What’s in YOUR home gym?? My top 5 favorite tools

I got a great question from a friend/former client the other day:
“I was wondering what tools you have for your home gym? I am hoping to build mine up. What tools are a must? Would be really awesome to have? And not waste your money?”

I’ve given it a couple of days to mull it over, because my home gym is pretty full from a few years of collecting, and I wanted to think about what I really use the most and would have the most bang for the least buck for the majority of people.

BTW, a good mat goes without saying, so I’m not putting it on the list.

Here are my top 5 (in no particular order), and why:

1. A solid step–solid meaning not flimsy. I like the Reebok step because it has 3 levels and it’s not nearly as prone to ‘tipping’ as the traditional riser/step apparatus.

Why? Because it’s uses are so diverse and it takes up very little space to store or when you use it–so it’s great for the living room, etc. You can use it in the traditional step aerobic way, use it as a strength training tool for step-ups, reverse lunges off it, lunges on to it, ‘bulgarian’ split squats, incline push ups…there are a ton of uses there, you just have to get creative. It’s also a great tool for getting the heart rate up and for a huge number of plyometric exercises. My all-time favorite is the Mountain Slider, which is just like a Mountain Climber, but from an elbow-plank position (on a step) with gliders (read: washcloths!) under the feet. Wicked for ‘sprints.’


2. Medium weight and heavy weight dumbbells. Medium for use with the smaller muscle groups (shoulders, triceps) and heavy so you can really challenge the back muscles and lower body.

Why? Again, they are diverse. There are a huge number of strength training exercises that you can do in a really challenging and satisfying way using one or two dumbbells in a workout; they’re easy to find, easy to use, and easy to store. For women, I’d recommend at least having a pair of 8’s, 10’s and 15’s; in my collection I also have 20’s and 25’s and this seems to be enough for the at-home workout days.



12# dumbbells for the half-kneeling shoulder press


3. Bodybands. I love these things so much.

Why? They come in many different levels of resistance, are easy to store, are less expensive than other tools and are wildly versatile. Bodybands can be used for strength training exercises, and for explosive/dynamic movements as well. Examples of strength training uses include: one-arm rows, double bent-over rows, band-resisted push ups, band pull-aparts, assisted leg lowers, straight-arm torso rotations, shoulder presses, band-resisted squats, band-resisted romanian deadlifts….I think you get the picture πŸ™‚ For dynamic/explosive movements (the stuff that leaves you gasping for air), uses include band-resisted broad jumps, band-resisted side leaps, band-resisted jump squats and so much more. They’re easy to use with a partner, too.

bodyband rows

Staggered Step Rows


Deadlift, start position


Deadlift, top of movement


IMG_4218 IMG_4231

4. Therabands of varying resistances (sometimes they’re called pilates bands or fitness bands, it’s all the same as long as they are long, flat, wide and stretchy!).

Why? Therabands offer lighter levels of resistance than the Bodybands, generally, which lend well to use with what I like to call ‘structural support’ exercises. The more subdued home gym venue lends itself nicely to taking care of those smaller movement exercises that help keep your rotator cuffs, hips, low back, knees and ankles happy. Some great ‘structural support’ exercises you can do with a band at home include: 4-way ankle exercises, 4-way hip exercises, clamshells, side step walking, band pull-aparts, ‘cheerleaders,’ external shoulder rotations, internal shoulder rotations, seated band rows, and loads of other ‘fun’ exercises. But keep these at the end of your main workout πŸ™‚


Haybaler start position


Haybaler, top of movement













5. Gymboss Interval Timers, because if I’m working out at home, 8 times out of ten I’ll be doing a circuit, not a straight set lifting session.

Why? It takes the clock watching out of the situation, which allows you to focus completely on your workout intensity and it keeps you honest–no ‘guesstimating’ 30 seconds, lol. They’re super affordable, too, and take a licking and keep on ticking…mine is going on three years old now, needs occasional resets and battery changes, but has endured years of being thrown about in my gym bag and dropped during classes….I love it.


So there are my personal top five tools to have in a home gym. Lots of bang for not too much buck, some pieces are very portable (for business trips or vacations), most of them are multi-purpose and together they shouldn’t take up too much space, unlike a treadmill or elliptical (you know, those clunky clothes hangers!).

Honorable Mentions:
Gliders or Furniture sliders (although washcloths on a smooth surface will do, and paper plates on carpets, too)
a Kettlebell or two
Swiss Ball
Exercise tubes with handles


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