Our house is pretty small, and when the kids and dogs really get going it feels VERY small — in fact when it gets cluttered up and everyone gets nutty, it will drain the sanity right out of you. But whether your house is tiny or huge, clutter is never nice. And as any perusal of Craig’s List will show you, there is a lot of exercise equipment out there cluttering up our homes. This has started me thinking — if I had to really narrow it down, with a ruthless emphasis on versatility, efficacy, and space, what would I include in the perfect compact home gym?
For starters, I would leave the big equipment in the actual gym. Gym memberships are generally pretty affordable (particularly since many health insurance companies now cover at least part of the cost), and in return you get camaraderie, motivation, access to a huge variety of equipment and, typically, guidance in best practices for using that equipment. I’d suggest that if you are going to use something less than three times a week, or if it can only be used for a very specific purpose (weird contortionist abdominal exercise machines, I am talking about you), then it should stay in the nice big gym and out of your house. That said, there are certainly benefits to having exercise options availability at home; adherence is very importance for fitness gains, and the fewer obstacles the better the adherence is going to be. Most of us have time constraints that make it difficult to travel to a gym every time we want to work out, we don’t want our fitness to be subject to the whims of the weather half of the year, and sometimes it’s just plain nice to stay home.
With that said here are my top 5 for the perfect not-a-gym, and I’ll be following up with posts on workouts utilizing this equipment at home.
1) Resistance Bands. No question in my mind about this one. You can use resistance bands to exercise every muscle in the body, you can adjust spacing to get nearly unlimited variations of resistance, they can be used to build muscle size or endurance, and are excellent for both strength workouts and getting in some cardio. As an added bonus, they are tiny and cheap. If you get one piece of exercise equipment in your house, it should be these. You can go with the handled ones, like these, or stay even simpler and stick with the theraband type, because while the handles are nice they really aren’t necessary.
2) TRX Suspension Training System. This is the priciest thing I’ll suggest, but it is incredibly versatile, and it travels beautifully. Like the resistance bands, the TRX system can be used to train virtually every muscle system, and can be used to develop stabilization, strength, and power. It can be mounted in a doorway or around any fixed object, which means you can easily take your full workout outside on nice days.
3) Foam Roller. Many of us would love to deny it, but flexibility matters. There’s nothing glamorous about rolling out tight muscles, but if we want to keep doing the things we want to do, those muscle adhesions need to be addressed, and foam rollers are an effective and easy (if highly uncomfortable) way to do so.
4) Yoga mat. I wavered on this one making the cut, because you really don’t need a yoga mat, even for yoga. And while I do think everyone should be doing some form of yoga some of the time, if it’s not something you practice then the practicality becomes even more tenuous. That said, there is something decisive about rolling out your mat. Every time you do, it is a decision for fitness. And it is really, really nice to have a good surface to train barefoot on, which is excellent for foot and ankle strength and for balance. Since yoga mats are so compact and can be very inexpensive, I’m keeping it on the list. (Although the nicer yoga mats, like Jade mats, are indeed so very nice.)
5) Medicine Ball. Just one firm one that is 5-10% of your body weight, and really only if you have a basement or garage surface to throw it against. It’s really nice to have a wide variety of medicine balls, both hard and soft, all different weights. When I’m working with clients in the gym, I take full advantage of the selection. But for home use, just one firm one at a moderate weight will give you tons of options without taking up much space. Then when you go to the gym you can use all the different varieties.
Home Gym, the deluxe version.
I tried to be pretty ruthless on the above list. My idea was to enable everything to fit on a closet shelf, and be able to pull it out and put it away with minimal effort — the goal is to actually use everything you have! With a little more space and money, I’d add the following. These don’t necessarily fill in missing gaps, but they are nice to have and they offer you a bit more variety.
6) BOSU trainer. Okay, I’m biased. The BOSU is not quite as versatile as the other things I’ve mentioned, but I think they are really, really fun. SO FUN, guys! You get to jump on something bouncy! They are also extremely effective at developing stability, and as a trail runner I’m a fan of anything I can use to make myself more resilient on the trails, but we can all benefit from a little balance work. Get the more compact BOSU sport version for home. Nothing you’re doing is so fancy you need the full version.
7) One moderate weight kettlebell. Much like the BOSU, you don’t really need this for a good home workout, but they are fun. And just like the med ball, get one about 5-10% of your body weight and save the complex kettlebell workouts for the gym.
8) 1 indoor piece of cardio equipment. If space is a major concern, get a trainer for your road or mountain bike. If you have the space for something big and bulky, get whatever is least likely to collect dust, whether a treadmill, elliptical, or bike and being realistic about the three or more times a week guideline. Remember, the gym has *lots* of cardio equipment and most pieces are big, heavy, and require a special electrical connection.
9) TRX Riptrainer. This is a total extra, but it is a functional, fun, and generally awesome extra. The only reason we don’t have one at home is I fear my boys don’t need any more encouragement to act like ninjas, particularly not with substantial metal weaponry.
Some common factors in overuse injuries are lack of core stability, insufficient flexibility, and weak stabilization muscles leading to poor movement mechanics. I’ve put together a workout that can help you address one of the most important factors in proper movement — core strength. If your core is weak, the rest of your muscles cannot function with maximum strength or efficiency because force can’t be transferred properly.
1. Reverse Crunch with Yoga Block
Start on your back, knees bent, with a yoga block or similarly sized object held between your legs just above the knee, shoulders firmly into the ground. Brace your core muscles, and using the strength of your core (not momentum) contract your knees in towards your chest, bring them back down. Repeat x25.
2. Plank (1 leg raised optional)
Keeping your shoulders firmly on your back and hips level, find your plank. Drawing in the muscles around your abdomen to hold your hips level, lift one leg slightly off the ground. Hold for 30 seconds, repeat on the other side.
Laying on your back, knees bent at a 90 degree angle and feet raised, holding a yoga block in that same position as the reverse crunch. Brace your core, and slowly and with control drop your knees to one side, then the other, pulling up with your oblique muscles. It is important that you not feel any strain in your back when doing this.
4. 1 Leg Bridge
Lay on your back, shoulders firmly into the ground, knees bent and feet on the floor. Lift up into a bridge, engaging your glutes, hamstring, and abdominals. Bring one leg up, pulling your thigh towards your chest and holding a tennis ball in place. Keeping that leg in place, bring your hips down to the ground and immediately raise back up. Repeat x25 on each side.
7. Dead Bug
Lay on your back, arms and legs extended. Engaging all core muscles so that your spine is fully supported, bring your arms and legs up to vertical Drop back down and repeat x25. Do not do this exercise if you feel any strain in your back.
8. Seated Figure 8
From a seated position, hold a medicine ball fully extended out from you (a weight will also work. Your daughter’s rainbow tie dye soccer ball can be called up in a photo prop pinch). Bracing your torso with your core muscles so that the only thing moving is your arms, trace a figure eight with the ball.
9. Overhead Squat
Raising your arms overhead, drop down into a squat. Making sure that your glutes and hamstrings are doing the bulk of the work, drive through your heels and return to standing. For extra oomph, add a resistance band around your arms.
And there you have it! As always, do not do any exercises that you feel are not right for your body.
Jenn is a personal trainer at Manchester Athletic Club and is currently accepting new clients. She can be reached at email@example.com.
Here in the Boston area, it’s been a tough winter to be a runner. Trails are buried under 7 feet of soft snow (really), roads are narrow and dangerous, and we’re all nearing the stage we’d rather organize a closet than get on the treadmill one more time. Even for those of us who are used to running in snow, ice, and cold all winter, this year has been logistically challenging. I was talking with a client this morning about how it would probably be great to run circles around a local office park on the weekends. Yes, non-local folks, laps around an office park is our new definition of “great.”
I started thinking about how we can make the challenges of cardio work for us, rather than against us. Now that just about everybody in the northeast is spending more time working out indoors than we’d like, it’s the perfect opportunity to strengthen your body against typical running injuries. I purposely stuck to household items in this demo, because I wanted this workout to work when you were snowed into your house with no exercise equipment. We’re going to start at our feet and work our way up. As always, use good sense and don’t do any of these exercises if they are contraindicated for you.
1) Towel crunches
Standing in bare feet, curl a thick towel towards you with your toes. (This may be surprisingly hard! If it is, that just proves you really need to do it.) Repeat 5 times on each leg.
2) Sitting down with one leg in the air, deliberately trace the alphabet with your toes. This strengthens the muscles in your feet, your ankles, and increases ankle mobility.
3) Toe-offs. Roll onto the ball of your food, driving your opposite knee up. Pay very close attention to your foot mechanics here. This is meant to be strengthening your foot and creating muscle memory for good form, so you do now want your foot rolling in or out at all.
4) Stand on one foot on the least stable item you can find. I’m on two sofa pillows on top of a mat. (If you were at a gym you would use a balance pad, balance pod, or BOSU). Hold for 30-60 seconds, switch sides. If it’s easy, close your eyes, forcing your body to rely on sensory input from your feet rather than your eyes. This will really help develop your balance and agility.
5) Lateral lunges. I like to do these on a hardwood or tile floor with a paper plate. We didn’t have any paper plates, so I’m using a soft towel. Stand with one foot firmly on the ground, and side your other foot out sideways, bending your standing knee. Pull the leg back in firmly returning to a standing position. Repeat 25 times on each leg.
6) Standing strong on one leg, raise your other knee to a 90 degree angle. Extend the raised leg out straight and hold for 5 seconds, bend. Repeat 25 times on each leg.
7) Leaning against a wall, counter, table, etc. at about a 30 degree angle, raise your knees strongly and as quickly as can be controlled. You’re lifting off the balls of your feet, contracting your quads quickly, and dropping the leg back down.
8) Single leg squat. You can do these with your leg in front of you (pistol squat) or behind you as if you were stepping into a lunge. The important thing is to keep your hips square, your knee in line with your ankle, and to strongly contract your glutes when you come back to standing. No wibble-wobbling, and no trying to do the work with your quads and hips.
9) Prisoner squat. Hands behind your head, drop down into a squat. Knees stay in line, butt comes back, core stays strong.
10) Lunge jumps. Stand in a lunge position, jump and switch legs. Land lightly and with control, keeping your hips square and your knees and ankle in line. If you have to choose between form and speed, choose form. If you have a soft surface available and can do this barefoot, it will also help strengthen your feet and ankles.
11) 1 arm plank. Legs fairly wide, keeping hips square to the floor and shoulders level. Lift one arm with control, hold it is as long as you are able to maintain form. 30 second break, repeat on the other side.
12) Lateral leg raises. Laying on your side, core engaged and foot active, lift one leg with control. Repeat until you cannot maintain form (don’t angle forward towards the floor!) and then switch sides. As a runner you want a strong gluteus medius and this a great way to fire it up.
13) V-sit. Sit in a V and hold it, thinking about maximizing the distance between your head and hips and feet and hips. Nice long back (don’t round!) and core very strong. If you need to modify you can drop your hands to the ground.
14) 1 leg bridge. Start on your back, knees bent, feet on floor. Raise both hips with core and glutes strong. If you feel any tension in your back, drop your hips back to the floor and strongly contract your core there. Otherwise raise one leg and hold your hips level to the floor, core strongly contracted so you feel no tension in your back (if tension in your back, go back to a two-leg bridge).
15) Runners. Holding a moderate weight item in each hand, legs in a split stance, mimic a running motion with your arms. Smooth oscillations, hands stay straight and relaxed, no crossing over your body.
Jenn is a personal trainer at Manchester Athletic Club and is currently accepting new clients. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
We’re buried under snow right now, but this kind of a base promises a heck of an icy season. Here’s how we’ll be dealing with it.
With all the recent posts about the need for traction, it seemed time to revisit the time honored tradition of screw shoes. Screw shoes work great on ice and mud and tend to be less slippery on wet rock then yak trax or stabilicers. They do have their downsides– the screws do eventually fall out and you can often feel them a little bit in your shoes, (NOT the sharpness, the lack of give in the midsole where the screws are). While you can take the screws out at the end of the season your shoes really aren’t the same afterwards, so we suggest using an older pair to start with.
- 16-32 1/4 – 3/8″ hex head screws
3/8″ stay in considerably better, but 1/4″ are less noticeable when you’re wearing the shoes.
- Power drill
- Oldish pair of sneakers
- You will be putting the screw into the outsole and midsole of the shoe. The midsole will compress when you run so you want to be sure there is some extra padding. It should go without saying, but this is particularly important if you run in a more minimalist shoe!
- Pick a spot to drill the screw in. You want to focus on where your foot makes the most contact with the ground, and on the thicker parts of your shoe. The tread of your shoe will dictate to a large extent where the screws go.
- Get a good grip on your shoe and drill that screw in !
- Repeat as many times as you want. 8-12 per shoe is a rough guideline. Keep in mind that over time a few are going to fall out.
And you’re done! Lace up your newly souped up shoes and head to the trails.
I learned a new stretch in yoga this week that was MADE for runners and their dodgy knees!
First get a blanket or towel, and a yoga block or something of similar dimentions (my yoga blocks have all been kidnapped by the little people, and I’m using a box of flour here. worked fine). Sit as if you were going to move into ustrasana (camel pose): knees hip-width apart, tops of feet firmly pressed into the ground, box/block/whatever inbetween your feet.
Sit back onto the block, adjusting height as needed, and hold for several breaths. That’s it! It stretches the backs of your knees as well as the front, and gently works out any aches and pains around your kneecap.