Health & Fitness

Homegrown Muscle: Building a Home-Based Gym

If sweating and grunting in a room full of strangers is not for you, do not fret. An effective workout can be had inexpensively in the privacy of your own home or office. All you need are a few basics and some creativity.

Below most items you will find a "Trainer’s Note" with observations, comments and recommendations to get you started.

 [Trainer’s note: Where brand names are mentioned there may be other products available that perform the same function. I do not receive endorsements for any of these products. They are items I have first-hand experience with and use with my current clients. Always consult a qualified healthcare professional before beginning any exercise program.]

The Stability BallTHE ESSENTIALS

Stability Ball
$11 and up – major retailers and sporting goods stores

The stability ball is the single most essential piece of exercise equipment for your home gym. Exercising on a ball forces your body to use a variety of muscles just to keep you from falling off. It helps increase strength, improve balance and posture, burn calories, encourage spinal stability, and restore flexibility. Even while working various other body parts on the ball, your core (stomach and back) is usually active and engaged. A strong core is key to preventing, and relieving, low back pain.

Almost any exercise performed with free weights, body weight and/or tubing can be accomplished on a stability ball. From crunches to bicep curls and squats, the stability ball adds a challenging element.

[Trainer’s note: Just sitting on the ball is good for your posture. Try 10 minutes a day of sitting and bouncing on it in front of the television, getting used to the feel.]

Free Weights
Various prices – major retailers and sporting goods stores

Running the gamut from inexpensive to pricey, free weights come in all shapes, sizes and materials. Expensive barbells, benches and machines are not necessary when you have dumbbells. Dumbbells allow you a wide choice of exercises and ranges of motion. They also permit you to perform more stability-challenging moves (such as incorporating balance elements like single leg, a ball, BOSU(r),etc.) to engage your core and other muscles.

[Trainer’s note: Focus on "fighting gravity" when using dumbbells. It’s easy to let gravity pull you too fast. Go slow. Use heavy enough weights for your muscles to become fatigued.]


Various prices

A regular pillow is a great way add some challenge to your routine. As you become stronger, use a pillow as a "balance pad." Almost any exercise receives an added boost of intensity by incorporating this simple, inexpensive household item. Stand on it, sit on it, even lay on it, while you work out.

Both Sides Up (BOSU)BOSU(r) Balance Trainer
From $99 – major retailers and sporting goods stores or

BOSU stands for Both Sides Up, and is that funny-looking blue bubble dome you might have heard of. A BOSU is like an exercise ball cut in half, with a hard plastic platform on the bottom. The exercise varieties are endless: Jump on it, hop over it, rotate, squat, push up, crunch and press. Endurance, strength, stability, flexibility and balance are all gained on the BOSU. The simplest moves (like a crunch, the "dead bug" or just standing on it) will suddenly become a challenge. Your core activates and your legs engage. More steady than a ball, you can even add challenging abdominal exercises like the V-sit. Your kids will love it, too.

[Trainer’s note: Spend some time playing with the BOSU. Find a partner and play "partner games," too. It’s so much fun you won’t really realize how hard you are working.]

From $29.95 – major retailers and sporting goods stores

Mariska Hargitay credits them with helping her regain her body after pregnancy. Jason Statham used them to get lean and ripped. Other stars like Jessica Biel, Jennifer Lopez, and Matthew McConaughey have all used them. So what are kettlebells? Solid cast iron bowling ball-shaped weights with handles….the hottest trend in full body workouts.

Kettlebells are centuries old, but kettlebell training as we know it today stems from Russia. They provide a thorough, whole-body workout that incorporates strength, endurance and flexibility. The kettlebells’ off-centered weight forces you to use more stabilizer muscles with each move, thus involving many muscles simultaneously. Your core stays active and your body’s muscles learn to work smoothly as one unit.

Sarah Lurie, the nation’s premier kettlebell expert, has partnered with GoFit to provide "The Iron Core Powered by GoFit" kettlebell system for the home market. The kettlebells, along with an instructional  DVD, are now available at leading retailers and sporting goods stores. Lurie, a mom-to-be, is also releasing "Mommy Moves," a pre- and post-natal kettlebells workout designed to strengthen core muscles and build endurance. Available soon at Target stores.

[Trainer’s note: My butt was sore for two days afterwards. That’s a positive for a woman over 40.]

The Perfect PushupThe Perfect Pushup
From $39.95, major retailers or

The Perfect Pushup allows you to perform push ups that are easier on your joints yet more challenging on your muscles. The rotation handles are designed to let your arms rotate naturally, for a deeper, fuller push up.

[Trainer’s note: I can do less than half of my normal number of push ups while using this. After my first time, the following day I felt muscles in my back that I had never felt before.]


TRX(r) Suspension Trainer(r)
From $149.95 –

If you are fairly strong, have good form and want one piece of equipment that "does it all," TRX straps fit the bill. With the TRX Suspension Training System your body weight is your equipment. Completely portable, the suspension system mounts in doorways, on trees or any overhead bar. The bright yellow straps work your core with virtually every move, and increases strength, stamina, balance and coordination. It provides unlimited versatility and easily progresses you from one exercise to another.

[Trainer’s note: While Fitness Anywhere recommends it for all levels, as a trainer who has worked with and absolutely loves the system, I would recommend it only for intermediate to advanced exercisers. Beginners should receive professional instruction before starting.]


Gliding Disks (or paper plates),
Exercise tubing, major retailers or
Full foam roller (6" x 24"-36"), Target or
Medicine ball (weighted ball) – various weights, major retailers and sporting goods stores


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1 Comment

  • Nice list. I have and recommend everything here, although I think kettlebells are just overpriced dumbbells. Also check out the PushUp Pro, a half-price version of the Perfect Pushup.