One of the most common questions I get from people interested in fitness is “what equipment do I need?”
The answer is you don’t need much. You can actually get a really good workout with just using your body, a bench/chair and some imagination. However, as with all other professions or hobbies, having the right tools greatly simplifies things.
There are several things to consider when deciding on equipment: budget, storage space, transportability, versatility, etc. This page outlines some of my most used pieces of equipment and briefly discusses the pros/cons of each.
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This is my home equipment list:
- Resistance Bands
- BOSU Ball
- Swiss Ball
- Yoga Mat
- Pull-Up Bar
- Agility Ladder and Cones
- Jump Rope
- Foam Roller
Resistance bands are the most versatile piece of equipment you can own. They can be used for every imaginable weight-lifting exercise, can be modified to provide more/less weight easily, are easily transported and are very affordable.
Having bands at your disposal is like having a full rack of weights without them being heavy, bulky or expensive. Consider that with bands you can do:
- Bicep curls
- Tricep extensions
- Shoulder presses/lifts
- Lat pull-downs
- Chest presses
- Standing rows (back)
- And almost anything else you can do with free weights
The one downside is that they provide more resistance towards the top of the motion (when fully stretched) and almost no resistance towards the bottom of the motion (when relaxed), but this limitation can be overcome by using different colored bands (for more resistance), adding a loop to your band during the exercise, or adding more bands (if you have handles that support it).
I cannot understate how awesome bands are – if you have enough room in your budget for only one piece of equipment, this is the one I would get, hands down (in fact, this was the first piece of equipment I’ve ever owned).
The ones I own are pictured here, with handles that support up to 3 bands (and thus more resistance) at the same time.
A BOSU Ball is an unbelievably great invention. Its primary purpose is to improve balance and engage your core while performing almost any exercises from bicep curls and shoulder presses, to crunches and sit-ups, to push-ups and lunges. One side of the ball is a half-dome (similar to a Swiss ball cut in half), and the other side is a solid platform. When placed ball-side up, it provides a really challenging balancing surface that can be used for core work. When placed platform-side up, it provides a solid-yet-unstable surface to stand on (like a rocking boat or a skateboard) suitable for bicep curs, shoulder presses and the like. BOSU stands for “Both Sides Up”.
The downside to the BOSU Ball is that it is relatively expensive and also kind of bulky and heavy. But the benefits are so great that it is a must-have for any home gym.
A quick safety note: you can certainly find a cheap version of a BOSU knock-off, but I highly recommend against it. A work colleague got one of those, and it deflates quickly and is not built with quality in mind. I believe BOSU balls are patented and trademarked, so when you buy one, make sure it is from a reputable source. If you can’t afford it, get the Swiss Ball instead.
A Swiss Ball is similar to a BOSU ball in some respects, but not the same. Swiss Balls improve core strength, balance, and stability — just like a BOSU ball — but the range of exercises that can be done on them is different.
You can do a bench press on both a Swiss ball and a BOSU ball, but the Swiss ball provides a little extra instability because there is no flat base. On the flip side, you can’t stand on a Swiss ball and perform bicep curls or squats, like you can on a BOSU ball.
Personally, I prefer the BOSU ball over the Swiss ball, but the Swiss ball is an order of magnitude cheaper, making it an effective alternative.
A yoga mat is useful to have not only when doing yoga, but also a lot of sitting, lying or prone exercises, like core work. The main function of a yoga mat is that it prevents your bare hands or feet from slipping, even when sweaty. But it is also cushy, and can be folded over for extra padding on your behind, like when doing sit-ups.
Other than not being absolutely necessary for every workout, there are really no other cons to speak of, which is why it is near the top of this list.
Agility Ladder and Cones
Agility ladder and cones are not strictly necessary for your workout, but they are extremely fun. The ladder is used for agility exercises — training your body to move from side-to-side and shift weight in a quick manner. Some masking tape or even chalk will do a similar job on the cheap, but they cannot replace the tactile feedback of a ladder when you step on it.
Cones are basically markers for any number of exercises, be it running from one field to the other, zig-zagging through an obstacle course, or jumping over them for plyometric traing.
You can buy them separately, or you can get them as a combo, as pictured here.
A pull-up bar that fits into a door frame (as pictured above) is the second piece of equipment I’ve ever owned. The nice thing about them is that they fit in a door frame freely without any screws or nuts and bolts, so they can be removed quickly and used as a push-up bar too. I’ve had the same Iron Gym bar for 7 years so I can vouch for its durability.
The downside is that it’s kind of bulky and awkward, so you’d have to store it in the garage most likely. You also need a standard door frame with lots of space between the sides.
Jump rope increases agility, quickness, cardiovascular endurance and improves your coordination and footwork. In addition, it is compact, relatively cheap and above all, fun. There is virtually no downside to using or owning a jump rope.
Using a foam roller is like giving yourself a deep tissue massage in all the right places. The benefits of a using a roller for so-called “self-myofascial release” is that it improves flexibility by releasing tension in your muscles, improves joint range of motion, and many more. In fact, a foam roller was used heavily during my physical therapy rehabilitation sessions for back spasms.
Is it strictly necessary? No. But it’s certainly nice-to-have on days you’re feeling a little extra sore.