Have a Home Gym Cheaply and with Little Space, Part 1, by Lisa Snow


Spend less then you could ever imagine and have a gym at home! No space? No problem! Everything you need will fit in a closet, and you’ll have room to spare! You really can have a great work-out at home.

Ask a room full of personal trainers and group fitness instructors what the “best” fitness equipment is, and they’ll each have their own favorite toys and favorite places to buy them.  For example, bands (product) made by Thera-Band (manufacturer) sold by Power Systems (retailer).  But what really makes a particular piece of equipment the “best” for your goals, budget, and the limited space in your home?

With a little instruction, you can get a great workout with little or no equipment at all.  Yogis and martial artists have been proving that for thousands of years.  But if you do decide to purchase fitness equipment, it should meet some basic standards:

  • Eco-friendly,
  • Affordable,
  • Relevant to your goals,
  • Small size, easily stored,
  • Sold by a store where actual human beings answer the phone.

These issues may seem obvious, but they’re not.  How many people actually know that most yoga mats are made from toxic PVC plastic, even though PVC-free mats are readily available?  (Eco-friendly)  Or that they could get the same if not a better cardio workout with a $30 jump rope as with a $3,000 treadmill?  (Affordable)  Or that ab machines don’t make you lose belly fat?  (Relevant to your goals)  Or that a TRX Suspension Trainer that would fit in your dresser drawer can help you do just as many different exercises as you can do on a giant “home” exercise machine like the Bow-Flex?  (Small/easily stored)

My favorite fitness equipment retailer is PerformBetter.com because of their outstanding customer service.  Other fine retailers include Power Systems  (online & paper catalog), SPRI (online & paper catalog), and Amazon.com .  Any of these are far superior to buying fitness equipment at bricks and mortar sports stores!  The online retailers have lower prices, better quality products, and more generous return policies.

There are many great brands and pieces of fitness equipment, far too many to cover in one article series.  But here are a few items to consider.  (Disclosure: Although my own website and this article do include affiliate links to Amazon, I have NO financial interest in you choosing one brand over another, or one product over another.  Every product I recommend is something I have personally used for myself and with clients.)

Mini-bands: at around $2-4 each, these might be the biggest bargain in fitness.  They allow you to work the gluteus maximus (tush) in a functional way that mirrors movements in real life; they also help you target the often-neglected gluteus medius to improve hip strength and stability.  Mini-bands  take up almost no space.

Jump rope: At under $30, this is the least expensive piece of cardio equipment around.  While leather jump ropes (like all leather products) are made with harsh chemicals, today’s beaded ropes, fabric ropes, and speed ropes leather-free (and therefore also free of those chemicals).  Yes, most jump ropes do contain plastic, but I still think they’re your most eco-friendly cardio option.  Jump ropes are powered by you, while treadmills use a lot of electricity.  A speed rope is best for indoor use, while a beaded rope  works best outdoors.  Both of these ropes are under $15.  If you’re an athlete or will be spending a lot of time jumping rope, the Buddy Lee Master Jump Rope (around $30) is worth the investment.

TRX suspension trainer: This tiny, lightweight, portable piece of equipment sells for around $200, and lets you perform all the strength exercises you would do with an entire room of gym equipment.  Imagine something that fits in your purse replacing all these machines: leg press, leg extension, leg curl, chest press, lat pulldown, rower, chest fly, and more.  The TRX  was invented by a Navy Seal, and can take all the abuse you can give it.  Regardless of whether you buy it directly from the manufacturer or through an online retailer, be sure to buy the full version that comes with the door anchor, which you’ll need in order to use the TRX at home.  (You would not need the door anchor to use the TRX at a gym or playground.)

JC travel bands: At around $25, these bands are a gym in a box, letting you work the entire body.  Each move forces you to engage the core to tone your abs and help stabilize your spine.  For example, while doing a chest press with free weights or a machine, the back is stabilized on a bench or chair.  But when doing a chest press with bands/tubing, in addition to working the chest and arms, the abs have to turn on to maintain your balance and upright posture.  So instead of “doing abs” for the last 10 min of a half hour or hour workout, you’re using your abs and core during your entire routine, even when it seems like you’re focusing on arms or legs.  Small and light enough that they could fit in your purse, in your desk drawer, or under your bed, Travel Bands are perfect for anyone living in a small apartment.

Eco yoga mat: While cost depends on the thickness of mat you want, any quality yoga mat is a good investment.  Even if you don’t do yoga, you’ll want a comfortable, durable mat to use for stretching, core exercises, weights, etc.  While research is piling up that PVC is toxic, many consumer products—including “healthy” items like yoga mats—continue to be made from it!  Look for mats that say “eco” and/or “PVC-free.”  While rubber mats are PVC-free, they have an intense smell that takes a couple of months (not days) to outgas.  People either love or hate rubber mats.  On the one hand, they’re extremely durable and “grippy” (making it hard to slip and fall), but the texture is a little abrasive.  I personally like PVC-free foam mats much better than rubber.  They don’t last quite as long as rubber and won’t stand up to quite as much abuse, but they feel really good on your hands and still have a reasonably good grip.  My favorite for general exercise is a 10 mm mat .  If you’re planning to use it for yoga and doing a lot of standing balance poses, a 5 mm mat   might be a better choice.

What do all these pieces of equipment have in common?  None of them use electricity.  While we’d all like to save on our home electric bills, the issue is far bigger than money.  The average gym uses a stupendous amount of energy.  Inefficient light bulbs, treadmills that stay plugged in even when they’re not in use, and TVs that run all day long are just some of the obvious problems.  But why do we need to be using electricity for treadmills and bikes even while people are using them?  Why not just let people run stairs or walk around a track?  Although you as an individual consumer have no control over what equipment your local gym buys, you can make greener choices at home.  And if a greener choice is just as convenient and no more expensive, why not go for it?

Part 1 of this article focused on home gym equipment for healthy individuals seeking general fitness.  In part 2, we’ll delve into home fitness equipment for wheelchair users and people with other physical disabilities (Look for part 2 in the December issue of Lehigh Valley Woman’s Journal). 

Lisa Snow, ACE, NSCA-CPT is a New York City personal trainer specializing in older adults, people with disabilities, post-rehabilitation for all ages.  http://www.eftpersonaltraining.com/

Click here to read “Have a Home Gym Cheaply and with Little Space, Part 2”

Missed last month’s column? Read it now:

Updated: Back Pain
7 Healthy Snacks to Power You Through Physical Therapy and Beyond
7 Things You Didn’t Know About Juicing
Getting in Shape…with Takeout Food?
Gliding Discs for Exercise with Arthritis
Top 6 Questions for Choosing the Best Weight Loss Plan for YOU
This St. Patrick’s Day, Go Green for Real
Fall Prevention for Older Adults
3 Tips for Exercising with Multiple Sclerosis
Fitness for People with Parkinson’s
Customized Exercises for People with Back Pain
What Should People Look for When Hiring a Personal Trainer?
How do trainers know what program is right for their clients?
Who Benefits the Most from a Personal Trainer?
Motivate Yourself to Better Health
Three Dimensional Fitness