Everything You Need to Build the Perfect Apartment Gym

These eight items don't take up much space. Buy them all and you'll be better outfitted than any pricey gym.

Oct 3, 2016
Outside
Outside Magazine
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When buying at-home exercise equipment, you might invest more money up front, but you’ll save in the long term.    Photo: oneinchpunch/iStockphoto

Gyms are big business, pulling in around $22 billion annually as an industry. It helps that the average membership runs $58 per month, and that figure skyrockets if you live in a city. Brooklynites, for example, pay about $135 a month to hit the gym, while people who live in Austin pay $88. Here’s another alarming fact: only about 33 percent of members use their gym enough to get their money’s worth.

That’s why you should consider buying some good at-home exercise equipment. You might invest more money up front, but you’ll save in the long term. “There’s also nothing more convenient—a set of equipment in a closet is an excuse killer,” says Kevin Larrabee, a trainer at Mike Boyle Strength and Conditioning and host of the FitCast, a popular fitness podcast. “You’ll also save commute time, there are no crowds, and you can blast your own music.”

And if you think the gym has some magic, fitness-enhancing power, think again. “I’m an employee at one of the best gyms in the world, and I’ve been able to have focused and challenging home training sessions that’ve helped me get stronger,” says Larrabee, who lives in an apartment in Boston. Of course, you’ll give up some of the fitness camaraderie you’d find in a CrossFit box or boutique gym, but you’re getting that with your running and riding buddies, aren’t you?

Here are our favorite products.

The Essentials

These four items cover all your fitness bases and don’t take up much room.

Super Bands

You can use these big, burly rubber bands to augment pullups, pushups, and squats. You can also use them for at-home rows. They roll up to the size of a pair of socks. Tuck them into a drawer—or back into your suitcase—when you’re done.

Two Key Exercises

  1. Band Row: Anchor the band to something secure, like a door handle or bedpost. Face the anchor with an outstretched arm, hold the band in one hand, and step away from the anchor until the band is taut. Pull the band into your chest. Repeat until fatigued, and then switch arms. This move is ideal for paddlers or climbers.
  2. Band Pushup: To make this classic exercise a little tougher, do pushups with the band looped under both hands and around your back.

We like: Resistance Band Training Purple Band ($23)

Quantum Band
  Photo: Resistance Band Training

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Pullup Bar

The pullup is a staple in workouts ranging from old-school bodybuilding routines to CrossFit burners. The ability to perform them is required for entry into the military and FBI. It’s just about the best bodyweight exercise you can do—especially for mountaineers and climbers.

Two Key Exercises

  1. Pullup: You know what to do. A few pointers: Keep your body perfectly straight throughout, and for most reps, try to use the handles that allow your palms to face each other, which puts less stress on your elbows.
  2. Lat Hang: Tight lats can cause everything from shoulder to hip pain. This move loosens your lats, helping you avoid injury. Using an overhand grip, hang from the bar with your arms straight. Flex your hamstrings so your pelvis is tilted slightly forward. Now take a big breath in, then slowly blow it all out. You should feel a stretch in your lats. Repeat.

We prefer bars that hang on your door frame because they’re versatile and secure and don’t require any drilling. Try: Iron Gym Total Upper Body Workout Bar ($24)

Iron Gym Total Upper Body Worko
  Photo: Iron Gym

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Suspension Trainer or Rings

Suspension trainers—basically two straps that hang from a door frame—allow you to make any bodyweight exercise harder. You can stuff them in a drawer when not in use. Members of the military have been known to bring these along when deployed.

Two Key Exercises

  1. Body Saw: This move teaches you to lock down your core while extending your limbs, which is important in everything from mogul skiing to fly-fishing. Get into a plank position with your forearms flat on the ground and feet in the suspension trainer handles. Your body should be rigid and parallel to the ground. Keep straight as you push your body backwards about a foot. Pause, then move your body forward, away from the handles. Continue that back-and-forth motion—like a saw—until fatigued.
  2. Single Leg Squat: Hold the handles and face the anchor. Lift your left foot slightly off the ground. Push your hips back, bend your right knee, and squat, keeping your left leg out in front of you. Drop until your knee is 90 degrees or lower, then push back up. Try to use the handles as little as possible throughout—they’re only for stability. Do all your reps, then switch legs.

We like: TRX Suspension Trainer ($150) and Woss 3000 ($35)

woss-3000-suspension-trainer.jpg
  Photo: Woss Enterprises

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Valslides or Paper Plate

Easy to toss into a drawer or carry-on, these simple pads make any exercise less steady, which strengthens your core and small (but important) stabilizing muscles.

Two Key Exercises

  1. Hamstring Curl on Slide: You probably don’t work your hamstrings and glutes enough, but they’re actually your body’s most powerful muscles. For this move, lie on your back with your legs straight and heels on the slides. Raise your pelvis slightly off the floor, then slide your heels toward your butt until they’re under your knees. Slowly extend your legs back out and repeat.
  2. Reverse Lunge on Slide: Stand with your feet hip-width apart and your left foot on the plate. Slide your left foot back, bending your right knee and dropping into a lunge position. Repeat to fatigue, then switch. This lunge variation leads to better form, mobility, and muscle activation.

We like: Valslides ($30) or, if you’re on a budget, actual paper plates.

Valslides
  Photo: Valslide

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The Hard and Heavy Items

Take your at-home gym to the next level by adding some heavy weights to the mix.

Kettlebells

These small but effective weights allow you to do heavy, explosive exercises from the comfort of your apartment. Runners, cyclists, hikers, and skiers take note: Kettlebells are especially great for strengthening your lower body. Kevin Larrabee recommends getting three sizes: 26, 44, and 70 pounds.

Two Key Exercises

  1. Swing: This move builds the power in your glutes, which are your “go muscles” for running, cross-country skiing, and riding. (Stronger glutes may also help reduce your risk of injury, according to Larrabee.) Stand with a kettlebell on the floor about two feet in front of you, your feet shoulder-width apart. Bend over, keeping your back straight and knees slightly bent, and hold the handle of the kettlebell. Hike it back between your legs. Now thrust your hips forward, stand tall, and let the weight swing to shoulder level with your arms straight out. Repeat, hiking the weight back down through your legs, then swinging it up again.
  2. Turkish Get-Up: Outdoor athletes are prone to imbalances, and this exercise is a total body tune-up that helps prevent injury. It’s quite a complicated move, so we recommend simply watching the video.

We like: Rogue Kettlebells ($40, $55, and $85)

Kettlebells
  Photo: Rogue Fitness

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Weighted Vest

Toss on a weighted vest and your entire workout becomes more challenging. If you’re especially masochistic, you can load a vest with 20 pounds and do the famed CrossFit workout Murph, where you run a mile, do 100 pullups, 200 pushups, 300 squats, then run another mile.

Two Key Exercises

  1. Pullup: While wearing the vest, do a basic pullup. Try to keep your body straight throughout, and think about slow, controlled movement.
  2. Walking Lunge: Critical for hikers and mountaineers, this exercise improves your balance, mobility, and ability to carry a heavy load over a distance. Step forward with your right foot and lower your body until your right knee is bent 90 degrees. Stand up and immediately repeat with your left leg. Think of it as walking lunges in place.

We like: 60-Pound CAP Barbell Adjustable Weighted Vest ($57)

CAP Barbell Adjustable Weighted
  Photo: CAP Barbell

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The Final Touches

You’ll be better equipped than most gyms if you cap off your at-home quiver with these two purchases.

Sandbags

When you incorporate sandbags into various moves, the weight shifts inside the bag, forcing you to engage your stabilizing muscles and core. This can improve your balance and help you stay on your feet on technical trails.

Two Key Exercises

  1. Bear-Hug Squat: Hug the bag so it’s up against and parallel with your torso. Slowly squat, keeping your torso upright. Because you’re hugging the heavy weight, this squat also recruits all of your upper body.
  2. Max Lunges: Hold the handles of the bag with your arms straight and at your waist. Perform a reverse lunge. As you do so, drop the bag to the side of your forward leg, locking down your core to resist the bag’s pull. Reverse the move and immediately repeat on the other side.

We like: Ultimate Sandbag Training Starter Combo Package ($230)

Ultimate Sandbag
  Photo: Ultimate Sandbag

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Fan Bike

This cardio machine doesn’t take up much space, but it’s arguably the best interval trainer in the world. It engages your entire body, leverages exponential resistance (translation: the harder you pedal, the harder pedaling becomes), and is safer than most other cardio machines because you can’t mess up your form.

Two Key Exercises

  1. AirDyne Tabata: This famous routine will wipe you out. It’s from Japanese scientist Izumi Tabata’s study in which a group of PE students performed the following workout five days a week for six weeks and increased their anaerobic capacity 28 percent: Pedal as hard as you can for 20 seconds, followed by ten seconds of rest. Repeat eight times. If you feel like death afterward, you’re doing it right.
  2. Ten-Minute Max Calories: Regardless of whether you want to lose or gain weight, calorie burn is an easy, tangible way to measure effort. Set the bike’s computer to display calorie burn. Burn as many as you can in ten minutes. A good score is 300 calories. Try to beat your score every time you do this test. It’ll hurt, but you’ll be better for it.

We like: Schwinn AirDyne Pro ($999)

Schwinn AirDyne Pro
  Photo: Schwinn

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Filed To: Fitness, Gear
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