Many people think that a home gym has to be expensive. A home gym costs as much as you want to spend. Building a home gym is cheap, easy, and I´m going to explain to you what you need and why you need it. I often help my friends and clients finding and choosing the best equipment for their needs. You can get the 5 home gym essentials for $100, and you can do almost everything you´ve been doing at the gym. The first pieces of equipment I recommend starting with are:
You will need a mat. It will protect your floor, in the first place. Most exercise mats are cheap and will prevent scratches on your floor (that eventually will break your bank account).
Mats also give you comfort, support and safety when exercising. Think exercises lying on your back (crunches, leg lifts, bridges), on your stomach (supermans), on your knees (bird-dog, cat-cow, donkey kicks), on your forearms (planks). When you place your hips, knees, tailbone, or spine on a hard floor without using a mat, it may cause you pain, which might keep you from pushing through your workout. A simple mat will keep you pain and injury-free.
Now, should you buy a yoga mat or an exercise/gym mat? What´s the difference?
The differences are the thickness and firmness of the material. Usually, yoga mats are thinner than exercise mats. Yoga mats are about ¼ to 1 inch thick and have a non-slip surface. Exercise mats are about 1 to 3 inches thick. This thickness protects your body as well as the floor, provide you with extra cushioning, and also help prevent any injury in case of falls. A 3/4 inch thick rubber gym flooring is generally regarded as the bare minimum for proper floor protection for Olympic lifting so, any mat around 1 inch thick will work.
You can find good mats from $20: Amazon Best Sellers Exercise Mats.
The next thing I get questioned often is about treadmills and stationary bikes. People are concerned about cardio and they look for affordable equipment with reasonable dimensions. Unfortunately, you´ll need some room and good money to buy a worthwhile treadmill or stationary bike.
If you are thinking of buying a treadmill, pay attention to the motor HP. Never buy something with less than 4 HP. Less than that allows you to walk but not run. And the weekly use is limited to a few hours (usually 3 hours/week). If you buy a 1.5HP treadmill and run one hour a day, it´ll break in a month and the warranty won´t cover it because you´ve used it inadequately.
The good news is you can get a jump rope for about $10: New York Times Best Jump Rope.
Jumping rope is an easy, fun, and scientifically proven better workout than jogging. According to research, jump rope for ten minutes provides the same benefits as 30 minutes of jogging or 720 yards of swimming.
Jumping rope also improves your coordination, increases your strength in the muscles surrounding your ankle joint and in your foot, decreasing the chance of injury to those areas.
On top of this, it´s totally portable, you can take it with you everywhere.
What about the lifting? Dumbbells, kettlebells, or something else?
Honestly, resistance bands are a must in a home gym. They are extremely versatile, cheap, and take up very little room. Most resistance bands come in sets, including accessories.
I prefer tube bands rather than flat or loop bands. You can always make a loop of a tube band attaching one end to the other. but you´ll need to make a knot on the loop band to attach it to the door, for instance, and in the long term that loop band will break.
Resistance bands provide similar muscle activity as weight training (even greater in some exercises as shoulder raises). A big difference is that resistance bands put less pressure on the joints, which means less chance of injury.
You can purchase resistance band sets for around $10 to $20: New York Times Best Resistance Bands.
Also known as Swiss balls, fit balls, or physioballs. They are a great alternative to benches.
An exercise ball takes traditional strength training to the next level. As they´re unstable, constantly demand your core and stability muscles in addition to the muscles being used in any exercise.
We´ve already talked about proprioception. When performing exercises on a Swiss ball, you are stimulating your proprioceptors and using the body’s stability and balance muscles while you perform the exercise.
The weight limit for most stability balls is 250 lbs (113 kg) which is even more than most benches. Models that support up to 300 lbs (136kg) are not uncommon.
There are different sizes: 55, 65, or 75 cm. You should inflate it to the recommended diameter.
Exercise balls cost from $15 to $30: Outdoor Gear Lab Best Exercise Ball.
The last essential I recommend you is a mirror. A full body mirror. A home gym is not complete until it has a big mirror on the wall.
It´s a great tool to check out your posture and technique, which is crucial to avoid injuries and get the most of your effort. That´s the one and only purpose of the mirror, don´t waste a second comparing yourself to a fitness model, thinking you have to lose inches here or gain some there. Just focus on your alignment, coordination, and use your reflection to center and correct yourself.
Of course, in order to be helpful in correcting your form, you have to know what´s the correct form. You´re welcome to visit our exercise library.
You can find a full body mirror from $30: Amazon Full Body Mirrors.
Do you think I´m missing something? Would you include something else? Let me know in the comments.