Last week I wrote about keeping your gym membership and focusing on the gym amenities you really use. But if getting to the gym isn’t working for you, I suggest stocking your home with a few well-chosen pieces of exercise gear to help you start or maintain a consistent fitness regimen. Having your own gear handy puts you in control. It saves you time, since you never have to drive to and from the health club. It gives you a weatherproof alternative to outdoor activities like walking or biking. And it lets you squeeze in exercise in the morning before the kids wake up or in the evening while you’re watching your favorite TV show.
Many of us have bought strange fitness contraptions that took three hours to put together and are now tucked in a closet because they didn’t fulfill the promise of quick weight loss. Yet I talk to so many folks who say that lack of time is their excuse. I beg to differ … I tend to think it’s lack of preparation. My advice is to use the KIS method — Keep It Simple. Arm yourself with a few of these basic (yet effective) home workout tools, and you’re more likely to find the time to use them! You can do a few strength training moves or hop on the Mini Stepper with no advance planning and get a total-body workout right in your living room.
1. Resistance bands, cords or tubes
Rubberized resistance tools can help you build muscle just like hand weights. Even better, they’re easy to store and handy for traveling. Some resistance bands and cords come with a how-to DVD or CD; most come with a suggested exercise chart. The bands, cords or tubes themselves come in different colors that represent different levels of resistance and difficulty. Resistance bands are for everyone — from the beginner to the most advanced exerciser. Even the buff men who come to my classes are challenged by the bands!
2. Balance Ball, a.k.a. stability ball
You can use a ball for abdominal crunches and stretches or use it with hand weights or resistance cords as a substitute for a weight bench. When you sit on or lie across a Balance Ball or stability ball, you engage all the muscles in your core to keep yourself balanced. As I mentioned in an earlier post, I also sit on my ball in my office to relieve tension in my back.
Make sure you get an anti-burst or slow-deflate ball (all of Gaiam’s Balance Balls are made this way). Some of the cheap balls are made of such thin rubber that when or if they pop, they burst like a balloon!
3. Hand weights (dumbbells)
Weights are great for building muscle and sculpting your body. One pair each of 3 lb. and 5 lb. dumbbells will be enough to get you going on a beginning strength-training regimen. Add 8 lb. and 10 lb. weights as your strength improves. Get a strength training DVD to give you instruction — or if you have a few exercises you like to do already, keep a chart and do them every other day for about 15 minutes. You’ll start seeing results quickly!
4. Yoga mat or “sticky mat”
The surface of a yoga mat isn’t really sticky; it’s just a rubbery, non-slip material that makes it easier, safer and more comfortable to do yoga and other stretching exercises. Not to mention that the pretty designs are mood enhancers. My kids gave me a grass-green mat with a beautiful leaf print on it for Christmas, and every time I use it, I feel happy. A rolled-up yoga mat also works as a lumbar support to lie over on the floor after a stressful day.
I think by now everyone has heard that you should aim for at least 10,000 steps a day; that’s about five miles’ worth of walking. Two thousand steps is approximately one mile. Every step counts, whether you’re tidying up your house, shopping for groceries, walking the dog, or walking up and down the stairs at your office. Counting your steps with a pedometer is a great way to see how active you really are. The pedometer is a great mental game and a great motivator. When you wear one, you can’t help checking it to see how you’re doing!
6. Mini Stepper or other cardio equipment
People always ask me which cardio machine burns the most calories. And I always say: the one you’ll use the most! The more you like it, the longer you’ll stay on it. And the longer you stay on it, the more calories you’ll burn!
A Mini Stepper is a fun and affordable option. I challenged myself to use one for 15 minutes three nights a week to see what I thought, and I actually got a good but simple workout in front of my TV, not to mention a mood boost. Instead of feeling like a blob on the couch, you’ll burn up a few hundred calories with the Mini Stepper — yet it takes up hardly any space. Of course, if you have the cash for a treadmill or elliptical trainer, go for it. But the Mini Stepper is by far the best bang for the buck I’ve found for indoor cardio. A close second? The Trampoline Workout System. It takes up a little more space, but talk about fun!
7. Workout DVDs or online videos
If you like taking exercise classes, then pop a yoga DVD or fitness DVD into your laptop or DVD player and get moving. Exercise DVDs are also a fun way to get your kids involved. Kids love to join in, and it’s great family time. Even better, sign up for a GaiamTV.com online streaming video subscription. (It comes with a free 10-day trial so you can give it a try before you sign up.) Gaiam TV has hundreds of unlimited fitness videos, from traditional yoga and cardio workouts to dance and Pilates! You’ll get more variety than with DVDs, without the storage hassles.
All of these basics are simple to use and easy on the wallet. Of course the choices are up to you: what you’ll enjoy using, what you can afford and what you have room for. Just resist the temptation to pick up a few random items on sale; if the item is poorly constructed or doesn’t really interest you, it’s not a bargain. But whatever you choose, it’s never too late to get started on taking control of your health!