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Kathleen Trotter

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Build a Home Gym With 5 Easy Pieces

Posted: 05/05/2013 8:52 pm

I recently presented a "lunch and learn" talk called "On Motivation." It covered, not surprisingly, how one can motivate oneself to exercise.

Out of everything I spoke about, people seemed most interested in my advice on assembling an affordable home gym. I figured, if the topic got such a positive response at the lunch and learn, it deserved a blog post.

First, some context. At the talk I suggested people use every means necessary to "'set themselves up for fitness success." Most people know they should be more active, but unfortunately, so many people who act on this knowledge and start exercising don't stick with it on a long-term basis. Why? In part because they haven't taken the time to "set themselves up for success."

On way to "set yourself up for success" is to live by the rule that, when it comes to movement, something is always better then nothing! Many people set grand, unrealistic goals such as "I will go to the gym for an hour every day." Going to the gym every day is a great goal, if it is realistic. Unfortunately, for many the goal itself is unrealistic and when life "takes over," and they can't fit in their full hour workout, they skip their workout altogether. Don't fall into this trap! Don't think that to become active you have to be perfect, or what's the point?

A practical example of how to live by the "something is always better then nothing" rule is to set up a home gym. Even with minimal equipment, a home gym is a great way to "set yourself up for success." It ensures you can always do something because it decreases the structural obstacles that keep you from working out. If you don't have time for a full workout at the gym (especially because getting to the gym involves travel time), no problem, do a workout at home.

If you have a tight budget, don't worry. You can put together a really decent gym without spending a ton of money!

Get your cardio in by running or walking outside. Or, run up and down the stairs in your building. If you want to invest in a piece of cardio equipment that will not break the bank and doesn't take up a lot of room, buy a mini-trampoline. They are fun, low impact, and a great complement to running or walking outside.

You can do a full body strength workout by using your own body as resistance. To ensure your workouts don't become too monotonous, invest in one or more of the following pieces.

1. The Resistance Band. This is an extremely versatile piece of equipment. It costs around $10 and has almost limitless possibilities. For example, use it to simulate the exercises you would do with the cable machine at the gym.

2. The Stability ball. Depending on where you buy it, the ball costs between $20 and $50. Use it to simulate a bench at the gym, or do push-ups and crunches on it.

3. Free weights. Start with light weights and buy heavier as you get stronger.

4. The Foam Roller. The roller costs around $35 or $40, but it is so worth the money. It is a fantastic piece of equipment for anyone who sits. To stretch your chest, lie on it lengthwise and spread your arms out to the side. It can also be used as a bench to do exercises like bench press and french press, or use it to massage out sore muscles. It is a must for any athlete!

5. The sitfit is a slightly less widely know piece that retails for about $25. I am including it not only because I love it, but because the participants at the "lunch and learn" responded really well to it. Use it to train your balance and improve core strength. Put one foot on it to do lunges, or stand on it and do squats. If you stand on it barefoot with the spiky bits up it has the added benefit of helping to improve circulation. If you don't mind looking slightly silly, sit on it while at your desk to help correct posture imbalances. Simply put it on your desk chair and try to keep the air evenly distributed as you sit.

Other simple ways to "set yourself up for success":

1. Plan in advance how you will fit exercise into your life.

2. Anticipate and troubleshoot possible setbacks.

3. Set realistic goals.

4. Establish a support network.

5. Change your mental outlook. If you feel like skipping a workout, remember that everyone has moments of low motivation. Remind yourself that you will feel better after the workout. If you don't want to work out, or you don't have time to fit in your entire workout, don't just skip it all together. Something is always better then nothing. Even if all you do is go for a ten minute walk, make sure you do something!

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  • Squats

    Stand tall with your feet shoulder-width apart and lower your hips (almost like you're sitting in a chair). As you bend your knees, your thighs will be parallel with the floor, says exercise physiologist Andrea Doepker-Gavidia of <a href="http://www.trainforlife.ca/">Train For Life Fitness & Lifestyle Consulting</a> in Saskatoon. Ensure your knees don’t go beyond your toes and keep your chest up and look straight ahead. Stand back up to start position and repeat.

  • Triceps Push-Ups

    Place your hands on the floor and keep them under your shoulders. Holding your body straight, bend your elbows close to you body. Lower your chest between your hands and push back up into the starting position. If you're having trouble completing a push-up, place your knees on the floor to make things easier. For intensity, raise your feet up onto stairs or an elevated surface to increase the difficulty.

  • Skaters/Leaps

    To start, get into a semi-squat position and leap sideways to land on your right foot. Immediately push off in the opposite direction and land on your left foot. Make sure you perform these skaters continuously.

  • Plank Crawl

    Pace yourself for this one. We recommend giving yourself a goal of 15 to 20 crawls. Begin this move in a push-up position with your hands directly under your shoulders. Lower yourself down one arm at a time into a plank position on your forearms, while keeping your elbows directly under your shoulders. Push back up one arm at a time into your starting push-up position. Alternate the arm you lead with and maintain a straight body throughout the movement. Lower your knees to the floor to decrease the difficulty level.

  • Walking Lunge

    Stand with feet shoulder-width apart and place your arms to the side. Step forward with your right foot and lower your left knee towards the floor. Your knees should bend about 90 degrees. Ensure your right knee stays over your right ankle and don't let your knee go past your toes. Step up to balance on your right foot and switch feet.

  • Single Leg Balance Stick

    Balance on your right foot with your left foot behind you. Lean forward, keeping a straight body position and lift your left heel towards the ceiling. Maintain a slight bend in your standing knee so you don’t lock your knee. If you're having trouble balancing, focus on something in front of you or hold your back leg for initial support (pictured here).

  • Bird Dog

    Begin on all fours (downward dog), ensuring your hands are directly under your shoulders and your knees are directly under your hips. Slowly extend your right leg behind you and reach your right arm forward into a straight line. Hold your balance without arching your back. Return to the starting position and repeat on the opposite side.

  • Side Plank Hip Drops

    Begin by lying on your right side with your right elbow directly lined under your shoulder. Keeping your feet on the floor, lift your hips off the floor and support your body with your forearm. Hold for three seconds and slowly lower your right hip onto the floor and repeat.

  • Bridge

    Lay on your back with your arms by your sides. Bend your knees while keeping your feet flat on the floor. Maintaining a straight back, raise your hips up to a straight line from your shoulders to your knees. Hold for three seconds and lower your hips slowly back to the floor and repeat.

  • Superman Back Extension

    Lay on your stomach and reach your arms forward (like you're flying). Gently raise your legs and upper body off the floor while keeping your head straight. Pause for three seconds and repeat.

 

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