Buy Side | Exactly What to Buy for a Home Gym You'll Love Using, According to Fitness Pros – The Wall Street Journal
By Lisa Lombardi
For more of us these days, the secret to getting the recommended 150 weekly minutes of moderate exercise is to sweat it out right in our basement or spare bedroom. “We all want the benefits that consistent training brings—strength gain, increased energy—but so many of us lead busy lives that make it difficult to find time to go to a gym,” says Connor Derrickson, a Fort Myers, Fla.-based performance coach with the Future personal training app. “Having training equipment at your home can help you establish a more consistent routine.”
These are the 11 must-haves our experts recommend to get the equivalent workout to the one you’d have in a health club or fitness studio—with zero commuting time.
If you’re going to invest in only one piece of cardio equipment, go for a machine like an air bike or rower that works the entire body, Derrickson suggests. His go-to for home workouts is the Assault Bike Elite air or fan-style bike, which requires you to use your arms and legs to make the fan move. “I love it because you can get a great workout in a short amount of time,” says Derrickson. This steel-frame commercial-grade model is also a comfortable ride, he says, with a large, ultra padded seat, a removable windshield and 12-way adjustability on seat height. Most good air bikes come with an LCD console, but the Elite’s panel is next-level, connecting via Bluetooth with your smartphone or other tech and tracking distance, RPM, heart rate and time. This smart buy also includes a generous 10-year warranty on the frame, three years on parts and one year on labor.
For a treadmill that can take a pounding, try one made for health clubs, like NordicTrack’s Commercial 1750. “It’s worth investing in a model that is really well built because treadmill belts can wear out,” says Christi Pappas, a personal trainer and competitive bodybuilder in Commack, N.Y. “You also want a cushioned surface that won’t cause too much wear and tear on your joints.” In addition to its joint-friendly running surface, NordicTrack’s Commercial 1750 offers an incline and decline that automatically adjusts while you run to a 14-inch tilt HD touch screen, making it easy to follow guided workouts. The machine’s “ActivePulse” technology works with a heart rate monitor (not included) to not only track heart rate and blood pressure but also adjust the incline as you sweat to keep you in your optimal range.
This deceptively simple system invented by a Navy SEAL can attach to any door jamb and give you a full-body workout. Pappas calls the TRX Suspension Trainer “a phenomenal piece of equipment” because, using just two straps, it taps your body weight to help you build strength, balance and flexibility—and get in cardio. TRX Pro4 comes with a wall or door anchor, a 30-day trial to TRX Training Club on-demand training workouts (it’s $5.99 a month after that) and a 10-year warranty. If you’ve never used a suspension trainer, Pappas recommends a session or two with a personal trainer first so you get the most benefit and avoid injury.
Kettlebells are a trainer favorite for home sweat sessions because they’re easy to use for both strength and cardiorespiratory benefits, says Orange County, Calif.-based certified personal trainer Pete McCall, host of the “All About Fitness” podcast. Thanks to ergonomic, vinyl-coated grips, this set is particularly easy to hold on to as you cycle through reps. Most standard kettlebell sets only include two or three weights, but this pick gives you a five-, 10-, 15- and 20-pounder for more varied workouts. You’ll want to use the lighter ones for upper-body work like overhead presses and the heavier ones for lower-body moves like squats, McCall says. For a cardio burst, McCall suggests doing timed swings or squats—see how many you can do holding a kettlebell in 30 seconds.
In a small or shared space? An adjustable kettlebell set like this six-in-one Bowflex model is a smart buy. With an ergonomic handle and a dial that allows you to change the weight between 8 to 40 pounds, this set is easier to use than many other adjustable versions, plus it comes with a year of free access to the JRNY fitness app for trainer-led kettlebells classes and virtual coaching.
It’s easy to underestimate the importance of a stability or balance ball, but this low-tech addition helps improve balance, warms up muscles and adds rigor to standard exercises such as crunches or bridges, says says DeAnne Brooks, EdD, associate professor of kinesiology at UNC Greensboro. And, of course, it doubles as a core strength-strengthening seat. “I’ve used one as my office chair for the last 10 years,” she says. If you’ll be using it with weights, calculate your weight plus the amount you lift and shop accordingly. Brooks likes this ball, which holds up to 300 pounds, includes a pump and comes in three sizes (covering heights from 5 feet to 6 feet 5 inches). To find your right fit, make sure your knees can flex to a 90-degree angle while your feet are flat on the floor, she says.
A workout mat has your back in more ways than one. “It makes exercise more comfortable for our joints—think of how much better the spine feels doing a curl-up on a yoga mat instead of a hard wooden floor,” says Brooks, who suggests a large, cushy option like this 24-square foot, ¾-inch thick model. It’ll also help prevent slipping as you go through routines and may even extend the life of weights (which people tend to drop on the floor). The beauty of this mat’s interlocking pieces is you can easily break it apart for storage or buy another set to expand it as much or as little as you’d like.
If you’re doing yoga, you may already have a good-quality yoga mat—but what about yoga blocks? They’re not just for the studio, says Bethany Lyons, New York City-based founder of Lyons Den Digital. Having a pair in your home gym enables you to tailor each pose to your shape and flexibility level at that moment, she says. This duo is made entirely of foam. They also come in six sophisticated-looking colors, including Deep Purple and Vivid Blue.
Like a yoga block, a strap can help you get into poses while maintaining healthy alignment, says Lyons, who uses this 8 foot, extra wide, 100% cotton handmade one. The colorful design “brings joy,” she says, and you can choose from about a dozen different stripe combos.
To put a challenging spin on push-ups and lunges—or to incorporate some retro aerobics into your routine—Brooks uses this step board made of slip-proof, high-density polyethylene (a type of plastic). She likes that you can alter the intensity by adding or subtracting risers to adjust the height from 4 to 12 inches.
A quick foam-roller rubdown is one of the easiest ways to help muscles recover post-sweat session. “A roller puts pressure on the muscle, and that creates a stimulus that allows the muscle to relax and lengthen,” McCall explains. “My favorite is the Rollga because it has grooves that line up with the muscles along the spine,” he says, noting it’s a standout compared with similar rollers and “perfect” for calf and hamstring muscles. Another plus? Its foam is firm but not too hard like some recovery tools. If you have particularly tender zones, consider going with this soft foam roller, which is 35% less dense.
“This will dictate what you invest in,” points out McCall. A separate room is ideal for a home gym—leaving at least 3 feet between the walls and your activity area so you don’t crash into the wall, Brooks adds—but it’s not required. What’s the bare minimum amount of space to safely move through a routine? Think of a yoga mat and double that, advises Brooks. “That gives you plenty of room for a yoga routine, doing jumping jacks or completing an entire strength training workout.”
If various family members will be using the home-gym gear, it’s generally a good idea to buy sets of tools, like the BalanceFrom kettlebells set above, which include 5 to 20 pound weights, or an adjustable weight set. Some items, like a stability ball, are height-specific so you may need more than one to fit your whole crew.
If peppy, cardio-ready tunes get you going, you’ll want a wireless speaker with great sound quality, advises Lyons, who uses Ultimate Ears Wonderboom. “If there’s music, I want it to fill my space instead of turning into background noise,” she says. Are you following streaming classes? You’ll need AirPods or other headphones that don’t fall out so you don’t miss the instructor’s cues.
Maybe you’re the type who’d rather do your paces in a calm zone with natural light. In that case, choose elements in a soothing palette and vibe. “Make it special and get gear you like,” says Lyons, who also emphasizes the importance of wearing workout clothes that fit well and support your body “My motto is ‘suit up to show up,’” she says. “It makes a difference.”
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