Top 5 Cheapest and Fastest Home Gym Equipment to Not Get Bored
Let’s say there is some hypothetical kind of emergency, like a pandemic or something…
You have 1 hour to get all the supplies you’ll need to keep your training effective and interesting for the next 8 weeks (without leaving your house).
Or maybe you are really tight on funds because your job just put you on forced leave for an undefined amount of time and you want to save money.
Or MAYBE, stay with me on this one, you are traveling to Mars at 1 G acceleration and you can only bring a backpack weighing no more than 40lbs (18kg) for all of your fitness needs…
Joking aside, as someone who has been creating workout programs for thousands of people of all ability levels, 7 days a week for the last 14 years or so, I get asked this question a lot:
“What do you recommend for a home gym for someone with no space and no money?”
The short answer:
With the right workout programming and the right attitude, you can get seriously “fit” with zero equipment.
BUT… that is like saying “all you need to do to lose weight and get jacked is eat only broccoli, spinach, and salmon 3 meals a day for a year or two.”
Some people can do it, but it can get real boring, REAL fast.
A tiny bit of variety can go a long way.
I also have a unique perspective. I started my fitness journey with an apartment patio and some borrowed equipment. I started following CrossFit.com in 2004 and almost all of my WODs were modified based upon super limited equipment and space.
Here are the 5 things you should buy to be able to do THOUSANDS of different workouts at home, or on the road, and enable you to work within your abilities, your goals, and within time/space constraints.
(Scroll down to the bottom if you are just looking for some workouts)
1: A Yoga Mat / Good Training Surface
A good mat is more than just a place for Yoga and stretching.
It represents the place in the universe that has the sole purpose of making you better.
And it keeps you from soaking your carpet with sweat and the dog/cat hair from sticking to your face.
A good mat will have some padding but not so much that it is unstable if you balance on it with one foot. It should not be slippery-when-wet (because you’ll be sweating on it). It should be durable and easily cleaned. It should lay out flat when unrolled.
Having a good mat will mean that you have less reasons to NOT train. You won’t have to worry about getting ‘dirty’ or making as much noise. You won’t have to worry about damaging the floor or having enough space.
Putting the mat out (or leaving it out) will serve as a reminder that there is a spot in the universe that is waiting for you to come and make yourself better (and maybe you should be doing some stretching/rehab while watching Netflix).
Yoga Mat Example: https://amzn.to/3cWZqOa
2: Jump Rope
Calisthenics (body weight movements) are GREAT, but if you are looking for a more well-rounded program, you’ll need to do some steady state cardio.
Running is amazing (and definitely more “functional”). All great GPP (General Physical Preparedness) programs include running on a regular basis. But running outside isn’t always an option (and treadmills are expensive).
Skipping rope can be your ‘go to’ when you decide to (or are forced to) stay indoors.
You don’t need to pick a fancy ‘speed rope’ but speaking from experience… a good rope that is sized correctly will save you a TON of frustration.
Using a lame rope is like wearing the wrong size dress shoes or heels to play basketball.
The most expensive basketball shoe won’t make you better, but some decent sneakers are better than Jimmy Choo’s.
There are dozens of different jump rope exercises you can do to keep things interesting, and boxers/MMA fighters have been using skipping rope for conditioning for decades for a reason.
Caveat: If you are stuck in an apartment with low ceilings, skipping rope may be off the table. The pounding of your feet will not make your neighbors happy and the rope will hit your ceiling. If this is the case, you should consider something like a slide board (a stationary board that mimics skating on the ice: https://amzn.to/2WiRUaH ).
Other options include a rower, treadmill, versa-climber, stationary bike, airdyne, or ski erg. Just remember that these are all expensive, take up a lot of space, and tend to be noisy/windy.
Jump Rope Example: https://amzn.to/39UMpD3
3: A Dumbbell (or Kettlebell)
Obviously two or more would be ideal, but a single DB can go a LONG way (especially when we combine it with some of the stuff listed below).
The reason the DB / KB is so important is because it is an external load we can move in many different planes of motion, at varying speeds… and because you probably don’t have something that weighs this amount, that is easily held in one hand, and can’t be damaged easily… laying around the house.
Dumbbells also have the added feature that they can be found in just about any sporting goods store or hotel.
Most women should consider a DB in the 15-25lb range. 30-35lbs if you are more intermediate/advanced. Men should look for one that is 25-35lbs. 45-50lbs if you are more advanced.
Just be aware that it is simpler to make a movement harder (more reps, slower tempo, added band resistance, etc.) than it is to make it ‘easier’. If you get a weight that is too heavy, you won’t have as many options to use it.
If you can afford to get a second dumbbell, get it at the next weight up (5 or 10lbs more). You can do two-handed movements alternating the loads by putting each DB in one hand. Once you have 3 different weights, consider buying some matching pairs.
Kettlebells have some unique features that make them unique (in particular, swings are much more comfortable). If you can find (and afford) them, get them. But be aware that there is an added level of complexity that comes with their ‘off balance’ nature (the center of balance isn’t in the palm of your hand like a DB). Be prepared to spend some extra time learning how to use them properly!
Dumbbell Example: https://amzn.to/38TLnG1
Bands are weird / awesome.
Weird because there aren’t many things from a ‘functional’ standpoint that increase/decrease in resistance as you move through a range of motion the same way bands do. Stuff usually has the same mass when you try to move it.
They are awesome because they are cheap, light weight, can change the resistance of a movement, change the muscles used or the angle of tension, can be attached to our bodies or external objects, AND because they increase/decrease ‘resistance’ through a range of motion (you see what I did there?).
(Does anyone else remember the old Boflex machines!?)
The reason bands aren’t used more in GPP workouts or typical fitness workouts is because there are already hundreds, if not thousands, of different movements and pieces of equipment to choose from. There is no point in getting crazy with the bands if you have access to a full gym facility. Under these circumstances, bands are generally used for specific purposes, or for variety.
In our ‘at home’ scenario, bands become the hero because they are cheap, and we have limited space.
“Loop” bands are ubiquitous in CrossFit gyms primarily because of their use with things like assisted pull ups. If you are training at home, the flat rolls of TheraBands are probably the better option.
The reason the flat bands aren’t used in gyms is that they are a bit more ‘delicate’ and need to be tailored to each person. They would not last long in a general gym setting. For use at home, they are a better option because they will be used much less, and they have more options for functionality.
The flat bands can be cut to length. Tied into loops. Doubled, tripled, and even quadrupled, for the correct assistance/resistance. They can be used for compression (aka ‘Voodoo Floss’). They are more easily held when holding something else. They usually take up less space than a loop style band. And they can be used as a tourniquet if someone is bleeding out… Okay, that is weird scenario, but it is true.
Most TheraBand branded bands come with fairly light resistance because they are designed for physical therapy use. You’ll want to get bands on the ‘heavy’ side for your at-home training applications.
You’ll want bands like this: https://amzn.to/2WdU6QG
5: Suspension Trainer or Rings
This one holds a special place in my heart. It was one of the first pieces of special equipment I bought, and the only one I brought on my honeymoon to Australia 15 years ago (true story… I had to explain them to customs when entering the country, and then I hung them in a tree in the billabong behind the hotel).
I am also not surprised that a whole fitness system is based upon their design: TRX. What does baffle me is that the TRX system isn’t as useful as rings or something you could build at home (rings with an adjustable strap, or the homemade version, have much more versatility for upper body movements).
Suspension systems are great because they allow a HUGE variety of upper body training that can be seriously lacking with general calisthenic/floor training.
Additional stability, angles of motion, scalability, ease of installation… These are hard to beat!
Consider frontal plane pressing, i.e. the bench press (or similar).
Start with ring push ups of varying angles. Eventually, we’ll work up to assisted ring dips. Then ring dips. Then ring dips with extra range of motion. Then ring dips with load or band resistance. Then ring dips with band resistance AND load… there is a ton of options for scaling and progressive overload!
But probably the most important reason to include these on the list: upper body pulling and external rotation of the shoulders.
MOST at home fitness programs will include an excess of pressing motions.
Dozens of different push ups.
This is a problem.
It is a problem because most, if not all, people are already doing too much in the frontal plane / internal rotation.
You are always ‘hunched’ over on your phone, computer, or steering wheel. You are sleeping on your side, slouching in your chair, or hunching over your coffee so people do not talk to you.
More push ups and overhead pressing will only make the situation worse.
You need balance in the form of pulling motions.
Horizontal pulling like ring rows. Vertical pulling like pull ups and assisted pull ups. External rotation-like ‘face pulls’. These motions will counteract the frontal plane motions that are causing you neck and back pain, as well as affecting your posture.
That is where the suspension devices really shine. They allow you to ‘balance’ out all of your bad habits and pressing with correctives that will help your posture (make you have a bigger chest and a smaller stomach… who doesn’t want a bigger chest and smaller stomach!? – ladies and men both do!)
Suspension devices also have the added advantage of being easier to install than a pull up bar.
You can attach them to a single anchor point in the ceiling. Hang them from your rafters in the garage. Throw them over a branch of a tree. Attach them to the top of a door.
The most important part of using suspension devices is that you understand how use them properly and adjust them to your level of ability. Make sure you are using proper form and not ‘cheating’ the movement based upon its purpose.
Rings Example: https://amzn.to/38UxU0D
Get Creative and Have Fun!
If you are being forced to say inside, recognize that being stuck indoors can definitely wear on you.
Try to avoid getting into a rut of watching mindless videos and laying around.
Set up a routine to keep moving on a daily basis. Alternate "workout" days with days where you just stretching or working on skill practice. Set up a network of people to talk/text with daily to help you keep your sanity and hold each other accountable.
Use your imagination (or YouTube) to find new things to try with your new arsenal!
You can always reach out to Thrivestry directly if you are struggling or need some ideas. We are here to help!
Please share this if you found it useful or if you think it might help someone else.
Here are a few other things you may find interesting:
"Should I cut back hours?"
"What if they shut us down completely?"
"How can I cover some costs and payroll while people are prevented from coming to the gym?"
There is a moment in time that happens hundreds of times per day, and you never think about it.
There is no way to avoid it. Your life will be filled with them until you die.
We can use these moments to help us be more productive and build better habits.