Here’s how to set up a home gym.
I’ve always told clients that our world is a gym. Now, with the coronavirus pandemic, that saying rings truer than ever. During this unprecedented period when commercial gyms across the country are closed, it’s time to get creative and set yourself up with a home gym if you don’t already have one. It doesn’t have to be elaborate but rather can just cover the basics. More advanced gym aficionados can add in some extras.
Just because your gym is closed is not an excuse to let your health—and belly—go by the wayside. Instead, consider this a time to refocus on your fitness, since exercise not only helps keep our muscles at peak strength and our hearts and brains in good working order but also helps control stress. And with the right home equipment, exercising at home can provide the same strength-training and aerobic benefits as going to your local gym.
Home gym: the basics
First, find a small space in your home that you can dedicate for workouts. There should be enough room to allow you to fully spread your arms out without touching any walls. Now, let’s talk equipment:
- To start your home training program, you will need a range of hand weights for a full body workout of both small and large muscles; look for 3-, 5-, and 8-lb. weights, often sold as a set online. Smaller muscles include the triceps and biceps of the arm and the muscles in the rotator cuff (the suprapinatus and teres minor) and can be trained using the lighter weights. Larger muscles include those of the chest (pectorals), back (rhomboids), and legs (quadriceps and hamstrings) and require more of a weight load to train. Some upper body exercises that can be done with these simple weights include shoulder press, lateral raise, chest press, bent over row, bicep curl, and tricep extension. With weights in hand, you can also train your legs, by doing squats, deadlifts, and lunges, for example. Always begin your home exercise program with lighter weight to prevent injury and build up your strength. A total-body dumbbell workout from the American Council on Exercise (ACE) can be found here.
- If you buy hand weights online and are waiting for them to ship—or you can’t find any available, since there has been a run on these items—get creative: You can use canned foods, heavy books, or filled grocery bags or backpacks for weight training. It’s always fun to be inventive at home and incorporate everyday items into your training routine.
- Don’t forget resistance bands. These colorful elastic bands can be used for both upper- and lower-body strength training and flexibility and are sold in varying resistance levels—light, medium, and heavy. You can buy them individually or in sets. Some come as tubes or stretchable ropes with attachable handles. Start with a light or medium band (a heavy one might be too difficult for beginners). For exercises like a row or chest press, you can wrap the band on a door knob or furniture leg. For other exercises, such as a bicep curl or front shoulder raise, you can wrap the band around the bottom of your foot or feet while standing. To work your legs, buttocks, and hips, go for a leg band loop (booty band). Choose medium resistance, since light leg bands don’t offer enough resistance even for a beginner and often break, while heavy bands are usually too tight and don’t allow for a full range of motion. Resistance band exercises from ACE can be found here and here.
- To finish your basic home gym you’ll need an exercise floor mat, such as a yoga mat; thicker mats provide more cushioning for your joints. The mat is a good place to stretch (best after your workout when your muscles are warm) and do abdominal exercises, such as sit-ups, planks, bird dog, and bicycle. The mat can be rolled or folded up easily to store in a closet. Examples from ACE of some stretches you can do on your mat can be found here.
- You may also want to purchase a foam roller for a post-workout stretch and self-massage. To help relax the muscles on the sides of the spine and by your shoulder blades, for example, lie perpendicularly on a large foam roller and roll your middle and upper back along it. For more ways to use a foam roller, see our article here.
To take your home gym to the next level
- Add in a kettlebell (5-20 lbs.), which is basically an iron ball with a top handle. As with hand weights, always start with a lighter kettlebell; 10 lbs. is good for most beginners. A soft, padded kettlebell allows for the same workout performance as a hard kettlebell but will not dent your wood floors. You can use a kettlebell to do swings, deadlifts, and other explosive exercise movements. Kettlebell exercise ideas from ACE are found here and here.
- Another great addition for working on upper-body strength is a hanging pull-up bar that can be easily installed in a doorway. Step-by-step instructions on how to master your indoor pull ups can be found here.
- Lastly, you can add in a BOSU ball, which stands for “BOth Sides Up” or “BOth Sides Utilized,” because both the flat side and the half-dome inflated side can be used for exercise. The unstable surface helps improve balance, whichever side you stand on. A BOSU ball can also be used for strength training, aerobic fitness, plyometrics (jumping activities), and stretching. For example, you can lift them, step on them, and even plank on them. Our article on BOSU ball workouts provides more ideas here.
For a cardio workout
You may still be able to get outdoors and go for a brisk walk, run, or bike ride—being sure to keep at least a 6-foot distance from other people while the virus that causes COVID-19 is still circulating. But if you are minimizing or have curtailed all outside activities, having an inexpensive jump rope on hand is a great way to get and keep fit (to learn the ropes, see here).If you have the financial resources, you may want to invest in a stationary bike, which will last for post-pandemic years to come. Some models (such as the pricey Peloton) offer interactive workout classes for extra motivation. Just like riding a bike outside, you can set it for long distance rides or interval training. Another option is a rowing machine, such as a water wheel rower. These machines definitely won’t match your décor, but fortunately they can be stored up against a wall in a closet.
Before you begin
During these times of uncertainty, one thing is certain: You can get into great shape right from the comfort of your own home. But unless you have already been working out and have no medical issues, consult your doctor before beginning any exercise program. A certified personal trainer can work out a plan with you and make sure you’re doing the exercises correctly and safely; many offer online training so you can get started while you’re sheltering in place. To find a personal trainer, the American Council on Exercise provides a searchable database.