I have a friend who has enjoyed working out for as long as I have known her, but has always struggled with her weight because of her eating habits. Up until about two years ago she was a fairly regular gym-goer, but then her lifestyle changed where she could no longer get to the gym on a consistent basis, and so working out has since become a problem for her as well.
Over that time she has gone through several phases of wanting to work out at home, but unfortunately each time she didn’t manage to stick with it. Every time her interest piqued, she would get an interest in a particular exercise gadget or equipment, believing it to be just what she needed to get going again, only to lose interest shortly afterwards. On each occasion she asked my opinion about what she was about to invest in, and each time I told her what I believed was the best equipment to have for starting out at home, but each time the temptation for the new gadget she had her heart set on was too great.
Anyhow, this post isn’t about my friend.
I wanted to just write a brief article for anyone who’s in a similar position to her, starting out an exercise program at home but not knowing where the best place to start is. What I’m presenting here is just my opinion and I’m not suggesting that there’s no other way. There are many roads you can take, in fact. But this is what I believe to be the most sensible and cost-effective way of starting to set up a simple home gym, and it’s in fact the story of how I started my home gym as well.
First of all, the piece of equipment I believe is dollar-for-dollar the best and most versatile, hands down, is a set of adjustable dumbbells. One of the things that my friend opted for on one occasion was a set of kettle bells. Now, I have nothing against kettle bells, I think they’re great and I use them myself, but you can do much more with dumbbells. In fact, there are very few exercises you can’t do with dumbbells. This is why for me, a set of dumbbells is the first item for any home gym.
When I started working out at home, I bought two 20kg dumbbell sets. And since then I have just slowly added to them with more dumbbells and/or more weight plates whenever some cropped up at a good price. In the photo you can see all my dumbbells and weight plates. Notice that they’re stacked up against a mirror though, it may give the impression that there are twice as many as there actually are! I even bought a barbell when one came along, though that’s not shown in the photo.
One of the things I didn’t want to do when I started out was to get lots of fancy equipment, only to lose interest in the whole thing and then leave it all sitting there. I had seen too many people do exactly that and I didn’t want to be one of them. So I decided that I had to start as basic as I could and I had to earn my equipment, by proving that I was going to stick with it.
I therefore purposely didn’t go and buy a weight bench. Instead, I got a friend to make me a suitable wooden platform by nailing some planks together. And I put that on top of two plastic boxes – that was my weight bench. I would either sit or lie on that for my weight exercises, and you’ll notice in the photo that I wrapped a strap around one end to put my feet into for sit-ups. By removing a plastic box at either end it would become a decline sit-up bench. Simple but effective! I also used my bench for step-ups.
It wasn’t until I stuck with my exercise for a while, maybe a year or more, that I replaced my wooden home-made weight bench with a real one. And later I also added a Power Tower to my gym for pull-ups, chin-ups, dips, and various hanging ab exercises.
So when I started out, all I had in the way of equipment for my home gym was my dumbbell sets, my homemade weight bench, some gloves, a Swiss ball, and a phone book for calf raises. That’s it! In hindsight, if there’s one piece of equipment I could have included to add some more variety to my exercises it would have been some resistance bands. They are very inexpensive and they’re also great for traveling!
So that covers weight training, but what about cardio?
Well, I happened to have an exercise bike at home which was given to me many years earlier, but other than that the only other cardio machine I ever owned was an elliptical cycle. The one thing I can tell you about home exercise machines is that they can get very boring, very quickly. In fact, I eventually ended up giving away my elliptical cycle.
The truth is there’s really no great need for a home cardio machine, simply because cardio is so easy to do – you can just go jogging, run up stairs, skip rope, shadow box, do calisthenics, swim, etc. The main benefit they do provide is that they do away with any excuse of bad weather stopping you from exercising. If you do choose to invest in some cardio machine however, don’t plan on using it for all your cardio, you will quickly tire of that, believe me! For that reason and also for effectiveness, it’s best to put some variety into your cardio exercises.
So hopefully you can see that starting out exercising at home can be very simple and inexpensive. By choosing your equipment carefully you can do all the exercises you need to do to get a great start on your fitness program!