Since a number of athletic centers closed their doors because of COVID-19, many of us have taken a hiatus from healthy habits or struggled to find a routine that’s comparable to a gym workout. But what if you could create the same special spot and experience in the comfort of your home?

If your gym is closed, or if you’re simply not comfortable being in a gym setting, it’s still important to find ways to work out to improve your health and squash stress. Luckily, you don’t need much to create an effective, enjoyable exercise environment. In fact, by having a fitness center in your home, you’ll save time and money, and cut out any excuses of why you can’t work out.

Stay safe and strong by building a home gym specific to your goals and needs. Here’s what you’ll need to build your own workout space for less than $250. All of these products can be purchased online.

Stretching station

Stretching is one of those fitness factors we tend to skip, and yet it is crucial for preparing and protecting muscles before and after a workout. Most injuries could be avoided if we dedicated more time to manipulating the muscles each day. To make the most of your stretch session, include these must-haves:

  • Yoga mat: Be nice to your knees, hips, and other sensitive spots by buffering them with a cushiony surface such as a yoga mat. This good investment can be made for as little as $15.
  • Foam roller: This is a valuable tension-taming tool that works by massaging muscles and fascia. It also helps to improve circulation and post-workout recovery time for tired tissues. Use it by applying a light, rolling pressure to the hips, thighs, and glutes. You can find one for about $20.

Cardio

Keeping up with cardio is key in maintaining a healthy weight, promoting heart health, bolstering bone density, and generating feel-good hormones. You need only 30 minutes a day and little to no equipment to reap cardio’s benefits.

When the weather is pleasant, outdoor activities such as walking, jogging, biking or tennis are perfect picks for pumping up your heart rate. For those inclement weather days, here are some sweat-inducing staples to stash in your cardio closet:

  • Jump rope: This basic body-strengthening device is all you need to boost heart health and lung endurance. Gradually build your rope routine by starting with 30 seconds of slow-paced jumps. As you feel more confident and strong, increase to a speedier step and longer duration. You can find one for about $10.
  • Fitness step: Jane Fonda made the Step a cool cardio contraption in ’80s, and there’s good reason it stuck around decades later — it works! This sturdy, stackable platform adjusts to any height most suitable to your balance and skill level. It’s great for improving heart health, increasing lung capacity, and strengthening stability, and can be used for multiple movements such as squats, single-leg step ups, weighted step ups, incline push-ups, triceps dips, and split squats. Prices range from $30 to $60.
  • Basketball: While shooting hoops certainly serves as a solid cardio routine, the purpose of this bouncy ball doesn’t involve running up and down a court. Lighter and cheaper than medicine balls, this aerobic accessory can be incorporated into high-intensity exercises such as squatting while lightly tossing the ball against a wall. You can also try abdominal twist ball throws, improving eye-hand coordination, keeping the mind active, and increasing your heart rate. A basketball can be purchased for about $15.
Ashley demonstrates a basketball squat toss.
Courtesy of Ashley Greenblatt
Ashley demonstrates a basketball squat toss.

Resistance work

You don’t need pounds of pricey exercise equipment to build muscle definition. In fact, your own body weight is one of your best weapons for warding off excess weight and promoting better bone density. Power up by incorporating the following low-priced picks:

  • Resistance bands: There are a ton of toning advantages to consider when using resistance bands. Unlike bulky weight machines, these bands require little to no storage space. They also provide the freedom to take your workout with you wherever you go. Resistance bands are unique in that they isolate and target specific muscles while the surrounding muscles work to stabilize the body. They are easy on the joints and excellent for functional training exercises that aid in improving the body’s ability to perform such everyday activities as walking, bending, pushing, and pulling. And you can adjust your desired resistance simply by choosing a different band. You can purchase a system that provides bands varying from light to heavy tension for about $30.
  • Dumbbells: Start off buying two sets of weights: one lighter, one heavier. It’s common to think you need mega-sized weights to gain muscle, but you don’t. You are better off with a manageable set that feels incredibly challenging (but doesn’t compromise form) by the last two reps of each exercise. When performing exercises that put pressure on sensitive spots such as the shoulder joint, lighter is always safer. For the first month in your new gym, play around with these two sets, and when ready you can add more weights to your routine. A set of free weights can range in price from $20 to $60.

Ashley Blake Greenblatt is a certified personal trainer and wellness coach in South Jersey. To learn more about her virtual training program, go to ashleyblakefitness.com.