Creating a home gym can keep you active
through the coldest months.
By Linda Melone
Winter’s cold and dark make it easy to skip your workouts until spring arrives. But given how crucial exercise is to well-being, inactivity isn’t really an option.
“People tend to hibernate in the winter,” says Tom Holland, MS, CSCS, a Connecticut exercise physiologist and author of The 12-Week Triathlete (Fair Winds). “They eat more and are less active, which can quickly add up to unwanted weight gain. Fortunately, indoor workout options abound. From DVDs to YouTube workouts and Netflix, it’s easy to find something you like, and for very little money.”
Distractions at home can make it difficult to stay focused and motivated. To avoid being pulled away from your workout by household chores or ringing telephones, make a plan.
“Schedule your workouts as you would any other important appointment,” says Jessica Matthews, exercise physiologist with the American Council on Exercise (ACE). “Social support can also help you stick with a regular routine.” Invite a friend, spouse or child to join you for your workout sessions.
Hold friendly competitions, vying to see who can do the most sit-ups or push-ups. The winner gets to choose the next exercise or wins points they can trade for a healthy treat.
For motivation, hang inspirational posters and photos in your workout area and decorate the walls with bright colors and plenty of mirrors. Mirrors not only provide a more spacious feeling but they make it easy for you to check your form.
There are plenty of options for the indoor fitness enthusiast. In fact, while the use of weight workouts has dropped in general, participation in home gym exercises increased nearly 2% between 2011 and 2012, according to the Sports and Fitness Industry Association (SFIA).
You don’t need much to outfit a home gym with the basics. “An exercise mat, a couple sets of dumbbells and a fitness ball are all you need,” says Holland. “The total set-up should set you back around $50.” He suggests looking on sites such as eBay for bargains. “Don’t sacrifice quality, however, when purchasing a treadmill or other large piece of cardio equipment. Invest in something that’ll last longer and won’t require frequent repair.”
Measure your available space before you shop. “Elliptical trainers have a huge footprint. Consider a fold-up treadmill to save space instead,” Holland says. Fold-up stair steppers and upright bikes are also available.
Matthews suggests deciding on some endpoints before you begin an exercise routine. “You want to set up S.M.A.R.T. goals: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic and Time-bound,” she says. “It’s a great way to ensure your expectations for your at-home routine are in line with your current fitness level and what best serves your health and fitness needs.”
You also must enjoy what you’re doing. “Long-term success depends on identifying modes of physical activity you enjoy, whether it’s a dance-based fitness DVD, creating your own at-home bootcamp or building your own yoga practice,” says Matthews. Creating a schedule for your home routine will also help you set aside and devote specific time for physical activity.
If you’re new to a fitness routine, choosing an exercise plan best suited to your needs and performing the moves properly can be a challenge.
“You want to ensure you’re performing the moves correctly to maximize results and avoid injury,” says Matthews. It may be worth paying for a few sessions with an in-home trainer to set up a plan designed with your goals in mind. Or check out websites such as www.ACEfit.com for science-based fitness information on safe workout routines, many of which utilize little or no equipment.
If you decide to use DVDs or YouTube, check out the instructor’s credentials. Look for an exercise physiologist degree or a national certification from an organization such as ACE, ACSM, NASM or NSCA.
Keep workouts interesting with fun equipment, says Matthews. She recommends the following home resistance training accessories.
These sand-filled, disc-shaped weights are portable and stackable, and versatile enough for a variety of exercises. Used similarly to a medicine ball, kettle bell or dumbbell, shifting sand within the SandBell requires greater core strength than static weights. “Their neoprene cover makes them safe to use on wood floors as well as carpeting and tile,” notes Matthews. “They’re great for improving overall strength and coordination.”
Like SandBells, these weighted balls can be used instead of dumbbells. “Medicine balls are versatile, easy to store and can be used to improve power, strength and coordination as well as to enhance mobility and improve core strength,” says Matthews. Use smaller, hand-size medicine balls for smaller muscles such as arms and shoulders, and larger, heavier ones to train larger leg and core muscles. Some varieties come equipped with attached ropes and handles for greater ease of use.
These inflated exercise balls can be used for many different exercises and can take the place of an exercise bench for moves such as chest presses. “The unstable surface requires you to engage more muscles and works the entire body,” says Matthews. “They’re also cost effective (approximately $20) and can add a new challenge to many exercises you may already be doing.”
Choose sturdier “burst-proof” or “slow-deflate” balls, which deflate slowly in the event of an accidental puncture. Your height (and, in some cases, the specific exercise) determines the best size ball for you, but in general women do best with a 55 cm ball and men with a 65 cm model.
Portable, versatile, inexpensive (price varies depending on the length and resistance, but typically $6 and up) and easy to store, exercise tubing can also be easily tucked into a suitcase for travel, says Matthews. “To maximize results, always keep appropriate tension on the tube. You can continue to add new challenge to exercises by changing the anchor point (the point where the tube is attached to) and taking advantage of different body positions, angles and speed of movements.”
Use lighter resistances for smaller muscle groups and medium-to-heavy resistance for legs and larger muscle groups.
If you prefer traditional weight equipment, consider investing in a set of adjustable dumbbells called PowerBlocks. Starting at $199, they’re more expensive than other resistance-exercise options but do take the place of an entire set of dumbbells. PowerBlocks consist of two square dumbbells that can be adjusted in five-pound increments, starting at five pounds and going up to 45 pounds each. A selecting pin enables you to easily choose the amount of weight you want without unscrewing and reassembling the entire dumbbell, as other adjustable weights often require.