Fitness Pros Weigh In: Essentials of a "No Frills" Home Gym

Many people, because of schedules or weather, prefer to exercise at home at least some of the time. While getting motivated to work out can be painfully hard, outfitting a no-frills home gym is relatively easy. Before you dish out a ton of cash on exercise equipment, consider the advice of two fitness pros we interviewed. I spoke with two experienced Washington, DC-based fitness experts: Anna Mackay, Healthy Life Stylist and personal trainer and owner of Moxie Fit in Washington, DC, and Earl Williams, trainer and owner of Definitions in Georgetown.

Personal trainers are well-versed in human frailty — and I'm not talking just about physical frailty. I mean the way human nature and psychology can often sabotage even the best intentions for becoming a stronger, fitter you. Luckily, the easy part is setting up the space. Anna and Earl concurred that no faddish equipment is necessary and that the fundamentals of a home gym are the same no matter what your budget.

The Key Elements to a Great Home Gym
Both Earl and Anna emphasized that you don't have to go nuts with expensive and complicated equipment to get a good home workout. If asked to design a home gym for a client with a moderate budget, the recommendations would be surprisingly straightforward.

Anna's Best-Bets For Building a Home Gym:
• A mat area
• jump rope
• bench
• bar + weight plates
• set of dumbbells
• pull-up/chin-up bar
• step or box for jumping and incline/decline exercises (eg, pushups, to make easier or more difficult)
• (TRX and kettle bells are a nice plus but not critical — and both require some instruction and practice)
Someone to work out with! A workout partner (or personal trainer) is the ultimate addition to any workout space, says Mackay; research shows that working out with a partner, a group and/or with a trainer is far more effective than work out alone!

Earl's List of Must-Haves For Your Existing Space
• Earl says you should have enough space to move around in, whether it's existing open space in your home or makeshift space (e.g. you might have to move a table or a chair).
• Mat or a rug; something that will make exercising on your floor safe and comfortable.
• Dumbells, a couple of sets: light , medium, and heavy
• Adjustable bench or adjustable Step; something that you can lay on and step on.
• Exercise tubing and/or adjustable cable machine (you will need something to anchor the tubing, most tubing comes with a door anchor attachment).
• Some type of cardio equipment for those in areas where weather is problematic. "The best machine for increasing cardiovascular capacity is the one that you will use. In other words, make your machine choice based on the cardio activity that is most appealing to you and not what is advertised as burning the most calories."

Anna and Earl agreed that it is important to watch a DVD or visit a gym staffer or personal trainer to get instructions on using exercise equipment. Says Anna: "What equipment is easiest to use and least likely to be misused? The iPod. Seriously. Your average Joe/Jane misuses almost all fitness equipment."

Fantasy Home Gyms
Now, what if you had an unlimited budget and unlimited space? For Anna, "all the bells and whistles like hot tubs and fancy machines are a waste of money. Steam rooms are nice if you need to get dirt out of your pores but otherwise a bit expensive, and are not really going to help on the fitness score. I don't believe in the value of most machines, so there are none that I would rave about or recommend someone absolutely has to have. A state-of-the-art treadmill or elliptical would be nice, I suppose, and a 25-meter lap pool would be a fantasy!" Anna says any state-of-the-art gym would include:
• About 20' x 20' feet of space
• Ground level or above is preferable so there is plenty of natural light along one or two walls
• floor-to-ceiling mirrors (very important but not affordable for many)
• Wood floors
• Soft lighting
• State of the art sound system connected to a DVD/Flat Screen TV

Earl agreed but was excited to do a little fantasizing about seriously budget-busting work-out equipment, including:
1. Indoor Rock Climbing wall or a Treadwall (a small climbing wall that moves like a treadmill)
2. 50 yard (or meter) indoor track
3. Underwater treadmill — you get the benefits of running with minimal stress on your joints
4 XBOX Kinect connected to a 100 inch 3D/HD TV with surround sound
5. OSAKI zero gravity massage chair
6. Sauna
7. Whirpool/Hot tub

Anna's List of 5 Most Effective Exercises You Can Do ANYWHERE with NO equipment:
• Stationary lunges
• Squats
• Pushups
• Planks
A Killer 20 minute workout would involve a series of circuits (using the above exercises), done for 20 minutes straight, where you perform each exercise for 60 seconds, taking no breaks between each exercise, but allowing a 60 second rest between circuits.

If we're talking zero equipment, I would add sprints or stair running for an outdoor workout, and jogging in place alternating with high knees for indoors.

Images: (clockwise from top left): Cap Barbell Fitness FID bench from Amazon, $48.54; Nike weighted rope, City Sports, $20; Atlus Athletic dumbell set from Amazon, $41; Aurorae Northern Lights yoga/fitness mats from Amazon, $39.95.

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