Strength Training Tips – Gym in a Basket

Can you really get a good workout at home? After many years of training clients in their homes, this expert fitness trainer is confident that you can get a great workout with minimal equipment in the privacy of your own space. There are many types of resistance tools that are affordable and easy to store – beginning with your own body!

Calisthenics are exercises that use body weight alone, like push ups and squats. A shift in body weight can increase or decrease the level of resistance. Other forms of resistance include free weights, toning and medicine balls, stretch bands and tubes. There are many advantages of using this type of equipment as opposed to gym-based machines, including:

Using your own core muscles to stabilize instead of relying on an external structure Training in a more functional manner, using movement patterns that reinforce the way you perform your daily activities Spotting asymmetries in the body and correcting these imbalances, bringing the body into better alignment Challenging your balance and coordination, making strength training more of a sport

My preferences in equipment choices are based on quality, economy and safety of use.

Free weights – These are usually solid metal covered in gray enamel, chrome, vinyl, or neoprene (which contains latex). Enamel or chrome coating may chip and flake over time, presenting a risk in use. The vinyl and neoprene coatings eliminate this risk, come in bright colors, and are nicer to hold. I prefer neoprene-covered weights because they do not become slippery with sweat. You need two pairs of free weights to start. For women, 3 and 5 pound or 5 and 8 pound, depending on your starting level; for men, 8 and 12 pound or 10 and 15 pound, again depending.

Ankle or cuff weights – These are either nonadjustable or adjustable. Three pounds is generally a good all-purpose denomination, but the adjustable pairs offer more versatility. These weights can be used alone for certain exercises (like leg lifts) and also can be used in combination with free weights to increase the amount of weight incrementally, e.g. if you only have a set of 5 pound weights, you can wrap one around your wrist to make a total of 8 pounds.

Mats – Exercise mats are available in different densities of foam that either fold or roll up, depending on where you plan to store it. Of the foldable exercise mats, I prefer the dense foam, which is stiff to touch but surprisingly resilient to use. Of the roll-up mats, I prefer a soft durable foam because it offers comfortable cushioning with a slightly sticky surface to prevent sliding. A yoga “sticky mat” is great for this too, but doesn’t offer the same cushioning.

Stretch bands and tubes – The quality of bands is the same from reputable brands. Different-colored bands denote different levels of resistance: light, medium, and heavy. Get at least two, either the light and medium, or the medium and heavy. The 4 foot length is more versatile than the 3 foot. The rubber tubing comes with handles or foam pads which may be easier to hold. You can also order handles for the stretch bands.

Balls – Weighted medicine balls offer options in all different sizes and weights. You might start with a 6-8 inch unweighted ball (a beach ball is fine) and progress to a rubber or gel-filled medicine ball, 2-15 pounds. Toning balls are generally smaller than medicine balls and often have a soft exterior, making them comfortable to hold. I personally like to work with a 4 pound toning ball because it offers good mid-level resistance.

There are many other items you can add to this basic list to create even more variety in your home fitness program, such as weighted bars, stability balls, step platforms, foam rollers and balance disks. My clients have developed ingenious methods for storing their equipment, for example:

  • decorative basket on display in the room
  • tote bag tucked away in a closet
  • large wicker basket under the dining room table
  • sturdy cardboard box under a chair
  • cabinet dedicated to gym gear

Where there’s a will, there’s a way!