Building a “Gym” at Home

You don’t have to have a gym membership to be able to exercise effectively. I am one of those people who prefer working out at home. While you can save on gym membership fee, you will still need to invest on several exercise equipment that will allow you to do most exercises at the comfort of your own home.

We are listing the basic necessities below. I will try to list them in order of importance, but that’s really arguable. They will seem to be a lot in the beginning, but you don’t have to buy all of them at once. And if you find the time and willpower to use them, the cost will pay off.

1. Personal Workout Gear

You will need at least: cross-trainers or running shoes, sports bra, shorts or leggings, thick socks with cushion. Running shoes are more flexible and lighter, while cross-trainers are a tad heavier but provide more support. I found out later that the type of exercises that I like would fit better with cross-trainers, but I stick by my running shoes, and they work fine. You don’t necessarily need performance wear – that is, clothes specially made for exercising and sports, usually with enhanced support and quick-drying properties. If you have a budget to do so, then go for it. Regular clothing works well most of the time anyway, but I just prefer the support that performance wear provide (particularly the sports bra, partly because I don’t want to ruin my good bra). If you do decide to get performance wear, always read the washing instruction. Most performance wear that I have have recommend not using fabric softener while washing, because it will affect the moisture-wicking attribute.

2. Cardio Machine …

If you’re a regular runner or jogger, you may not even need this. But in case you are not, then this is something you want to get. Cardio machine can cost a fortune, but they do what they do best: provide you with the most basic form of exercise: cardiovascular. Cardio machines include, among others, treadmill, spinning machine, elliptical training, and they come with a variety of functions, from the most basic one to the sophisticated model similar to those provided in paid gyms.

3. … or Workout DVD/Video

If you can’t fork the money to buy a cardio machine, then consider buying cardio-based workout videos (my personal preference). They are convenient and don’t cost that much. Major or imported bookstores usually carry a selection of workout videos, from your classic low/high impact aerobics to kickboxing-like routines. You can also scour forums and online shops, I’ve seen some selling these videos.

Actually, I use workout video for almost everything: aerobic, weight training, yoga, pilates, interval training, kickboxing. It keeps me from getting bored too soon, and most importantly, the instructors give you helpful tips on forms, which is supremely important when you are working out. Some videos are even downloadable to your computer (Cathe Friedrich offers a range of exercises by instant download) so you don’t have to search for a physical DVD. If you live in a country where Apple’s iTunes offer downloads, there are a lot of videos there too (Indonesia is one of those countries where we can’t download movie from iTunes. Sorry).

4. Set of Hand Dumbbells …

Strength training is incredibly important. I recommend getting a set of 2 Kg, 3 Kg and 4 Kg hand dumbbells for starter. As you get stronger, you will want to get another set of heavier weights. For lighter weight, you can use clean water bottle and fill it with sand or rice grains, it should be able to give you between 0.5 to 1.5 Kg hand weights per bottle.

5. … or a set of Resistance Tubes

I like hand dumbbells better, but they do take up more space and not travel-friendly. Resistance tubes kit comes with different resistance that will enable you to progress from the lighter tube to a heavier one. A set of resistance tubes is usually cheaper than a starter set of hand dumbbells, but dumbbells last longer (tubes can snap or break and thus become unusable). I’ve seen them sold here and there, but it is not as common as hand dumbbells. But if you’d like to be able to exercise on-the-go, this is your option. I bought mine on eBay, but I have seen them for sale in sports store and home improvements center.

6. Yoga Mat or Exercise Mat

I don’t like doing floor exercises (crunches, push-ups, planks, etc) without a mat – it would cause my knees to hurt and I tend to slip around much. It is also essential when you do Yoga or Pilates. Mats come in a range of prices, from affordable to quite expensive, and widely available nowadays. It really depends on what you need.

7. Measurement Tape

So easy to get and so cheap, yet so many people don’t bother getting it. Measurement tape is the most budget-conscious device you could get in judging the results of your workout. This is particularly useful when you are trying to lose weight and/or improve the leanness of your body. Enter your measurements into online body fat percentage calculator (just Google it). It is what I consider the true fitness milestone, where you can bring your body fat percent into healthy range. Nothing, I repeat, nothing adds motivation like seeing inches melting off, and I know I am speaking from people’s experience (and mine too – I was psyched when I could fit into that good skirt effortlessly)

8. Heart Rate Monitor

This, can be rather pricey. It is not super essential, but if you are serious about building your fitness level and endurance, getting a heart rate monitor is worth the money. It comes in a wide variety of models. The basic one provides the necessary information: your heart rate beats (or percentage of maximum), and maybe the duration of your workout and some basic stats. The intermediate one includes all basic functionality with added capabilities. The more advanced model comes with GPS and a myriad of cool functions and statistics.

I use the brand Polar, type: FT7. It has all of basic features, with some added functionality – caloric expenditures while working out, memory capabilities, and the heart rate zone in which you are working out to. The latter is useful to judge your level of intensity, something that is important when you are building endurance. I did cringe when I spent for the Rp 1,5 million tag, but I never  regret getting it. It is available for purchase in specialty fitness or cycling stores.

9. Stability Ball

Excellent for a variety of flexibility and stretching exercises, it also adds a bit of stability challenge (good for your core!) while strength training. Stability ball kit comes with its own pump, so don’t need to worry about getting one separately. Be sure to clean it regularly with a damp cloth and a gentle cleaner every once in a while because it does pick up dust and dirt pretty easily. It is easily acquired at the sports stores at your nearest mall.

10. Your choice of information sources

Sources of fitness information may come from book, smartphone application or health & fitness subscription. While these can’t replace the presence of a personal trainer, they give helpful tips on general fitness, correct forms and postures of exercises, and many more. You can check out the following smartphone applications to give you an idea: FitnessBuddy app (for iPhone) or JEFIT app (for Android). Either features varying exercise moves for you to try on. Health & fitness magazine websites also offer a lot of information for free (an example is Women’s Health magazine). If you are more into Yoga and Pilates, check out MyYogaOnline.com for videos, poses, and a whole lot of other more. Bodyrock.tv is also a notable mention. It is a free streaming exercises video uploaded by fellow home exercisers. They often have “challenges” for you to follow or participate in. SparkPeople.com is the largest online healthy living community where you can find a fitness buddy, a personalized fitness plan, food tracker, healthy recipes and more, and they are free!

This list is, of course, not comprehensive. There are a lot of exercise equipment out there that will add variety to your workout routines, such as aerobic steps, kettleball, skipping rope, Bosu ball, medicine ball, TRX suspension, and adjustable weight dumbbells (I’m saving up for a pair of these!). Quite frankly, it seems like somebody always comes up with the latest and greatest fitness gear all the time!

There should be no excuse of not exercising, even when you decide that a joining a gym is not for you. Some of us have achieved quite some success by being solely home exercisers. Let us know how you are doing on your journey to healthier self!

* images via matton.com; resistancetubes.com; polarusa.com; womenshealthmag.com; myyogaonline.com; sparkpeople.com; jefit.com; fitnessbuddyapp.com