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The results of our latest exercise survey show that a growing number of us are swapping visits to the gym with workout programmes that can be tackled in the living room.
In fact, around 50% of Which? members that responded to our survey told us they now exercise more at home as a result of lockdown.
Although many gyms across the UK have reopened, having the option to work out whenever you want (without potentially having to hop in the car or take public transport) is extremely convenient. So below, we highlight:
- Some of the best compact exercise equipment that you can use at home
- Tips on workouts that need no equipment at all – including seated exercises suitable for those looking to improve their mobility
- Some free smartphone apps that will help you track your progress.
How to set up a home gym – stay fit and burn calories from home
Compact exercise equipment
When shopping for home gym equipment, you’ll need to consider how much space you have to move around. A treadmill or rowing machine will undoubtedly help you burn calories, but may not always be viable if you’re working out in a small room, or if you have neighbours that don’t appreciate loud noises.
As we explain in our exercise equipment buying guide, some larger pieces of kit – such as exercise bikes – come in compact or foldable designs so you can more easily store them between uses. But you could also think about investing in smaller home gym equipment that’s easier to move around the house. For example, you could try:
Expect to spend £10-20
If you want to focus on getting specific muscle groups working harder, an affordable resistance band can get the job done. As you pull on the band, you’ll feel more force moving through your body.
You can use a resistance band to build strength in your arms, legs and chest. If you’re working on your arms, for example, you can place both feet on the band, grab the handles and stand tall. As you raise your arms up high by your side, you’ll feel some resistance.
Expect to spend £10-30
These weighted balls are made to be chucked around, so make sure you consider your neighbours before you buy a set. They’re available at different weights and can help you work out several different parts of your body, including upper body, hips and core.
For example, to build your core, sit up on the floor, raising your feet in the air and, with the medicine ball in your hand, tap it on the floor to your left and right. This twisting motion will exercise your abs.
Expect to spend £10-20
These cheap exercise accessories are available in various different sizes and densities. They can help to prepare your body for a workout (by stretching it out) or for post-exercise muscle recovery. You’ll need to be on the floor to use a foam roller.
Foam rollers can effectively work on your calves, hamstrings and upper back. If it’s your calves that you want to focus on, you’ll need to place the roller at your calves, raise yourself off the ground with your hands and slowly roll back and forth.
This repeating motion will put gentle pressure on your calves and the texture of the foam roller will hopefully provide some relief to tired muscles.
For more expert advice on fitness equipment suitable for smaller spaces, including foldable exercise bikes and treadmills, see our guide on how to set up a home gym
Buying and using weights
If you don’t mind a bit of drizzle, going outside for a run or a bike ride can keep up the cardio work, but replicating the experience of using weights at a gym can be harder.
That might be why, of all the exercise equipment our members use, weights were the most popular. Fortunately, they’re also fairly compact and easy to store away, and can be one of the most cost-effective pieces of exercise equipment to buy – you can buy a set of fixed weight dumbbells for as little as £20.
Lifting weights has its advantages. For starters, the activity increases lean mass and EPOC (excess post-exercise oxygen consumption), burning more calories while you’re resting. And burning calories means losing weight.
If you’re using weights on a regular basis, you’ll also be improving your balance, posture and coordination. There’s proof that physical activity can improve your mood, too, which is good news if you’re not a fan of these dark, chilly winter evenings.
For more on the health benefits of using weights, tips for beginners, and advice on what and where to buy, see our weights and weight bench buying guide
Staying fit without expensive kit: tips from Which? members
As part of our recent exercise habits survey, we asked Which? members how lockdown had affected their exercise habits. We also asked respondents for advice to give to other people thinking about starting their own exercise routines.
Here are just a few of the comments we received:
- ‘My previous yoga class will not resume, so I have been participating in twice-weekly practices with friends via a shared WhatsApp group.’
- ‘Being in a routine and following a “walk at home” workout on YouTube each morning has given some structure to my day.’
- ‘I have exercised more indoors during the lockdown. Previously, it was all outside, running, cycling and walking. During lockdown, I’ve taken advantage of online exercise videos, and have tried boxing and yoga. To anyone thinking of starting, I say go for it!’
Free exercise apps to try at home
Fitness apps are handy because they let you work out at your own pace, keeping a record of the days where you worked at your hardest.
Both of the free smartphone apps we’ve featured below can be used without any specialist equipment. In other words, you could start your new exercise routine today if you wanted to, so no more excuses.
One You Couch to 5K
Couch to 5K has become one of the world’s most popular exercise programs, and this free app will help you take on the challenge for yourself. You can power through the full course with regular runs over a nine-week period, or work at your own custom pace.
To help you tackle those runs in the rain, you can stick some headphones on and hear motivating messages from your virtual trainer. The countdown timer will tell you how long you’ve got left to go and a notification will tell you when you’re halfway through.
Each of your completed runs is logged on the app, so you can track your progress over time and see how you’re getting on.
This smartphone app for iOS and Android has been designed to help you stay fit without paying for a gym membership. It focuses on offering daily workout routines for all of your main muscle groups. You won’t need to invest in any home gym equipment to get started.
Home Workout has routines that can help you build strength in your abs, chest, legs and arms, with the app maker’s promising that ‘all the workouts are designed by experts’. Your training progress is stored automatically and you can log your weight regularly inside the app to see if the exercise is having a noticeable impact.
Not being as nimble as you once were should be no impediment to exercise. The NHS website runs through a number of simple sitting exercises that can be done from home, which are designed to improve your mobility.
All you need to complete these exercises is a solid, stable chair that doesn’t have wheels attached to it. Make sure your feet are flat on the floor and your knees are bent at right angles. Then, you can try:
Good for Improving posture
- Sit upright and slightly forward in your chair so that your back isn’t supported
- Extend your arms out to the side and pointed slightly downwards
- Push your chest forward and then up – you should feel a stretch in your chest.
Good for Maintaining flexibility in your upper back
- Sit upright with your feet flat on the floor
- Cross your arms and place your hands on your shoulders
- Keep your hips still and rotate your upper body to the side as far as you can (without things getting uncomfortable)
- Repeat this movement in the opposite direction.
Good for Building shoulder strength
- Sit in an upright position with your arms at your side
- Raise both of your arms (with your palms facing ahead of you) out and to the side
- Lift your arms up as far as you can above your head
- Return to the starting position and repeat the process.
Source: NHS website