It's a common occurrence — a close kin of those cast-aside New Year's resolutions inhabiting the round file labeled Good Intentions. It's that guilt trip that comes at bill time every month when you pay for your seldom-used gym membership.
We know you meant well. The hype was inspiring as the young fitness expert took you on a tour of the facilities. You felt inspired; you felt determined; you felt energized. But, let's face it — with long hours at work, family responsibilities and the demands of a busy life, where does one find the extra hours to spend at the gym?
With a few basics — an adjustable bench (preferably one with leg extension set-up), dumbbells, a bar and a selection of plates —
you can work all muscle groups:
Chest: bench press, incline/decline bench press, dumbbell press, fly, push-up
Shoulders: military press, upright row, front raise, lateral raise, shrug
Biceps: barbell curl, concentration, hammer and isolation curl, standing/seated dumbbell curl
Triceps: dips, kickback, French press, pull-over, extension
Back: one-arm rows, bent-over barbell rows, good morning, bent-over lateral raise
Legs: extension, squat, calf raise, lunge, curl
Abdominals: sit-up, crunch, bicycle, twist
With a little imagination and some of that left-over determination, a home gym can provide a very effective workout. And contrary to what those persuasive infomercials claim, it doesn't mean spending your life's savings. With a relatively modest investment and a little creativity, you can pump iron at home and achieve worthwhile results. In fact, for the person who has a foundational knowledge of resistance training, home exercise has some real advantages; the most obvious, of course, is convenience.
"A lot depends on what your goal is when setting up a home gym," says Patty Traxler, certified fitness trainer at Oz Fitness in Medford. "Budget is also a consideration, and I've seen very elaborate home gyms, but with a few good choices of equipment, you can set up a very good program for not too much money."
For overall fitness and weight loss, cardio exercise is important. Many types of treadmills, stair steppers and elliptical machines can be found for a fraction of their original cost in the classifieds. You will want to consider speed variations, incline options and whether you have irritable knee, hip or ankle joints. Elliptical machines are usually considered a better choice if you are inclined toward soreness in these areas. Many machines offer fold-up, space-saving capabilities.
Although cardio exercise is the basis for any good fitness regimen, keep in mind that weight training builds bone mass, promotes joint and tendon strength and burns fat. Some women fear building "too much muscle" when they think of weight training. Never fear. The average woman working with 5-, 10- or 15-pound dumbbells can greatly improve muscle tone, joint health and overall strength without any worries of bulking up.
The first consideration for your home gym is space. Many people turn their garages into mini-gyms. If you go this route, temperature is a serious consideration, and good-quality rubber mats are a must. Sweltering heat or a frigid set of dumbbells is a good excuse to skip your workout, so use this option only if you have some control over the temperature.
The most practical suggestion is a spare room. This option allows for a regulated temperature, a place where you can leave weights or bars set up and ready to use, and a door that closes out distractions like ringing telephones.
A sturdy, adjustable bench is one of the basic necessities, but it doesn't have to be an expensive investment. Most sporting goods stores carry a selection, or check the local classifieds, garage sales and flea markets. You'll be amazed at the bargains you can find. The same can be said for dumbbells, bars and plates.
"If you are a very enthusiastic beginner, you could greatly benefit from hiring a coach to get you started on your home-training regimen," says Jack Barnathan of International Sports Sciences Association. "Many people hire a certified trainer to help them develop a safe and effective program. Once you have developed sufficient skills, your trainer evolves into more of a coach who returns every few weeks to reevaluate your progress and adjust your program to take your training to the next level."
If you have already spent some time at a local gym, you have a basic idea of your minimum and maximum weights, so start with a couple of sets of dumbbells, a straight bar and a curl bar, with enough plates to get started. Then add to your collection as your strength and enthusiasm grow. You'll know when it's time to add more weight. Invest in a good book that can provide ideas for a variety of exercises using the proper form.
Just one hour, three times a week, can make a difference in your fitness level if you really make an effort. Thirty minutes spent on cardio exercise and 30 minutes on weight training is enough to see results.
And don't forget some of the basic exercises that require no equipment at all: push-ups are tremendous for improving upper body strength; sit-ups or crunches strengthen the abdomen and torso; skipping rope or jumping jacks can replace treadmill exertion. Crank up the dance music or find a fun aerobics DVD for your cardio exercise. Get a fitness ball or rubber tubing to add variety. Consider installing a plié bar on the wall or a chin-up bar in a doorway.
Use your imagination! You have decided exercising is important. Stop making excuses and start making muscle.