Here is how to build a COMPLETE home gym in five pieces:
1. Pull up bar – I love pull ups. And while I almost considered excluding this and instead including foam rollers, I felt that the pull up bar was just too essential (and it is too easy to foam roll with a ball you just have lying around the house). Even if you can’t do pull ups YET, a pull up bar can be used to do all the isometric holds to work up to being able to do a full pull up. You can also do scapular retractions on the bar as well as ab exercises. While the least necessary piece for beginners on the list, it is really probably the best piece for core and back work.
2. Jungle Gym straps – Best way to work your ENTIRE BODY. Honestly as long as you have a door or another place to hang them, this is the single best piece of equipment to have for your home. They are just like the TRX straps but a bit cheaper and in my opinion just as good if not better. You can literally work every muscle using these straps. And these straps can be used to make moves easy enough for the beginner or difficult enough for even the advanced lifter. Balance lunges with your foot up in the strap or single leg squats with only one of the straps for assistance can be extremely difficult! So don’t think that you need a ton of weights to get in a gnarly workout at home. There are always ways to progress moves for any body part on the Jungle Gym straps!
3. Sandbag – Since I love lifting heavy, I did want to include some sort of weight equipment on this list….and sandbags won out. They can be used to work any part of the body and the weight can be easily adjusted by pulling out some of the filler bags or not filling the bags completely full. They are also an extremely functional weight since they are awkward. They also really don’t take up that much room and you won’t really have to buy more pairs, like you would dumbbells, as you progress. Not as necessary for the beginner, but a great way to start lifting some weight.
4. Sliders – Sliders can be used to progress exercises for any part of the body and can be a good substitute for weighted activities. They make exercises more difficult because they create a more unstable environment. For example, there is no traction when you slide out to do a side lunge and then try to drag the slider back in toward the standing leg (I always tell people NOT to go out as far as they think they can the first time because they won’t make it back in). Sliders are also fairly cheap and a small piece of equipment that you can basically store anywhere. They are a great way to progress moves without needing weights. And shoot, if you have hardwood floors you can even make your own sliders out of socks!
5. Resistance bands – While I was at first hesitant to put these on the list because you can basically strengthen the exact same body parts with the Jungle Gym straps, they did end up making the list because they are probably the easiest and best piece of equipment to carry with you if you travel a lot. Also, I had considered putting on mini bands for glute activation exercises (since glute activation exercises are extremely important yet everyone skips them) BUT you can make modifications so that you can sub resistance bands for mini bands! Anyway, the point is resistance bands are super versatile, easy to store and can be used by everyone from the beginner to the advanced lifter. Also, unlike dumbbell lifts, moves done with resistance bands have a lot more tension and resistance throughout the full range of motion of the lift, which is an added bonus.
So now you know the only five pieces you really need for a COMPLETE home gym.
BUT what if you can’t get all five?
If you can only get two items from this list, I would suggest getting only the Jungle Gym Straps (or resistance bands) AND a sandbag. HOWEVER, if you want to spend less, resistance bands and sliders can be a great way to increase the intensity and add variety to any of the bodyweight or home workouts you may be doing.
As I mentioned before, foam rollers almost made the list. And it was a very hard decision NOT to put them on there.
They honestly didn’t make it because a tennis ball or rolling-pin will work 95% of the time and most clients I’ve encountered have one or the other (or would rather spend the few dollars on one of those instead of shelling out $50 to $100 bucks for a true trigger point tool). However, if money isn’t an issue and you have space for a bit more equipment and are serious about getting great results, I would suggest investing in some trigger point tools to target exactly your problem areas!
What are your favorite pieces of home equipment? Need some help creating your home gym and designing workouts? Let me know!
NOTE: In posts to come, look for exercises using each of these pieces.
Notice I didn’t say ab exercises because these moves work way more muscles than just your abs – they work your ENTIRE core.
I could have listed things like the single leg squat and deadlift since they are so great in terms of working your core, but since I’ve talked about them a few times recently, I decided to include some different ones to add to your exercise repertoire.
Really any single limb movement is going to engage your core more be it rotational or anti-rotational. For some single limb movements you can use to work your core, check out this blog with single limb exercises.
Below are some core focused moves that I really love!
- Wall push – This move can either be super easy or super tough…It is up to you. To do this move, stand up against a wall and push into the wall as if you are going to move the wall backwards. Get up nice and close to the wall as if you are at the bottom of a push ups. Drive all the way up through your feet into your hands against the wall. Your core should be tight enough that if someone comes and pushes on you from any angle you won’t move. (To make the move more difficult, have someone actually push on you from all angles as you hold!)
- Pull up and hold – You can do this as a chin up or pull up. You can do it off a bar, off a peg board, off of TRX straps…wherever. But what you need to do is pull to the top of a pull up or chin up and HOLD. Keep your legs straight down toward the ground and your chin above the bar. Keep your chest pressed out and shoulder blades down and back. Squeeze your belly button in toward your spine and keep your glutes tight. Hold as long as you can. This move is also a great way to work on pull ups (especially if you do a slow negative on the way down!).
- Inchworm with row – So when I first started and had to train both of the owners, I busted out this move for one of their workouts because it is probably one of the best full body moves out there! To perform the inch worm, start standing. Place your hands on the ground as if you are performing a hamstring stretch. Then walk your hands out until you are in a high plank or top of a push up position. Then walk your feet back in, keeping your legs as straight as possible until you are back in that standing hamstring stretch. To make this move harder, add a dumbbell back row in the plank position. So with the weights walk your hands out to the plank just like you would with the basic inchworm. In the plank, perform one dumbbell row on each side, then walk your feet back in. Make sure to keep your hips from rotating when performing the row (you want a solid plank position…not butt up toward the ceiling!). To make this move super hard, add sliders or even plate weights that will slide to your feet. Instead of walking your feet back in, slide them together back in, like you are performing a jackknife. The sliders will also make it more difficult as you walk out and as you hold the plank.
- Power Ropes Sidewinders (Can also do rainbows) – I picked this rope move because it is super super good for the obliques and works rotation unlike the moves above which all work in the sagittal plane. In a nice athletic stance, you rotate side to side as quickly as you can, causing the rope to smoothly snake all the way down. You can also mix in some rotation with the rainbow wave, which reminds me a bit of a Russian twist. You start at the hipbone and make a rainbow up to the shoulders and down to the other hipbone. For videos of these moves, check out John Brookfield’s Youtube. He and Ingrid have some great moves for the ropes, including waves and pulls (as well as a lot of other cool random stuff!).
- Windmills (or progressed to Turkish Get Up) – So I actually saw these in an article the other day and was like “I haven’t done these in FOREVER and I used to LOVE them! I haven’t done them in forever because recently I’ve been doing the Turkish Get Up. BUT both are great for shoulder stabilization as well as core strength. To perform a windmill, you can start with out weight. Feet should be about shoulder width. Turn out the toe of the side that you aren’t going to work to about 45 degrees. Straighten the other arm up toward the ceiling. You are then going to hinge over, driving the butt cheek of the arm that is up out to the side as much as you can. Then you are going to stand back up, keeping the arm straight toward the ceiling the entire time.
- Landmine wipers or twists – So this can be both a rotational and anti-rotational move. You can either rotate from hip to hip with the barbell or you can decide to fight against rotating as you lower the barbell down to about shoulder height on each side.
- Sit Thrus – One of my favorite moves. It kind of looks like breakdancing when it is done correctly…at least to me anyway. To do this move, start in a table top crawling position. Start up on your hands and toes with your hands under your shoulders and your knees under your hips. Then you are going to literally sit through. With your right knee bent, you are going to sit through your left side, raising your left hand off the ground. Then return back to the starting position and repeat on the other side. (Check out the top two photos below to see the two main parts of the move.)
- Planks with pulls or waves – So there are actually like three exercises really included in number 8. There is the plank with a pull from either in front or behind. This one can involve a hip hinge like the one show below with the chain.
There is also the plank with a pull through across the body. With this one you reach your hand under and across your body while holding a plank to grab a rope or a sandbag. You then pull the bag or rope across your body to the other side. Depending on your goal for the move, you can either use a slight hip hinge or you can fight against the rotation of your hips to hold a strict plank. And last, but not least, there is a plank with one-handed battling waves. I had my volleyball girls do this one the other day. It is harder than you would think!
- Handstands – Handstands are just an amazing move. A full handstand without support requires a lot of core strength. As you work up to that, you can work on your core strength by doing variations of the handstand. You can start with a downward dog and then progress by walking your feet up a wall. As you get your feet up higher on the wall, walk your hands as close as you can to the wall until you are completely vertical. Once you get in super close, you can advance the move by walking side to side or lifting one hand up to tap your thigh.
- Bar rotations – I found these when reading Nick Tumminello’s articles. He has some AMAZING STUFF about…well…EVERYTHING! These honestly are like a standing variation of the Russian twist, but I definitely like them better! (And I kind of like them when I need to vent a bit of anger…they feel like I’m fighting something haha)
Runners up: I really love these moves as well so want to mention them even if I don’t go into detail.
Medball throws both sideways and overhead. Medball slams both rotational and straight ahead.
Any front loaded exercise like front squats or good mornings. When you front load you force your core to work harder to stabilize!
Also, I love any sort of hanging knees to elbows or feet to bar or even skin the cats. However, since crossfit became popular I feel like most people know those so chose not to include them. Also, those can be incredibly tough and not easily done by everyone. Everyone can do some variation of the exercises above.
I also wanted to include a ton of plank variations…Plank on the power wheel. Plank with reach throughs. Plank with reach back and out. Planks on sliders where you slide your feet backwards and stretch out then come back to starting…ACTIVE planks. I love ACTIVE planks. But there were just so many that I honestly feel like planks need their own full article if I’m going to touch on them!
And last but not least, resistance band rotations and even the stability press…actually especially the stability press. I love anti-rotational moves!
What are your favorite core moves that aren’t either crunches or sit ups?