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Many of us don’t have two hours to get to and from the gym, but most of us can fit in a 20-minute session in our living room. (Getty Images/iStockphoto)
Many of us don’t have two hours to get to and from the gym, but most of us can fit in a 20-minute session in our living room. (Getty Images/iStockphoto)

A gear guide for exercising at home Add to ...

For long-term health success you need to find a workout that is both convenient and enjoyable (or at least palatable) so that you will do it consistently.

Training at home might be that workout; you can tailor your home gym to your unique needs and budget, and working out at home couldn’t be more convenient. The benefits of the “best” new workout are moot if you can’t actually make yourself do it on a regular basis – training consistency is key. Many of us don’t have two hours to get to and from the gym, but most of us can fit in a 20-minute session in our living room.

To avoid buying equipment that will eventually turn into an expensive coat rack, take a staged approach. Start with two quality pieces – one cardio and one strength – and make sure to create a plan of action regarding how and when you will work out. Once using your home gym has become a habit, you can add equipment to your collection.

The cardiovascular piece

Free: Walk or jog outside, use your condo or household stairs and/or do body-weight exercises such as high knees, jumping jacks and burpees.

  • Why I love it: If you are wary of investing, free is the perfect price.
  • Con: The lack of equipment can get boring.

Almost free: Skipping rope ($10+).

  • Why I love it: Skipping is an inexpensive and convenient way to burn a relatively large amount of calories in a short time. Plus, it tones your arms and shoulders, strengthens your bones and with shoes and some motivation you can do it virtually anywhere.
  • Cons: The impact can be problematic if you have bone or joint issues, such as osteoarthritis, and most people find skipping for more than a few minutes tedious. Consider sandwiching it between other cardio such as jumping jacks, high knees or jogging.

Moderate cost: Mini trampoline ($100+).

  • Why I love it: The mini trampoline offers a low-impact cardio workout that also challenges balance. Plus, jumping on it is just plain fun. I use it as a cardio interval between my strength sets: Try a set of lunges and then 100 high knees on the trampoline.
  • Cons: It might not seem intense enough for those who enjoy more hard-core cardio workouts.

Big-ticket items: An elliptical, rower, bike or treadmill.

  • This purchase comes down to personal preference and budget; buy whatever you can afford and will use most often. That said, I often encourage clients to buy a rower or elliptical. You can walk, run and bike outside; buy a machine that doesn’t mimic something you can already do outside for free. Mix up your routine – and ward off the dreaded fitness plateau – by using your equipment inside and also training outside. If you live someplace that gets a lot of snow and you can’t see yourself exercising outside on frigid and unsafe winter days, a bike or treadmill might be a worthwhile investment.
  • Cons: Cost. Make sure you have a detailed and realistic plan of when and how you will work out before you invest.

The strength piece

Free: Body-weight exercises such as squats, lunges and planks.

  • Why I love it: These are traditional favourites for a reason; they are convenient and they work.
  • Cons: Body-weight training can get tedious, and if your goal is muscle hypertrophy (bulk), you will eventually need to invest in a weighted vest or dumbbells to provide your muscles with appropriate progressive overload.

Almost free: Foam roll ($30+).

  • Why I love it: A number of relatively inexpensive pieces of equipment exist, including resistance bands, stability balls and the sit fit, but the foam roll has multiple uses: Roll out sore muscles, stretch, train balance and core, and improve posture.
  • Cons: It is awkward to travel with. A resistance band is easier to stuff into a suitcase.

Moderate cost: Stackable weights such as PowerBlocks.

  • Why I love it: PowerBlocks stack inside each other, which means you can own a wide range of weights without giving up quality household real estate. They are roughly the size of a breadbox.
  • Cons: Virtually none since strength training is – literally – for everyone. Whether your goal is to lose weight, improve posture, be functionally fit or prevent osteoporosis, you should lift weights. Newbie lifters who require five pounds or less might want to hold off on buying stackable weights. Start with soup cans and an individual set of three-lb weights. As you get stronger, you can always invest in a small set of stackable weights.

Big-ticket items: Home-gym stations and cable systems.

  • Personally, I prefer cable systems over home-gym stations. Cables, such as the Nautilus FreeMotion Cable Cross system, allow for full-body functional movements. That said, I am biased since this is what I bought for my studio.

What you invest in comes down to personal preference, goals and cost. If you decide to buy a weight station, try to find one with a pull-up bar, lat pull-down and options for both low and high attachments.

  • Cons: Cost and relative quality. Gym stations and cables are expensive, and often their all-in-one nature means that all the movements can be done adequately, but not ideally. My advice: If your priority is to use weight machines, unless you are willing to invest a considerable amount of money, join a gym.

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