When COVID-19 restrictions went into effect again last November, I had to act fast. My gym had been forced to shut down for three months earlier in the year due to the pandemic and now I was staring at more months of closures. But as crazy as it sounds, the potential financial loss wasn’t my biggest concern.
My mental sanity was on the line. I’ve been in the health and fitness industry for 24 years and the gym is my sanctuary. It’s how I start my morning and that workout helps me get the most out of my day. Plus I had to stay in shape this winter for when gyms reopen. Who wants to hire a pudgy trainer?!
I kept up my workout routine at TTP Fitness, but it started to become depressing. Walking into the empty gym without my staff or clients was a daily reminder of our current situation in the pandemic. I wanted to train without thinking about that.
So I went the extra mile and converted my three-car garage into a killer home gym! My garage now has everything I could need for a quality workout. There’s a leg press machine, shoulder press machine, rowing machine, stationary bike, dumbbells, barbells and so much more.
But not everyone has a three-car garage they can magically turn into a makeshift gym. Working out at home might sound impossible if you live in a small space or have roommates, but it can be done! All you need are the right exercises and equipment.
Home Gym Essentials
Your options for gym equipment are limited if you’re in a small apartment or have roommates. Barbells are out of the question and good luck fitting a huge machine in your room.
Luckily, some of the best home gym equipment is basic AND portable. There are a few essential pieces to a home gym that I would recommend to anyone.
Do you have a doorway? Great. You can accommodate a pull-up bar.
Adding pull-ups to your workout is one of the best things that you can do for arm and back strength. There’s a reason why they’re called the V-Shape builder!
Pull-ups are easy on the joints, so you don’t have to worry about tendonitis or aggravating a chronic injury. It’s great for those who are in a time crunch because pull-ups do the job of many individual exercises with a single movement.
Pull-ups also let you target your muscles at different angles by simply changing your grip, the width of your hands on the bar or how your legs are positioned. A close grip pull-up targets your outer lats and biceps, while a wider grip engages your traps and builds more back depth in the middle. Keeping your legs extended while pulling up engages more of your lower back and midsection.
All of the pull-ups you do at home will increase your grip strength and help you get the most from other parts of your workout. A weaker grip is one of the biggest things that keeps some of my clients from adding weight to their back rows, deadlifts and other pulling exercises.
There’s also something about pull-ups that can get addictive! If you struggle to do even a couple of them and soon find yourself doing five at a time, you’ll then want to do 10. Before you know it, you’re knocking out 10 pull-ups at a time like it’s nothing! The improvement that you’ll see from this exercise is limitless.
Here’s my personal pick for a home pull-up bar. There’s no assembly required and it hooks right on the door frame.
Apartment living limits your options for weights. A barbell takes up too much space. A set of dumbbells also takes up space and can be very expensive. You’re looking at a price tag of at least $1,000 for a full rack of heavy dumbbells from 5-50 pounds and beyond.
Adjustable dumbbells are the best option if you’re tight on room and budget. There will be some delays to adjust the plates between exercises, so your superset or drop set workouts will have to be put on hold, but it’s all you need for a solid workout.
A set of adjustable dumbbells will cost anywhere from $400-700, depending on how much weight you want.
Same dilemma as with dumbbells, same solution. A set of kettlebells takes up space, can be expensive and you’ll wonder how to get rid of them once you’re able to work out at a gym more regularly.
Kettlebells are an incredibly useful piece of any home gym due to their size and functionality. They help build powerful forearms and a strong grip, which carries over into countless other exercises you’ll do. Because most kettlebell lifts like the Snatch, Clean & Jerk and Kettlebell Swing can’t be performed slowly, it’s a key part of power-endurance training. This is your ability to maintain fast muscular contractions for extended periods of time.
A standard 15-pound kettlebell is all most people need for strength and endurance training, but adjustable kettlebells typically start at eight pounds and can be brought all the way up to 40 pounds.
Collapsable FID Bench
Some people will tell you that you don’t need an FID (short for Flat, Incline, Decline) bench and that a standard flat bench is fine. These people should be ignored.
FID benches are essential if you’re new to lifting or getting back into it after a long pandemic-induced layoff, They provide stability for different exercises and give you enough support to maintain good posture so you can avoid injuries. Putting the bench at different angles also allows you to target a much wider range of muscles than a flat bench.
Not only can an FID bench become part of your dumbbell workouts like the tricep press, chest press, shoulder press or dumbbell rows, but it can also be used or bodyweight workouts like push-ups and ab crunches. Most of these benches are height adjustable for tall and short folks, and some are even foldable so that it can go into your closet when you’re done.
An FID benches should set you back $90-150. Some fancier brands can cost $300 and up, but these aren’t necessary for a home gym.
Let’s be honest. If you’ve trained with me before at TTP Fitness, you’ve seen a whole pile of resistance bands NOT being used. That’s because most people don’t know what to do with them or don’t understand their benefits.
These little bands can help you build strength, stabilize your muscles and improve joint mobility, depending on how they’re used. If you’re not at the level where you can do pull-ups yet, you can even loop them around the pull-up bar and place your foot or knee inside the band to help give you a lift up.
There are different types of resistance bands, but my preferred type are the flat ones known as strength bands. They come in different widths and a thicker width provides a greater challenge with more resistance. A set of resistance bands typically starts at level 1 and goes up to level 6, with level 1 being the easiest to stretch. However, if you’re using the bands to support your weight during pull-ups, you’d want to start at level 6 and work your way down until you’re doing pull-ups without assistance.
This will end up being one of the cheapest items in your home gym, too. A set of resistance bands won’t set you back more than $30.
Workout newbies look at a TRX like it’s an alien. So many straps. So many handles. They wouldn’t be caught dead doing it alone for fear of being “that guy/girl” at the gym. But it offers one of the most versatile and fun workouts around once you know how to use it properly.
TRX (short for total-body resistance exercise) uses your body weight to add some extra spice to classic exercises like push-ups, jump squats and inverted rows. The handles also anchor your feet and hands for a wide range of single-leg exercises. There’s an endless supply of full-body workouts that you can tackle with a TRX so your workouts always stay fresh.
Research backs the benefits of a TRX workout. A study from the American Council on Exercise found that adding TRX training into an eight-week fitness program can help significantly reduce blood pressure, body fat percentage and waist size. Another study out of Germany, published in the International Journal of Exercise Science, showed that using a TRX can help improve balance and boost core strength.
But unless you want your workout to include a trip to the ER, a TRX must be anchored to something before you start throwing your body weight on it. TRX makes wall mounts that screw into any ceiling or wall, in addition to door anchors that don’t require drilling.
If you live on the second floor of an apartment building, you may not want to do this at night or when your neighbors are home. Assuming you don’t have to worry about ticking anyone off, a jump rope gives you one hell of a cardio workout. There’s a reason why most professional athletes use one as part of their training.
The benefits of adding jumping rope to your workout are endless. Science Daily reports that jumping rope can achieve a “burn rate” of up to 1,300 calories per hour. That’s not a typo. In other words, 10 minutes of jumping rope is roughly the equivalent of running an eight-minute mile.
Even if jumping rope adds on an extra couple of minutes, most people would agree that it’s more fun than running a mile. It’s no surprise that the American College of Sports Medicine highly recommends it for aerobic conditioning.
It also improves your bone density since the best exercise to improve that is jumping up and down. Because jumping rope also increases strength in the muscles surrounding your ankle joints and feet, it decreases the chance of foot and ankle injuries.
Jumping rope will benefit your coordination and even breathing efficiency. The benefits are endless and shouldn’t set you back more than $10.
Even if you don’t do yoga, you’ll want a yoga mat for all of the exercises that involve lying down or your hands touching the ground. Trust me.
This is an all-around fitness accessory. Just make sure you’re not doing medicine slams while someone is sleeping on the floor below you!
There are plenty of different medicine balls on the market now – inflatable, with straps and even filled with sand, but I recommend sticking with the classic version. There’s no shortage of exercises you can do with it to train and strengthen an assortment of muscle groups. In addition to helping build power and explosiveness in your lower limbs (adductors, hamstring and gluteal muscles), it’s also a great abdominal workout.
Medicine balls range between 1-10 kilograms. I’d recommend getting one that’s at least 5 kilograms (11 pounds) and moving to the heavier ones if you’re already strong.
I didn’t pay too much attention to stretching and recovery when I first started training, but it’s a mandatory part of all my workouts now. Getting injured and losing the progress you made as you sit on the sidelines is not fun.
Foam rolling helps relieve muscle soreness, muscle tension and improves your flexibility and range off motion. You just slowly roll an area of your body – upper back, calves and hips are a great place to start – back and forth across the top of the roller. It won’t be pleasant and might even be painful at times during the roll, but you’ll feel so much better the next day.