Essential Home Gym Equipment and Training Routine
With all the recent gym closures and social distancing orders, many apartment dwellers find themselves trying to cobble together some sort of home gym equipment training regimen in a spare bedroom or nook in an already crowded living room. Needless to say, space is extremely tight and noise must be kept to a minimum in consideration of other residents.
Don’t despair. With a few well chosen home gym equipment tools, you’ll not just get by for a few weeks; you’ll thrive with challenging and productive workouts that keep you on track to reach your 2020 fitness goals. When you’re able to resume training at a commercial gym, you’ll have a great little setup in place for supplemental workouts and for those hectic days when a gym trip just isn’t in the cards.
Home Gym Equipment
Banging cast iron weights or even bumper plates around in an apartment isn’t often a realistic option. Neither is a space-eating, seven-foot training bar. If you’re lucky enough to have space in a garage or basement, you have much more flexibility for an expanded set-up, not to mention concrete floors where weights can be dropped from reasonable heights to rubber gym mats without causing damage or noise disturbances, and you may want to check out this article.
In lieu of free-weights, you’ll need to come up with a different form of external resistance to provide the requisite stimulus for muscle growth. Fortunately, you need look no further than a mirror, as your own bodyweight can be just the tool you need for invigorating home gym workouts.
Most of the simple weight workouts I design for folks I train include some variation of a squat, a push, and a pull to cover most major muscle groups. For example, I might have a trainee do three rounds each of step-ups, seated dumbbell presses, and chest-supported rows before moving on to something else.
I like this model for bodyweight training as well, but there’s a pretty significant problem. I can get by programming myriad single- and double-leg squat variations. I can also think of a few different styles of push-ups to recommend. Pulling, however, is quite limited without any equipment, and I’m reduced to telling folks to row jugs of milk or some other ineffective nonsense.
For this reason, I advise investing in a chin-up bar if you’re really serious about getting a balanced home gym equipment workout. Furthermore, if you’re willing to make that investment, you may as well go on and invest in a combo unit like the Valor Fitness VKR Tower that allows you to add even more variety to your bodyweight workouts.
If you go with just a chin-up bar, you’re either going to be drilling holes in a wall and hoping the anchors you use are secure or praying you don’t pull your entire door frame down on your head. Neither of these options sounds very appealing to me at 200-plus pounds bodyweight and with nearly nonexistent home improvement skills.
I think you’ll find the value-add that a multi-function station brings to your home gym equipment training is well worth the money spent. In addition to the multi-grip pull-up station for back training, the Valor Fitness VKR Tower offers a comfortably padded vertical knee raise to add variety to your abdominal training, along with dip and push-up handles.
Dips, in particular, are one of the best exercises you can do for your chest, shoulders, and triceps. They’ve been called the “upper body squat” because of the concerted way in which they work the entire upper body pushing musculature, similar to the way squats work the entire lower body.
The push-up handles allow you to improve on an already great exercise by getting that extra little bit of range of motion in the bottom to stretch and engage the pectorals more fully. As with any extended range of motion exercise, however, do be cautious and gradually go a little deeper over several sessions in order to acclimate without irritating or injuring tendons and ligaments. You can even use the push-up handles to turn around and perform seated dips, an effective exercise for isolating the triceps.
The second piece of equipment I recommend for effective home gym workouts is a set of resistance exercise bands or tubes. I like to think of resistance tubes as poor man’s dumbbells.
If I had ample space and a large budget, I might opt for a set of dumbbells in 5-pound increments from 10-50 or at least a set of adjustable dumbbell handles and a selection of standard plates. In lieu of that option, a set of resistance bands with handles and a range of different degrees of tension, like the Stroops Slastix Toner Power Bands that come in a set of five (very light, light, medium, heavy, and ultra-heavy) does an excellent job of mimicking a set of dumbbells.
With this minor investment and a bit of creativity, exercises like biceps curls, triceps pushdowns, lateral raises, chest flyes, and overhead presses can easily be included in your home gym program to augment your bodyweight training. Considering also that resistance bands offer a few features that dumbbells do not, like portability and constant tension at different angles without relying on gravity, and you can see they make a smart and affordable investment.
The final pieces of equipment to complete your arsenal are two kettlebells: one light and one heavy. For women, I suggest 8-kg and 16-kg bells. For men, I’d go with 16-kg and 24-kg bells. The good news here for husband and wife home gym training teams is that since the women’s heavy bell is also the men’s light, you’ll only need to buy three bells.
Why kettlebells? In a word, versatility. Bells can be used for pure strength training, for a combination of strength and endurance training, and for endurance only. An example of traditional strength training would be pressing your heavy kettlebell for sets of 5. An example of a challenging endurance training protocol akin to interval sprints would be twenty swings a minute on the minute for ten minutes. A blended strength-endurance training session might include a mix of pressing and swings with short rest intervals.
In addition to this marvelous functionality, two or three kettlebells occupy very little space in a confined home gym and are much cheaper than cardio equipment like treadmills and indoor rowers. You also get to learn a new skill during quarantine when you may have extra time on your hands and would enjoy the mental stimulation from practicing relatively complex moves like swings, snatches, and Turkish get-ups. Granted, qualified in-person instruction would be ideal, but you can get by until social distancing orders are lifted by mimicking the movements of instructors on YouTube videos and following some of their detailed explanations.
Your price will vary a little depending on which kettlebells you need to buy, but even if you bought all three, your total price for a great home gym is going to come in under $650. Have a look at the breakdown in the table below.
Home Gym Equipment Training Routine
With just the combo tower, a few resistance tubes, and two kettlebells, you’ll be able to design a home gym training routine with plenty of variety. In fact, you may be overwhelmed by the number of exercise choices at your disposal and not know where to begin.
My advice is to follow the reliable KISS principle — keep it simple stupid. I’m not literally calling you stupid; I’m merely recommending that you come up with a simple framework for your home gym equipment workouts into which you can plug different exercises.
Many people consider squatting the toughest part of their workout, so start with a challenging variation while you’re fresh. You can do a two-legged variation like a goblet squat or a single leg variation like a lunge, perhaps even increasing the difficulty with resistance tubing.
After squatting, pick an upper body push. My top three choices are dips, single arm kettlebell presses, and push-ups. You certainly have others from which to choose, but those three give you the most bang for your buck in terms of muscle tissue you’re going to ask to contract.
You know what’s next, don’t you? Yep, you guessed it because I mentioned it at the beginning of the article… an upper body pull. You also know my top pick. It’s the chin-up using whatever grip you prefer. My personal favorite, and the one that allows me to squeeze out the most reps in each set, is the parallel grip chin. Your mileage may vary.
If you’re not quite strong enough to chin your own bodyweight, you can experiment with hooking the handles of a resistance tube onto the chinning bar and stepping on the elongated band for assisted chins. You also have other excellent options available like pulldowns and rows with the resistance tubes and kettlebell rows and high pulls.
You’re not loading hundreds of pounds of resistance for any of these home gym equipment exercises, so keep reps per set fairly high for most. Certainly, eight to ten reps per set is a reasonable target, and you can even go much higher for some exercises. Experimenting with twenty reps per set for squat and lunge variations might be just the stimulus your body craves to add some new muscle. You can either use the same three squat, push, and pull exercises for three rounds or pick three new exercises each round.
Finally, the kettlebell swing is a wonderful conditioning exercise and not terribly difficult to learn. The “hinging” motion also more thoroughly works the hamstrings and glutes than most traditional weight training exercises can. Once you have it down, consider ending many of your home gym workouts with some type of swing medley like the aforementioned twenty swings a minute on the minute for ten minutes routine.
You now have all the tools—both literal training tools and programming knowledge—to quickly come up with a nearly endless variety of effective home gym training routines. Here’s a three-day-per-week routine to get you started:
- Goblet Squat x10
- Dip x10-15
- Parallel Grip Chin x5-10
- - - - -
- Kettlebell Lunge x8-10 per leg
- Kettlebell Press x5 per arm
- Kettlebell Row x8-10 per arm
- - - - -
- Resistance Tube Squat x20-30
- Push-up x10-15
- Resistance Tube Row x10-15
- - - - -
- 30 seconds of swings and 30 seconds of planks for 5 rounds
About the Author: Visit Chuck Miller's website for more of his writing on a variety of topics, including his strength training book, Inside the Mind of an Iron Icon (foreword by IRON COMPANY featured writer, Marty Gallagher).