Build a Better Home Gym
Forget the elliptical and the ridiculously expensive circuit trainer. All you need are these five versatile (and inexpensive) pieces of equipment.
By Todd Soura
I’ve followed an exercise regimen since I was in high school and dedicated my career to fitness, but I’m a stranger to gyms. From the beginning, I created one at home and never really strayed from it. Why would I? There’s no commute, no line, and I can use multiple pieces of equipment in a single superset without getting stared down.
If you have the space—I use our garage—don’t let the potential cost deter you. The foundation of an effective home gym is not a bunch of sophisticated machines. In fact, I can boil it down to five simple (and inexpensive) pieces of equipment.
Adjustable dumbbells. Gone are the days of a mammoth weight rack that eats up space and your checking account. The new generation is a single pair of dumbbells that can be adjusted to your desired weight. I use a set by PowerBlock. You’ll never run out of exercises, and, from shoulder presses to the farmer’s walk, dumbbells will strengthen every part of you.
Bench. Pay a little more for one that inclines. That’ll open you up to lots of variations of the bench press and chest fly. A legs extension is worth the additional cost, too. With or without it, the bench is a vital piece of equipment for lower-body exercises. Think steps-ups and box jumps.
Kettlebell. The standard kettlebell swing is about as efficient an exercise as you’ll find. It’ll tax you aerobically and anaerobically. And that’s just the start of its appeal. The kettlebell’s endlessly versatile. Beyond the tens of movements designed for it, you can swap a kettlebell for a dumbbell in lots of other exercises, like snatches and goblet squats. PowerBlock makes an adjustable one of these, too.
Suspension straps. You’re probably familiar with the TRX kind (from $200), but there are plenty of cheaper options that are just as durable and effective. I use a set by Woss that ran me about 40 bucks. It anchors to a wall or a door and packs up easily, which makes it a perfect travel companion. But, again, its versatility is what makes the straps an essential piece of home-gym equipment. Up the degree of difficulty of most bodyweight exercises, along with a slew of others designed specifically for them.
Jump rope. It’s still one of the most effective cardio exercises around. And the cheapest. I started jumping rope during the 30- to 60-second “breaks” between weightlifting sets to beef up the intensity. They’re also an integral part of my wake-up workouts. Try this one: three rounds of 20 pushups, 20 lunges, 20 crunches and 30 seconds of jumping rope.
Todd Soura is the owner of the Doylestown-based Action Personal Training (actionpersonaltraining.com).
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I’m piecing together a modest gym in our garage—a barbell, a few sets of dumbbells, a jump rope, resistance bands, an adjustable kettlebell and a 36-inch box. (And a couple of space heaters in the winter.) About a year ago, I started gravitating to CrossFit-style workouts because they don’t require a lot of equipment. Not to mention, they’re challenging as hell. My latest addition, the Black Mountain Products Gym Rings (pictured; $35), has opened up a whole new batch of WOD’s for me, a blessing and a curse. Instability, I’m learning is the truest test of fitness. I managed to add 40 pounds to my clean-and jerks over the last few months. It’s rare that I bask in my progress, but fresh off of Grace (30 clean-and-jerks for time) one morning, I couldn’t help but let a smile slip in between gasps for breath. That pride lasted barely five minutes, because I whimpered and quivered through the next set: three—three—ring dips. It was a humbling moment. And one I’ve aimed to repeat during every workout since. —Scott Edwards