TRAINERS LIKE TO SAY THE BEST GYM is the one you pass every day. That sets one place above the rest almost by default: your home. Convenience, after all, has a way of inspiring results. So does free membership and not having to wipe someone else’s sweat off a bench. And while you don’t need a ton of equipment to sculpt a stronger physique—see this month’s poster for the ultimate do-anywhere, body-weight workout—having a few key pieces of gear at your disposal can certainly expand your exercise options and accelerate your results.
That’s exactly what you’ll find here: the best tools for building muscle and torching flab from the comfort of anywhere—your home, your office, a hotel room, even the gym if you’re so inclined. Choose the items that best suit your goal—whether it’s gaining strength, shedding pounds, or a combination of the two—and then follow our advice to maximize their effectiveness. You won’t find any of these gems hawked on late-night TV—and with our help, you’ll also avoid buyer’s remorse. Indeed, you’ll be far too busy admiring the leaner, stronger guy staring back at you in the mirror.
Looking for an all-in-one home gym solution? We recommend the Bowflex Xtreme SE
How can a giant rubber band help you build muscle? Simple: Unlike a barbell or dumbbell, it provides constant tension throughout a lifting movement, increasing the intensity of the exercise and the challenge to your muscles. It’s not the best way to add tons of bulk (free weights are still tops for that), but it’s a fast, efficient way to gain real-world strength.
If you buy one pair, go with the Purple Large Bands from Resistance Band Training Systems; they provide 50 to 75 pounds of resistance. If it’s variety you’re after, buy the Intermediate Band Package, which has four pairs ranging in resistance from 15 up to 120 pounds, for $100 more. $45, resistancebandtraining.com
Band Overhead Reverse Lunge
Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, loop the band under your left foot, and press it overhead until your arms are straight. That’s the starting position. Keep the band pressed overhead as you lunge backward with your right leg until your front knee is bent 90 degrees and your back knee is an inch or two off the floor. Return to the starting position. Do 3 sets of 12 reps, switching legs halfway through each set.
This Russian import looks like a cannonball with a handle, but that ungainly design is exactly why it’s so effective. Unlike a dumbbell, a kettlebell’s center of gravity shifts during an exercise, increasing the challenge and building coordination. And because it’s intended for total-body moves, it adds a cardio element to what is already an intense strength workout.
We like the 16-kilogram First Place Kettlebell (about 35 pounds). There are more-expensive brands with vinyl covers and non-skid bases, but this basic cast-iron bell is all you need to build serious muscle. Want two? Add a 24-kilogram bell (about 53 pounds) to your order. $60 and $80, performbetter.com
Single-Arm Kettlebell Swing
Grab a kettlebell using an overhand grip and hold it with one hand, arm extended, at waist height. Set your feet slightly beyond shoulder width. Now swing the bell between your legs. Keeping your arm straight, thrust your hips forward, straighten your knees, and swing the bell up to chest level as you rise to a standing position. That’s 1 rep. Do 3 sets of 20 to 30, switching hands halfway through each set.
Think you’re tough? We dare you to try these 15-minute muscle shredders!
Want to instantly make any exercise more difficult? Take it off terra firma. By adding an element of instability to your workout, a suspension trainer increases the challenge to your core and stabilizer muscles. The greater the challenge, the greater your gains. It’s also one of the most portable items on our list; as long as you have access to a sturdy anchor point—a door or a tree limb, for example—you have everything you need for a workout.
Try the TRX Pro Kit. Designed by a former Navy SEAL, this suspension trainer features single anchor points, making setup a snap. It’s also one of the sturdiest on the market—a nice feeling when part of your body is hovering above the floor. $200, trxtraining.com
Hang from the handles with your hands positioned above your shoulders, arms straight. Your body should form a straight line from your ankles to your head. Initiate the movement by pulling your shoulder blades back, and then continue the pull with your arms until your chest reaches the handles. Pause, and slowly lower your body back to the starting position. Do 3 sets of 10 to 12 reps.
It may look like a section of PVC pipe, but look again: This is one of the best fitness tools you probably never knew existed. (There’s also nothing else like it on the market, which is why we gave it its own category.) Lift it. Drag it. Throw it. Flip it. Swing it. The ViPR is designed for active, total-body exercises that build balance, agility, and rock-solid core strength. It’s also constructed of solid rubber, which means it’s virtually indestructible.
Start off with the 8-kilogram version (roughly 17 pounds), which is all you’ll need for most exercises—trust us. Order heavier models—up to a maximum of 20 kilograms (about 44 pounds)—as your fitness level grows. $205, performbetter.com
Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and knees slightly bent, and place the ViPR on its end about a foot in front of you. Tug the ViPR so it begins to fall to your right, shuffling sideways to follow it down. As its top nears the floor, grab it with your left hand and tug it so it falls in the other direction. Continue alternating back and forth for 30 seconds. That’s 1 set; do 3.
Think of a Swiss ball as the opposite of solid ground—a soft, unstable surface that challenges your core and helps you improve your balance and coordination. It’s also an excellent substitute for a bench in exercises like the chest press and the pullover, as long as your goal is to build coordination and stability rather than raw power and strength. Used alone, it’s just about the best tool you can own for sculpting a six-pack.
FitBall Sport Stability Ball is available in a range of sizes, depending on your height, but the 65-centimeter model (26 inches) is a good fit for most men. Its latex-free vinyl construction can also support up to 600 pounds. $29, performbetter.com
Swiss Ball Jackknife
Assume a pushup position with your arms straight and your shins on a Swiss ball. Your body should form a straight line from your ankles to your head. This is the starting position. Without changing your lower-back posture, roll the ball toward your chest by pulling it forward with your feet. Pause, then lower your hips and roll it back to the starting position. That’s 1 rep. Do 3 sets of 8 to 10.
If you have the space (and the money), think about upgrading your home gym with one or more of these big-ticket items to fast-track your fitness plan.
KEISER INFINITY FUNCTIONAL TRAINER
Thanks to two independently adjustable arms, the cable crossover machine lets you do hundreds of different exercises, making it one of the most versatile fitness tools you can own. Keiser’s Infinity Functional Trainer uses air resistance instead of weights for a smoother, lower-impact workout. $3,600, performbetter.com
This sub-$1,500 treadmill proves that a gym-quality machine doesn’t have to cost big bucks. Its long (60-inch) belt, speeds to 12 miles an hour, convenient folding design, and suite of interactive features (including a USB drive for tracking your workouts online) make this unit one of the best budget buys out there. $1,300, livestrongfitness.com
POWERBLOCK U-90 STAGE II SET
Most selectorized dumbbells max out at 50 pounds, but these PowerBlocks replace an entire dumbbell rack in a fraction of the space, and they allow you to select from 2 1/2 to 90 pounds in each hand. The result: You don’t have to worry about outgrowing them. Their urethane coating also makes them extra durable and surprisingly quiet. $640, powerblock.com
Inspired by the demands of farm work, the Core Stix trainer provides one of the best total-body workouts on our lineup. It was designed by an NHL strength and conditioning coach and a former space shuttle engineer, and its flexible rods offer resistance in multiple planes of motion and an almost unlimited number of exercise choices. $850 to$1,800, corestix.com
GYM BAG ESSENTALS
Prefer to sweat in the company of others? No problem. Stash these portable items in your gym bag before you hit the weight room to maximize your workout and accelerate your muscular gains.
A strong grip translates strength from your upper body to the world around you. Hook these onto a cable machine or pullup bar to build your forearms and an iron handshake. $20, strongergrip.com
Most heart-rate monitors focus on cardio. The FT80 is one of the few with a function for reading your heart rate between sets, so you know when you’re ready for your next one. $320, polarusa.com
THE HYBRID STICK
Think of this rolling pin as a portable masseuse. Knead your muscles pre-and postworkout to ease stiffness and boost blood-flow. A raised center wheel helps target tight spots. $45, thestick.com
STRETCH OUT STRAP
Experts agree that assisted stretching is excellent for boosting flexibility and performance. Don’t have a partner? The Stretch Out Strap is the next best thing. $18, optp.com
There’s a reason rock climbers, gymnasts, and powerlifters use chalk: It keeps things from slipping out of their hands. Liquid grip provides the same benefit without the dust. $20, liquidgrip.com
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