For many of us, we’ve either never joined a gym before, or we stopped going when we had kids. While gyms are getting better at catering to families, and some of my friends enjoying going with their kids, for many of us we need another option. The solution is to set up your on home gym, which you can do on any budget.
If you can’t make it to the gym at all, or even for a season or during bad weather, I recommend starting to set up your own home gym at home. All this really means is taking a little time and money to slowly acquire equipment you love and know how to use, and maintaining a space in the house where the furniture is out of the way so that you have space to set up when you’re ready to work out.
The three most important things to know about creating your own home gym is that you can do it, you can get started for cheap, and that you can add as you go along. I think it’s actually the most fun and reward and productive that way. Get a few basic pieces of equipment that are inexpensive multi-taskers. Learn how to use them. Then add a few more, learn how to use them, work them in your routine, find a few more, and so on.
Start Here: The First Four
To get started I recommend a weighted jump rope, a set or two of neoprene dumbbells starting at 5 or 8 lbs, and two types of resistance bands: loop exercise bands and resistance band with handles. You should be able to buy a jump rope, a set of dumbbells, a set of loop bands and one resistance band for less than $50.
My favorite places to buy exercise equipment are Amazon, Target and stores like TJ Maxx. Look around and compare prices, and don’t be shy about choosing items based on color and not just price! If you enjoy looking at your equipment, if the colors coordinate or just make you happy, that is a factor that matters and is not to be underestimated! Personally I usually just try to avoid anything I think is ugly or manly, but sometimes I find a color choice that makes me really happy. At the same time everything doesn’t need to have color. When you pull your equipment out, you want the room to feel happy but not visually cluttered.
To get started with these, you can look up exercises online. I also recommend these 5 books for your home gym, and several include exercises to use with bands and dumbbells.
Adding to your collection
If you have a wood floor you like to work out on, getting a high density foam mat will open up a lot of additional options without having to go to another room to find some carpet, if that’s even an option. I find if my kids are awake and leaving me alone it’s best to stay right where I am so I finally invested in a pretty purple one for my office floor. I had a classic yoga mat but it was two thin. If you want to lay on the floor get one that is 1/2 in thick.
The next two items I’d recommend are weight lifting gloves and a vinyl coated kettle bell. Either start with 5 lb each dumbbells and an 8 lb kettlebell, or 8 lb each dumbbells and a 10 lb kettlebell. I started with 5 and 8 and worked up to 8 and 10. And you’ll find the others will still be useful, you’ll just use them for different exercises. If you want to lose weight and build some muscle, don’t skip the gloves. I just got new gloves, size medium for $13 on amazon, because I lost the old pair somewhere in this last pregnancy. I find wearing gloves helps me feel strong and confident, and more apt to try a heavier weight for an exercise when I should challenge myself. Wearing gloves never occurred to me before I joined the gym (***add link) for a while and now I love them. If kettle bells seem expensive, watch for a sale or shop stores like TJ Maxx; I really prefer the vinyl coated metal ones over the ones filled with sand. They are less bulky and the weight feels more steady.
Two more items I love that I forgot to add in this picture are a high density foam roller and a classic deck of playing cards. The foam roller was a part of our routine at the gym, and it really does wonders on sore muscles. I use mine at home before I exercise, and the morning after if my muscles feel sore.
When you want an interesting workout, but don’t really want to think about it. Or if you don’t have the time to pull up a video or write down a workout, here’s what you do.
5 Minute Quick Work Out
Pick four different exercises, that use different muscles and/or different pieces of equipment. Get a piece of paper. Draw a heart, diamond, spade and club in a vertical row, and then write one of the four exercises next to each one. Shuffle the deck, set the cards down. Flip over the first one and do that many of that exercise. If your diamond is push ups, and you get the 4 of diamonds, then do 4 push ups. Flip over the next card and repeat. You can do it for any set amount of time, until the deck is done, or until you get tired of those four exercises.
I love this one for maximum use of a short window of time.
Taking Your Home Gym on a budget Up a Notch
Once you’ve established a routine of finding time to exercise, I think it’s fun to reward your efforts with some slightly larger pieces that are well worth the investment and that give you more options. However, make sure that you have space to store bigger items where they won’t be in the way.
The next three items I’d recommend are awesome partly because they are more kid-friendly, both because your kids can learn to use them, and because your kids are not likely to hurt themselves with them, since they have no cords and are not made out of heavy metal. These are the mini trampoline, the adjustable step platform, and the soft-shell wall ball. The wall ball is my absolute favorite piece of equipment. You can throw it against the wall or floor in many different ways. You can hold it in your hands in front of you or above your head while you do lunges. You can incorporate it into sit ups and push ups. It is the most expensive item I’ve bought for working out, but it makes me really happy.
Another item you can add at this point (or earlier) is the balance ball. I have one but rarely use it because my kids are so eager to play with it that it usually causes more problems than it is worth when I get it out. I do still have it, I haven’t given up. I guess I’m waiting to see if my kids will grow up and let me use it, but I should really either use it or pass it on since it takes up space in a closet when not in use.
How to Pick What to Start With
If you’re not sure which items to invest in, here’s my best tip: go test them out! Most gyms offer a free 7 day trial period. Take them up on that and go try the equipment. Look a little online before you go so you have some idea how to experiment. Then go at least once or twice during the 7 days and try all of the free weight type of equipment that I talked about above and figure out which ones you’d like to invest in and use at home. If you have time and want to you can also try the machines to get an idea of one you might want to try to find used. I know I enjoy the elliptical and so eagerly took my in-laws up on the offer to adopt theirs when they decided to get rid of it a few months ago.
However, I want to encourage you that you don’t need a machine, and my experience at the gym taught me that the best exercises are the ones without a machine. The ones where you use simple forces and weights to work your body in different ways. Using free weights, body weight, band and cords lets you fully engage in the process, you focus your mind, you’re in tune with your body. And if you want to listen to music, just get yourself a sports armband for your phone and plug in your ear buds. I love mine; any time I think I have a bit of a window to get away mentally I strap it on, turn on Pandora, and see how many songs or exercises I can get in before someone comes to find me. My children are starting to recognize my arm band and ear buds. They’re learning that I can’t hear them and am not supposed to be “available” while I’m exercising. But the best exercise I usually get in is that first bit of time before anyone notices that I’m gone. Or if my husband is home they’re getting used to leaving me alone. Of course this is only as long as the baby is still asleep. See my list of things to do while the baby is sleeping here. I should add exercise.
Ideas for Exercises
I usually find once I start looking my main problem is too many options, not too few. But here are my favorite sources for exercise ideas: my list of 5 books for your home gym, the booklets that often come with the above products, and searching for the product on youtube, for example “basic exercises with kettle bell” or “how to use the kettle bell”.
Just for fun
A few more options include: small medicine ball, the balance disc, a heavier kettle bell (useful for the farmer’s carry), the sports armband, and gliding discs for working your abs. With the gliding disks, get in push up position with your toes on the discs. Then bring your knees toward your chest one at a time. I enjoy the balance disk more for idle posture exercises than when I’m working out. I keep it by my desk and will occasionally stand on it for a couple minutes. It’s fun to feel your muscles work simply to keep your balance as your weight shifts.
I recommend setting a starting budget for your home gym, beginning with a few pieces of equipment and maybe one book, and then as you prove to yourself that you will take the time and use them, add more items to your collection to keep it interesting and give yourself more options. Switching up your work out can also help you break through a weight loss plateau, and that’s easy when you get new equipment that lends itself to new exercises.
Now you know that setting up a home gym on a budget is easy, fun, rewarding, and effective. I’d love to hear which equipment you enjoy using the most.