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Haven't started that workout routine yet? Cost and convenience are two of the most popular excuses people fall back on to explain their lack of exercise. And we get it: Pricey gym memberships and boutique fitness classes — and the extra time it takes to trek there — can be enough to dissuade even the most committed among us from squeezing in fitness as often as we’d like.
But with the first (and arguably most fitness-focused) month of the year behind us, now’s the time to get serious about making exercise a more frequent appearance in your daily routine.
And luckily for those of us groaning at the thought of trekking through the snow to spin class, fitness can be affordable, fit within your schedule and possible within the comfort of your home. By ordering a few select tools to your doorstep, you can create a super-affordable and effective in-home gym that will give you a total-body workout and have you well on your way to shaping up for warmer weather.
Here are the top picks of fitness professionals for equipment that will give you the biggest bang for (not very much) buck.
- Ab roller
- Stretch strap
- Bodyweight fitness flashcards
- Resistance bands
- Foam roller
- Jump rope
- Magic circle (pilates ring)
“Gliders and sliding discs are great because they are about the size of a paper plate and you can use them on multiple different surfaces,” says Vanessa Huffman, Director of Education for Club Pilates. “The gliders change your ground into an unstable surface which recruits the core and creates a huge stability challenge for your entire body. Most notably, you will immediately feel your adductors (inner thighs and under arms) scream during most moves.”
Brian Bott, certified functional strength coach, founder of Aspire Fitness and co-author of "Get With the Program," agrees that gliders are an extremely versatile tool that you can easily pack with you on the go and use to train every muscle in your body. “From lunges to mountain climbers, and other various core exercises, the sliders really up the difficulty of the movement you are performing,” says Bott. “Using the slider ensures that you keep proper form on the arm/leg/core that's doing the work and not overly relying on the leg or arm that's on the slider.”
2. Ab roller
If you’re a beginner, Bott recommends not rolling all the way out. Instead, set up near a wall and roll out until you hit it. Then, as you get stronger, continue to gradually move further away from the wall to increase the difficulty.
“This is possibly one of the only late-night infomercial products that actually works!” says Bott. “The best part is that it's super adjustable to any level. The ab roller really targets and challenges the front side of your core.”
3. Stretch strap
“Stretching and mobility work is often one of the most neglected parts of training. But if you want to get results you have to train hard, and if you want to train hard, your body has to be able to move easily with a good range of motion to perform the exercises we want,” says Bott.
The stretch strap allows you to go a little deeper into the stretch position and take your flexibility to the next level.
Enter: the stretch strap. “[It’s] used to enhance flexibility and range of motion so you can bend, turn, reach and stretch with greater freedom of movement,” says Brad Walker, Director of Education at StretchLab, an L.A.-based assisted stretching concept. “The stretch strap allows you to use the leverage of the strap to go a little deeper into the stretch position and take your flexibility to the next level. It can also be used on any muscle group in the body, so it’s a great stretch tool to compliment any workout, whether it’s running, swimming or working out in the gym.”
You may be thinking: I can reach down and hold my toes for a minute without the use of a strap. But this tool allows you to perform “active isolated stretching,” which goes beyond your typical hold-for-60-second routine, says Bott. “Instead, you bring your joint to the furthest range of motion you can, then use the strap to pull it just a little bit further while still actively trying to move the joint yourself,” says Bott. “It's a much more active process then simply holding a stretch for 60 seconds and we've seen it work a lot better with our clients.”
4. Bodyweight fitness flashcards
If you’re up for the in-home workout, but not quite sure what exactly to do, flashcards can be a fun way to get re-acquainted with popular exercises — and can also be a great way to get other family members or friends involved.
“These are a great idea to take with you when you travel as most of them are bodyweight based and you don't need any equipment,” says Bott. “This can help keep you engaged in the workout, because you don't know which card or exercise you'll be doing next.”
The only drawback, says Bott, is possible boredom once you’ve worked through the deck a few times. After you’re acquainted with the exercises, up the intensity by seeing how many you can get through in a certain time frame, or get creative and design your own quick morning workouts by arranging the cards in a different order each day. You can also get decks made up of stretching and dumbbell exercises.
5. Resistance bands
“For those without a lot of space and not wanting to get a huge set of dumbbells, resistance bands offer a good alternative,” says Bott. “You can get a few bands of varying resistance and come up with a full-body workout.”
Once you build up enough strength, you will need to graduate to heavier weights, but the bands do offer a unique training advantage over dumbbells, says Bott. “It makes the exercise harder towards the end of the movement, which can challenge the muscle even more,” he says. “Traditionally with dumbbells the weight is the same throughout the movement, but as the band stretches even further, it's actually increasing the amount of resistance you are experiencing.” You can also get resistance bands with handles attached to more comfortably perform upper body exercises like bicep curls and tricep kickbacks.
Try this: Use resistance bands to rehab a shoulder injury, stretch tight hips, improve circulation and more.
6. Foam roller
“Another neglected piece of training is what we call ‘soft tissue work,’” says Bott. “Think of it as a way to get your muscles to loosen up and fire better before working out. We sit a lot so the muscles of the hips and upper back can get ‘locked’ in those positions. Foam rolling is a good way to loosen them up a bit before stretching and make sure your body is performing at its best.”
You can use a foam roller to warm the body up before a workout or to cool down and recover after a workout, which will help prevent stiff, tight muscles the next day, says Walker. “The foam roller can be used on just about any muscle group, although it works best on the large muscle groups like the quads and hamstrings, the buttocks and calves, and the chest, shoulders and lats,” he adds.
Try this: Get foam roller exercises for post-running, poor posture, sore backside, tight neck and more.
We’ve all seen the cross-fitters at the gym swinging kettlebells around — but don’t be intimidated. The kettlebell is “easily the biggest bang for your buck if you are looking to get in shape and invest in a home gym,” says Bott. “They last forever and you can train every muscle in your body with them. The kettlebell swing is also one of the most efficient fat-burning exercises as well as a great toning exercise for your butt.”
“Light weighted (4-8 pound) kettle bells are a great way to add resistance to momentum-based movements, creating an unexpected impact on both the strength and cardiovascular elements of the workout,” adds Huffman. “The weighted momentum movements force the muscles in the core to activate and stabilize to control the movement of the limbs. This is a great amplifier for the free weight experience. In addition, kettle bells have an easier to hold handle that elicits a higher level of confidence so when your trainer asks you to 'rotate your long arm in a figure 8 motion,’ you don’t feel like your freshly lotioned hands will fling the weight across the room.”
8. Jump rope
Some things never go out of style, and when it comes to gym equipment, the jump rope is one of them. Bott calls it one of the most underrated forms of exercise.
“The best thing about a jump rope is that it won't allow you to continue with bad form,” he says. “When running, it's very easy for motivated trainees to push to run further and longer at the expense of their form. This is what leads to many common overuse injuries you see with running. The jump rope, however, doesn't allow for this. Once you get tired and you aren't maintaining the right posture, you'll mess up and be forced to rest.”
9. Magic circle (pilates ring)
“Magic Circles were invented by famous fitness guru, Joseph Pilates. The fun fact about them is that they were initially designed out of the metal from the outside casing of a beer keg,” says Huffman.
“The circles have a dual purpose in that they can challenge the adductors (inner thighs and under arms) and abductors (outer thighs and upper arms/shoulders), depending on how you are holding the circle. Because of this dual purpose, some clients refer to the circle as ‘The Torture Device,’ which translates to: It's really good at turning up the volume on any move!”
10. Honorable mention: TRX Suspension Trainer System
No, the TRX Suspension trainer doesn't fall under the $20 mark, but if you're willing to splurge on a piece of equipment that will really take your workouts to the next level, this is it. You've likely seen these straps hanging around your gym, and one of their big selling points is the ability to take them in house (or outdoors, or on the road) due to their portability. "The TRX is one of the best bang for your buck pieces of equipment for your home gym and even travel. It hooks up easily and can even be mounted in a doorway if needed at home or on the road," says Bott.
The equipment is a good investment for beginners and more advanced fitness enthusiasts alike. "One of the best benefits of the TRX is that it makes modifying an exercise extremely easy. Whether you are a beginner or an advanced trainee, the TRX allows you to be in control of how hard you are working," says Bott. "Take a squat or lunge, for example. For some beginners, their bodyweight might be too much in the beginning. By holding on to the TRX they can provide themselves the stability and support needed to perform the movement at their level. When performing a movement like a standing row, the further you move your feet underneath the more difficult the exercise becomes, so you can find just the right challenge for you."
Just how much of a challenge, you ask? A study published in the journal Human Movement Science found that doing a suspended pushup using TRX bands activated the abdominals 184 percent more than doing a standard pushup — you'll definitely be getting your money's worth. (TRX also recently released its own take on a foam roller, called the Rocker.)
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