You can do simple workouts at home and get great results. And you don’t have to own a ton of equipment, either. Here’s how you can build a simple home gym and get great workouts without breaking the bank – using a small bench, dumbbells and resistance bands.
I workout at home and have built up quite a nice gym over the past decades. I’ve got Precor cardio machines, a Powertec Workbench multi-gym, a Hoist stack gym, multiple barbells, dumbbells, resistance bands and more.
If you already have equipment at home or belong to a gym, skip on down to where it says “Avoid the Noise out there.”
If you have none, let’s look at this in the most simple terms and imagine someone just starting out with little or no equipment. Let’s build an inexpensive home gym and lay out a simple workout plan.
First a trip to the Amazon store.
We’re going to build our home gym around these items:
Resistance Bands: A great all around resource. Very inexpensive given how much of a total body workout you can accomplish with a set of these. If this is all you can afford, start here. I recommend Koyto. They’re high quality, low cost. And they feature both short and long bands for exercise variety. You can pretty much do a complete full body workout with these alone. Also, Kyoto will send you a link for an illustrated 42 page booklet on how to use and care for the bands.
Currently listed at just $29.80
If that’s all you can afford, stop there and start with a set of Resistance Bands. If you can afford a bit more, consider a pair of adjustable dumbbells and an adjustable bench as described below:
Adjustable Dumbbells: Another great resource mostly for upper body work but also useful for squats and lunges. I recommend Unipack cast iron dumbbells. Pictured here is a set that can be as heavy as 52.5 pounds per dumbbell, which should be plenty for most people. You can also drop the weight down to as little as 5 pounds per dumbbell since they are adjustable. Handles and locks are threaded for a secure fit. If you want to go heavier, they offer a set that goes up to 100 pounds per dumbbell.
Currently Listed at $99.99
Adjustable bench: This can be optional, but it’s a great add for the total body. I recommend this Universal, which is a tried and true brand in gym equipment. This bench adjusts to 5 different positions and has ankle pads to secure yourself during various exercises.
Currently listed at $161.93
All 3 together would cost $291.72 at current prices.
If you have all three, you get a pretty complete setup that will allow you to work all areas of your body. But you could do many movements with just the bands if that’s all you can afford.
(NOTE: At the bottom of this post you check out an inexpensive setup featuring an inflatable exercise ball and resistance bands. For under $40, you can work out your entire body!)
So now what?
Avoid the Noise Out There
Remember, we’re going to keep this simple. The fitness gurus of today, pitching programs primarily to folks under 40, have invented a credo around complexity. It takes them 12 DVDs of time to make their point. They say your muscles must be constantly confused to stay motivated.
That’s just pure BS.
Don’t listen to that stuff. This site is dedicated to Baby Boomers. We need to focus on building muscle and strong bones to defy the nasty effects of aging on our bodies. Simple is best. Simple works.
In fact, check out what 3 of the smartest guys in history said about simplicity vs. complexity:
“If you can’t explain it to a six year old, you don’t understand it yourself.”
“Truth is ever to be found in the simplicity, and not in the multiplicity and confusion of things.”
“Life is really simple, but we insist on making it complicated.”
A Simple Plan
Here’s a 4 day per week simple Sample plan that should take only 30 – 45 minutes per workout.
The point of every exercise is to go to muscle failure. Use good form, don’t cheat or use body english.
Breath in during exertion and exhale as you release.
Your goal is to feel a bit sore afterward. Not pain. Just muscle soreness. It’s a good thing. If you’re just starting out, take it easy at first. Do not push yourself too hard. Allow your body time to adjust to the idea of regular workouts. Use very light weights at first and get used to the motions.
3 – 5 Sets per exercise. Work up to a higher number of sets as you get in better shape. If you have to start with only one per exercise, start there. The most important thing is to start and stay consistent. Make this a regular part of your schedule.
8 – 12 Reps per Set. Adjust the resistance/weight so that you reach ‘failure’ at those rep limits with about 30 seconds of rest between sets. You might get to failure with 12 reps in the first set, but only be able to do 10 in the next and so on. Don’t get too hung up on the numbers. This is about the feeling in your muscles. Again, adjust that time as you progress. Use a little more time if you need it at first.
Use a smooth motion with the weights/resistance. Your purpose is to feel the target muscle working, not break an Olympic record. Focus on the smooth movement and the sensation it causes in the target muscle.
This method has been proven to work. Dr. Marcas Bamman, Director for Exercise Medicine at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, was recently quoted in the New York Times saying that men and women in their 60s and 70s who began a weight training program developed muscles that were as large and strong as those of your average 40-year-old.
“Our lab and others have shown repeatedly that older muscles will grow and strengthen,” he said.
In their studies, volunteers used weights calibrated so that the lifters could barely complete a set of eight to 12 repetitions before the target muscles grew tired and had to rest. In the weight training world, we call that ‘failure.’
Dr. Bamman says you should push your muscles in this manner until they are exhausted because this is what triggers the biomechanical processes that lead to larger, stronger muscle fibers.
Biceps, Triceps, Forearms and Wrists:
Our arms do a lot of the daily work, whether it’s lifting a grandkid or bags of groceries. Strong arms are important for your quality of life.
3 – 5 Sets of Bicep Curls using dumbbells, these can be alternating or simultaneous. Alternately, if you do not have dumbbells, repeat another round with the bands. In this case, make the first round a simultaneous movement of both left and right hands together and this second an alternating movement of left then right.
Moving on to the back of the arm, triceps. This is actually the larger part of your arm. Tri = 3 muscles. Bi = 2 muscles.
3 – 5 Sets of Triceps Extensions using Resistance Bands. Follow the instructions that come with the bands to secure them under a foot or in a door anchor. With one hand behind your head grasping a band handle, raise it up straight above your head. Feel the tension in your triceps as you do this. Repeat with the other hand.
3 – 5 Sets of Triceps Seated Extensions. To do the Seated Extensions, sit on a chair or bench (you could also stand). If you use the bands, secure one end to the bench or a door anchor, grasp the handles and press upward behind your head. If you use a dumbbell, hold one with both hands around an end behind your back. Raise it up above your head. Feel the tension in the back of your arms. Lower and repeat.
3 – 5 Sets Kickbacks. Rest one knee on a bench surface and hold the dumbbell by your side. Press it straight back as pictured and repeat. Again, feel it in the back of your upper arm. Alternate to other knee and arm and repeat.
Bonus Exercises to strengthen your forearms and wrists:
- 2 – 3 Sets of Wrist Curls using Resistance Bands or Dumbbells. Seated, rest your forearm on your thigh with your wrist hanging over your knee. Curl the weight up using only your wrist. You can do one arm at a time, or both together. Keep the tension constant. Feel it in your forearms.
- 2 – 3 Sets Wrist Extensions using Resistance Bands or Dumbbells. Same as above but reverse your hand grip to palm down and curl the wrist up. Keep the tension constant. Feel it in your forearms.
Your chest includes some of the largest muscles in your upper body. You use them constantly to open doors, when you wash your hair and much more. Importantly these muscles play a big role in helping you get up off the floor or out of an easy chair.
3 – 5 Sets of Chest Press. Use a machine or Resistance Bands. Anchored in a door or other sturdy object. Press the handles straight out from your chest. You can also vary the angles on this movement by moving the band’s anchor point lower or higher. The main purpose is to feel the sensation in your pectoral muscles.
3 – 5 Sets of Flyes. These can be done with Resistance Bands or Dumbbells while lying on a bench (left). Start with your hands out to your sides, parallel to your chest with elbows flexed, then bring your hands up together in front of your chest and feel the pectoral muscles flex. Repeat.
3 – 5 Sets of Bench Press. If you have them, use the dumbbells this time. Use a weight you can handle comfortably, being careful not to over-stress your shoulder and elbow joints. Ideal with a bench, but can be done lying on the floor (be careful with your elbows). Alternately, you could use the bands while lying on the floor or on a bench. Wrap a band around your back or under the bench and press the handles upward as if it was a pair of dumbbells.
Bonus exercises to build your chest:
- Crossovers. For an additional volume of work. Do a few rounds of crossovers. Right, using Resistance bands anchored in a doorway. You can move the anchor point so it is positioned low as pictured, or midway or higher. Follow the directions that come with the Resistance Bands. You can do these standing or seated. You start with your hands held out to the sides of your body and then pull them in and cross over your chest while keeping your elbows slightly bent and comfortable. Feel the pump in those pectoral muscles as you do it.
- Pushups. The classic exercise is still ideal for building chest muscles. You can substitute this exercise for any of the above to create some variety in your routine. You can and should also use a set of pushups as a finisher to your chest workout. You can do them with your bare hands the old fashioned way or add some challenge with some floor handles.
Your shoulders are a vulnerable joint prone to injury and they are involved in just about every upper body movement you make. Therefore it’s important to take care of them and keep them strong. And your back helps hold your body upright. It needs to be strong, especially if you sit slouched in front of a computer all day. Your back, particularly the Lat muscles, can also help you look thinner by creating a V-Shape leading to your waist, which will look smaller once the back is developed.
3 – 5 Sets Front Raises. Using the Resistance Bands or dumbbells. Using bands, secure one under your feet and grasp a handle in each hand. Start with your hands down by your thighs and raise them up parallel with your chest. Lower and repeat 8 – 12 times. Same basic motion with a dumbbell.
3 – 5 Set Lateral Raises. Using the Resistance Bands or dumbbells. If you have dumbbells, use one in each hand (don’t over-do the weight). Bend over slightly at the waist or sit on a bench or sturdy chair and raise both dumbbells up on each side of your body. Emphasis is on your shoulder muscles. Feel it.
3 – 5 Sets One Arm Rows. Using Bands or Dumbbells. Brace yourself with an arm and knee on a bench or against a sturdy chair. Raise the weight up feeling the sensation in your back (Lat) muscles. Try to make those back muscles do most of the work, not your arms.
3 – 5 Sets Lat Pulldowns. Use the Resistance Bands, follow the instructions to use the door anchor device. You will need to sit in a chair or on a bench. Adjust the resistance level to the 8 – 12 rep range. Feel it in those back muscles. Can also be done on a machine.
Building your lower body helps defy age and build strong muscles and bones. Your butt, thighs and calves do pretty much all the work in getting you around all day. Building these muscles will improve your daily quality of life and you’ll look sexier, too.
3 – 5 Sets Squats using the Resistance Bands (left) or Dumbbells (right). Mind your balance and bend down with your knees as far as you can without pushing it past your limits. Focus on your Glute (butt) muscles and lower back.
3 – 5 Sets Lunges. These can be done with Resistance Bands or with Dumbbells, use whichever you feel you can handle more securely and comfortably. Same focus on the butt, quadriceps and lower back. Feel it!
3 – 5 Sets Leg Extensions. These can be done with the Bands while seated in a chair or standing with the bands anchored in a door. You will attach the band to an ankle strap that is included with the bands. These movements will strengthen your thigh muscles and those surrounding your knee joints. Feel it in those muscles.
3 – 5 Sets Hamstring Curls. These can be done with Resistance Bands by anchoring them in a door, attaching it to an ankle band and using the door for balance, curl your leg back toward your butt and repeat. Feel it in those Hamstring and Glute muscles.
3 – 5 Sets Glute Kickbacks or Glute Bridges. For the Kickbacks left, use the Resistance Bands anchored in a door. Bring your leg back as far as you comfortably can while feeling the tension in your Glute muscles. You can do a similar move lying on the floor with Glute Bridges, right. Use a dumbbell or other weight to add resistance by ling it across your belly as you do them. Again, focus on the feeling in those target muscles as you do the movement.
This workout will work.
The basic principles have been proven, especially regarding our Baby Boomer age group. You can grow stronger without Insanity or Pain. Look better. Feel better.
I hope if you are just starting out that you will give this a try. I’ll be happy to help you and answer any questions.
As a home gym alternative to a bench and dumbbells, consider an exercise ball and resistance bands. It allows you to do a wide variety of exercises and it is relatively inexpensive, usually under $40. This link will take you to Amazon to check them out.