One of the toughest choices for women to make when starting out on an exercise program is that of what equipment they need to buy.
If your intention is to simply join a gym then of course this becomes a fairly trivial matter – you’ll really only need a few basics. But if your goal is to work out at home, then you’ve got some thinking to do. From my experience however, it’s always good to have at least some exercise gear handy at home regardless, for those occasions where getting to the gym just isn’t possible.
With that being said, here is my rundown on the equipment you might or should consider investing in for your new exercise plan. I’ve separated my list into 3 categories, but you should bear in mind that an effective exercise plan consists of both cardio exercise and resistance training, not one or the other.
Workout Shoes – When it comes to what you wear while working out, your clothes really don’t matter too much. You may be happy to don ratty-looking rags, or you might insist on the latest brand-name attire. Either way it won’t make a difference to your results.
What will make a difference however, are the shoes you wear. This is especially true if you’ll be doing lots of running. Regardless of where you exercise, a good quality, appropriate pair of sports shoes are a must. Talk to your local sporting shoe expert about what suits you best, according to your needs.
As I said, this is particularly important for running because maintaining proper posture and form will greatly help prevent fatigue, soreness and even injury.
A Water Bottle – I know, very simple but also very important. Keeping well hydrated during exercise is vital. Your water bottle doesn’t need to be fancy but it should be big enough to hold plenty of water.
When I started out training at a martial arts gym it was strictly a no-frills environment, but with very serious athletes working out there. My water bottle was an old 2 liter cordial bottle. And that’s what a lot of the guys at the gym were using. Not pretty, but it did the job!
Two or Three Towels – You should have a towel that you keep especially for your workouts – this will get lots of sweat (hopefully) so you don’t really want to use it for anything else. I suggest you actually have two or even three workout towels however, since you’ll be cycling them through the wash quite regularly.
Liniment – This is an optional one, but one that I’ve always found useful. In Thai Boxing an orange-colored Thai liquid liniment is used to warm up the muscles and joints. Similar products, although in cream form rather than liquid, are Dencorub, Deep Heat, or in the US, Ben Gay.
Rubbing in some liniment prior to a workout will help warm up and loosen up any sore muscles you might have, or any that are likely going to be sore after the upcoming session. This really gets your muscles heated up and ready for action – if you don’t mind the smell!
Interval Timer – Probably the handiest device for cardio exercise is an interval timer. It’s great for interval training of course, but it also doubles as a stopwatch and a countdown timer, so you can use it for all your timing needs.
The one I use is called a GymBoss Interval Timer, it’s very small and light so wearing it doesn’t annoy you. And it’s quite inexpensive.
If you’re not planning on doing any interval training then an interval timer isn’t really essential, since pretty much all digital wristwatches have a built-in stopwatch.
Heart Rate Monitor – This is another handy device, it allows you to monitor your heart rate while you’re training, to keep an eye on how hard you’re exerting yourself. If you’re older or you have any medical conditions then this is highly recommended since you’ll need to closely control how hard you push yourself.
Although a heart rate monitor isn’t mandatory, I’ve always found it very informative to see how my heart rate changes as I become fitter, and to monitor what training zone I’m working out in at any particular time.
Treadmill – A treadmill is one of those pieces of equipment that you should probably only consider investing in if it’s absolutely necessary. That’s because they can be quite expensive, they take up considerable space, and they replace something that in most cases is in plentiful supply – a place to run.
Having said that, if your situation is such that you don’t have ready access to a place to run – perhaps you live in an apartment in the center of the city, or in an unsafe neighborhood, for example, then a treadmill would certainly be a consideration.
Of course you would need to weigh up this decision against the option of driving some miles to a nearby running location such as a public park each time you want to run.
Exercise Cycles – Under this category fall devices such as exercise bikes (with or without swinging handles for your arms) and cross-trainers, otherwise known as elliptical cycles.
Cycles that involve arm movement as well legs are particularly good because they naturally allow you to utilize more muscles and therefore give you a more thorough and effective workout.
These machines can be quite inexpensive or quite pricey, depending on the quality and features, but are very handy indeed for home cardio exercise. If you choose to invest in one of these, try to buy quality rather than bells and whistles. At the end of the day you just want a reliable workout, not a scientific analysis of your performance.
Also bear in mind that you can often pick up some very good gear second hand these days.
A word of warning, however. In my experience, it’s not very realistic to expect to be able to rely on one solitary machine for all your cardio workouts. After a while of doing 3 cardio sessions a week on the same machine, things tend to get extremely tedious.
A great combination therefore would be to split most of your cardio workouts between some kind of exercise cycle, and running. So if it came down to a choice between a treadmill and a cycle, I would opt for the cycle, and do my running outdoors, even if it meant driving somewhere to do it.
Skipping Rope –A skipping rope is something that there’s no reason to be without since it’s so inexpensive. It’s a great tool for warming up or even for all-out cardio exercise.
If you’re not experienced with skipping, it’s probably best to steer clear of the fancy-looking leather ropes, since you need to spin them quite fast for them to work well.
When I started out I used a piece of thick (about 10mm), soft synthetic rope with a knot in each end. That was perfect for me because I could spin it slowly and it didn’t hurt my toes when they got repeatedly whipped by the rope. This was important because in Thai Boxing training we train in bare feet.
Of course if you train with shoes on then this isn’t really a consideration, but the speed of the rope certainly is. Start with a nice, thick, heavy one like I had, and then you can progress to a plastic, and then leather one if you wish.
Dumbbell Weight Set – This is without a doubt my first choice in home resistance exercise equipment, simply because it’s so versatile. I am talking about the dumbbells with the replaceable weight plates here though, not the fixed dumbbells.
By mixing and matching weights on your dumbbells you can create weights ranging from about 1kg all the way to 25kg or more per dumbbell. This will allow you to perform a huge range of resistance training exercises.
Because these are simply chunks of steel, there’s no reason you can’t buy an inexpensive set second-hand, after all, it’s not like they can break! And the great thing with these sets is that you can slowly add to your collection of weight plates over time as you need to.
Resistance Bands – These are certainly not my first choice in resistance training equipment, simply because they’re quite limited in the amount of resistance they can provide. Also, unlike dumbbells they’re not always something you can just pick up and start using – they often need to be anchored to something first.
Resistance bands however are relatively inexpensive and are a good later addition to your equipment set if you want to add that extra little bit of variety to your workouts. They allow you to do some exercise movements that weight exercises don’t, such as pulling downwards for example.
The one great advantage of resistance bands is that they’re light and compact, so they’re perfect for traveling. If you do some traveling therefore you would certainly consider investing in these earlier on.
Exercise Bench – An exercise bench is a very handy piece of equipment that allows you to do a variety of dumbbell and body weight exercises effectively.
If you’re tight on funds however, this doesn’t need to be a primary consideration. When I started out, my exercise bench was a wide plank of wood on top of two plastic milk crates. It was very basic but it did the job just fine. I even wrapped a strap around one end that I could stick my feet under to do sit-ups.
Nowadays I have something a little more respectable, the section that your back rests against is adjustable from totally horizontal to totally vertical, so you can do your dumbbell exercises in a variety of different positions. I’ve even seen some that will drop down past horizontal.
You can also get an exercise bench that has a rack at one end for holding a barbell. I don’t have one of these myself though since I prefer to use dumbbell for bench press exercises instead of a barbell.
So again, an exercise bench is definitely a luxury and something you can certainly get by without when you’re starting out. It’s really up to you when and if you want to invest in one.
Kettle Bells – These have been enjoying quite a bit of popularity lately, in fact entire workout programs have been designed specifically around kettle bells.
It’s important to understand that at the end of the day, weight is weight. There’s nothing magical about kettle bells and I don’t believe there’s a lot you can do with these that can’t be done with dumbbells.
So if it’s a choice between the two, I would choose dumbbells hands down because of their versatility. But if you’re well-stocked with workout gear and you’re just looking to add something new and interesting to your home gym, then by all means give the kettle bells a try.
They come in a variety of different weights and a set of about 4 or 5 will normally cover pretty much most situations for you. Of course you can either buy them as a set or one at a time.
Swiss Ball – This is another one of those pieces of gym gear that you really shouldn’t be without. It’s very inexpensive and is really useful for a variety of different body weight and dumbbell resistance exercises. Enough said!
Other Accessories – There are a variety of other accessories you should collect to really complete your home gym, particularly for use with body weight exercises. Some examples are steps of different heights, one or two chairs, a table or bench for bench dips, and so on.
Abdominal Exercisers – I couldn’t finish this without making a special mention about abdominal exercise machines. That’s because so many women own one; I’ve even had one or two myself in my time.
The best recommendation I can give you about ab exercisers is to throw them away. They are a gimmick. If you’re serious about resistance training there are many effective core exercises you can do to work your core.
Ab exercisers will have you doing hundreds of mind-numbing, ineffective repetitions that neither burn fat nor tone your muscles effectively. Stick to real exercises.