If you only had space for one piece of exercise equipment, what would you get?
November 23, 2010 8:11 AM   Subscribe

If you only had space for one piece of exercise equipment, what would you get?

I don't want a gym membership, but I want a piece of equipment at home that will help me stay fit beyond what a normal, at-home, equipment-less workout can do.

So if I can only fit one normal sized piece of equipment, what would be the best thing to get? Elliptical? Exercise bike? Shovelglove?
posted by nitsuj to Health & Fitness (33 answers total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
Free wrights.

Pull up bar
posted by The Whelk at 8:17 AM on November 23, 2010 [3 favorites]

posted by The Whelk at 8:17 AM on November 23, 2010

posted by MediaMer at 8:22 AM on November 23, 2010 [3 favorites]

"Normal-sized"? People have different definitions of normal.

May I humbly suggest a squat rack, bench and some free weights (barbell, dumbbells)? You can do every exercise you will ever need with that, and it will fit in a very compact space (make sure you have at least a 2.65 m/8 ft ceiling).
posted by rhombus at 8:27 AM on November 23, 2010

I am not an exercise guy, but here is a related question that might have a few pieces of gear and/or ways of intensifying a non-gear workout: minimalist home workout tips.
posted by mecran01 at 8:33 AM on November 23, 2010

Squat rack with free weights.
posted by unixrat at 8:35 AM on November 23, 2010

A bench with weights. On the choice of dumbbells or barbells, I'd take the dumbbells, because they're more versatile. You can always go running outside for cardio.
posted by General Malaise at 8:38 AM on November 23, 2010

A Concept2 Indoor Rowing Machine. Trust me -- a great workout for upper body, legs, back, etc., as well as cardiovascular.
posted by ericb at 8:39 AM on November 23, 2010

Ditto everyone else - depending if you're a cardio addict or not, you'll want either a rower (Concept 2 Rowing Ergometer) or a squat rack with barbell & weights.

Personally, I'd go for the squat rack, as strength (especially as that gained by deadlifts and squats and presses) is more valuable than simple cardio ability.
posted by jpeacock at 8:46 AM on November 23, 2010

Squat rack, definitely. The rower is nice, but there are lots of equipment-free ways to get a cardio workout.
posted by restless_nomad at 8:48 AM on November 23, 2010

I'm in the rowing machine camp on this one. For the amount of space it takes up (slides under a bed) it offers a fairly comprehensive workout that can be rounded out with exercises that don't require equipment.

I've got an older Kettler Favorit rowing machine that I prefer over the Concept2 style rowing machines. The Kettler better simulates the act of rowing (should you choose to use it that way) and helps to give my arms a fuller workout.

Be aware though that the current available model has gotten some complaints about slipping tension adjusters.
posted by BishopFistwick at 8:53 AM on November 23, 2010

The exercise band I bought has been remarkably versatile. Plus it's lightweight and doesn't take up any space. You can buy them in various tensile strengths.
posted by lizbunny at 9:07 AM on November 23, 2010

I'd second (or third or fourth) a rowing machine. They're a pretty good. I like the ones with monitors which let sharks chase you.
posted by rhymer at 9:12 AM on November 23, 2010 [1 favorite]

A skipping rope
posted by fire&wings at 9:15 AM on November 23, 2010

A bicycle. You can take it everywhere, which helps make staying fit easier to do. And if that doesn't count and you already have a bike and use it to bike places, or you don't like biking outside in the rain and snow? A trainer.

The other day, I saw something that you can attach to the handlebars so that you can read while you're riding at home.
posted by aniola at 9:19 AM on November 23, 2010 [2 favorites]

bicycle, rowing machine, chin up bar (ceiling mounted if possible, else wall, or door), suspension gym (but build for $10, don't buy, works great with chin up bar)
posted by paradroid at 9:34 AM on November 23, 2010

Barbell, rack and bumper plates (if the budget extends to them). Only if you're living somewhere with a ground floor, though, and if your roof clearance is high enough, 'cause when you're hoisting stuff overhead the barbell wins over the ceiling tile every time.
posted by zennish at 9:37 AM on November 23, 2010

a yoga mat.
posted by Lutoslawski at 9:41 AM on November 23, 2010

It would be helpful to know your general fitness level, strength and goals to better answer this question.

Unless you live in a very cold climate, I'd venture away from cardio-based machines like bikes or rowers, because you can always run outside in most climates most of the year, or do aerobic workouts in doors. So, the focus should be on more resistance exercises.

If you have room for it and it's not too much of an eyesore, a full squat rack with barbell and weights is the way to go, like others have said. But, this is pretty large and ugly in terms of being a "single piece of equipment."

A much smaller, cheaper and more versatile piece of equipment would be this Ultimate Body Press Dip Stand from Amazon. I own it (among other equipment) and it is fantastic. Check out not only the product video, but the user-submitted video in the first review.

A couple great exercises you can do on this dip bar:

* Standard dips (with variation between inward and outward facing grips)

* Inverted row with your feet on the ground (easier) or on a chair/table (medium)

* Inverted row with full body weight (with legs piked) (hard)

* Assisted single-leg squats (aka pistol squats)

As you progress with these exercises, you can add additional weight onto your body. This could take the form of various weight vests, weighted belts or SPRI sand weights.

Combined with a couple other body-weight exercises (pushups, ab stuff, various leg exercises) and you hit all major muscle groups.
posted by jameslavelle3 at 9:46 AM on November 23, 2010

A barbell, squat stands, and 300 pounds of rubber bumper plates.
posted by phoebus at 9:47 AM on November 23, 2010 [1 favorite]

Another vote for rowing machine, and seconding Concept2 as the best of breed.
posted by Shepherd at 10:14 AM on November 23, 2010

Chin-dip assist
posted by subajestad at 10:30 AM on November 23, 2010

Another vote for the power rack. It's the only thing I use in the gym. I'd say barbells are more versatile than dumbbells. Pick up a copy of Rippletoe's Starting Strength (widely mentioned on AskMe) and you're all set for equipment and technique, the latter of which is more important when working with free weights.
posted by meowzilla at 10:38 AM on November 23, 2010

I like my NordicTrack a lot. People seem to either love them or hate them, so try before you buy. It seems to work most of the body simultaneously. I've heard it's best to get one of the old ones with wooden skis (they're on Craigslist a lot in my area) because they were better made than more recent models.
posted by lakeroon at 11:21 AM on November 23, 2010

As someone mentioned above, Concept. II. erg.

They are a bit pricy, but I recommend them above other things because
- cardio
- though principally a leg workout, you can also spend some time rowing at arms only and arms and back (you will see these techniques when you learn to use it).
- it splits in two nicely so you can put it in a corner when you need to, though I know you will get it out every day. Assembly is 30 seconds.
- they last FOREVER
- good resale value if you ever decide to give it up.

I sold mine several years ago to move and I STILL REGRET IT. I should have brought it with me even when I moved overseas. You can pick them up used on craigslist or ebay, some schools with good rowing programs will also have occasional blow-outs after big races, where they replace all of their equipment.

DO NOT BUY ANOTHER BRAND OF ROWER. Okay, there is one other competitive one but I forget the name.

Downsides: Not cheap (you get what you pay for). You do need 11-12 feet long free space to set it up.
posted by whatzit at 11:47 AM on November 23, 2010

What's your definition of fitness? What do you want? What are your goals?

If you the simplest answer, you don't need any equipment except the trainers on your feet.
posted by P.o.B. at 1:29 PM on November 23, 2010 [1 favorite]

The best piece of equipment is the one you'd use, and that answer is different for everyone.

For me, that's a bike trainer and one of my many lovely bikes, but I love bikes and cardio is the part of working out that I like. For strength training, when I actually feel like doing it, I tend to rely on body weight exercises, so the trainer is a better bet for me. If I could buy a new trainer, I'd get a Kurt Kinetic or other high quality fluid trainer.
posted by advicepig at 2:21 PM on November 23, 2010 [1 favorite]

Your own body.

Hands down, the book Convict Conditioning would be my one-&-only choice if I got sent to a desert island with 1 piece of exercise equipment.

Brilliantly written & researched, it's thorough and convincing in its arguments both as to why bodyweight strength calisthenics will improve not only strength but also range of motion and joint health, and why traditional barbell/bench/machine-based workouts will tend to do the opposite re: joints/mobility.

Old-school calisthenics work the entire body at once, even if they're focusing on one particular part. Push-ups may focus on your upper body, but your entire body down to your toes has to isometrically tense in order to do the movement. Integration rather than isolation is the goal, because the parts of a human body don't work in isolation. Nature didn't build us that way.

There are 6 exercises:
One-handed push-up
One-handed pull-up
Hanging parallel leg-raises
One-legged squat
One-handed handstand push-up
Back bridge

Each of those is the 10th level step for the particular exercise. There are are 9 baby steps leading up to them, and almost nobody will even start on the last (2) until they get a ways into their training. This is not a workout for the already beastly. This is how to baby-step your way up to beastly.

CC not a glorification of prison life. But American Federal prisons are the violent, predatory context in which this program was developed and taught to new inmates who didn't want to end up professional victims. Before the invention of the plate-loaded barbell, strong men got strong this way. Strength without mobility or full range of motion would be useless in a violent world, and the old guys are not given a senior discount.

The key to strength development is progressively increasing the resistance. Increasing the reps at a weight you already master will increase endurance, but not strength. And the inability to progressively increase one's bodyweight is often cited as a downside to bodyweight strength training. "Coach" Wade demonstrates that not only is that baloney, but that you can develop insane strength and flexibility the way that mother nature intended, moving your own body against gravity.

Ever since reading the article Is your workout wasting your time? and having my entire outlook on health and exercise reoriented, I can say without a hint of hesitation, as someone who is doing the program and experiencing the changes:

Get Convict Conditioning. You will not be wasting your time.
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 10:30 PM on November 23, 2010 [15 favorites]

I'd get an elliptical, because it works your legs, arms, and if you stand on the sidebars it works your stomach too. I would put it right in front of the TV. The Stairmaster is also a good option, but it's more grueling.
posted by CorduroyCorset at 11:06 PM on November 23, 2010

Would it be bad to suggest a yoga mat? Whether you get into pushups, situps, or the CC book that's mentioned above, free weights aren't necessarily necessary when your body creates plenty of weight to work with.
posted by chrisinseoul at 11:05 AM on November 25, 2010

While I'm totally a fan of bodyweight exercises, I think they're not always the best thing for a beginner. We don't have info about the OP one way or the other, but here's the thing: yeah, you can scale bodyweight exercises way up using a variety of techniques. It's really, really hard to scale them down

If you're skinny and unfit, this isn't a huge problem. If you're heavy and unfit, though, it can be really hard to find bodyweight exercises that are hard enough but not too hard, and as you get stronger the problem doesn't really get better until you're pretty damned fit. Whereas a standard barbell and a couple sets of light dumbbells will get you from pretty much zero to having enough muscle to start to do bodyweight exercises anyway.

Since the OP is specifically looking for equipment, that's why I'd recommend a squat rack setup above all. It's a big investment, but it really will work for anyone.
posted by restless_nomad at 11:23 AM on November 25, 2010

It's really, really hard to scale them down

Anyone can do partials.

The thing that will work the best is what someone will come back to consistently.
posted by P.o.B. at 8:39 PM on November 25, 2010

Gymnastic Rings.

Lots of exercises, all of them demanding incredible levels of strenght. But, they all have progressions so that beginners start in the appropriate place.
posted by HighTechUnderpants at 10:57 PM on November 27, 2010

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