It’s time we stop using our busy schedules as an excuse to skip workouts. Although it’s perfectly understandable—and kind of a fact of life—that a daily trip to the gym isn’t always practical, fitting in a super short workout at home is. Believe it or not, even just breaking a sweat is worth your time. To get the most out of your at-home workouts, stock up on these essential pieces of equipment … and before you ask, we’re not talking a massive (and costly) treadmill or elliptical. These five budget-friendly pieces require basically no space to be used, and they can easily be stored in small apartments and other spaces to create your very own functional at-home gym. Trainer Kimberly Spencer, owner of Fitness with Kim, walks us through exactly how to get the best out of each one.
“Every makeshift home gym should have a small pair of light weights, about 3-5 pounds,” says Spencer. “You can use them to add an extra arm workout when doing ab exercises or mat Pilates.” Have you ever tried doing one-arm dumbbell rows in plank? Now that’s a workout. “Or,” Spencer adds, “you can use them for slow, resistance-based free weight arm exercises.” When using small weights like these, make sure you do enough reps—for reference, know that your last rep should feel so difficult that you have trouble finishing.
Talk to any personal trainer and they’ll say you can get an intense workout just from your own body weight resistance. Elastic bands work to enhance that resistance. “They’re good for both stretching and resistance training,” says Spencer. “Use them to stretch your hamstrings and shoulders, or try some arm workouts with them. They’re also great for strengthening your ankles, or rehabbing your ankles after a strain or sprain.” She adds that they’re ideal for travel “without taking up too much space in your suitcase.”
“Sit ups, bridging, stability exercises, oblique workouts—there’s no limit to the number of exercises available to you with just an exercise ball,” Spencer says. Many even use it as a desk chair to promote balance and good posture. “Personally, my favorites are the ab exercises,” she adds. “You can get a rocking core in just a few weeks with the right exercises on an exercise ball.” Not only can you upgrade your plank, but because you’re off the ground you can fully use your core in a crunch without hurting your neck or back.
Now here’s a trend that’s here to stay. “Kettlebells require you to use your whole body,” says Spencer. “Not only can you get some serious cardio using these bad boys, you can also get some serious strength without creating dense muscle mass, keeping your body lean.” Start simple with the purchase of one kettle bell you can hold in both hands. There are so many options—squats, arm swings, tricep rows—you can get a whole workout with one weight. “Your workouts can stay fun and varied, working your muscles with a wider range of motion,” Spencer promises.
Stretching post-workout is key, and these new-to-the-scene rollers allow you to stretch muscles your hands could normally never reach. “It offers a great post-workout massage for your back and IT band. Rolling out your IT band, which is the band that runs up the outside of your leg, is one of the best stretches and ways for runners to prevent against knee injuries,” Spencer adds. She says that the foam roller is “great for stability exercises, which work your transverse abdominals, hamstring workouts, and stretching.”