There are several things in this life I would like to not have to worry about, among them world hunger, an ever-inconvenient menstrual cycle, and being overweight. But after my college tour, I realized my weight was definitely a reason to worry.
Three years ago, I graduated college at 180 pounds—mind you, I’m 5-foot-6, so not OK. Despite my family’s shamelessly thoughtful attempts to tell me I was still beautiful, the truth was slowly dawning on me that, to some degree, I knew how I had ended up in this condition.
I was in college, busy with my softball team commitments and getting through the mountains of schoolwork. I was eating crap cafeteria fare and indulging in frequent trips to In-N-Out for a thousand-calorie dose of Animal-Style Fries. Not to mention I was stressed, not sleeping regularly, and occasionally drinking alcohol (cough, cough). All in all, I had developed my own crash course to weight gain.
When I graduated and moved back home, I continued with the same cycle of unhealthy eating, sporadic exercise, and even more alcohol. But then one day, I didn’t want to do it anymore—I had been taken over by this overwhelming sense of disgust.
I was disgusted with myself.
Not for being physically unattractive, but for being so careless with the things I was putting in my body. I can’t pinpoint the exact moment I decided I was going to make a change, but the numbers on the scale told me it had to happen.
When one decides to commit to a healthy lifestyle change, it must be understood that the transition will include a learning curve and many trials and errors, and will amount to a challenging journey. It can be somewhat daunting, deciding where to begin and how to make your “dream body” happen.
After I made my choice, I had to decide where, when, and how much I would exercise. In addition to being an overweight college graduate, I was also fairly broke at the time so that ruled out any hope of a gym membership.
Luckily, my parents had set up a small home gym in our garage during their “let’s get fit” phase, which quickly disappeared amid the chaos of life. But their equipment and area in the garage didn’t disappear and was begging for action. All the space needed was some TLC, some reorganizing, and some new equipment.
BINGO. I had my gym.
If you’re looking to start your own fitness journey, a home gym could be your ticket to sculpted muscles and more pep in your step. A home gym is also a good way to help you commit to your fitness goals because it eliminates the excuse of not being able to work out due to lack of access.
Before setting up a home gym, there are some important things to understand and decisions to make. First and foremost, set goals for yourself, and make sure they are measurable and attainable. When it comes to fitness, baby steps are the name of the game. I recommend writing your goals on a sheet of paper and posting them in your home gym, that way you never lose sight of them.
Secondly, start small so you don’t get overwhelmed. If you can stay motivated and committed, home gyms are a worthwhile investment. But if you are just getting started, avoid jumping straight for the big-ticket items. Start small and build on the space once you have a feel for how your new mission is going to work out.
The most important part of a home gym is finding the right space. If you’re a working mother, this is especially important. You want to find a fairly sizeable refuge that is free from the everyday distractions of home. It should be a private space to cut down on distractions, and a stereo goes a long way in blocking external noise and provides a great source of motivation. Also, it’s crucial to have a full-length mirror in the gym because it helps you become aware of your movements and therefore helps prevent injury. But it’s important to change perspectives so you work on the muscles you can’t always see in the mirror.
The next step in creating your own fitness Zen zone is to decide what you are training for, and this is different for everyone. Do you want to lose weight, improve cardio, strength train, or some other combination? Whatever you want to accomplish, research shows a reasonable balance of cardio and strength exercises are the best methods for achieving overall fitness and physique.
Acquiring the equipment for a home gym should be relatively simple and inexpensive. You’ll need a standard set of 5-, 10-, and 15-pound dumbbells. These are great foundational tools that provide a variety of exercise options. A quality stability ball is also recommended; they are versatile and there are a number of exercises to improve overall core and lower body strength. These balls are inexpensive and easy to store, and they can also be used for exercising hamstrings or even for squats.
Next on the list are the underestimated and underutilized resistance bands. I first discovered these in college when they were part of my physical therapy routine before softball practice and games. They can be used in a variety of ways and use controlled resistance to strengthen and stretch muscles for toning. You can easily strap them to a door, table, bench, or post and perform lateral pull downs, standing chest presses, squats, and shoulder exercises. I would recommend two bands of varying size and resistance (the color and width usually indicate the level of resistance).
And, of course, we can’t forget cardio! A jump rope is always a quality investment at no more than $15 for a higher-end rope. I would also recommend a 10-pound kettle bell for kettle bell swings—a handy cardio exercise—and an 8-pound medicine ball is useful for core and arm exercises. Also, don’t underestimate the power of jumping jacks, skipping, and mountain climbers for bursts of cardio.
I also recommend buying a carpet square, a yoga mat, and a stereo. Also, keep a couple of sweat towels handy, and maybe even personalize the space with motivational quotes and inspirational pictures.
You can get everything you need for your own home gym locally. TJ Maxx, Ross, and Target all offer reasonably priced exercise equipment such as dumbbells, stability balls, yoga mats, and even Hula Hoops (another cardio option). Amazon is always a reliable standby for ordering equipment; also check out Craigslist and the newspaper classifieds, which often have good deals on used exercise equipment. For in-person purchases, Sports Authority in San Luis Obispo or Play it Again Sports in Santa Maria offer a variety of basic exercise equipment to help get you started.
Remember, starting a home gym is not as challenging as one might think, and summer is the perfect time to embark on your own fitness mission. There are a number of reasons to start your own home gym, whether you want to just look better or feel better.
Having a gym at home is incredibly convenient because you can fit exercise into your schedule whenever you have time. The tools are easily within reach at home, and you don’t have to worry about germs like you do at a gym. You can also personalize these spaces and set up an environment you feel good and comfortable operating in. You can listen to whatever music you want as loud as you like.
Perhaps most importantly, having a home gym creates privacy, which is especially important if you’re new to being healthy and active. For your exercise to be of any benefit, you certainly have to be in the right frame of mind. Having privacy means you can eliminate ego and not worry about others watching you hit yourself in the head with a kettle bell or drop a medicine ball on your foot—not that I’ve had that happen to me. Ahem. At any rate, you can learn on your own time and feel free to develop your own fitness swagger.
The biggest and most obvious benefit to having a home gym is that it saves big on money because, let’s be real, gym memberships are expensive.
The home gym at my house ended up having a treadmill, resistance bands, a weighted bar, kettle bell, jump rope, Hula Hoop, dumbbells, and a loud job-site radio. This space in the front of my garage was the start to my 35-pound weight loss, and it gave me the power to join a gym where I can now take my physical training to the next level.
But what do I know? I’m just a Benchwarmer on a mission to be fit.
Kristina Sewell is a staff writer for New Times’ sister paper, the Santa Maria Sun. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.