The 7 Budget-Friendly Essentials You’ll Need to Create a Home Gym
Summer bodies are made in the winter. And it's gonna be a long winter.
"The easiest adjustment you can make to your health routine when you're working from home is to wake up by doing some form of cardio. Do it before you eat breakfast to get that metabolism fired up."
This is what Reggie Chambers, a sought after NYC personal trainer, told me when I asked him about setting up a home gym. His preferred method? The jump rope. And his recommendation was echoed by almost every expert I talked to. A highly touted rope was this one from Rush Athletics (if it's sold out, check out this one or this one). Another, albeit more advanced model, is the Crossrope: A weighted jumprope that'll ensure you get a killer, full-body workout in half the time as other methods (like running or biking).
As winter approaches, it's going to get even harder to keep that workout regimen going (but as they say, summer bodies are built in the winter). There's no one size-fits-all method here, so it's all about finding what kind of exercise you enjoy and sticking to it. Even it's riding a stationary bike -- we recommend the MYX. It's like a Peloton on supplements (but not as expensive). As for our budget pick? Schwinn makes an excellent stationary bike that works with most popular apps.
That said, I spoke with eight fitness experts to get their take. The findings? there were a few key pieces of equipment that were repeatedly deemed essential: a jump rope, resistance bands, dumbbells and a yoga mat. However, if you're serious about creating a fully functional home gym, you'll need around 7 pieces of equipment total. Let's get into it.
If you want to get in shape at home, you will 100% need a mat. There were two different kinds recommended to me: a yoga mat and a jump mat. The latter being a bit thicker and used for more intense exercises like plyometrics and core work. It can also double as a yoga mat if you prefer a little more cushioning. Olivia Young, a certified yoga teacher and founder of NYC studio Box + Flow had this to say, "I like to sweat, so if I’m purchasing a mat for in-home use, that means heat on high. I personally love the Lululemon Reversible 5 MM mat. It’s extra absorbent and is so comfortable you can use it on any type of floor."
There's also the question of where to place your mat. If you have enough room in your bedroom, it can work. But experts will tell you to try and make the living room a space for fitness and leave the bedroom for sleeping. Robert Lemus, professional bodybuilder and editor of Simple Fitness Hub, recommends converting your living room into a workout space, "With a few quick changes, your living room can be converted into a home gym. Move big furniture to the side of the room, allowing you enough space to stand and have a yoga mat on the ground. This can be an excellent space to workout, especially if you like to exercise while binge watching Netflix." Obviously, if you have roommates, this could be a tad more difficult.
And if, like me, you're the type of person who likes to play video games whilst blasting your core on a mat, check out Stealth. Basically it's a core-destroyer that you throw your phone into and play interactive games as you plank. It's also incredibly difficult (at first), but that just adds to the fun.
As for the jump mat, this should be placed in an area that allows for plenty of range of motion. Fitness and nutrition experts Ryan and Alex, who "have been working out from home for the better part of a decade nearly every day," recommended this jump mat for more intense workouts like P90X and other plyometric programs.
This is another core piece of equipment that should be a part of everyone's home gym. Jamie Hickey, certified personal trainer/nutritionist and founder of Truism Fitness said this, "Resistance bands are a must in an apartment gym, they take up very little room, and are extremely versatile, and cost effective. They come in a variety of resistance levels from very light to extremely heavy making it so that you will always have an option to challenge you." Here's a great set that even comes with online workout videos to get you started. Resistance bands can also be used in lieu of weights according to Ryan and Alex, "Weightlifting workouts can be done with free weights or resistance bands. Regardless of what you do, make sure you have a structured plan that covers all parts of the body, instead of doing a few reps of bicep curls or lunges, here or there." Amazon has a wide selection to choose from.
One other thing that came highly recommended from Murdock was the TRX All-in-One System. "The TRX All-in-One is versatile -- it can be used for push/pull routines for the upper body (push-ups and rows), lower body hamstrings (jump squats and deadlifts), lower body glutes (glute bridge) and core (mountain climbers and pikes). If you have a door that can support weight, this is the one piece of equipment that I would highly recommend to give you a full body workout."
A jump rope
Tommy Duquette, co-founder and trainer at Fightcamp and former US National Boxing Champion had this to say: “Every apartment gym needs a good liquorice jump rope. The Money Rope from Rush Athletics (inspired by Floyd Mayweather) is an inexpensive jump rope preferred by boxers -- it’s performant, lightweight, and perfect for both beginners and advanced users. I use this every day to supplement my workouts and keep my feet moving on days I might not be able to get a full workout in.” The Money Rope sells out quickly so if you need a solid alternative, check out the Sonic Boom Rope.
Consider yourself an advanced user? Once again allow me to show you the Crossrope (seriously this thing will kick your ass). Now, for the sake of brevity, I won't get too in the weeds with that kind of jump rope you should get since they're all so similar, but aside from The Money Rope, there's an offering from WOD Nation that one reviewer raved about: "One of the best speed ropes I have ever used! Great for single unders, double unders, and even triple unders. The rope is smooth and very fast and has enough weight to give you momentum on your swings. It is a fantastic product!"
If you're looking to break out of bodyweight exercises all day, a set of dumbbells is just what you need. I personally own a set of Bowflex SelectTech 552 Dumbbells which are adjustable from 5lbs to 52.5 lbs each. They're easily one of my favorite investments and are stored away under my bed when I'm finished working out. Certified personal trainer Danny Saltos (who runs the IG TrainWithDanny) endorsed Bowflex as well, "Adjustable dumbbells add a little heat to your routine. Space saving and asskicking. These dumbbells will give you and your partner the ability to go light or go heavy." NOTE: The Bowflex are out of stock from the site (they went quickly!), but you can find them at your local Dick's Sporting Goods.
As an alternative, Powerblock makes a similar adjustable set (though they have gone up in price). And if you're curious as to why adjustable weights are the way to go, Olivia Young remarks "The easiest way to keep challenging the body from workout to workout is simply to add more load and weight to the exercise." And if you have the extra room, Amazon has a large amount of adjustable weights to choose from.
A pull up bar
If you're new to pull ups, you'll likely feel like giving up real quick when you set up the bar and pump out… one. But stay with it! Pull ups are an excellent way to strengthen your upper body and core, and the more you keep at it, the faster you'll see results. Ahmed Ali, a personal trainer and consultant at Centriq who trains six days a week had this to say: "A pull up bar can be easily attached to your door frame without taking away from your limited floor space. Just do a pull up every time you pass by it and you’ll be in shape in no time." And he's not wrong. My roommate and I have set up the bar and will do one every time we go for a water or snack. Ryan and Alex also called the pull up bar one of the "basics for a full home gym."
As for which one to get? Well, there's this one from Perfect Fitness. This pull up bar from Handsonic has excellent reviews and is easily stored away after you're finished getting yoked. I've had this one in my apartment for a couple of years (and it's able to support 200+ pounds easily, if that's a factor for you).
A kettlebell is also a super useful piece of equipment due to its size and functionality. It can be tucked away easily when you don't need it and supplement your cardio exercises when you do. Young had this to say: "It never hurts to grab a kettlebell and swing. Kettlebells offer full body toning and enhance your cardio exercises. I usually stick with a 15lb kettlebell for strength and endurance." Bowflex makes an awesome adjustable kettlebell which starts at 8lbs and can be brought all the way up to 40lbs.
A workout bench
"This workout bench by PowerBlock is the best bench we’ve had. It’s sturdy enough for both of us to be jumping on it at the same time. We placed this on the jump mats to complete our home gym. While the workout bench isn’t necessary for all of our fitness programs, it was key for our weightlifting programs," said Ryan and Alex. And I'll echo their sentiment. You can get a great workout without a bench, but if you have room, it can change up your whole routine by incorporating weight training. I bought this bench a few years ago and it's perfect for my needs. I can take it out and quickly assemble it when I need it, and when I'm done it folds down and slides effortlessly under my bed. And there are many like it. It all comes down to how much room you have and storage capacity.
Of course there are other pieces of equipment you can grab if you have specific needs (for instance, a medicine ball or stability ball), but the above recs should be more than enough to get you started. And trust me, I know it can be difficult to start thinking of your living space as your gym -- especially if you have a gym routine that's been stalled. But staking out just 20-minutes a day to stretch, lift, or jump around (read: solo dance party) will definitely pay off. At the very least, Young recommends "putting on a backpack and adding in weights [for squats, lunges, etc] -- whether that’s bottles of water, tins, soup, or bricks." I think the most fun you can have working out is when you can get creative with your routines. And for most of us stuck inside, there's nothing but time to let that creativity flow.