Let’s face it, sometimes the gym is not all it’s cracked up to be. Sure, you have your choice of equipment—if you have time to wait for the person before you to finish up. Of course, that’s just a minor inconvenience compared to the time you’ll spend packing your bag, changing, and driving back and forth. No wonder so many people let their memberships lapse! But you still have to exercise somehow, and the outdoors aren’t always ideal, either. No matter how committed you are, it’s hard to get excited about jogging in the blistering heat.
A home gym, on the other hand, is the ultimate training luxury. All you have to do is slap on some shorts and your running shoes, and you’re ready to go—with no gym rats elbowing you away from the rowing machines. But home gym equipment can be expensive, to say the least, so you want to make sure you’re getting the most out of your investment. To get you there, we’ve put together this list of the essentials you need in any home gym, so you can stop dreaming about your very own workout space and get exercising!
If you think a home gym is just about the machines, think again. Most equipment won’t get you the kind of muscle group variety achieved from compound exercises like squats and lunges. Bicycle crunches, box crawls, and rotational lunges all use gravity to create resistance, and target muscles like your glutes, abdominals, quads, and hamstrings—without the assistance of any equipment. But you won’t want to do exercises like these on a hard floor surface like concrete or wood.
Instead, go with an shock-absorbing material, like interlocking foam tiles, virgin rubber mats, or cork flooring, an eco-friendly product created from harvesting the bark of cork trees. Any of these will keep your workout a lot more comfortable, and protect you from injuries that may sideline your efforts.
The more scientists study the effects of light on the body, the more they’re beginning to realize how closely tied lighting is to our natural cycles of sleep and alertness. Bright, natural light, in particular, can perk you right up after a long day at work. If you can swing it, a set of windows in your home gym makes for a nice addition. However, if you’re working in a basement or other dimly-lit space, go for artificial lights instead. Recessed lights outfitted with cool, white bulbs are best—look for lights with a color temperature above 5000K. If you prefer yoga, pilates, or other low-key workouts, you may want to add a dimmer switch as well for more control.
Ah, now we come to the big question: which equipment works best? That’s not always a simple answer. The type of machine or weights you need depends on how you like to work out. If you prefer video workouts, for instance, a mat and a TV may be the only props you need. However, most personal trainers recommend, at the very least, investing in a set of dumbbells, which will allow you to incorporate a wider range of strength training exercises into your routine. Likewise, an adjustable weight bench lets you fold in isotonic moves, like curls, rows, and presses. Another “best bang for your buck” item is a set of resistance bands: they’re affordable, easy to put away, and make for a fluid workout that challenges strength and flexibility—without bulking up. And for cardio? Scrap the exercise bike for a self-powered motorless treadmill, which burns more calories than a motorized treadmill, at least according to preliminary research.
With mats, weights, bands, towels, and videos, you’ll also want to incorporate plenty of storage space into your home gym, as well. A mobile shelving unit works well if you want to keep extra equipment handy, but most people find that a wall-mounted shelving system works better—open shelves keep your equipment visible and off the ground.
A wireless speaker or iPhone dock also gives you the ability to pump in the tunes—a must if you’re serious about sweating. Your own personal playlist? Beats the gym’s any day!
Erin Vaughan is a blogger, gardener and aspiring homeowner. She currently resides in Austin, TX where she writes about health and wellness for FitnessTrainer.
Main Photo Credit: Artazum/shutterstock.com; Third Photo Credit: Ekapot Chaiwimol/shutterstock.com