Not very long ago the words "home gym" conjured up images of tedious sessions on the elliptical and other pricey, bulky investments that were terrible substitutions for the real deal—playing hard outside. But with the increasing popularity and proven efficacy of functional, bodyweight fitness on the cheap, the DIY gym has undergone a radical, and welcome, simplification. These are all the tools you need to stay strong when weather or injury forces you inside.
#1: Yoga Mat
Whatever your sport, a basic, no-slip yoga mat with decent cushion is the essential building block to any home training program. Invent your own 15-minute session of downward dogs and pigeons, blast your core with a few key Pilates moves, and knock out 100 sit-ups between emails without losing the skin off your back. Unless you're serious about your asanas, don't over think this one: a sticky mat with 2-5 mm of squish from Gaiam (from $29) should do the trick.
#2: Foam Roller
Mobility tools are essential for ironing out the kinks after a tough workout and nipping problem areas in the bud before they become full-blown injuries. "Ditch the soft white roller for one with more horsepower, i.e. firmness!" advises Nathan Helming, who coaches elite ultra runners, triathletes, and cyclists at San Francisco CrossFit. Helming's go-to is the longer-lasting Trigger Point orange and black Grid X Foam Roller ($49). "Your calves and quads will repay you with additional hours of distance and power output." If you want something a little more specific and easier to pack, invest $2.99 in a hard rubber lacrosse ball, perfect for digging deeper into your shoulders, rolling out your feet, and getting intimate with your pesky piriformis.
Cheap and versatile, a pair of dumbbells are key to your at-home strength regimen. Rob Shaul, founder of the legendary Mountain Athlete gym in Jackson Hole and trainer to some of the world's best endurance athletes and alpinists, recommends Rogue Fitness's 15-pound Rubber Hex Dumbbells ($36) for performing his favorite DIY endurance exercises, including Scotty Bobs, a simple two-for-one upper body push-pull exercise and the Quadzilla Complex, a "simple, killer" comb for lower body strength; For more exercises, check out strongswiftdurable.com.
#4: Jump Rope
"Equipment should never be an excuse for not doing strength-focused training," counsels Shaul. "The longer I coach, the smaller my exercise menu gets. The key is simple, but hard." Enter the humble jump rope, the most dependable Rx for cardio on the go, when you're stuck in your hotel room or the trails are too slick to run. Extended jump roping—10 minutes or more in one go—trains shoulders, core, legs, cardio, calves, and ankle and foot connective tissue and durability. Try Rogue's PVC Licorice jump rope, in varying lengths ($8.49).
#5: TheraBand Resistance Band
This hyper-portable, affordable little number is like an oversized rubber band for your muscles. Lie on your back and circle the latex strap around ankle for a deep hamstring stretch, or tie it in small knot around both ankles and side step back and forth across the floor and feel your glutes start to fire and burn (excellent rehab for IT band injuries). TheraBands ($5.99) come in eight resistance levels, squish down small enough to fit in your pocket, and are bomber for isolating muscles and regaining range of motion after injury.