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22 Jan 2021

Seven small home gym equipment options to boost your winter workouts

We look at compact home gym gear that's easy to store, including medicine balls, resistance bands, weights and more u2014 and how they can help you get in shape
Folding a yoga mat

Not everyone has the space or budget to invest in top-of-the-range home gym equipment. Premium brands such as Peloton might be all the rage, but unless you've got nearly £2,000 (at a minimum) and plenty of floor space going spare, you might prefer to get your cardio workout by hitting the streets.

If you prefer to do your lockdown workouts at home, or are simply looking for new ways to get a range of exercises, there's plenty of compact exercise gear that can help. Whether you're looking to build your strength or burn calories, we've highlighted a selection of home gym equipment that won't break the bank or take up too much space.

Bear in mind that lots of other people have had the same idea; many retailers are struggling to keep up with demand and stock shortages are widespread. You may need to be patient and flexible about your purchases, and may need to look at alternatives to your favourite retailers or consider second-hand products.

For more guidance on kitting out your spare room or bedroom with equipment big and small, check out our guide on how to set up a home gym.

1. Weights

Man lifting weights

Individually, weights don't take up much room. Dumbbells and kettlebells can be stored on racks or tucked away in corners. Barbells are much longer (around six feet, or a bit under two metres, for standard barbells), but if you have a large enough room they can rest against a wall without proving too much of an irritation.

If you have more space, you might find a weight bench useful. This will help you to keep form when you lift, and open up a wider range of exercises. If space is at a premium, try a foldable weight bench which can halve in size and be tucked away somewhere convenient.

Bear in mind that if you cultivate a large arsenal of weights, including many plates and bars, that you'll end up with a lot of equipment to store. You can't save on space and also maintain a gym-worthy collection of weights. So consider your long-term needs.

How much do weights cost?

Costs vary depending on the type and size of weight, but many are reasonably priced.

Argos, for example, sells an Opti-branded 15kg cast iron dumbbell set for £28, while Opti also has a cast iron bar and dumbbell set with removable weight plates, maximum weight 35kg, for £60. Removable weight plates can be added and removed from bars as needed to suit different strength levels and types of exercise.

Where to buy: You can buy weights and weight benches at retailers including Argos and Powerhouse Fitness.

For more advice, check out our guide on how to buy the best weights and weight benches.

2. Resistance bands

Man using resistance bands

Resistance bands, also known as exercise bands, are incredibly space-economical. Essentially, they're giant (and very strong) rubber bands that can be folded and packed away in your cupboards and wardrobes, taking up no more space than a T-shirt or two.

Pulling and stretching the bands creates 'resistance' to work your muscles. The harder you pull, the more resistance you'll feel. They normally come in sets with varying resistance levels, so you'll probably buy five-or-so at once.

You can work out your whole body with resistance bands, and include them in routines of yoga, pilates, and more. Some come with handles to make it easier to work out your upper body.

They're a great way of working out that come with a low risk of injury, since you choose the pressure you apply.

How much do resistance bands cost?

Resistance bands aren't terribly expensive, and you can buy single ones for as little as £5. But normally they come in sets with different sizes and elasticities which are suitable for different workouts, so consider the total value of what you're buying. It's a false economy to make a saving on one resistance band, only to end up buying more later on.

Generally, you're looking at between £10 - £40 for a small set.

Where to buy: Argos sell different sets of resistance bands and Amazon has a huge selection online.

3. Medicine balls

Woman using a medicine ball

Don't confuse these with large, inflated exercise balls u2014 weighted medicine balls are easily half the size (and consequently much easier to store).

They're also significantly heavier. While they're unlikely to damage your floor if dropped - in fact, they're designed to be thrown around - bear this in mind if you store them somewhere they could roll off onto something delicate, or someone's head.

Medicine balls, as their name suggests, are popular in rehabilitative sports therapy. They enable you to do a range of exercises, including strength-based exercises, without over-exerting yourself or causing shocks to your joints.

But you don't need to be injured to get utility from them; a good medicine ball-based routine can improve your coordination, endurance and core strength, no matter your condition. Weights vary, so always check before you buy to avoid buying one that's too heavy for you.

How much do medicine balls cost?

The price of your medicine ball will depend on the weight you buy, but ranges roughly from £10 to £50. Argos, for example, sells a 5kg ball for £20, while JLL, through Amazon, sells a 7kg ball for £30.

Where to buy: Retailers include Sports Direct, which sells a small range of medicine balls, Amazon and Argos.

4. Skipping ropes

Skipping ropes are surprisingly versatile fitness tools, and incredibly easy to store. They're also very light, so stick one in your backpack and you might forget it's even there.

A basic skipping routine is a great cardiovascular workout that can be done in the confines of a small garden (great if you're having to self-isolate but are feeling well, for example). It's good for building core strength, too, and there are numerous adaptations you can introduce to a skipping routine to make it more fun, challenging, and intense.

Criss-crossing, where you make the figure eight with your wrists while you jump, adds a bit of variety. And we love the 'double under' where you jump higher and spin the rope twice before you hit the ground for a harder routine.

There is a bit of coordination required though, so you may need a bit of practice to avoid repeatedly colliding with the rope. If skipping is a struggle then it's fine to do something else.

How much do skipping ropes cost?

Skipping ropes are another type of fitness product that doesn't break the bank. Decathlon and Argos, for example, sell basic ropes for as little as £2 and £5, respectively.

It's possible to buy ropes with specially designed ergonomic handles and tape grip that claims to be frictionless and can cost nearly £40 from the likes of Dope Ropes. But this is the premium end of the market for the skip-mad.

Where to buy: You can find skipping ropes at Argos, Decathlon, and Dope Ropes, as well as other retailers.

Fitness trackers can be a great way to keep track of fitness progress and keep you motivated; many modern gadgets let you record far more than just steps. Read our guide on how to buy the best fitness tracker.

5. Yoga and exercise mats

Anything that can be rolled up into a fraction of its size wins our approval as an easy storage item.

Rather than offering a workout in and off themselves, these flexible mats act as a base for yoga, pilates and other floor exercises. The springy surface provides a soft, non-slip foundation for you to stretch and bend.

Doing a fitness routine on a hardwood floor, on the other hand, can be downright painful - on joints, in particular - and the risk of injury is much greater. Even carpeted floors run the risk of carpet burn.

You don't have to do a full routine to make a mat worthwhile. Even if you just do sit ups and stretches, a supportive surface will do you a lot of favours.

How much do yoga mats cost?

Typically, prices range from £5 to £40. More money will buy you more thickness and more absorbency, for example Argos sell a 40mm thick mat for just under £30. Cheaper mats are thinner, but they'll roll up tighter too.

Where to buy: You can buy yoga and exercise mats at shops such as Argos and Decathlon, as well as specialist retailers.

Find out more about choosing the right yoga mat, and other handy accessories, in our yoga buying guide.

6. Foam rollers

Woman using a foam roller

Foam rollers are cushioned cylinders, which are easy to store pretty much anywhere you have a little space going spare.

Foam rollers can relieve tension in your muscles, help you to develop flexibility, and aid you in recovering from injuries.

They won't grow your muscles, make you leaner or train your cardiovascular system, but these workout companions can have musculoskeletal benefits to help you do more intense workouts, or simply minimise pain and the risk of injury.

How much do foam rollers cost?

Prices for standard foam rollers start at around £10 and go up to £25; most rollers on Amazon sit around the £15 mark.

Where to buy: Argos and Amazon both sell a selection of foam rollers, among other retailers.

7. Folding exercise bikes

Even more substantial cardio equipment doesn't have to take up loads of space or cost the earth.

Folding exercise bikes demand much less space than non-folding models, so can be more easily stored away in a cupboard or tucked in the corner. If you want kit with a small footprint, it's the way to go. We've also seen folding weight benches, rowing machines and treadmills.

How much do folding exercise bikes cost?

Budget brands, including Opti and Roger Black, offer low-price options that fold for easy storage from as little as £100.

Discover the best exercise brands and how to choose the right model for you in our guide on how to buy the best exercise bike.

How we selected prices and retailers

We chose retailers and gym equipment based on popular UK search terms and availability. Prices correct as of January 2021 and obtained from manufacturer's own website where possible; otherwise, obtained from third-party retailers listed on Google Shopping.