve ever done Physical Therapy). While, yes lateral band walks and variations of them, are essential parts to most training routines, these loops can stand in to help increase the intensity of almost any exercise. They can be used as warm up and activation drills, to help correct movement patterns during an exercise, or as a way to progress an exercise all together. The great part is the low cost, versatility and transportability of this little piece of rubber. It can be placed in a drawer for easy storage or in a suitcase to be taken on the road.

Super bands $8.99-49.99 for a multi pack

Just like the loops mentioned above, super bands are big long loops of differing strengths. I recommend getting a set with a multitude of levels, to increase the number of exercises that can be done. They are somewhat more expensive and take up more room than the loop, but allow for a greater magnitude of training options. They can be attached to a pole, door knob, sturdy leg of chair or table, or even held by a workout buddy to anchor. Another added benefit is that they don’t take up much room in a travel bag enabling your in home gym to go on the road. If the bands aren’t heavy enough…

Kettlebell $19.99-99.99+ range of weights

I’m a big fan of utilizing kettlebells in exercise routines. They are very dense, making them small relative to the weight. The storage footprint isn’t tiny, but can be worked around if you can store this under a bed or table. Kettlebells do come in at a higher price point then other things on our list, but they are virtually indestructible. Purchase a hunk of iron today and twenty years from now, it’s the same hunk of steel. They are priced by weight, most companies vary from $2-4 per pound, but that is not a hard rule. The addition of a kettlebell or two into the “home gym” can lead to great strength gains over the long haul. Multiple upper body, lower body, total body and functional movements can be performed with a kettlebell.

Hand towel $14.99 for a six pack

Not only will you use this towel to wipe your brow after an intense training session, but it can be used on either hardwood floor, tile, or laminate flooring for exercises where a portion of the body is moving. This can be a reverse lunge with a leg sliding backward, or a bridge with a hamstring curl, just to name a couple. You’ll be surprised how much more difficult putting a towel between you and a hard/smooth surface will make particular exercises.
By correctly using all of this equipment, a home gym doesn’t need to be much bigger than a person standing and moving in place. Certain exercises will necessitate more room, so use your imagination. I’ve been known to lay down between rooms, over a threshold if needed, to do movements where I need full extension of torso and limbs. Of course be safe and monitor your surroundings to make sure you don’t injure yourself, a roommate, or put your kettle bell through the TV screen.

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