Have you ever thought of having a dedicated space for fitness? The goal of having fitness at your fingertips may be easier than you think, and it may make exercising that much more top-of-mind and accessible.
First and foremost, you want to make sure you have a real wish to get fit. If your exercise bike or the treadmill has turned into a clothes rack, you should pause and question why that is. Maybe you need another route to physical health, like a drop-in sports league or a social commitment to exercise with friends.
But if you’re worried about the size of your space, no worries. A home gym can vary according to your circumstance. Some people have a mat they pull out and a few dumbbells in the corner, others transform their garage into their own private gym.
A home gym can be an investment. Whereas gym members are responsible for monthly or yearly memberships, home gyms could save people a lot of money and time. Moreover, if one takes care of their equipment and services it periodically, the only real costs involved would be on the front end when purchasing the equipment and modifying any spaces.
Free Weights Versus Strength Training Machines
There are pros and cons to owning both free weights and strength training machines. Machines are relatively safe to use in comparison with free weights but take up a lot more space and offer a more limited range of movement. In some cases, you need a spotter when you’re pushing your limit with free weights. For example, if you are doing a bench press exercise with free weights, it’s essential to have someone “spot” you to assist if the weight becomes too heavy to manage. With exercise machines, you can easily and safely drop the weight without fear of injury.
But because free weights have no restricted motion and can move in many different directions, they offer a wider range of exercise possibilities and can help to improve balance.
If your budget is a concern, free weights are fairly inexpensive compared to machines. They also take up much less space and are easier to tuck away. That said, there are some innovative machines that are designed to take up less space and offer a combination of exercises.
Dumbbells, Bars, and Plate Weights
Having various increments of weight can allow for more options depending on the exercise. A dumbbell rack or a dumbbell tree can store your weights in less space or you can tuck dumbbells under your bed. Dumbbells are a nice addition to a home gym because they can be used to work all the major muscle groups including arms, chest, shoulders, legs, and back. If you want the look and feel of a fitness center, you can purchase a bar and some plate weights along with a bench. Take safeguards to ensure that the plate weights are secure with the use of collars to keep the plates from sliding off the bar. Look for a bench that can incline and decline, which increases the range of exercises that you can perform.
An exercise ball looks fun but it may be daunting for beginners who are unsure how to sit on it and exercise. These are sometimes referred to as stability balls and are used widely in physical medicine and rehabilitation. They usually come in three sizes: 22 inches (55 cm), 26 inches (65 cm), and 30 inches (75 cm), which are aligned to a person’s height as opposed to their weight.
There are myriad exercises that can be done with an exercise ball and they can be purchased for around $20. You can even use them at your desk instead of an office chair since they allow for more active sitting and offer a kind of passive exercise as you sit.
If you don’t want to pound the pavement or make room for a costly treadmill, buy a jump rope. This simple but effective fitness staple isn’t just for high school physical education classes. A study by researchers at Arizona State University found participants who jumped rope for 10 minutes daily boosted their cardiovascular health by the same amount as those who jogged for 30 minutes daily.
Exercise Bands and a Mat
Resistance bands are inexpensive and light enough to tote anywhere—even when traveling. These colored bands offer different levels of resistance, from low-level yellow to more challenging blue and black. Red and green are more moderately resistive. They can be used for both upper-body exercises and lower-body exercises.
Since many exercises take place on the floor, a comfortable mat is important, especially on harder surfaces. Be certain your mat offers adequate cushioning for the lower back and tailbone, as well as for the head and neck. Some exercise mats are longer and thinner for use in yoga classes.
There are tremendous benefits to doing your exercises outdoors and with other people. But if you struggle to find the time, or just want the convenience, exercise machines offer great options.
When investing in these more expensive pieces of equipment, it’s prudent that you buy with a purpose. If you bristle at the thought of walking on a treadmill to nowhere or if malaise overcomes you when sitting on an exercise bike after being seated at work all day, there are other options available.
For example, if you were part of the crew team in college and long for those days again, a rowing machine might be a smart purchase. Perhaps you enjoy the versatility of an elliptical machine that lets you work your upper body and lower body simultaneously. Other options include upper-extremity bikes for those who may have injuries or other issues in their lower extremities. Cross-country ski machines, stair climbers, and recumbent bikes are other options for individuals who might not be able to use an upright stationary bike due to poor balance or debilitation.
Depending on your health or ability, it’s important to consider the pros and cons of weight-bearing and non-weight-bearing exercise. For an exercise to qualify as weight-bearing, the skeleton must support the weight. For example, pedaling a bike is weight-bearing only if you stand in the pedals but if you stay seated, it qualifies as non-weight-bearing. Running on a treadmill would be considered a high-impact weight-bearing exercise.
Weight-bearing exercises, including those that include some impact, offer numerous benefits and can strengthen bones as well as muscles. But for those with ailments such as arthritis or osteoporosis, you may need to play it safe and avoid the weight.
I would be remiss if I failed to acknowledge the obvious—using our own body weight as resistance is an excellent way to exercise. It’s free, always accessible, and you don’t need any equipment. A hike in the woods, push-ups, lunges, planks, or climbing the high school bleachers are all great ways to get fit. Speaking of the school grounds, find the jungle gym and you have an instant pull-up station. There are hundreds of different bodyweight exercises and endless instructional videos freely available online.