The gym can be a divisive topic – some people love it, while other people hate it.  I’ve been on both ends of the spectrum, but for the most part, I love the gym….but I’ve been without a gym membership since I moved to a new city 7 months ago.

While I miss the gym, I made it my mission to make the most out of this season where I was forced to work out at home.  To my surprise, it’s been a lot more enjoyable and more productive than I had expected!

At the same time, I know there are plenty of folks who would much prefer to work out at home even if they have the option to get a gym membership. For some folks, it’s convenience. For others, it’s because they don’t like the crowds, or maybe they need childcare, or maybe they only have particular hours they are able to work out. Whatever the reason, home workouts can have a really big draw for folks, and whether that’s out of preference or necessity, I want to make sure you know that it is absolutely possible to get great workouts at home!

Currently, my “home gym” is contained in my little 10’x12’ bedroom.  (Said bedroom also has a queen size bed crammed in there, so “space is limited” would be an understatement.)  Below are some crappy-quality phone photos of my home gym, in all its humble glory.  My workouts nowadays are all designed around bodyweight movements and the following exercise equipment, as it’s all I’ve got.

  • Pull up bar (installed in the doorway)
  • Swiss balls – a small-ish one and a gigantic one (not pictured)
  • Parallettes (mini parallel bars that my dad and I made out of PVC pipe)
  • 40lb adjustable kettlebell (can take plates out to reduce weight by 5lb increments down to 15lbs, it’s so cool!)
  • 15lb dumbbells
  • 10lb dumbbells
  • 5lb dumbbells
  • Mini-bands
  • Resistance band with handles
  • Ab wheel (not pictured)
  • Yoga mat

I didn’t buy all this at once.  In fact, all of it was either given to me as gifts (the pull up bar I got for my birthday in August, the kettlebell for Christmas, the dumbbells and resistance band were handed down from my dad) or picked up at thrift stores (ab wheel) or good online sales (mini-bands and swiss ball). As I said, we made the parallettes in less than an hour, and those are one of my favorite pieces of equipment!  All that to say, I’ve been making it work for most of the past seven months with only a pair of 10lb dumbbells, a pull up bar, the parallettes, mini bands, and yoga mat – if that’s not a barebones “home gym,” I don’t know what is, but it still worked.

Barring a handful of workouts with heavier dumbbells in the mini-gym at my apartment complex (which is not super clean or very safe, thus my working out in the comfort of my own apartment), and a few yoga classes at a local studio, all of my workouts since June have been done at home with nothing but the equipment I listed above. So how did that affect my physique and overall fitness? Well, here’s the photo evidence: The far left photo was taken over summer right after I moved (July), and the middle and right photos were both taken within the past month (late January/early February).  Six or seven months of home workouts seems to have done only good things for my body composition.

In terms of fitness, the hardest part has probably been conditioning.  When I had a gym membership, I often used the spin bikes and prowler or sled pushing/pulling for cardio and sprints.  (I’d love a spin bike and like to think I could fit one in my room, but I don’t have several hundred bucks to blow right now, so that’s still on the wish list for now.)  It’s a little harder to get conditioning work at home, because my knees have crappy cartilage and a lot of the typical “at home cardio” workouts include too many high-impact movements – like high reps of jump squats – for my knees to keep up.  My conditioning relies on a lot of circuit type workouts (series of exercises with lighter weights and very limited rest) and EMOM (“every minute on the minute”) workouts with bodyweight or my kettlebell (or both).  Down the road, I would love to get a basic spin bike for some low-impact cardio/conditioning at home – I’ve seen them for around $200 so it wouldn’t be too huge of an investment.  (For some reason that reminds me of the opening scene of Sandra Bullock’s morning routine in The Proposal.)  And yes, when I get my spin bike, I absolutely will set it up near a TV so I can “Netflix and sweat my ass off” on the regular, and it will be glorious.

You can do a lot more with a home gym than you might think.  The big determinant of how effective your home gym will be is how effective you can be.  Are you able to stay focused and work out at home, or do you inevitably get distracted and procrastinate by doing laundry/unloading the dishwasher/sitting down to watch Kardashian reruns?  Are you willing to get creative with modifying exercises/workouts to be doable with the equipment and space that you have available?  Some people love to follow video programs for home workouts, like Insanity, T-25, Turbokick (that’s super old now, ain’t it?), P90X, etc.  I can’t stand most of those workout formats and I like to have the control and creativity of designing and running my own programming, so I don’t use any home workout DVDs. I do use youtube for yoga, pilates, or barre workouts once a week or so, and that’s worked well for me.  As with a lot of things, it’s just a matter of preference – do what works for you!

For me, the biggest challenge is mentally blocking out the time I have to workout as “gym time” and not letting myself try to get caught up on household tasks in between sets, because that inevitably devolves into just doing chores with a few squats thrown in the mix, instead of an actual workout.  But when I can stay focused and not let myself take breaks to do chores, I surprise myself with how good my workouts can be!

In going from someone who would spend upwards of 9 hours/week at the gym to working out exclusively at home, I’ve found a lot of benefits that I didn’t expect and I’ve grown to love my little “home gym” for both its convenience and for how I’m learning to be effective with minimal equipment.  But even so, being at a big gym, surrounded by barbells and plates and dumbbells and kettlebells and benches and pull up bars and sleds and prowlers…to me, it’s like a playground for grown-ups, and I’ll happily run around like a little monkey on speed. I dream of being able to build up a kickass home gym with all my favorite gym “toys” when I own my own house. (All the fun of a gym, none of the crowds, and all the convenience of not having to leave my property – that’s the dream!) But since that requires a lot more space and money than I currently have, that’s a little ways off. For now I’m a grad student trying to survive the last semester and make do with what I can fit in my 10’x12’ bedroom in a rented apartment.

Let me tell you, if I can make it work with my little home gym and a crazy schedule, so can you!

Let me know if there’s any other way I can help you figure out how to build your home gym and get started working out at home!

xo,

Dominique

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