8 Must-Have Items for Your At-Home Mini-Gym

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at home gym

Having a gym membership has become pretty common, especially considering our young and beautiful lifestyles. Some of us opt to invest in elaborate memberships with tanning and PT on the side. Personally, I love my little $10 a month splurge because, hey, it gets the job done on a budget. Some of us are even lucky and have access to the college rec-centers stuffed with some pretty man meat. However, as the weather gets nicer I’m finding it harder and harder to roll out of bed and drive five miles to workout in a poorly-ventilated, retiree-infested warehouse. I’ve been taking to light runs in the morning before work, and I’m loving it.

As I learned once before through a literally back-breaking injury, the difficult part is that running can’t be your everything in the workout world. We need to compensate for the beating with rehab and strength exercise, plus we all know cardio makes you look good in your clothes, lifting makes you look sexy naked. Ironically, the summer I spent running and working out at home I was in the best shape of my life. The combo of intense cardio and focused strength training really worked for me, and I didn’t need to spend $30+ each month to do it.

For those who are “lifting heavy” this may not be the plan for you, or maybe opt for at-home workouts on your lighter days to save gas by not driving to LA Fitness. My boyfriend created a gym plan for me and I stuck to it for about a month. I wasn’t losing that much weight for how hard I was trying, but my muscles were getting HUGE! Which was NOT what I was going for. I gain muscle very quickly, and they aren’t the cute, sculpted muscles I want, they’re the competing-with-Arnie kinds of muscles. This is why I’ve been doing more at-home workouts to not tempt me to work with heavier weights which will undoubtedly give me the hunky muscles.

So how can we enjoy the fresh outdoors and save on that gym membership but still get in that full workout? How do we take care of our bodies without all the expensive equipment? With a little creativity and a small investment, that’s how.

Here is a list of CC’s fav’s for an at-home gym collection:

Medicine ball, any size/weight you can handle. These can be so versatile, fun and excitingly a little dangerous. My favorite exercise to do with these are Russian twists, anything that lets me sit on my ass while I watch SATC is great. You can also do a lot of strength exercises. I’ve always wanted to try workouts that have you repeatedly throw the ball against a high wall and catch it, leave that as an outdoor activity against your garage or something. Wouldn’t want to have to also invest in drywall.

Greatist.com has a great list of exercise options if you think mine are lame.

Resistance bands, varying elasticities. I love these, I have a set of three that let me choose which intensity I want for each exercise. They’re great because you can replace dumbbells for them in a lot of exercises. They even mirror a lot of machine movements you’d get at the gym, but obvi we don’t have a leg extension machine in our living room, at least not us poor college kids. My favorites for these are curls, resisted lunges, and rows. You need to get creative for some like tying them around the legs of really heavy furniture but it gets the job done.

Check out FitSugar’s four best moves for beginners.    

Dumbbells. This is a really obvious one. I don’t think people realize how affordable these are or how cute they can be. They come in like every color! Using low weight and high reps is what gives us those sleek, tones muscles. I get a little carried away with my curls at the gym trying to beat all the smaller men around me, this keeps me in check. You can also substitute your med ball for a dumbbell in my fav Russian twists I was telling you about. Target has some very affordable, brightly-colored options.

Yoga mat. When we work out at home, the surfaces are not always ideal for laying and crunching and kneeling. If you have exercises that require you to get down and dirty on that carpet or tile you haven’t cleaned in a while, a yoga mat can be your best friend. You can obvi do yoga on it too, like you’re supposed to. Even though I’ve only ever taken mine out of the house once, these cute yoga mat totes are a must-have to at least make you look like you’re legit!  

Jump rope. I haven’t really thought about jump ropes since I was a kid. I used to be the queen bee at it. I recently remembered that this is what boxers use to be super agile and stay on their toes. I, of course, do not box and do not really have a reason to remain agile, aside from beating all my suitors away and escaping from their adoring affection. Jump ropes are a great way to get little kicks of cardio in if it’s rainy or too hot to leave the house. If you’re into HIIT workouts, they are a great accessory too!  

Check out this jump rope HIIT workout video!

Tennis balls. These. Are. Heaven. I’m so surprised I spent so many years having back problems without knowing how much these little glowing gems can help. You should use two of them to release your back muscles after running or really doing anything that irritates your back. There are a few ways to get the benefits of these. If you’re feeling tight all over and just really need to loosen up, sit on the ground and lie back. Position two tennis balls on either side of your spine (making contact with the muscles on either side, not the actual vertebrae) in the area that is bothering you. Let your body weight push the tennis balls’ pressure into your muscles. You can lay like this for pretty much as long as you’d like. The pressure on the muscles causes the tension to release.

When you get up you can feel and immediate difference. If you have a million knots anywhere on your torso, you can also lean against a wall (on your front or back) and put a tennis ball between the wall and yourself. You can roll up and down, sideways or in a circular pattern and you can place as much pressure as you want. I repeatedly do this on my lower back and can feel my range of motion improving afterwards. Doing it on your upper back and shoulders is extremely relaxing and feels like a massage! Invest $3 in this, you won’t regret it!  

Foam roller. You can use the tennis balls on your legs, it just gets a little harder and needs a lot more coordination. Using a full foam roller is a great way to relax all those tight muscles in your lower body and even your back. Make sure to roll out the front, inner, outer and back of your legs thoroughly. A lot of people are surprised by the tension they feel in areas they don’t normally pay attention to, and this is how injuries creep up on us. This is a really easy maintenance routine to do in front of the TV as well, so you won’t really even feel like you’re doing too much (except sometimes it hurts like a bitch).  

Small Fitness Ball and Large Exercise Ball. These are nice little investments to have, especially when you’re trying to improve your core. You can do a lot of traditional core work on these, but something I recently learned is that you can incorporate them into other exercises to include core stability while you’re also getting that burn in on other smaller muscle groups. My physical therapist has me do any type of chest exercise I’d do laying on a bench on an exercise ball. It forces you to hold your core tight and keep yourself up while performing the main exercise. If you suck at push ups like me (you’re probably not as bad as me), you can roll yourself out, keeping your feet on the ball and do modified pushups. This really challenges your core because you’re going to be elevated and have less opportunities for correction if you slip side to side.

Alright ladies, time to go out an stock up on these precious, slimming items. Tell me which of these you love and hate, and if you’ve modified your list of must-haves for your at-home gym!

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