by Laurie Wertich
Staying fit and strong is not rocket science. It doesn’t require personal trainers or fancy gyms full of equipment. It does require consistency and commitment—and a few simple tools for success.
If you want to avoid an expensive gym membership, take the best of what the gym has to offer and leave the rest. By investing in a few simple fitness tools, you can build a home gym that delivers a fitness boost without taking over an entire wing of your home. Below are a few must-have pieces that can help you build strength, flexibility, and endurance—without even leaving the house.
Stability Ball: This may seem like a clichéd piece of equipment to have in your living room, but the reason nearly everyone has one is because they work. This is an affordable, simple tool that is effective in building core strength and improving flexibility. What’s more, the ball doubles as a posture-improving chair.
There are countless ways to use a stability ball. One of the most effective core strength exercises on the ball is a reverse crunch: to perform it, assume a plank position with your hands on the floor and your shins on the ball. Contract your abdominal muscles and draw your knees toward your chest as you lift your hips into the air; then return to the plank. Repeat 20 times.
Stability balls range in price from $15 to $30. There are hundreds of strength and flexibility exercises you can perform on the ball, making this a cost-effective, useful part of any home gym.
Foam Roller: You’ve probably seen foam rollers at the gym—they’re those white, black, or blue foam “logs” stacked near the mats. This versatile tool is most often used to roll out tight, sore muscles. However, it is also an excellent addition to strength moves because it adds an element of balance.
To roll out tight quads, place your body weight on top of the foam roller and apply pressure as you “roll” back and forth over the tight area. For an extra boost to your chest press, lie lengthwise on the foam roller with your knees bent and feet flat on the ground. Hold two dumbbells overhead and bend your arms to 90 degrees. Contract your abdominal muscles to balance on the roller. Repeat 12 times.
Foam rollers cost $20-$30. This versatile tool can help prevent injuries and promote flexibility. What’s more—it can save you hundreds of dollars in sports massage.
Medicine Ball: A medicine ball is a soft, weighted ball ranging in size from 2 to 30 pounds. This old-fashioned fitness tool has made a comeback. It can be used in dynamic exercises that involve twisting, swinging, throwing, or jumping. Use it with a partner or solo to sculpt, strengthen, and build endurance.
There are many creative ways to use the medicine ball. For starters, use it to add an extra element to the Russian twist. Sit on the floor with your knees bent and feet flat. Hold the medicine ball at chest level and lean back slightly. Rotate from side to side, keeping the ball in front of your chest. This exercise works your oblique muscles and lower back.
Medicine balls range from $15 to $50. Pick one up at your local sporting goods store and watch your strength regimen soar. You’ll feel challenged and have fun all at once.
Pilates Ring: There’s a reason the Pilates ring is called the magic circle—it has magical strength-building properties. The 13-inch, soft rubber ring can add resistance to any number of exercises. Use it to tone your arms, abs, and rear end.
There are countless ways to strengthen your arms by squeezing the circle. However, you can also tone your tush. Try stepping inside the circle to perform a set of squats. Place the circle on your thighs with your feet hip-width apart. Squat until your thighs are almost parallel to the floor. You’ll feel the burn in a whole new way.
Pilates rings range from $15 to $30 and can add a valuable toning regimen to any home gym.
Body Bar: A body bar is a 4-foot, weighted bar ranging in size from 4 to 36 pounds. The body bar is different from a traditional bar with barbells on the ends because the weight is evenly distributed along the length of the entire bar. The 12-pound bar is considered intermediate level.
There are countless ways to use a body bar to add strength and balance to your fitness routine. Try a triceps “skullbreaker”: Lie flat on your back (or on a foam roller for an added challenge) with the bar overhead. Bend your arms at the elbows to bring it toward your forehead and then return it overhead. Repeat 12 times.
Body Bars range in price from $25 to $80 and can be an effective tool for any home gym.
Resistance Bands: Resistance bands are stretchy, long bands that can be used for stretching and strengthening. Some resistance bands are simply elastic bands, whereas others have handles on the ends. Some have stronger tension than others. They all function in the same way. You can use them to stretch tight hamstrings or to perform a litany of strength exercises.
One of the most popular ways to use resistance bands is to grasp both ends, stand on the center of the band and perform a modified biceps curl. However, you can also use the bands to strengthen triceps and shoulders.
Resistance bands are an excellent addition to a home gym because they are affordable ($5-$20) and they pack easily for those who want to maintain fitness during travel.
BOSU: BOSU is an acronym for “both sides up.” The BOSU looks like half of a stability ball with a flat plastic base on one side. The BOSU can be used with either side up, as the name implies. It is an effective tool for building strength, balance, and endurance. Exercises on the BOSU are considered “functional” because they require you to recruit and engage several different muscle groups as you perform strength exercises on a wobbly surface.
For a challenging set of push-ups, flip the BOSU over so that the ball side is facing down. Assume a plank position with your hands on the flat base and perform a set of wobbly push-ups that will engage your chest, shoulders, and core.
The BOSU isn’t cheap—about $110—but it can form the foundation for hundreds of exercises. If you’re serious about your home fitness program, the BOSU could be an excellent addition to your toolbox.