As a freelancer working from home and long-time fitness enthusiast, I exercise at home daily. I’m also a minimalist out of necessity, having moved around different countries the past few years.
Because of this, I think deeply about each of the things that I buy. Especially fitness gear.
I have developed a few principles which I believe makes a piece of equipment worthy.
These are inspired by the renowned industrial designer Dieter Rams and his 10 principles of good design.
1. It must be necessary.
A treadmill, for example, is easily replaced by simply stepping outside.
It is also expensive to produce, requires electricity, takes up a lot of space, and creates a lot of plastic waste when thrown away. This is excessive for an exercise that really requires no equipment besides a pair of shoes. The exception is if you’re a serious runner and must practice through winter.
2. It must be useful.
No gimmicks. The gear you buy should be tools, not toys.
It should have the ability to provide a serious challenge and positive health effects for a wide range of people, with a wide range of physical abilities.
3. It must be versatile.
You should not have an object taking space, just for one exercise. Even if it is useful.
For example the ab rollout wheel — I love it, but unfortunately it is only good for ab rollouts and not much else, so I don’t own one.
4. It must be durable and long-lasting.
Good design is eco-friendly. So our fitness equipment must not be disposable or prone to breakage. You should not need to buy a new one every year.
Good quality equipment is more expensive, but cheaper in the long run because we buy them rarely. Good equipment can also be re-sold second hand if it is not being used, rather than ending up in the rubbish dump.
5. It must be aesthetic and pleasant to touch.
It must be made out of materials that feel good in the hand. Wood. Steel. Iron.
Seeing it in the corner of your eye should entice you to use it, to touch the cool steel or the natural wood. And of course it should be a joy to use, to wield.
And so, here is my short list of things that qualify.
1. Some floor space
By far the most important thing you can have for your home gym is space to actually do something.
Preferably this space is clean enough that you can lay down on the floor to do various exercises, and of course, put your hands on it for pushups etc.
If you don’t have this space then the solution is simple — MOVE your furniture out of the way! Consider this a part of your workout.
2. A doorway pull-up bar or gymnastics rings
A pullup bar is so important because of the difficulty of doing any pulling exercises at home. Pulling exercises are those which engage the pulling muscles — primarily the back muscles, biceps, forearms.
Your floor is fine for pushing muscles, but for pulling you either need weights or something to hang off.
A pull-up bar is a simple and very versatile solution.
Besides pullups, you can drape a towel over it and hold onto the towel to perform rows. And you can also perform many gymnastic exercises for the abs, such as leg raises, and for the shoulder, such as skin-the-cats.
All exercises on the pullup bar will train your grip — an important component of strength and indicator of longevity. You can also simply hang for time, which is an excellent way of developing better posture and shoulder health.
You can find a pull-up bar that expands to fit your doorway with no screws needed. Too many of these have unpleasant foam or rubber handles, so try to find one that is bare metal.
The one downside of these is if you rent an apartment like me. Your doorways might have a crappy plastic frame. In this case, I recommend gymnastics rings.
If you’re into calisthenics or gymnastic-style training then these are must-haves.
Gymnastics rings have been called the #1 upper-body training tool. This is thanks to the instability of the rings, and the range through which your body can move.
I own a pair of rings instead of a pullup bar, because of my crappy doors. With rings, I can easily go out into a park and hang them on a tree.
It’s an incredible feeling to train outdoors under the shade of a tree and breathing the fresh air.
If you get some gymnastic rings, make sure you buy the wooden kind. They are a bit more expensive than the plastic ones, but worth it. The plastic rings will tend to get slippery from sweat, whereas the wooden rings stay grippy and feel great in the hand.
A set of good wooden rings should last you for life, so consider it an investment into your health.
3. A small collection of weights
They don’t take up much space. The weight is adjustable, making them versatile. They are cheap.
Dumbbells are best for building muscle mass on the arms and upper body.
When you Google adjustable dumbbells you will find some really expensive and fancy options. Dumbbells that switch weight with just the press of a button. If you can afford it, then sure get these. But in my opinion they are unnecessary.
I love the old-school spin-lock dumbbell.
Their main downside, according to the buyers of fancy $300 dumbbells, is that they take too long to change weight.
As a minimalist, I prefer durability and simplicity over comfort. It’s not that hard to change weights, and they will never break.
Dumbbells are great for working your arms, but a bit limited when it comes to legs, back, and glutes. They also aren’t used in ways that mimic sports or athletic activities.
Kettlebells solve this problem, although they aren’t much heavier than a set of dumbbells, the difference is that they are used dynamically.
The act of swinging a kettlebell is a force multiplier, because (physics lesson), when an object is falling, stopping it requires a force of many times it’s actual weight. So if you are swinging a 16kg kettlebell and it’s on its downward swing, it feels a lot heavier, and your muscles have to do more work.
The exercises used in kettlebell training are much more applicable to sports and to ‘real-life’ labour. They also stimulate creativity. It’s a ball with a handle, and there are so many ways to move it around your body.
Lastly, they are compact and virtually indestructible. Definitely a lifelong investment.
The standard kettlebell for men is 16kg. And for women it is 8kg or 12kg, depending on her athletic background.
Most importantly, knowledge
A piece of floor-space, something to hang off, and some weights, are all the tools you need to build a strong and athletic body at home.
Now you need to learn how to use them. The more you know, the less you need.