News & Expert Interviews

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Exercising at Home: Setting Up a Home Gym

Greg Landry fitness expert

Greg Landry is an exercise physiologist and author with a Masters degree in exercise physiology from Louisiana State University.
Full bio here
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1) What is the biggest advantage to working out at home versus going to a gym?
The biggest advantages of working out at home is convenience. Not having to get in the car and go somewhere to exercise.

Let's just look at the big picture here. Let's assume that you are planning to exercise for the rest of your life. You are going to make it a healthy habit for the rest of your life. Now imagine getting in the car and going to a gym every day, or three, four or five days a week for the rest of your life. I think that, for a lot of people [not all people, for some people it works well], but for a lot of people that becomes another barrier to consistent exercise. Let's face it, exercising consistently is hard enough already. I just think that when you add that inβ€”for example, if you are a morning exerciser, you have to get up, make yourself presentable, get in the car, drive to a gym, work out, drive back home β€” I just think that it puts up unnecessary barriers for a lot of people.

Working out at home is certainly the less costly option.

2) What equipment is the least expensive for getting started?
For weight training, if you want to go really inexpensively but still get a very effective workout, you can just use dumb bells. They are small hand weights. These can be purchased very inexpensively at a sporting goods store.

3) How do I know the size or weight of the dumb bells to purchase?
It's different for everyone. But the way you would determine that is through trial and error. For each exercise we want a weight that fatigues you - in other words, where you can barely do another repetition, somewhere between 12 and 15 repetitions. So let's say you try it with a five pound weight, and you can only do eight or ten. Then that tells us that it is a little too heavy. If you can do 20 or 25 repetitions, that tells us it is a little too light. We want you to just about be fatigued where you can't do another one, somewhere between 12-15 repetitions.

If you are going out and buying some, I'd recommend a three pound pair and a five pound pair. Go home and do the exercises to see what it actually takes to fatigue you. Then you might need a heavier pair or a lighter pair. For most people three, four, or five different pairs of weights will suffice for all the exercises.

4) What are your thoughts on weight training machines?
There are lots of those out there in all different sizes and types. But here is what you are looking for: Number one, you want to be able to adjust the resistance. Typically, that is changing the weight you are lifting. But on some machines, it is adjusting a spring or putting a different rubber band on it that provides resistance. But the key is, you need to be able to adjust the resistance to be sure that the resistance is appropriate for you to do 12-15 repetitions of an exercise to fatigue. So, as long as the resistance can be adjusted in fairly small increments, you're fine.

The second thing you want to look at is, "How easy is it to use?" If you are looking at one, get on it and try it. Do you have to change a bunch of things over? With some machines, every new exercise you do you have to change, hook wires in different places. That can work for some people, but for most people that gets pretty tedious. If it becomes a nuisance, people tend to stop working out. So, you want to get on it, try it out, be sure that it's easy to use.

Now, I almost never suggest buying new exercise equipment. I encourage people not to. The simple reason is that there is so much used exercise equipment out there. Why is that? I think you know! People buy it, stick it in their garage or their living room or in their bedroom, and use it once or twice and it is never used again. So there are a lot of people with virtually brand new exercise equipment that has been used a few times and they want to sell it.

The classifieds are usually loaded with exercise equipment ads. I have gotten some great deals from people who just wanted it out of their house! So keep you eye on the newspapers. There is lots of good equipment if you want to go the machine route.

5) What about aerobic exercise?
With aerobic exercise we are talking about things like walking, stair climbing, continuous movement as compared to intermittent movements like weight training.

There's lots of different exercise equipment out there that offers an aerobic workout: elliptical trainers, stair climbers, stationary bikes, treadmills, etc. I am going to tell you about a couple of my favorites tonight that have been my favorites for a long time.

One is a rower called "The Concept II" (www.concept2.com). This is a rower that uses air resistance. There is a big fan on the front and you pull a handle which turns this flywheel. The good thing about air resistance is the harder you pull the more resistance you get, and vice versa. So it's an excellent setup. You're working your upper body and your lower body at the same rate - muscle toning and aerobic. The Concept II is an incredibly durable machine. It will last for years. The one problem is that if you buy it new, it's expensive. They are about $800 new. However, I have seen them used quite often, for less than a couple of hundred dollars.

There are a couple of knock-off models that have a similar structure. They aren't the same quality, but are certainly good enough. What you are looking for is the ones that use a flywheel, a fan that turns, and that provides the resistance. Again, keep your eye on the used classified ads.

The second piece of equipment that I really like is called an AirDyne bike. It is made by Schwinn. The bike is called the AirDyne. It operates on the same principle. It is a stationary bike with a big fan in the front. You have probably seen these. You pedal, the fan turns. Air resistance is what you're pushing against. So the harder you pedal, the more resistance you get, the less you pedal, the less resistance you get. It's a perfect setup.

The other thing I really like about this piece of equipment, just like the rower, you are working your upper body and your lower body at the same time. The handlebars on this stationary bike move. So you can use your hands and your feet to make it run or you can use just your hands or just your feet. This is an excellent piece of equipment. It too, is expensive, about $800 or $900. But, I have bought these for less than $100 from classified ads in the newspaper, in excellent shape! They last forever. It's a great investment, especially if you can get it for $100 or so.

I have seen other brands new for $200-$300 and used for well under $100. If you see a cheaper knock-off, look for that fan - you want air resistance. That is the smoothest and most effective because of the way you can adjust the resistance.

6) What if I don't want a large piece of equipment in my house?
The ther form of indoor aerobic exercise that I am really fond of and which I think works well for a lot of people is exercise videos. They provide good diversion, they are entertaining, especially for times when you can't or don't want to go outside to walk or participate in other outdoor activities. If it's too cold, too hot, raining or snowing, you can pop in an exercise video and get a great workout indoors. There is a site that I really like called Collagevideo.com . It has been around for a long time. They have got just about every exercise video imaginable. But what I really like β€” their employees watch the videos and rate them and tell you what's in them. They have a little description of the video on the website and also have them categorized. It is really easy to choose the videos that you think you will like the best. Buy a new one every month. It gives you some diversion and before long you'll have a collection of 6, 8, 10, 12 videos, where you can have a lot of variety in your workouts. For the people that really get hooked on this, this works well. It's a great alternative type of exercise in addition to maybe walking outside.

7) The Ab Roller(R) is a popular item for home use - is it effective?
It is probably not harmful, but you can do the same movement, probably more effectively without the equipment. The only things I would really buy equipment for is some type of aerobic exercise or actual weight training.

8) Where should I set up my home gym?
Set up your workout space in a place that is convenient to you, ideally near a TV or where there's space to add a small TV. If you are going to exercise consistently for a long time, it helps to have this distraction. Sometimes you like just thinking about nothing. But a lot of times it's nice to be able to watch your favorite show or the news. It passes the time very quickly. It makes exercise easier, because your mind is not on it. Some people just like listening to the radio or tapes. But do something to help make your exercise easier, to help make the time pass and to just let your mind drift to other things while you are exercising.

9) Should I track my success?
A lot of people find it helpful to set up some kind of a chart. If you have a corner of your bedroom where you are doing this or a basement, you can put a poster on the wall and chart your exercise. Check off your days. Write how many minutes of each exercise you are doing. As you see those minutes mount up and that chart start to fill, it is really encouraging and motivating to be able to see that. And it's always in front of you, right there in front of your exercise equipment. So get your little corner of the room, your spot in a bedroom or basement or living room and make that exclusively for your exercise equipment.

Working out at home becomes a very convenient way to exercise. If you are doing it first thing in the morning, you don't have to get dressed and drive to a gym, it's right there. But make it fun. Make it entertaining. Watch your favorite show. Watch something you've taped or a video. Read a book. A lot of people listen to books on tape while they are exercising. I had a lady tell me a while back, "I get these good books, and I tell myself the only time I am going to let myself listen to this is when I'm exercising. So sometimes I will exercise extra just to hear more of the book!"


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