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At-Home Fitness Equipment: Our Top Picks

Apr 10 2021
6 min read
close-up of row of home fitness equipment including a kettlebell, a large fitness ball, and small dumbbells

Gyms have a lot of benefits – if you can get to them, that is.

Too little time or motivation to make the trip often gets in the way of getting the most from a membership, which is why at-home exercise is the first choice for many people. It is, among other things, very convenient. And working out at home allows you to sneak in 10 minutes of push-ups here, 10 minutes of squats there. This flexibility can help you stay on track with your fitness goals or squeeze a little extra time out of your day without missing out on your workout.
When choosing among the countless personal fitness gear options out there to supplement your home workouts, consider the options that follow – and remember: you don’t have to have a lot of equipment, just monitor what you’re doing to make sure you’re getting the best workout.

Wearable Monitors

You probably already know that your routine should include a mix of cardio (like running, brisk walking or biking – whatever gets your heart rate up) and strength training. And while the slew of new self-tracking fitness gadgets are fun to use, what’s most important for at-home exercisers is measuring the intensity of cardio workouts. The intensity of your workout gives you a more accurate measure of how effective the workout is in meeting your fitness goals, and seeing those numbers can help measure whether you need to step things up or slow down a bit to stay in the most effective zone for optimum training.

Step

A step is a multi-tasking piece of equipment you can use to do strength moves like tricep dips; cardio activities like step-ups; and plyometric exercises, which are great for building power and improving bone density. When shopping for one, be sure to choose a step and not a bench, which can be too high and therefore hard on the knees. A simple no-slip step stool, four to six inches in height, is a great place to start for beginners. If you’re an advanced exerciser you can use one that’s 12 to 18 inches high. The long steps you see in step aerobics classes cost more, but can also be used as a weight bench on which you can lie back and do chest presses and other moves.

Adjustable Weights

Maybe you need 10-pound free weights [dumbbells] for one move, but 20-pound weights for another. Instead of sacrificing your workout by using one set, or cluttering up your house with a variety of them, choose the type that you can adjust. Though sometimes pricey, you may end up saving money compared to buying an entire set of free weights.

Resistance Bands

If you want a fitness tool that’s versatile, inexpensive and easy to store, resistance bands are the way to go. Exercise bands are an economical way to create a total body workout for home or travel. You can use them during leg extensions and squats to challenge legs and glutes, or for bicep curls and triceps extensions for arms, for example.

You can also change their length to make a move easier or harder. Resistance levels range from light to very heavy, and are marked as such on product packaging, but beware: although within each brand, color usually differentiates one resistance level from the other, every brand is different, so choose a band or set of bands based on your individual needs and abilities.

Balance Tool

As we get older, balance tends to suffer, typically thanks to too many hours spent sitting, and gradual shifts in our inner ear and vision. So, every exercise plan should include ways to challenge and improve your balance. Balance-focused equipment, like half of a foam roller or a balance disc, can improve postural muscles (which control how you carry your body) and stability.

Consider adding a balance device to your workout to challenge your moves and help train your ability to maintain your balance. Which tool you choose depends on your ability level; beginners can start with a pad, while those with better balance can use a BOSU® ball, for example.

Rowing Machine or Bike

If you’re going to invest in a bigger piece of fitness equipment, pass on the treadmill and elliptical trainer in favor of a rower or a recumbent or upright bike. Rowers and exercise bikes don’t require you to bear your full weight on your leg joints, and can allow you to continue exercising even if you have a minor injury, or hip or knee pain.
However, if you’ve got your heart set on a treadmill, it’s best to spend the extra money for a high-quality commercial-grade machine. Consumer-grade home treadmills are usually much smaller and more narrow, which is not as comfortable, and they may not be as stable for running or for someone who’s heavier.

Foam Roller

Every exerciser, from newbies to professional athletes, needs to recover properly. Drinking enough water, eating whole foods, getting enough rest – all are key to giving your body the time and resources it needs to bounce back so you keep seeing results. Setting aside time for foam rolling can be a crucial part of your workout program, assisting with muscle recovery and flexibility by helping you release adhesions and work out stiff muscles.

Place the roller under various parts of your body and simply roll back and forth on those sore, tight areas soon after a workout to help lengthen and relax the muscles, which improves circulation. You can even use the foam roller to help build your balance while soothing your muscles.