Congratulations! You’re one of the lucky ones. You’ve got an extra room in your house or a garage that isn’t filled with a car, and that means you can have your very own home gym. No more working out in public, sharing sweat with strangers and feeling slightly humiliated when you huff and puff on the treadmill.
But exercise equipment can be an expensive investment, so you shouldn’t just buy the first barbell or bike you see.
A guide to the basics
Mats: Depending on whether your home gym has hard floors or carpet, you should splurge for a thicker mat for when you do sit-ups or other floor exercises. Grab this no-slip, nontoxic Fitness Gear Multi-Purpose Exercise Mat ($39.99 at Dick’s Sporting Goods), and you can do yoga as well as burpees on it.
Grab an exercise mat for extra padding when doing floor exercises.
Weights: All the running in the world won’t give you toned arms like lifting weights will. Plus lifting is an incredibly good way to raise your metabolism. Thankfully, weights are small and relatively inexpensive, so you don’t need much room to use or store them. These Neoprene Dumbbells ($2.99–$16.99 at Dick’s Sporting Goods) range from 1 pound to 10 pounds and come in lots of colors. Not sure what weight to use? Fitsugar has a helpful chart to guide you. For instance, they recommend 2 to 5 pounds for lateral raises, but more weight for bicep curls. For the person just starting out, 3-pound, 5-pound and 8-pound weights should cover your bases for now.
Neoprene dumbbells range from 1 pound to 10 pounds and can be used in a variety of exercises to tone arms.
Kettlebells: Super-trendy but ultra-effective, a kettlebell is a cast iron ball with a handle attached to it. The weight is Russian in origin and is great for building up your core (though, if you have shoulder, neck or back issues, you should tread lightly). For a primer, try these 6 Kettlebell exercises with something like a 10-pound CAP vinyl-covered bell ($12.94 from Walmart).
Kettlebells are great for building up your core muscles and a must-have for any home gym.
Resistance bands: Cheap, easy to use and easily stored, resistance bands use your own body’s weight to create resistance and build strength and flexibility. (Genius idea! We should have “invented” these ourselves and we’d be so, so rich.) Grab this Set of Three Flexibility Bands ($24.99 from Dick’s Sporting Goods) in varying gauges and resistance (the harder it is to pull, the more you’ve gotta use your puny muscles). Not sure how? Here are 33 exercises to get you started.
Resistance bands are cheap, simple to use and easy to store.
Jump rope: Remember PE? Basically, your home gym regimen should mirror junior high gym class—unless you were one of those kids who had an excuse to sit it out all the time. Jumping rope is a great form of cardio and can be especially brutal if you are like me and totally out of shape. Self magazine has a jump rope calorie counter that can be really helpful to measure your progress. Trust me, after 10 jumps you’ll have a newfound appreciation for your youth. Get a basic jump rope like Gold’s Gym Speed Jump Rope ($2.56 at Walmart) or splurge for a weighted one like Nike’s Weighted Leather Rope ($19.99 at Foot Locker), which will give your arms an even more intense workout, killing two birds with one stone.
For a great form of cardio, get a basic jump rope (left) or a weighted jump rope which will work out your arms while you jump.
Stability ball: If you’ve been in a gym, you’ve seen these. And if you’ve paid a personal torturer (ahem, trainer), you’ve been made to use one. Stability balls are great for helping you build core muscles as well as increase your flexibility. And with the right height ball, you can even use it as a chair when you’re at your desk. The Sunny Health & Fitness Exercise Ball ($16.09 at Overstock.com) is big enough at 55 centimeters that you can sit on it and use it as an exercise tool. Get started using your new ball: Real Simple has a great 15-minute full-body stability workout.
A stability ball can be used in a variety of ways to help build core muscles and increase flexibility.
A guide to the big stuff
Those items are all well and good, but you wanna run in place while listening to the latest Beyoncé record—without leaving your house. Okay, go get your wallet.
Treadmills: If you’re going for a true gym-like experience, you will have to go really big. The Gold’s Gym CrossWalk 570 Treadmill ($587 at Walmart) has everything you’re used to at the gym and more. It inclines and goes up to 10 miles per hour, so you can pretend you’re a marathon sprinter. It also has preprogrammed personal trainer workouts with the ability to track your time and calorie goals. Also, it folds up! That’s important. However, you can get a folding manual treadmill like the Exerpeutic Manual Treadmill With Safety Handle and Pulse ($152.99 at Sears), which forces you to use your own body weight to get it moving. Don’t go from zero to 60 right away, though. For total beginners, Health.com recommends starting with a 12-minute plan: alternate three-minutes of walking, with one minute of running. When that gets too easy, add more running.
The Gold’s Gym CrossWalk 570 Treadmill inclines, goes up to 10 miles an hour and folds up when not in use.
Stationary bikes: As with treadmills, you can get really elaborate or stay more basic. But unlike treadmills, the prices aren’t so sky-high, with most at $200 to $300. That’s way less than an annual gym membership. The Sunny Health Fitness Indoor Cycling Bike ($206.75 at Overstock.com) has adjustable handlebars and seats and is one of the site’s top-rated bikes for price and quality. (Fun fact: If you cycle at 10 to 12 miles per hour for 30 minutes, you can burn about 150 calories, depending on your weight.)
The Sunny Health Fitness Indoor Cycling Bike is one of Overstock.com’s top-rated stationary bikes for price and quality.
Elliptical machines: These entail a little bit of walking and a little bit of stair climbing but with less impact on your joints. Nestled among the top-rated ellipticals that cost hundreds or even thousands of dollars is the Exerpeutic Heavy Duty Magnetic Ellipticals with Pulse ($199 at Amazon). It has eight magnetic tension resistance levels and an LCD display that shows calories burned, distance, time, speed and heart rate monitoring. Plus, the machine is quiet, so you can watch TV as you exercise. If you are a newbie, avoid these 10 mistakes on an elliptical trainer.
The Exerpeutic Heavy Duty Magnetic Ellipticals with Pulse is affordable and one of the top-rated elliptical machines.
To get into the spirit of exercise and competition, check out our article on The Whole Life Challenge.
Foot Locker: Save $15 off $70 or more.
Sears: Get $5 off $50 or more or $35 off $300.
Overstock.com: New customers get 10% off and free shipping.
Walmart: See all the savings on top exercise gear.
Dicks Sporting Goods: Save with discount gift cards.