Go Big and Stay Home: Building a Budget-Friendly Home Gym  


By  Janice Enloe, personal trainer and running coach, RUN Oak Park and Weights and Measures

As the holidays and snow days approach, it can be a challenge to make it to the gym or out for a run. It becomes very easy for even an established fitness program to go into hibernation. During the season of abundant excuses and demands on your time, the most convenient workout facility may be the one you walk through every day—your home.

There’s no need to invest in a ton of equipment or build an addition to have a great home gym. A few key pieces can provide challenge, workout options, and results. Here are the top three pieces of equipment I recommend to clients, and a few exercises to get you started.

Resistance Tubes: Inexpensive, packable and very effective, resistance tubes can replace an entire gym of strength equipment. Unlike free weights, tubes get results by maintaining tension on the muscles throughout their entire range of motion so there’s no cheating! Most manufacturers offer a handy color-coded system, making it easy to know which tube to reach for when your body is ready to move up to the next level of resistance. Although tubes are quite durable, be sure to inspect them for abrasions and tears before each use.

Try this: The Pallof Press is a deceptively simple exercise that works the entire core including abs, shoulders and hips. Wrap a tube around something immovable or use a door attachment. Assume an athletic position: feet shoulder width apart, shoulders back, knees slightly bent. Standing with the anchor point to your right, hold the handles with both hands at the center of the chest. Fully extend your arms and pause for a 1-2 second count, and then return back to the starting position at the sternum. Perform 1-3 sets of 10 repetitions and repeat with the anchor point on your left. Controlling this movement is the key to success, so go slow.

Medicine Balls: Medicine ball drills can help improve speed, stamina, rotary power and provide killer core conditioning. Options for partner exercise are practically endless and twice the fun. While med balls are available in various weights, heavier is not always better. The key to med ball work is generating speed and power rather than strength, and as always, proper form is crucial.

Try this: Grab a partner and a medicine ball. Partners should stand at a distance that allows for quick passing. The key is to get rid of the ball quickly while maintaining a stable, strong athletic stance. Face your partner and perform 5-10 quick chest passes.

Next, standing sideways to each other, rotate your trunk away then back toward your partner as you throw the ball. Perform 5-10 throws each way. Be sure to catch and return the ball quickly.

Stability Ball: The stability ball is one of the most versatile additions to the home gym. Use it alone for a full-body workout or pair it with other tools to add a new challenge to familiar exercises. The ball can add assistance during stretch sessions and it’s especially effective at targeting the muscles that support the spine. Stability balls come in different sizes based on height: If you are below 5‘8”, use a 55 cm ball; from 5’9” up to 6’2”, choose a 65 cm ball, if your height exceeds 6’2”, opt for a 75 cm ball. Only consider purchasing balls marked “burst resistant.”

Try this: World-renowned spine specialist Stuart McGill has referred to “Stir the Pot” as the most effective core exercise you can do. It recruits the rectus abdominis (the six-pack muscle), obliques, and all the muscles that help stabilize the spine. This particular variation adds challenge rather than time to the common plank and is perfect for training core endurance and stability. Assume a plank position with elbows and forearms on the ball and feet shoulder-width apart on the floor. Move your arms in a circular motion while the rest of the body maintains a rock-solid plank position with as little movement as possible in the lumbar spine, hips, and pelvis. Perform 5-10 clockwise circles, rest, and repeat with counter-clockwise stirs.

Outfitting a home gym can as easy as three pieces of equipment and minimal spending. You’ll love the convenience and the almost infinite number of options for building a killer workout or a quick session between holiday duties.

Prefer a less is more approach? My February 2016 column, HIIT It! High Intensity Interval Training for a quick and effective at-home workout, offers two fast and effective bodyweight-only workouts.

Photo: U.S. Army Garrison Red Cloud/Flickr