By Kim Schlag, Personal Trainer & Nutrition Coach 4-Minute Read
Kim Schlag is a personal trainer & nutrition coach who helps women over 40 age stronger, improve their body composition, and heal their relationship with food and their bodies through her eight-week course Fitter After 40.
True or false: The only effective workout is one done inside a totally tricked-out gym?
False, my friend. But to get an effective workout at home you do need something that fully stocked gyms have: enough resistance to challenge your body to change. By the time you’re done reading this article you’ll know exactly what’s needed to do just that.
Pros and Cons To Home Workouts
PROS TO TRAINING AT HOME:
Convenience (save time, can still work out when tight on time, no travel time).
No waiting on others for equipment.
If you have kids at home or if you’re sick (not so sick you don’t feel up to a workout, but too sick to be in public), you can still train.
If you aren’t comfortable exercising in front of others, there’s that privacy factor.
You can be as loud as you want, wear what you want, and dance between sets.
CONS TO TRAINING AT HOME:
(Interestingly some of the pros are also cons!)
Your kids are there, as are all of your household chores. Running to change laundry, preheat the oven, answering the door, breaking up spats between your kiddos...these things break your concentration and can make your workout longer.
We as humans often put off what’s easily accessible...kind of like the whole “the people who live closest to the party are going to be the ones who are late because they didn’t need to plan in travel time.” It gets really easy to keep pushing off the start of your workout until you're crunched for time.
You likely don’t have all of the same equipment as a gym. For example, it would be sweet to have a leg press in my home gym. Not gonna happen.
Make the choice you feel is best for you right now, knowing you can always change your mind later. If home workouts are your pick, read on...
"To get an effective workout at home you do need something that fully stocked gyms have: enough resistance to challenge your body to change."
Considerations for effective at-home workouts
The number-one consideration for effective training, no matter where you train, is being able to progressively overload. All that means is doing more work over time in order for you to create the stimulus your body needs to change. Though there are multiple ways to do that, the most important one is using heavier weight over time.
This is the challenge to be met when it comes to at-home workouts. Sure, in a pinch you can curl wine bottles and press gallons of milk; but long term, that approach isn’t a solution. Having enough weight to progressively overload and properly train all body parts is key. This doesn’t mean you have to build a replica of a commercial gym in your home, though. Below you will find a breakdown of essential items for your home gym, useful equipment to provide more variety, and some big-ticket equipment that make any home gym top notch.
Not just light ones either! Yes, you’ll need the 3, 5, 8, 10, and 15 pounders. You will for sure need 20s and 25s, and you might not believe it, but you will even need 30s, 35s, even 40+ pound dumbbells to challenge your lower body.
Adjustable dumbbells are a good space-saving option. Check out a few popular ones here and here. Work on building up over time. Yard sales, neighborhood Facebook groups, and Facebook Marketplace are treasure troves for affordable used exercise equipment. I got most of my gym equipment secondhand.
Over-the-Door Chin-Up Bar:
Get a set of these long loop bands in various thicknesses and loop them over the bar to do lat pulldown variations.
Useful Next Investments for Greater Variety:
Getting an adjustable bench instead of a flat bench will allow you to access a much greater variety of exercises: incline chest press, chest-supported rows, or chest-supported lateral raises, for example. If space is an issue, there are foldable adjustable benches you can slide under a bed or stash in a closet.
Here’s what I don’t want you to use the ball for: a bench. Laying on the ball for chest presses is something you see in exercise videos. It’s dumb. Don’t do it. You're way better off just pressing from the floor where it's stable. That said, the swiss ball is a useful tool for doing hamstring curls when you don’t have a hamstring curl machine, as well as for a number of ab exercises.
No, it’s not for old-school step aerobics. The step with 4 to 5 risers is often the perfect height for hip thrusts. It’s also useful for step-up variations.
A standard, power, or olympic bar. Most weigh 45 lbs and are 7 feet long. There is a women’s barbell that’s 33 pounds and 6.5 feet long with a smaller diameter shaft (the part you grip). It’s 25mm compared to the 28 to 32 mm shaft of a bar that’s not a woman’s bar. You DO NOT have to use a woman’s bar just because you’re a woman (but if you have smaller hands, you might prefer it).
You could also add a trap bar to your home gym. Many people prefer it for deadlifting.
There is nothing like training with barbells to make you feel like a serious badass. Highly recommend it!
"There is nothing like training with barbells to make you feel like a serious badass."
Gotta have something to load on that barbell! Iron plates are cheaper. Rubber plates cost more, but are also quieter when in use and designed to be dropped. Whether you get a full set of rubber or iron plates, getting a pair of 10-pound bumper plates is a smart idea. These plates are the same diameter as 45-pound plates but much lighter, which helps if you are a beginner working on form.
There are many different options here: a cage, a squat stand, or even a foldable rack that can attach to your garage wall. Whatever type you get, check to make sure it comes with long safety bars (or that you buy them separately). You want to be able to take two steps back from the rack to squat down and have the safety bars reach out that far so that if you can’t get up from the bottom of a squat, you can just leave the barbell resting on the safeties. I’ve seen a bunch of racks on the market with strangely short safety bars.
If you decide to spend the money on a cable machine, spend the extra to get one with a weight stack instead of a manually loaded machine. Actually loading the manual machine is no big deal, but I’ve found that the cables on the manually loaded machines don’t function properly with low-load exercises such as lateral raises and rear delt raises.
P.S. If you’ve gotten this far and are thinking “sheesh, that's a lot of equipment,” remember you can start with just the three items from the Gym Essentials list...and still get in an effective workout.
If you want more direct help consistently incorporating these forms of exercise into your life (including personalized form feedback), please check out my eight-week course Fitter After 40. It’s a complete system for women over 40 to get in their best shape yet, including nutrition, exercise, and mindset.