Q&A Wednesday: What Do I Need For An At-Home Gym? | A Black Girl's Guide To Weight Loss

Q&A Wednesday: What Do I Need For An At-Home Gym?

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Q: Hey girl!…I feel like I’ve known you forever…lol I am a stay-at-home-wife & mom to two little boys. I weigh…*clears throat in shame* 298 pounds I am 5ft6.5in. NOW I KNOW I have to get my weight down and get my health in check….My goal is to weigh 150lbs. My husband and I have come into a little money and I told him I want to invest in a mini home gym to put on our patio or in our spare room in our apartment. Our complex has a weight room, but I never have time to go over there, if I take both the boys my whole workout routine is cut short, due to stops to reprimand and keep them safe from all the equipment….which  tires me out, I can’t even focus on my workout. So I need something more accessible than that. So how would I build my home gym; what are staples and must haves? I was thinking a treadmill or a bowflex, wii-fit or Xbox kinect, but then I thought I need some real deal equipment to get the most out my workout and considering that we move quite a bit, I need my home gym to be able to pack up with little frustration. Is “building” this home gym even possible? I’m skeptical that I can even lose almost 150 lbs and be sculpted. I’m clinging to the hope that if I lose the weight slow and the fact that I am young my skin has some elasticity that not only will I be healthy, but my body will be fit and tight too! Am I kidding myself? Anyhoo, to my initial question…how to build a mini home gym. Whatever help you can give is great. And I really appreciate your site

I get questions like this all the time, and I always smile, because it takes me back to the time when I first started really losing the weight. Sure, I had a gym membership at first, but it wasn’t until I completely revamped my eating habits and started working out at home that I truly started losing. I was a single stay-at-home mother, myself, and my daughter (then, age 2) was particularly… um… precocious. Needless to say, it was a lot of work keeping my house in one piece, managing a business and – as the great philosopher Fergie would say – workin’ on my fitness.

Back then, my apartment complex had a workout room, as well, but once it’s swimsuit season in Miami…. you’re pretty much done for. My daughter and I used to have a grand ol’ time working out there, until it was loaded with lots of people far more confident and focused than me, in there half-working out and half-keeping an eye on me.

I was excited because, even with my gym membership, I hadn’t experienced the same results I was getting from working at home. Compare a loss of about 30lbs in six months to a loss of almost 80lbs in six months? See what I’m saying? Your first goal should be understanding that great bodies are made in the kitchen, and any efforts to exercise will be thwarted by a bad diet. With almost 150lbs to lose, the first steps will be to clean out that kitchen and start addressing what’s really going to interfere with your goals the most.

But that’s not what you’re asking about, though, right? You want to know what a successful, success-promoting home gym looks like, right?

Here’s the deal. Remember what exercise is supposed to be: it’s anything that promotes or allows someone to maintain physical fitness. Even though I love free weights, it doesn’t have to be weights. Even though I love volleyball, it doesn’t have to be volleyball. It doesn’t have to be any sport. It only has to be something that promotes and encourages your body to maintain it’s ability to do stuff. If that means a Wii Fit, a jump rope or a gallon of water.

Yes, I said it. A gallon of water. As a single parent, I was afraid of wasting money on something that I wouldn’t commit to. If I was going to genuinely spend money on fitness, I needed to prove to myself that I would actually do the work.

And that, really, is the main issue. The commitment, the consistency, are what matters most. The willingness to do it every day, no matter how busy you become, no matter how rough it gets, you’ve still got to commit to yourself. I need to state this first and foremost because regardless of whether you buy the most expensive system out there or just dump out a gallon of juice in the fridge (please dump it out, please), it’ll all be worthless if you don’t commit.

That being said, what should a great home gym consist of? Well, talk about a great at-home workout, first. A great workout is a combination of strength training – something to challenge your muscles – and cardiovascular activity – something to get your heart rate moving and your fat burning. How can you accomplish both at home?

You can train for strength without equipment – which is why I’m a lover of calisthenics, which is simply exercise that uses the body’s weight against itself. Exercises like squats, push ups and planks are all examples of ways to use your body’s weight against itself. Side bends, steam engines, leg lifts, burpees… all calisthenics.

You can also train for cardio at home, without much equipment: mountain climbers (a personal pain in my ass), burpees, jumping jacks, jumping rope, jogging in place, walking lunges? All cardio, no equipment. If you can get a jogging stroller, you can even run/walk with the kiddies in tow. The benefit to at-home cardio exercises like these is that they also count as calithenics, and can provide muscle as well as a heart-pumping activity.

When it comes down to equipment to buy, think about what you enjoy – because that’s the final deciding factor in whether or not you’ll commit to it. So, if the program you choose comes from Wii, then make it happen. If it’s a PS23487453 (whichever one they’re on, now), then go for it. (Couldn’t be me, though – I’d be too busy trying to play some form of Grand Theft Auto… but I digress.)

All in all, I can’t tell you or recommend anything in particular simply because a) I’m cheap, b) I’m such a huge proponent of calisthenics and c) I find a lot of the major systems to be a load of bunk, anyway. If I had to recommend a purchase for anything, it’d be a workout mat and a pair of weights. (weights, obviously, dependent upon your own ability level – don’t get those fifteens if you can barely carry them out of the store.) Spend that money creating a space where you can feel comfortable working out, buying a new pair of workout shoes, and maybe a nice progress dress. You can do everything else from there with just those two, and you’ll be golden.

But since I know plenty of y’all are out there working out at home, what are you using? What moves are you doing? Let’s hear ‘em!

The proud leader of the #bgg2wlarmy, Erika Nicole Kendall writes health, fitness, nutrition, body image and beauty, and more here at #bgg2wl. After losing over 150lbs, Kendall became a personal trainer certified in fitness nutrition, women's fitness, and weight loss from the National Academy of Sports Medicine. She now lives in New York with her family, and is working on her 4th, 5th and 6th certificates.

19 Comments

  1. CO

    February 8, 2012 at 4:11 PM

    I recommend that she invest in a TV & DVD player for that room and pick up some great workout DVDs – Jillian Michaels, Cindy Whitmarsh, etc. – that can guide her workouts and teach her the basics. When I first started working out, I didn’t know proper form, how fast I should be going and all of the other specifics to working out, and I found that DVDs helped me immensely. Using DVDs will also ensure she’s getting a full workout in, i.e. if she’s doing abs she’s also doing back, etc.

    • JaNee

      May 23, 2012 at 9:29 AM

      i love jillian michael’s dvds, they’re challenging but not impossible, and as you do them you can really see your progress. i’m a big fan of rotating different dvds too so that i’m not bored, i have a pilates dvd, and one of the hip-hop dance ones, and jillian of course.

  2. Noella

    February 8, 2012 at 5:19 PM

    This was wonderful. I often need to read/hear you have to commit or it wont work. i belong to a gym and paying my money certainly gets me to go and do some kind of workout. I’ve been using the Nike Training Club free app on my iphone (not sure if it’s on other phones) and it’s pretty awesome. A trainer I once had referred me to it once our sessions ended. You can create your own workout and it has timers and videos on how to do everything that they list. You can also sync your music to each workout. Hope this helps someone as well. Have a great day!

  3. Shan

    February 8, 2012 at 6:12 PM

    Erika, your site is the business! I work out from my apartment and I have a mat, a set of 3-pound weights, and my own body weight. I’ve lost 14 pounds since January using Jillian Michaels DVDs (I know, i know you don’t like her, but her videos are soo good!) And I did Zumba for the wii for a while; it way overestimates calories

  4. Shan

    February 8, 2012 at 6:14 PM

    Erika, your site is the business! I work out from my apartment and I have a mat, a set of 3-pound weights, and my own body weight. I’ve lost 14 pounds since January using Jillian Michaels DVDs (I know, i know you don’t like her, but her videos are soo good!) And I did Zumba for the wii for a while; it seems to overestimate calories, but it’s fun if you have rhythm and I was DEFINITELY sweating.:))

  5. Diandra

    February 9, 2012 at 4:22 AM

    I only work out at home (gyms are expensive, and I hate people *lol*), and having lost almost 20% of my body weight, this is what has worked for me:

    * Walking,
    * once my knees were strong enough followed by running (I loved the C25K plan),
    * strength training with free weights (2x10kg by now, started at 2x1kg),
    * workout DVDs.

    That last one has helped me most, I would say, because first of all it never gets boring, and second you learn so many new moves and exercises you would never have even thought to find. It takes some time finding workouts you enjoy enough to stick with, but you don’t ahve to buy them at once – borrow them or look up example videos on youtube.

    Right now the BF and I are considering buying a treadmill, but that is mostly for him, bcause he used to work out on the treadmill at thy gym and simply does not have the time to go there anymore. Don’t know whether I’ll use that as well, but the stuff listed above has brought me far enough. ^^

  6. Ayanna

    February 9, 2012 at 10:22 AM

    I absolutely agree. All the equipment in the world makes no difference without a firm commitment.

    Working out at home with DVDs and a set of 5lb weights has taken me from 250+ to 180.4 (as of this morning) since April of last year!! I started with the easy to follow, high energy “Walk Away the Pounds” series, moved to the fun and feisty Dance off the Inches series. Last month, I started accompanying a girlfriend to a step aerobics class offered in her apartment complex gym and I am now HOOKED on step aerobics. I raved about it so much that my husband went out and bought me a step and DVD to use at home.

    Food is definitely KEY. The minute I changed my eating habits (cut out sugar, bread, rice, pasta) I dropped 20lbs in about 2 months! With little to NO exercise at all. Its like a light bulb went off in my head and, as they say, the rest is history. Once it really hit me that I am really in control of my body, that I can get down to any weight I want to be with enough work an determination, that being 150lbs wasn’t just some pipe dream, I immediately began to feel unstoppable! I’m thinking about running in a 5K in April. The sky is the limit for me now.

  7. Randi@kickingfat

    February 9, 2012 at 12:10 PM

    I was just talking to my friends about this very thing.

    I lost my first 52 lbs doing it at home. I pay for a YMCA membership (mainly for the pool and so my boys can use their facilities) for my family now but I still do most of my working out at home.

    First I would say workout videos. I have at least 10. From Biggest Loser, to Jillian, Tae Bo, The Firm etc. I also purchased workout dvd’s for my kids and did that with them if they were trying to be all up in my space.

    Also my step-dad came from the army and like you he was big on Calisthenics. He also was a huge proponent of using your environment to help you exercise. That means I save gallon water bottles and use them as weight. Fill them with water or sand or rocks. I also have homemade sandbags.

  8. Tara Melissa

    February 9, 2012 at 10:33 PM

    If I were to add anything to those, I’d add a jump rope (I don’t warm up like this all the time, but it’s a nice switch from jogging in place/jumping jacks/burpees) and a resistance band. Both can be bought fairly cheaply and don’t take up a lot of space – and they travel well, too!

    I love that you mentioned how annoying mountain climbers are – they’re the worst!

    I would also add, if possible, get a nice big mirror. I know some people don’t like watching themselves work out, but for me it’s invaluable to make sure my form was correct so I wouldn’t strain myself doing certain exercises. Sometimes you don’t realize your form is improper until your back aches the next day.

  9. Allie

    February 15, 2012 at 12:13 PM

    I love my free weights and stationary bike. I bought a cheap free weight set at walmart and can adjust the weight from 5 pounds to 40. (not like I can lift that!) But it gives me a huge amount of flexibility in my work out and I feel like a beast :D Then I ride my stationary bike for however long that day and I feel like I get a great warm up and cool down doing my favorite thing. I can’t bike as frequently as I used to because of my son, but I can get a similar work out inside and I can keep an eye on my son. Win win!

  10. Alexandrea Ward

    April 11, 2012 at 4:31 PM

    I work out at home as well. I don’t have my own car so I do what I can with what I have. I love Jillian Michaels’ dvds, they are intense for a short amount of time and you can even go to her site for pointers on healthy meals. I also have an aerobic dvd where I can do 1, 2 or 3 miles at home, and I use small hand weights along with it. There are so many articles and Youtube videos (if you’re into that) that can lead you in the direction of figuring out what you like.

  11. Chelle

    April 11, 2012 at 5:00 PM

    If you’re considering equipment that moves well, a mat, a jump rope, and some resistance bands offer a great variety of options. With this limited amount of equipment and some great sites on the web your workout routines are limitless.

    • Erica

      June 13, 2012 at 1:04 PM

      I am so glad I stubbled across this blog. It is so encouraging. I agree a mat, free weights, and dvd’s are great at home items. It is true that it is all about commitment. I remember in high school when I didn’t have any free weights yet I just filled my 32oz gatorade bottles with water and did arm curls, chest press, etc.

  12. Anna

    August 15, 2012 at 6:08 PM

    I do weight training at home and I will tell you the best purchase I made was the Bowflex adjustable weights and an exercise ball.

    You can do bench presses with the exercise ball and lots of core exercises with the exercise ball.

    I jog for cardio cuz I hate the boring repitition of the machines.

    But I definitely recommend anyone wanting to do weight training to get a set of adjustable weights. They take up less space and as you increase strength you have the higher weights! And using free weights is usually better anyway because you work multiple muscles at the same time. Much better than the machines at the gym (most of the time!)

  13. Eloquence, Inc.

    August 15, 2012 at 6:32 PM

    I am glad this article came up because I keep slacking off.

    I have:
    *adjustable weight set (move the thingie and pick up 5, 10, 15, or 25 pounds on each dumbbell)
    *fitness ball
    *resistance bands
    *ankle weights
    *jump rope
    *aerobic step
    *soft non-rubber exercise/yoga mat
    *Gold’s Gym total body workout video
    *Gold’s Gym arms video
    *Gold’s Gym abs? video
    *Tae Bo strength & energy double disc
    *Tae Bo amped
    *MTV Pilates Mix
    *The proper sneakers for my overpronating flat feet ($135 shoes on sale for $80 on Nike.com!)j
    *mp3 player and the armband to put it in
    *Gymboss interval timer (the basic one with 2 different intervals to set)…excellent excellent piece of equipment! Learned of it through Zuzana from the old bodyrock.tv Youtube workout videos
    *Gym membership (with all that I don’t need it right!)

    What I need:
    *Yoga video
    *Treadmill (this piece of cardio equipment is one of the main reasons I go to the gym when I’m not slacking off, because I’ve done a whole weights segment in the gym on their fitness ball with free weights and thought to myself I REALLY don’t need a gym for that!)
    *Jogging stroller (so we can both get outside without mini-me slowing me down)
    *Discipline!
    *Water filter
    *DISCIPLINE!

    I think of all the above, the main things needed are:

    *fitness ball
    *free weights (5 pound pair and 10 pound pair to start if you can’t get an adjustable set)
    *excellent set of sneaks
    *mp3 player or a phone that plays the music nice and loud (mine does not) and the armband to go with it
    *an interval timer (GYMBOSS!)

    and if you can:
    *treadmill (I don’t know about anyone else’s apartment complex, but it clearly says on the wall children are not allowed, so that’s never an option for me and I cannot exercise when I have to be consantly conversing with/stopping/etc. a little one, I need to be able to focus on form, breathing, and what I’m trying to accomplish here.

    I actually think I will be less annoyed and frustrated and worn out from trying to work out at home with the little one trying to copy me (which is good!) if I just get her her own little (and I mean like 2 pounds!) weight set and step, because she does what they are doing in the videos and gets in my way and honestly it’s already hard enough just to get to the working out part, the constant interruptions or tripping over a little body when trying to get into the zone piss me off. If she has her own I can then dust off all this stuff I have and it can be fun cause she’ll stay in her own space!

  14. Chrys

    August 15, 2012 at 6:39 PM

    I’d add a kettle bell to the mix, different feeling than dumb bells, but brings in cardio as well. There’s tons of exercises to do with it. My trainer came up with an amazing routine for me to do when I told her all I had was that, 5lb weights, and a resistance band. Commitment is definitely key though! And if you have a play it again sports, that’s a great way to gradually add things into your routine.

  15. Nichelle Johnson

    August 15, 2012 at 7:20 PM

    I am a gym girl, but I am working on changing my mindset to understand that working out at home can be a real workout. My sister brought me a Wii with the WiiFitness program. If you can afford it and you are willing to commit to it, then it is a great choice. I would recommend it. It has a running in place program that worked for me and increased my confidence. The best bang for your buck (exercise time) is the Step program. You can do it while watching TV (same with the running). I brought the platform to make the board higher and feel like I get a GREAT workout. It has increased my balance and confidence to do yoga.

    Best!

  16. colah

    January 28, 2013 at 3:16 PM

    I’ve lost over 120 pounds (started at over 300) and I had to use hindsight to realize that I could credit the use of public transportation to accelerating my weight loss when the pounds were dropping at 5-7 pounds per week. Since I stayed being late to catch the bus or train I would be moving fast! I’d ALWAYS opt to use the stairs in train stations even if I had my kid or bags of groceries in hand. It was a ‘race the escalator’ game for me where even if I lost I was still winning because I was losing (Get it?) lol. Also I would use free afternoons to make long treks (living in ATL at the time) I’d walk from the GA Dome to Ikea or to little five points. Several times a week, when I was downtown I would take the stairs to the eighth floor of an office building. I know these are not home workouts, but they are great home or gym ‘workout supplements’.

  17. Bex

    March 14, 2013 at 12:19 AM

    “Sure, I had a gym membership at first, but it wasn’t until I completely revamped my eating habits and started working out at home that I truly started losing.”

    so im not crazy! lol. ive just had that epiphany and literally about a month ago bought a mat, and just two sets of dumb bells and workout at home all the time now. my problem was consistency and getting to the gym when the child is at school or whatever. the extra trvel time, etc. and since i started working out at home this is the first time ive felt like i think i have found the key to not quitting AGAIN and having to restart AGAIN. i can do this at any time of day, while my daughter sleeps or is awake and watching (or participating as she now has her own set of 2lbers lol), i can do it at home and save time and basically if im honest i could fit a workout in every day this way. super excited and have been pretty consistent so far.

    just reading that this was a turning point for you is SO MOTIVATING AND ENCOURAGING. yayyyyy :)

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