Commercial gyms give you the impression that getting fit requires lots of bulky equipment. But the good old-fashioned chinup gives your biceps a better workout than the seated curl machine, and a quick run up a steep hill is far better for your quads than the leg extension device.
You just don’t need a whole lot of stuff to get exceptionally fit, and what you do need certainly doesn’t need to take up your whole living room — or your whole budget. The following 6 items are all the home gym you’ll ever need:
1. Suspension Trainer (TRX or equivalent)
The suspension trainer is one of those “shoulda thought of that” fitness tools that’s gained popularity in the last couple of years. Essentially, it’s a couple of nylon straps with handles that you can attach to something elevated (a door frame or a tree branch) and use to perform dozens of variations on novel and classic body-weight strength-training moves. It’s very useful for rows and core training, and you can’t beat it for convenience: the TRX rolls up into a 2-pound, grapefruit-size mesh bag.
2. Jump Rope
Here’s another cardio standby that you can toss in a suitcase or gym bag for a quick, do-anywhere workout. Jumping rope is a terrific, full-body exercise — preferable, in my opinion, to the workout you get on most cardio machines. You’ll also develop timing, hand-eye coordination, and an appreciation for the fitness levels of both champion boxers and 8-year-old girls. I like the fast-moving, inexpensive plastic kind but was recently introduced to a 2-inch-thick, 7-foot-long model — a real beast and a great option if you want an advanced upper-body challenge.
3. Chinup Bar
For anyone trying to get leaner, stronger, and more athletic, some form of chinup should be a staple. The chinup builds relative strength, or the ability to move your body through space quickly and easily, and works muscles that help to improve the slouching, rounded-forward posture most of us are stuck in for 8 or more hours a day. Plus, being able to bang out eight or more chinups is a mark of serious fitness — and an accomplishment to strive for. If you buy your own chinup bar, install it in a centrally located doorway, and do a single jump-and-pull chinup every time you pass the bar. Pretty soon you’ll be chinning with the best of them. Get the kind that fits easily over a door frame without bolts or screws.
You’ve probably seen these thick-handled, odd-shaped weights cropping up on fitness shows and lurking in corners at your local gym. If you’re going to buy a single weighted implement for home use, get one of these before investing in costly dumbbells and clunky, space-sucking barbells. Press it, lift it off the ground, swing it, carry it. Be creative. If you get ambitious, you can learn the handful of simple moves taught by the kettlebell experts — swings, snatches, cleans, and get-ups. After a while you’ll wonder why people ever use anything else. Get a weight you can press overhead a few times with one hand. When that gets too easy, get the next size up.
5. Foam Roller
Who knew that industrial Styrofoam could be such an effective massage tool? Hurts so good.
6. Medicine Ball
Some fitness pros use the terms “strength” and “power” interchangeably, but they’re really two different things. “Strength” refers to your ability to move a weight; “power” refers to your ability to move that weight fast. Squatting requires strength; jumping requires power. We lose power as we age, even faster than we lose strength — that’s one of the reasons older people have a hard time catching themselves when they fall. To combat this, a good workout program should always include some type of fast, powerful movement.
Plyometrics — jumping of various kinds — takes care of the power in the lower body. The medicine ball, which you can throw, smash, and slam in a variety of tension-relieving ways, is your go-to tool for upper-body power. Get the kind that bounces, and don’t be fooled into thinking heavier is better. Even muscle-heads will get all the workout they need out of 10 to 12 pounds.
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