At-Home Workouts: 5 Essential Items for a Home Gym

Experts name their picks for the fitness equipment you need to build a home gym.

By Colette Bouchez
WebMD Weight Loss Clinic - Feature

Reviewed By Louise Chang, MD

You love the idea of at-home workouts: being able to exercise on your own time, without even leaving the house. And you've finally made the commitment to build a home gym. But if you're like most folks, that's where the easy part ends.

It's easy to get overwhelmed with the amazing array of fitness equipment available today, experts say. You could end up not only blowing your budget, but moving your bedroom into the kitchen just to make room for your new gear.

"The biggest mistake folks make when putting together a home gym is buying too much fitness equipment or things that are too complicated to use," says personal trainer Jessica M. Bottesch, MA, LAT, CSCS, co-owner of Empower Personal Training in Durham, N.C.

The second biggest mistake, she says, is "buying all the same type of equipment, like all cardio or all strength training, and not realizing how that limits what you can accomplish."

So, while buying an exercise bike, treadmill, and ski machine may seem like you're covering all your bases, you're really only preparing for one type of workout, says Bottesch. Choosing a variety of types of equipment will give you a healthier, more balanced at-home workout overall.

Experts from the American Council on Exercise (ACE) advise anyone thinking about creating a home gym to consider not only your particular fitness needs, but also your available space, your budget, and how much time you're able to devote to at-home workouts.

So, what do you really need for your at-home workouts, and how much space and money is it going to take? Bottesch, along with personal trainer and physical therapist Ben Quist, DpH, owner of Form & Fitness Health Club and Rehabilitation Center in Milwaukee, Wis., and experts from the American Council on Exercise and American College of Sports Medicine, helped WebMD put together the following guide.

Top 5 Items You Need for At-Home Workouts

At-Home Workout Item 1: Cardio Training Equipment
What It Is: Any type of equipment that helps you sustain smooth and continuous movement and an elevated heart rate for at least 20 minutes.
Benefits: Heart health, overall body conditioning; cardiovascular conditioning, some muscle toning, weight loss.
Choices -- $500 and over: Electric treadmill; stationary bike; rowing machine; ski machine. Keep in mind that these machines require 25-30 square feet per unit.
Choices -- $100 and under: A jump rope; stepping machine; a step-block; aerobic exercise videos and DVDs; or cable TV exercise on-demand channel. (You'll need about 10 square feet for these options.)
Trainer's Recommendations: "My personal choice is a treadmill because it's easy to do and easy to stick with," Bottesch says. "If you can afford it, an electronic one is best. But that said, the best piece of equipment is the one you're going to use -- so always choose the activity that you at least think you'll like, let alone love." If space allows, you can choose more than one of these options for variety. But remember that they will all offer pretty much the same type of benefits.

At-Home Workout Item 2: Strength Training Gear
What Is It: Equipment designed to strengthen muscles.
Benefits: Body shaping; weight loss; functional fitness, including the strength to do everyday tasks with greater ease; for women, reducing the risk of osteoporosis.
Choices -- $500 and over: All-in-one multi-gym; adjustable weight training bench; adjustable barbells; suspension resistance trainer. (Allow 35-50 square feet per item).
Choices: $100 and under: Hand weights (free weights); low end bench; resistance bands. (Allow 20 to 30 square feet).
Trainers' Recommendations: ACE experts recommend "all-in-one" gyms because they reduce the risk of injury in an unsupervised setting. But Quist believes resistance bands are also a safe and economical way to build muscle strength. "By purchasing a few different resistances, from easier to harder, you can get a total body workout for under $50," he says. If you have a few more dollars to spend, his choice is a suspension trainer - sort of super resistance bands that allow you to use your own body weight to condition muscles. Quist and Bottesch also recommend hand weights in three graduating sizes, like 5, 8, and 10 pounds. To increase their effectiveness, Quist recommends using them while sitting on a stability ball (see next item).