Maybe you’re stuck inside due to bad weather, crowded city living, or… you know, just speaking hypothetically here… a global pandemic.
Whatever the reason, it’s no excuse to let all your hard-earned fitness and strength slip away. The more we can keep our bodies strong, flexible, and healthy during breaks like this, the more we will enjoy returning to the great outdoors when circumstances allow.
If you can’t enjoy your favorite outdoor activities right now, it’s time to refocus that wild, ambitious energy. This post is all about transforming your body into an outdoor adventure machine, from inside your home.
I’ll take you through a list of all my favorite home fitness gadgets, gizmos, and heavy things to pick up and put down (also known as weights). I’ve built up a bit of a collection over the years to supplement my gym training, and wow is it coming in handy right now. All the gear I’ll discuss is relatively inexpensive, doesn’t take up much space in your home, and is available for delivery on Amazon.com.
At the end I’ll mention a few ideas for structuring your workouts, and for getting a sweat on with no fitness gear at all. In today’s world of YouTube overload, it can actually be overwhelming how many options there are, so I’ll point you to a few easy places to start.
So, what are you waiting for, the apocalypse? Let’s get to work!
What to Focus On
We all have different bodies and different strengths. In general though, all outdoor athletes will benefit from well-rounded full body strength that focuses on the hips/glutes and core.
If you’re a hiker or runner, you might think you just need to work on your legs and “knees,” but this is an oversimplification. The movement of your legs and knee joints is controlled mostly by the muscles at your hips – your glutes – which are one of the most powerful centers of movement in the body. Strong glutes require strong core muscles, because the two groups work together to control your pelvis. If your glutes or core are weak, you’re at higher risk for knee or foot pain and injury.
Cyclists and mountain bikers will find that a strong core and upper body help to stave off fatigue after a few hours in the saddle. Climbers, obviously, will want to hammer their core and upper body. Even runners and hikers will also benefit from upper body work, especially if you often carry a backpack.
No matter what our sport of choice is, we can all benefit from well-rounded, full-body strength work. Our chain of physical strength is only as strong as its weakest link. The home workout equipment in the rest of this post is all you need to maintain and even build this full body strength, even while stuck inside.
Mini Resistance Bands
If I could only recommend ONE piece of home workout gear, these mini resistance bands would be it. Start with the variety pack if you’ve never used them before, or if you want to target both upper and lower body (you’ll generally need less resistance for upper body).
Or, stock up on the blue (heavy resistance) and black (extra heavy) for a surprisingly difficult strength workout for your glutes and hips. To get started, try these mini band glute exercises.
I’ve written about these bands before in my post on emergency fixes for knee pain while hiking. They are small and convenient enough to bring along on multi-day backpacking and bikepacking trips, even if you’re packing lightweight gear. A few minutes each morning will get your glutes turned on and ready to help protect your knees all day long.
Though body weight exercises are better than nothing, when it comes to getting super strong hips and legs, you can only get so far without weights.
If you’re serious about getting strong from home, I recommend investing in a basic collection of dumbbells across a range of light, medium, and heavy. Dumbbells are really versatile – you can do most kettlebell exercises with dumbbells too – and with a little creativity you don’t need very many.
Which weights do you need?
No, you don’t need one of every single weight. Here’s an example basic set that will have you covered for most exercises, body parts, and levels of progression in your strength workouts, without needing to buy and make space for a huge pile of iron in the corner of your living room:
Light (5 – 10 lbs): 2 weights / 1 pair. Great for weighted deadbugs, bicep curls if you’re just getting started, lateral arm raises.
Medium (15 – 25 lbs): 2 weights / 1 pair. Great general purpose weight for adding difficulty to squats, single leg deadlifts, step ups, overhead presses, tricep kickbacks, and many other exercises.
Heavy (30 – 45 lbs or more): 1 weight if you’re just starting out. You can use a single heavy weight for deadlifts, goblet squats, or farmer’s carries. If buying a pair, consider making your collection more versatile by getting two different weights, for example a 35lb and a 45lb. This will allow you to work with significantly heavier total weight for some exercises that benefit from it (like deadlifts) while also giving you a progression for other exercises (you can work up from 35lb to 45lb on your goblet squat for example). You can still use them as a pair, even if the weights are different, because asymmetric weights actually challenge your body in useful ways.
With just this basic set – that’s only 5 dumbbells – you can really do a lot. Choose your weights from the suggested ranges depending on where you are in your strength journey.
If you’re a small person and/or just starting out, go with the smaller numbers. Your set could look like this:
- Two 5 lb dumbbells
- Two 15 lb dumbbells
- One 30 lb dumbbell
- One 40 lb dumbbell (optional)
If you’re larger and/or have more strength training experience, you’ll want to start in the middle or high end of the ranges, for example:
- Two 10 lb dumbbells
- Two 25 lb dumbbells
- One or two 45 lb dumbbells, or even heavier if you know you’ll use it (at this point, you might even want to look into investing in a barbell and plates)
No matter who you are, don’t be afraid to go heavy! Training with fewer reps and higher weight is an excellent way to super-charge your strength and make the most of your indoor workouts. The days of those tiny pink dumbbells are over; we can all benefit from lifting heavy.
What about those fancy adjustable dumbbells that can be changed to different weights? My personal preference is for individual weights. I don’t like how big and bulky the adjustable ones are, and I like being able to switch between different weights quickly, in the middle of a circuit workout, without having to stop and make adjustments.
When it comes to choosing dumbbell brands, I don’t think you need anything fancy. If it’s heavy and doesn’t fall apart, that’s all you need. Choose something affordable and basic. Some brands to look at on Amazon include Champion, CAP, AmazonBasics.
If you’re on a budget, you can get started with gallon milk jugs or large containers of laundry detergent. Anything with a handle. It’ll be hard to work up to heavier weights this way, but anything is better than nothing. Don’t be shy about getting scrappy and creative.
Foam Rollers and Massage Balls
It took me a while to learn this the hard way, so please take my word for it: flexibility MUST go along with strength. If all you do is get strong, you will also get stiff and tight, and eventually that will mess you up. Shortened range of motion leads to bad biomechanics which leads to pain.
A foam roller, essentially a self-massage tool that leverages your body weight to loosen your muscles, is essential for your home gym. Here are some ideas for how to use it. The important part is to go slowly, breathe deeply, and let your muscles relax as you roll.
These days I find a typical foam roller doesn’t get the job done any more, so I’ve graduated to the RumbleRoller, and its spikey little cousin, the Beastie.
If you’re watching your budget, lacrosse balls and golf balls are effective substitutes. Tennis balls are popular too, but I recommend moving on to something firmer once you’ve gotten the hang of it.
If you have hard floors, a yoga mat is probably a home workout essential, even if you don’t actually do yoga. Even if your floor is carpeted, a mat can be more comfortable and less slippy. And, it will protect your carpet from getting all worn out and sweaty in that one place where you always do your workout.
Personally I recommend springing for the cushy 1/4″ thick kind of mat, especially if you have hard floors. Maybe I’m getting soft from too much indoor exercise and not enough outdoor adventure. 🙂
I don’t, however, think you need the super expensive fancy brand name mat. Something simple like this will work just fine.
Optional (But Fun) Home Workout Equipment
My goal with this post is to give you a simple place to start, and that part is done. With only the mini bands and dumbbells listed above, you can find endless ways to kick your own butt from the comfort of your living room, garage, or bedroom.
If, however, you are looking for a bit more creativity or variety, here are some other items of home workout gear I use and recommend.
If you’re just starting a home gym collection, honestly, I don’t think you need kettlebells. Most exercises that call for kettlebells can also be done with dumbbells.
But for those who are looking to take things to the next level, investing in one or two heavy-ish kettlebells can make your dynamic exercises – those kettlebell swings, snatches, and cleans – a bit more effective and interesting.
If you already have a collection of dumbbells and want to try kettlebells, I recommend starting with a single heavy one, between 35 – 50 lbs. Use it for kettlebell swings, or as an alternate weight for goblet squats or deadlifts. If you get into kettlebells and want to add other exercises later, grab a medium weight for exercises like overhead presses and Turkish get-ups.
As with dumbbells, there’s nothing fancy here. Simple and basic is fine when choosing a brand.
Resistance Band Set With Handles
A set of longer resistance bands, including handles and ankle straps, is a convenient compact addition to home workout gear. They’re especially good for shoulder and other upper body exercises, and they can also work well for glutes and hips.
Resistance bands take up very little space and the variety of resistance levels is convenient, but you won’t get as much bang for your buck as with heavier weights when it comes to strength training.
This simple round board with a curved base is fantastic for working those stabilizer muscles that we depend on for navigating rough and rocky trails.
Spend a few minutes on it each day, working up to single leg balances, then advanced exercises like single leg deadlifts with a dumbbell in one hand. If backpacking is your thing, try single leg balances with a weighted backpack. Your hip stability and control will be no match for that stretch of boulder-hopping once you’re back outside.
Sliding Exercise Discs
These sliding discs – padded on one side and slippery on the other – can be a useful little gadget (assuming you have carpeted floors) and take up almost no space.
They go under your hands for a next-level plank workout, or under your feet while working with those mini resistance bands around your knees.
These big bouncy inflatable balls make great active chairs; use them at your home desk to stay more mindful of sitting posture. They’re also helpful for certain types of core and stability exercises. My favorite: swiss ball ab rollouts, and swiss ball hamstring curls.
Pull Up Bars and Hang Boards
If you’re a climber, you already know how essential these training tools are. But even if you mainly depend on your lower body for outdoor recreation, don’t underestimate the importance of basic upper body strength. It can make a long bike ride, a heavy pack, or even a long run much more comfortable. While pushing motions are easier to train with bodyweight (pushups, obviously), overhead pulling is almost impossible to train any other way.
A pullup bar is a bit of a commitment because it needs to be installed in a doorway, but once it’s there it doesn’t really take up any space. Hang boards can be even more intrusive, though there are some compact options like these hanging “rock rings” that are more easily moved if needed.
If you can’t currently do a pullup, don’t let that stop you. How are you going to learn without a pullup bar? Start by using your legs to jump upwards into the top of the pullup, hold as long as possible, then slowly lower yourself down. Repeat every time you walk through the doorway (bathroom doors are especially good for this). You’ll be pumping out an impressive set of pullups in no time.
Home Workout Ideas
With all the fitness websites and videos out there these days, choosing where to start can be the hardest part!
For a no-fuss way to get started easily during the current quarantine, check out the extended free trial on offer by Peloton. Their strength workouts are efficient, engaging, and use minimal equipment like the essentials found in this list. I’ve been using their classes since they announced the free trial and would definitely recommend them.
Orange Theory is also offering free workout videos during the pandemic. For even more options, check out this resource list.
More Outdoor Resources
If you can’t wait to get back outside and hit the trails, you might also be interested in these popular posts:
- How to conquer knee pain while hiking
- Three of the best rain jackets for backpacking, and how to choose
- Hiking in trail running shoes: everything you need to know
Excited about backpacking but need help getting started? The Backpacking Trip Planner Workbook will help you start off on the right foot.
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