My Home Gym Essentials

The best equipment for a well-rounded home gym

For many of us 2020 has been a year that totally stuffed up our fitness regimes. From closed gyms to outdoor exercise limits, we’ve had to adapt to a whole new way of exercising. Throw moving to a new country into this, and I’d say my exercise has been pretty disrupted! From a regular routine of gym classes last year I’ve had to come up with a whole new way to get my daily dose of exercise. But I’m hardly unique in this: here in Melbourne we’ve been in some kind of lockdown for most of the year, and cities and towns across the globe have been similarly impacted.

In the face of these challenges I’ve learned a whole new range of indoor exercise routines. I’ve written before about my arm fitness regime, and some exercises you can do to keep up your running fitness with out leaving the house. I’ve also listed my six favourite zero equipment exercises. My program has evolved over the many weeks and months of lockdown, so today I thought I’d take us in another direction, and look at the pieces of exercise equipment that I’ve come to rely on. While many of these were motivated by living in lockdown, I am sure that they have earned a long-term place in my fitness life. Hell, I may never bother joining a gym again! Can’t believe I am saying this? Read on to see if I can convince you that with just a few reliable pieces of home gym equipment, you too can forego that expensive gym membership for good!

Skipping Rope

Starting off with the cheapest item on the list: a totally bog standard skipping rope. Mine cost around $10, and probably has the best return on investment of any piece of equipment I’ve bought. I’d been meaning to look into skipping for a while, as it is known to have great fitness and toning benefits. I can definitely testify to how exhausting it is! My famous clumsiness kicked in, and it took me a good deal of flailing around before I got the hang of it. But I was soon skipping away happily, getting a full body workout and tiring myself out as much as from an interval sprint session. To start off with I barely managed a few minutes, but I worked up to 20 minutes sessions (not completely non-stop of course!). These are exhausting, but offer good bang for your buck, giving you a thorough workout in a short space of time. If you’re looking for something that’ll get you moving, requires hardly any space, and is dirt cheap, look no further than the humble skipping rope.

3kg Dumbbells

Another nice basic item. Lots of you will think 3kg is too light, and for some things I’m inclined to agree with you. But if I’m looking to tone rather than build muscle, these light weights used with a routine like April Han’s arm workout is a pretty good way to go. They are heavy enough to get me trying, but not so heavy as to make moves impossible. Few things are as versatile as a simple set of dumbbells – you can use them in all manner of combinations, from arm exercises to squats to ab workouts. You name it, there’s probably some way to incorporate a dumbbell. You can work them into a lot of my equipment free moves, and the running exercises. There are loads to choose from, so find a weight that pushes you without being painful, and with a design that’ll be comfortable in your hand. Then you’re good to go – however you choose to use them.

Bike Trainer Stand

Photo: the basic trainer stand I went for on Amazon

This has been something of a revelation to me. I went months without my bike as it took ages to arrive in Australia in my shipping, then when it finally did I hardly had time to use it before we went into full lockdown. Now we’re back in full lockdown, and not allowed to travel beyond 5km from home, it would be easy for the bike to be neglected, left to gather dust in the garage. But for only a small investment I’ve been able to get back to cycling on a daily basis! It’s not quite the same of course, but between the resistance settings and my bike’s gears, I can get a fairly good simulation ride. There are quite a few different types to choose from, but even the bog standard will be enough to get you going.

I haven’t yet invested in a cycling computer that can measure distance, cadence, power, etc, but for now I’m using my Garmin watch on indoor mode, which at least tracks my time and heart rate. Maybe I’ll got that far, and take up Zwift, but for now I’m happy following bike workouts on YouTube (GTN is one of my favourite channels – check out some of their great workout videos). These are fairly similar to the spin classes I used to do at the gym, with the added bonus of feeling more realistic, like ‘proper’ cycling. If you’ve got a road bike waiting for the great outdoors as you’ve switched to indoor workouts, a trainer stand is a great option to bring it back to life.

Concept2 Model D Rowing machine (‘erg’)

Profile image of the Concept 2 Model D Rowing machine.
Photo by Concept2

Ok so this one is definitely a more substantial purchase. But it’s worth it! Back in my Oxford days I was friends with lots of rowers, so used to go along to the gym and erg with them. It is no joke that you can’t be around two rowers for more than a few minutes before they bring up erg sessions, their 2k times, and how many hours they’ve spent on the erg that week. While erging quickly becomes an obsession for ‘proper’ rowers, it still presents a brilliant form of exercise if you don’t ever intend to get out in a boat. Rowing is one of the most efficient forms of full-body exercise, leaving few muscles untouched. It’s a great way of getting a solid, effective workout in a relatively short amount of time. Across my years as a student and then working in Oxford, the erg has been one of my fitness mainstays – and it’s proven to be one of the most satisfying too. I’d been toying with the idea of buying one for a while, but when the gyms closed I decided to take the plunge. As apparently did everyone else in Australia, so I got on the waiting list in March, and it finally arrived in August.

Since then it’s been getting pretty much daily use. You have to use it this much really, to justify the price to yourself. But this is a piece of kit that, with decent maintenance, will last for years, and is basically the last thing to tick off the list. Now I’ve got my own erg, there really does seem to be little need to rejoin a gym; it was the piece of equipment I used most. So it’s very exciting to finally have one at home! There are workout pre-sets on the erg computer, and lots more available at Concept2 and other rowing websites. You can programme custom workouts into the erg computer too, so you can basically play with it and come up with new ones to your heart’s content. I’m already feeling the benefit of working some time on the erg into my exercise regime, so I’m looking forward to monitoring my progress over the coming months.

So there you have it, the four pieces of kit I build my home workouts around. They vary in affordability, and I’ve acquired them over a period of six months or so, but each brings something to the workout table, and contributes to what I hope is a rounded and sustainable exercise programme. I’ve got some big fitness goals on my 30 before 30 list, so I’m enjoying getting stuck in and seeing just how much I can achieve! Stayed tuned for some progress reports!

What have you done to adjust your workout routine in the ‘unprecedented’ year that is 2020? All these changes caused a lot of disruption in the world of fitness, but as always people seem to be doing their best to adapt and pull together. I’d love to hear your COVID-proofed exercise regimes (and how well you’re managing to stick to them!), so please do share in the comments below! Thanks so much for reading, and best of luck in reaching your 2020 fitness goals!

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