Working out at home is a lot easier than venturing into the wild and working out outdoors. With no wind, snow, rain, or mud, you have very little use for terms like SmartWool, Gore-Tex, or Synchilla. Working out at home is also less intimidating than going to the gym. With no one to impress, you don’t need to seek out the latest fashions from prAna or Nike, either. So you’re probably thinking, “What’s the big deal with home workout gear?”
At home, you have the same physical parameters affecting your workout that you do outdoors. How to get warm, stay cool, fuel up, and not allow your body to change temperature too fast—all these issues still matter, even when you’re in your living room. Sure, they’re easier to control at home than when you’re out in the tundra, but you still need to plan for them. Working out at home is generally more efficient than training elsewhere. Having a kitchen, a shower, and a closet nearby add a technical advantage that you may not have realized. Let’s take a look at some of the most important considerations for getting the most out of your home workout.
1. Get a mat.
One thing that doesn’t change at home is the importance of the platform you work out on. Your shoes—and what they’re standing/jumping on—are your most important pieces of home workout equipment. Most of us have limited space options, and we’re probably stuck with whatever happens to be the floor surface of the one room that’s most ideal for our workout. Owning a workout mat, or two, should be a top priority. The minimum is a stretching (or yoga) mat (try the Beachbody Yoga Monster Mat—great for all Beachbody programs). These are pretty thin and designed to pad your joints during floor workout movements. If your floor is unforgiving, like cement, you should also consider a plyometrics mat. These are made to withstand the rigors of jumping, like the kind done in P90X and THE ASYLUM. A good mat will absorb shock and also improve the effectiveness of your workout while helping to reduce your chance of injury.
2. Choose the right shoe
Footwear is important. Working out barefoot is great to strengthen your feet, but if you overdo it, it’s easy to get injured, especially during ballistic workouts like INSANITY, or when you’re first getting into shape. Having the right shoe for the right job allows you to choose when to go au natural and when to shoe up. Consider the movements you’ll be doing, then go shopping. It’s best not to multitask a shoe. Running shoes are made for running forward. Basketball and tennis shoes are made for explosive movements—both forward and lateral—making them better for most home workouts. The best home workout shoe should do a little of both. There are also “fitness” shoes or cross-trainers designed for this purpose. Also, a trail running shoe can be good for home fitness, because it provides more lateral support than a traditional running shoe does. Spend a little time researching prior to shopping.
3. Get a professional fit
There are people in the world who are trained in the differences in foot shape, cadence, and walking and running form, and they know how to put you in a shoe that will work the best for you. Let them. It’s worth an afternoon of learning about your feet and what style of shoe fits you well. The few hours you spend learning on the front end can reap huge rewards, especially if you never get injured and can move pain free. (And we do mean “afternoon”—your feet swell during the day, so you don’t want to be fitted in the morning.) The local multipurpose sporting goods store may not be the place you want to have this done. Look for a shop that prides itself in fitting their customers with the right shoes. A good running shoe store, for example, will have cameras and treadmills and will do a complete gait analysis for free. Use this service, then buy from them if you can. These stores can’t stay in business if you use their diagnostic services, then go home and buy your shoes online. And if the little guys who know what they’re doing go out of business, we all end up paying the price by getting injured more often. Another plus of these local stores is that they often allow you to return shoes after wearing them if they aren’t what you were expecting, a huge help as you learn the subtleties of footwear.
4. Treat your feet with respect
Even the best pair of shoes wears out. They may not look like it, but soles break down over time—actually, it’s recommended that you replace your running shoes every 300 to 500 miles, no matter what they look like. Often, the changes are subtle, and the only way you’ll notice is to try on some new shoes—it’s only then that you can feel (by comparison) when your old shoes’ cushioning has worn down. Since your workout shoes are probably the best-fitting shoes you have, try rotating the newer pair into your workout slot. Then use the older pair for more menial tasks, like errands, housework, and low-impact workouts. Spend most of your time in your athletic shoes and save the Manolo Blahniks for special occasions. Your feet also change shape over the years, so remeasure your feet each year or so. If they’ve changed size or shape, it’s time to get fitted again. Your feet, and everything attached to them, will thank you.
5. Own some workout socks
Those cotton tube socks that are 10 pairs for five bucks are fine for some applications, but working out isn’t one of them. Socks are an extension of your shoes. Workout socks are made with extra cushioning where you need it and materials that wick the sweat off of your skin so that your feet don’t slip and you won’t develop blisters. A pair of $10 socks will last a long time if you use them for your workout and change into your fifty-cent tube socks when you’re done.
6. Cotton for comfort, not exercise
While we’re on the subject of cotton, let’s look at its use for athletic applications. It’s great to wear while you’re watching sports. Cotton’s perfectly comfortable—as long as it doesn’t get wet. When it does, it loses its ability to insulate. During a workout, sweat will turn your comfortable cotton T-shirt into an effective conductor that helps circulating air cool your body. While this doesn’t matter so much at home, the more you promote quick changes in body temperature, the more you’re asking your immune system to work overtime. As the seasons change, you’ll increase your risk of getting sick.
Layering your clothing is an essential survival skill for explorers and outdoor athletes, but it’s also a performance aid at home, especially when it’s cold. You don’t want to begin your workout feeling cold, so bundle up beforehand. Unlike when you’re fighting the elements, you don’t need tech wear for home workouts. In fact, bundling up in cotton is just fine, as long as you’ll be taking it off as you warm up, before it gets wet. The great thing about being at home is that it doesn’t matter how many layers you wear. Put on as many clothes as necessary to get warm prior to your workout, then take them off as you move along. When you finish, reverse the process so you don’t get chilled. Begin by adding a layer prior to your cooldown session (before you feel cold). Keeping your temperature regulated helps your body recover better and keeps your immune system running strong.
8. Carry a water bottle
A great aspect of home training is that food and water are always available. There’s no reason to bonk or to be dehydrated at home. Of course, this doesn’t always work as it should. There may also be junk food, soda, or beer in the fridge, so that availability equation can also work against you. To offset this, make a habit of carrying your water bottle around at home. Repeated studies warn us that we’re chronically dehydrated. Keeping yourself hydrated will energize your workouts, enable you to push harder, keep your immune system running strong, and make you less apt to binge-eat and/or -drink.
9. The shower
One of the best pieces of home workout equipment is your shower. Not only can you be clean and shiny within minutes of finishing your workout, you can use your shower to improve recovery. Getting blood to circulate more quickly is one of the keys to an efficient recovery from exercise, and hot/cold showers are a great way to do this. Alternate your water temperature from hot to cold during your shower. Make each temperature as extreme as you can stand it and try focusing the water on the targeted muscles of that day’s workout. A few cycles of this after each workout can do wonders.
Another great recovery tool is sitting in your freezer. You probably know that ice helps when you’ve been injured, but it also helps you heal from the rigors of daily exercise. Icing broken-down muscles helps them recover more quickly. Try icing while watching TV, and bundle up while doing it. You want to keep your core temperature warm while making your muscles cool. Some hard-core athletes take ice baths. Effective for recovery, yes, but as an athlete once said to me, “It hurt more than any training I’ve ever done to earn it.” Good on ya if you’re up for it, but a bag of frozen peas and a ball game works too—plus it’s a tad more civilized.