When you’re trapped indoors or need to save some cash, here’s everything you need to know (and have on hand) to create an at-home workout routine that's effective *and* fun.

By Megan Falk
March 20, 2020
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No matter how many sanitizing wipes you use to scrub down equipment, the gym can feel like a petri dish for every illness imaginable. Suffocating humidity, freezing temperatures, and inclement weather can make outdoor runs, hikes, and workouts insufferable at times too. And take enough of them, and the cost of boutique fitness studio classes will rack up to be the same as your monthly rent. With so many factors working against you, maintaining a consistent, budget-friendly fitness routine seems out of the question. 

The answer? At-home workouts. Not only are living room sweat sessions free of charge (and feel much more sanitary), but they are also approachable and accessible to the masses—an important quality, considering more than 80 percent of American adults aren’t meeting the recommended guidelines for both aerobic and muscle-strengthening activities, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

But if you don't have a "late cancel" class fee to hold you accountable, consistently showing up for your 1:1 workout—with yourself—can be challenging. Luckily, with a little preparation, you can set yourself up for success. We'll help you get set up with this guide to creating the at-home workout routine (and space) that you'll actually be excited about. (Related: 10 Tips to Fall Back In Love with Working Out When You’ve Been Off the Wagon for a While)

How to Prepare for At-Home Workouts

If you think you're just going to unroll a yoga mat and jump right into a perfectly designed at-home workout routine, you might be surprised that it's not all that easy. You need a gameplan or you'll be left staring at your assortment of old, stretched-out resistance bands and that single, dusty dumbbell not knowing where to even begin. 

Know your goal.

Number one on the to-do list: Determine what you want to get out of your at-home workouts. Are you looking to quit the gym entirely and stick to at-home only methods? Or do you want to complement your gym or studio sessions with some at-home routines for convenience? This will factor into the style and length of the workouts you choose to do, when you do them, and the equipment you'll need. For example, if you want to cancel your CrossFit membership and start doing the same type of WODs entirely at home, you'll probably need to free up a bit more space in your home and time in your schedule, plus stock your home gym with things like barbells and pull-up bars. But if you're swapping two barre classes a week for some streaming classes instead, you'll have more flexibility with the gear (if you even need any), time, and location. (Related: I Cancelled My Gym Membership and Got In the Best Shape of My Life)

Plot out your space.

Pick a spot that has room for at least a yoga mat—this should be a large enough area for you to stretch and do core exercises—and try storing your equipment under the bed or in the closet to free up space when you aren't working out. You can also change up your scenery depending on your workout of choice: HIIT workouts may need a little more space and a solid surface, whereas yoga or Pilates can be done almost anywhere, even on the living room rug.

Apartment dwellers will also need to be cognizant of the noise level. Instead of blasting your playlist on a speaker, slip on a pair of wireless headphones that won't get caught on your jump rope, and you'll never have to worry about the sound of Lizzo's "Good as Hell" traveling over to the family with a baby upstairs. You might not be able to slam heavy dumbbells to the ground after the last excruciating rep or do midnight jump squats, but there are plenty of quieter alternatives that work the same muscle groups (and feel just as satisfying when you finish).

Establish a schedule.

Now that you don't have to arrive at the cycling studio at 6 p.m. sharp, you might find yourself putting off your at-home workouts for a happy hour date with Netflix. Pretty soon, you might end up skipping your at-home workouts altogether. There is a simple solution, though: Create a consistent schedule, just like you would do if you signed up for a studio class or were going to the gym.

Applying the same logic to your at-home workouts by scheduling your exercise will help you better stick to your routine. "That way, when someone asks if you can meet at 5, you can honestly say, 'Sorry, I have an appointment; how about 4 instead?'" Sherri McMillan, owner of Northwest Personal Training in Vancouver, Washington, previously told Shape.

And remember that no matter where you're choosing to work out, consistency is key to seeing results: "Over time, your body will build up strength, endurance, and stamina as a result of regular physical activity," Stephanie Howe, a CLIF Bar ultra-runner with a doctorate in nutrition and exercise science, previously told Shape. "It's the only way to progress, rather than plateau." To figure out the best way to infuse your at-home workouts into your routine, consider asking yourself these questions:

  • Are you more motivated before dawn, or do you like to sweat after work?
  • How much time do you want to dedicate to your at-home workouts?
  • Will you be going at it alone or with a partner or roommate? 
  • Do you need to work around your kid's, partner's, or pet's schedule?
  • If you work at home, how can you ensure your workout doesn't impact your productivity?
  • Do you want some guidance (via a workout app or online steaming workouts) or do you already have a solo workout plan?
  • How sweaty do you want to get? (If the answer is "drenched," a 20-minute lunch-break workout might not be best.)

Stock up on the right gear.

Before you panic about all the money you think you have to spend to create an at-home gym à la The Rock's "Iron Paradise," know that you don't need any fancy tools to create an effective at-home workout. In fact, bodyweight resistance workouts like calisthenics can help you make the most of every single muscle. "Calisthenics involves using the entire body and not emphasizing certain muscles over others," Tee Major, a U.S. military fitness instructor and author of Urban Calisthenics, previously told Shape. "What I'm talking about is strength from the bottom of your feet to the tips of your fingers." That's right, you don't need a set of heavy dumbbells to build muscle.

If you do want to snag a few at-home fitness tools to take your workouts to the next level or add some variety to your routine, though, there are plenty of affordable (and some cool new high-tech) options.

Fitness Equipment and Gear for At-Home Workouts

Budget-Friendly, Basic Equipment

The most basic piece of gear you can have on hand: an exercise or yoga mat, which will make floor work and core exercises much more comfortable. Aside from that, you can amp bodyweight exercises up a notch with resistance bands, jump ropes, and more fitness accessories. 

At-Home Weight Lifting Equipment

If the thought of working out without lifting something heavy makes you twitch, consider investing in some quality dumbbells so you don't have to #SquatYourDog. Aside from a proper set of weights (maybe try a light, medium, and heavy set), you may also want to consider buying a moderate-weight kettlebell. (Put it to use in this simple kettlebell complex for beginners.)

Recovery Tools

Setting aside some time and energy for recovery is just as important as your workout itself. Why? "If you aren't taking enough time for recovery, then you'll continue to break down your muscles and won't see benefits from your workouts," Alissa Rumsey, C.S.C.S., R.D., a personal trainer and nutritionist in New York, previously told Shape. That means opting for a walk instead of a run, eight minutes of stretching instead of Tabata, or simply taking a rest day. You might also want to have a handful of recovery tools at home:

High-Tech Equipment and At-Home Fitness Machines

No matter how stocked your at-home gym might be, you could still be missing the coaching from trainers and instructors or the comradery from working out in a group. That’s where smart fitness equipment comes in. Products such as Mirror, Peloton’s bike and treadmill, and Hydrow rowing machine bring the in-person class experience to your living room with virtual trainers who offer feedback and live and on-demand workouts you can follow. Opting for these bigger ticket items is more of an investment, though. Mirror costs nearly $1,500 plus a $39 monthly subscription, a Peloton bike will set you back $2,245 and $39 a month for a subscription, and Hydrow has a $2,200 price tag with a $38 monthly subscription. While that could seem like a lot to spend upfront, if you've been toying with the idea of canceling your gym membership or least cutting back on pricey hot yoga habit, it could be well worth the investment over time.

The Best At-Home Workouts for Your Goals

Now that you’ve stocked up on gear, it’s time to get sweating. Luckily, there are countless ways to get virtual instruction and pre-set workout plans, a bonus if you’re used to an instructor guiding you through a workout.

YouTube Workout Videos:

Workout Apps:

Online Streaming Options:

But you don’t *have* to look anywhere else for exercise ideas and inspiration because we have all the at-home workouts you need to reach your fitness goals, whether its core strength or flexibility. Try getting started with one of these made-for-the-living-room routines.

Bodyweight (No Equipment):

Cardio: 

Ab Workouts: 

CrossFit: 

Cycling: 

High-Intensity Interval Training:

Kettlebell Training: 

Tabata: 

Yoga:

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