When most gyms shut down across the country during the global pandemic, people were forced to get creative with their at-home workouts. And even though in-person workouts have resumed thanks to vaccine rollouts, many continue to stream workouts online and exercise at home. In one 2020 survey from TD Ameritrade, 59 percent of Americans said they don’t plan on renewing their gym memberships after the pandemic. Another study from Bank of America found that aggregate spending on gym memberships has dropped by about a third since February 2020, as Yahoo Finance reported.
When gyms first shut down, we responded to the increase in demand for at-home fitness equipment by consulting experts about everything from ellipticals and spin bikes to wrist weights and weighted hula hoops. Our coverage has expanded since then into areas like spinning shoes, massage guns and cooling towels. Below, we compiled our expert advice about creating an effective at-home workout station and included some of our most popular top-rated and expert-recommended product picks.
Setting up your at-home workout space: What to consider
Most people don’t have an extra room that can double as an at-home gym. When buying your workout equipment, you should consider how much space you do have and which workouts you do most often in order to maximize that area. “Make sure you’re really going to use something before taking up space with it,” Mike Fantigrassi, senior director of product development at the National Academy of Sports Medicine, previously advised in our guide to home gyms and home gym systems.
Another thing to consider is cost. Larger pieces of equipment like stationary bikes and treadmills can cost thousands of dollars, so experts say you should only buy one if you know you’re going to use it frequently and for the foreseeable future. This impediment can also require some maintenance and upkeep, which is something you need to be prepared for both financially and physically.
If you live in an apartment or plan on buying a heavy piece of equipment, you may want to protect, cushion and soundproof your floors with a floor mat, among other things. To keep your workout area cool, you can also consider investing in an oscillating fan and dehumidifier.
Best at-home workout products
From fitness machines like spin bikes and treadmills to equipment like dumbbells and jump ropes, here are some of the best workout products we’ve covered, plus where to learn more about each product and topic.
Best workout machines
Stationary bikes were easily one of the most popular quarantine purchases in 2020: In March of last year, sales of indoor exercise bikes in the U.S. increased by 170 percent compared to 2019, according to research firm NPD Group. In our guide to picking an exercise bike, certified personal trainer Eric Ridings said the NordicTrack was his top choice, noting that it’s a “quality product at a good price.” The bike has a rotating 22-inch display screen where you can stream live and on-demand workouts from the brand’s iFit digital membership service. It comes with a 10-year frame warranty, 2-year parts warranty and 1-year labor warranty.
One of the biggest names in the stationary bike market is Peloton, but it isn’t the only one. With a price tag over $1,000, it’s also not the most cost-effective option for everyone. With this in mind, we rounded up some relatively budget-friendly bike options outside of Peloton, the most popular of which is the Sunny Health & Fitness Indoor Exercise Bike. Though it doesn’t have a screen like some of the higher-end stationary bikes, it has all of the necessary basics, including a four-way adjustable seat, two-way adjustable handlebars, an adjustable resistance system and wheels for portability.
If you prefer running over cycling but are limited on space, a folding treadmill can shrink to half its size for easy storage when not in use. This one from XTERRA, which folds with the pull of a knob, has a speed range from half-a-mile to 10 miles per hour as well as three manual incline settings. “The price point [just under $400] is perfect for a budget-friendly individual who wants to get into running without breaking the bank,” Anthony Crouchelli, master and founding trainer at Grit Bxng, noted in our treadmill guide.
Though this foldable treadmill from Sunny Health & Fitness is relatively affordable, it doesn’t compromise quality or features. It has a speed range of half-a-mile to 9 miles per hour and three adjustable incline levels. It also has an LCD display screen where you can track your time, distance, speed, calories burned and pulse. You can choose from nine built-in workout programs or do your own manual workout.
A low-impact elliptical workout trains both your lower and upper body all in one sitting, trainers previously told us. This model has 20 resistance and incline levels to customize your workout, and you can connect your devices to the built-in speakers via Bluetooth for an immersive listening experience. The built-in screen can track your pulse, distance and time on the machine.
If you have enough space, another workout machine you can use from the comfort of your home is a rower. This machine is a great option for those with back or knee issues, as it puts less pressure on the joints compared to other cardio equipment. This one from Echelon has built-in wheels and folds up for storage when not in use and can be set to 32 different resistance levels. You can place your phone or tablet in the device holder, which rotates up to 180 degrees to accommodate floor workouts, to stream Echelon’s on-demand classes — they are free for the first month and $40 per month thereafter.
Best workout equipment
In our guide to jump ropes, experts told us that a weighted rope can add strength training to your cardio routine. Several of them recommended this set from Crossrope, which comes in four different sizes depending on your height and includes both a Light rope (weighing one-quarter of a pound) and a Heavy rope (weighing half a pound).
If you have limited space to work out at home, a few sets of dumbbells may be a good investment. In addition to serving as the crux of most basic strength workouts, they can also elevate cardio and conditioning workouts. These dumbbells from CAP are a relatively affordable and versatile option, according to certified personal trainer Melissa Vogel — the hexagonal shape allows them to stay in place during and after workouts, and the rubber coating protects your floors from damage. The dumbbells, which come individually, are available in sizes ranging from 5 pounds to 120 pounds.
If you only need a little bit of weight for your workouts, ankle weights might be a better option. “They are an ideal tool to use when looking to add smaller increments of resistance and strengthen muscle groups,” Kristina Jennings, a certified strength and conditioning specialist (CSCS) with virtual personal training platform Future told us in our guide to buying ankle and wrist weights. She recommended Bala Bangles for lighter at-home workouts like Pilates and yoga since they are relatively lightweight at either 1 pound each or 2 pounds each.
Your recovery routine is just as important as your actual workout. And if you work out relatively often, using a massage gun can keep your muscles loose and avoid post-workout soreness, experts previously told us. Both trainers and physical therapists recommended the Hyperice Hypervolt — it has multiple speed settings, comes with five head attachments and is powered by a Lithium-ion battery with up to two hours of juice per charge. Shopping writer Lauren Levy is also a fan: After using it regularly, she noticed she had more flexibility and less overall tightness in her muscles.
Many indoor spin bikes come with a clipless system in which a cleat on the bottom of a spinning shoe clips into the pedal for added stability and power output. There are two common cleats within the clipless system — SPD cleats and Delta cleats — and this cycling shoe can accommodate both. It’s easy to slip on and off thanks to the dial closure system, and you can choose from 14 different color combinations.