Skip the Monthly Membership: Home Gym Exercises Made Easy

by Jason Fitzgerald

How many of us know that we should lift and have bought a gym membership in order to do our strength workouts?  After a month most people don’t go to the gym enough to make it worth it.  The average price of a gym membership is roughly $50 per month and that doesn’t factor in the cost of transportation to the gym or the extra time to commute there.  There must be a better way.

What if you could buy a few simple pieces of equipment that would allow you to get in a great workout at home for the cost of a month’s gym membership?  No, I’m not proposing you buy a Bowflex on Craigs List.

Just a few simple pieces of equipment, or a massive strength and diet guide like the Rebel Fitness Guide is all you need to get in ridiculous shape. Are you ready?

Why Strength Train?

Strength training is vitally important and will allow you to run faster and farther because it makes you more efficient, powerful, and resistant to injury.  That’s because lifting helps strengthen your ligaments, joints, and tendons in addition to your muscles.  Simply put, lifting lets you take more abuse from running.

I always like to use a car analogy when thinking about training and my body.  Your “engine” is your aerobic development – your lungs and heart.  Your aerobic “engine” powers your runs.  Your legs are the car frame and supports your body as you cruise along.  The risk of injury skyrockets when you have a race car engine supported by Geo Metro frame.  Your legs can’t support the volume and the paces that seem easy to your lungs and heart.

This is where lifting can greatly increase your injury resistance by building up your car frame and making your chassis stronger.  You don’t need a fancy gym to reap the rewards.

Home Gym Exercises Made Simple

Here are three of my favorite strength tools that I currently use.  You can hit your major muscles and dominate a quick 25 minute session for real gains in stamina, core strength, and coordination.  Cancel your gym membership and buy:

  • A 4-10 lb. medicine ball.
  • 2 dumbbells at 10-25 lbs. each (depending upon your current strength).
  • A Theraband or resistance cord.

With these simple tools, you can design a workout that will make you stronger, more resistant to injury, and allow you to run more.  Who doesn’t want that?  The following exercises I have found to be the most effective for runners.  I’ve also recommended doing high reps here while my usual gym routine includes lower rep exercises.  I do both to maximize gains.

  1. Haybales:  This is a challenging medicine ball exercise that’s done standing up.  Stand with feet shoulder width apart and toes pointing straight out.  Hold the medicine ball at waist height and dribble it like a basketball between your legs.  When you catch it, lift it up over one shoulder.  Repeat and lift it over the opposite shoulder.  If this gets too easy, try doing it on one leg.  Start with 10-20 repetitions and progress to 30 or 40 after a month or two.  This exercise benefits your glutes, hamstrings, quads, abdominals, lower back, and shoulders.
  2. Russian Twist:  Sit on your butt with your legs bent in front of you.  Your feet should be several inches above the ground and hold the medicine ball in front of your chest.  Twist the ball to your right side, across your mid-section, and then over to your left side.  Start with 30 seconds and progress to a minute of twisting.  This exercise targets your abdominals – specifically your obliques.
  3. Man-makers:  Don’t worry, girls can do this exercise too.  Get in the pushup position with your hands holding two dumbbells.  Start with the lightest weight you have as this is a challenging exercise.  Keeping your body in this prone position and back straight, lift one dumbbell up in a row motion.  Return it to the ground in a controlled manner and repeat.  Start with 10 reps and then increase to 20.  Man-makers strengthen your lats, traps, and entire core area.
  4. Chest Press: This is a classic.  Lie on your back (preferably on a narrow couch or ottoman) and perform a bench press motion with two dumbbells.  You can start with 10 reps and increase to 15-20.  The chest press targets your pecs but also works your triceps.
  5. Military Press: Sitting in a chair with your two dumbbells, hold them at your shoulders and lift them straight up.  Keep your stomach in and your back straight.  Start with 10 reps and increase to 15-20.  The military press strengthens your shoulders and upper back.
  6. Lateral Leg Raise: Wrap your Theraband around your ankles and lie on your side with your legs straight.  Lift your leg in the air until it forms a 45 degree angle with the floor.  Lower your leg to within an inch of your bottom leg and repeat.  Keep your movement controlled.  Start with 15 reps and increase to 30.  The lateral leg raise benefits your hip muscles and abductors.
  7. Clams: Lie on your side with your Theraband wrapped around your lower thighs.  Keep your legs bent at the waist and knee.  Lift your knee to open your legs (like a clam shell) but don’t move your pelvis.  This movement should be powered by your glute muscles.  Clams are great for your abductors, hips, glutes, and pyriformis.

This certainly isn’t an exhaustive list of strength exercises that can be done at home with a medicine ball, dumbbells, and a Theraband.  There are a lot more exercises and even pieces of equipment that you can buy for fairly cheap.  These particular exercises and strength tools happen to work for me and they’re also fun and fairly quick to complete.

If you’re into medicine ball workouts, definitely check out this video from Jay Johnson.  Soon I’m going to cover exercises you can do with no equipment.  Simple body-weight exercises make up the bulk of my ancillary training and core work.  These are great exercises but always remember that you need to ease yourself into them and take plenty of recovery between workouts.  Let your body absorb the hard work and recover.

Now that I’ve shared my favorite home strength exercises, what are yours?  Do you use other strength tools that I didn’t mention? What do you think of the Rebel Fitness Guide

Photo by Eric McGregor
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Jeff Giedt

Fitz,

Great site! I’ll be pouring over it more as time allows. I’m 47 and took up running (again) last fall with the intention of running my first marathon this spring. I was an athlete in college, but strayed during the last 15 years. Typical story, once I hit 40+ mile weeks/17m runs, I got runners knee, which turned into pretty bad ITBS. I got healthy again with some strength training, pool running and orthotics to correct a leg length discrepency and went back at it. I’m typing now with ice on my IT band, as prevention, because it began to feel really tight once I hit 40m weeks again .

All that to say that I am now VERY aware of the steps I need to take to make this a long-term lifestyle rather than a 1 marathon goal achievement. I built a suspention trainer, similar to the TRX system and have begun some routines to strengthen upper body and core, as well as my hips. Have you seen this simple tool for body weight excercises, the TRX (and similar systems)?

I love some of the ideas and video links from your site as well. Thanks for the great info!- Jeff

Fitz

Thanks Jeff, glad you like Strength Running! I’m always looking to promote overall strength (not just 1-dimensional running fitness, although that’s my passion) and how it helps beat injuries and make you faster. I haven’t seen a TRX in person but I’m familiar with it. It sounds like it’s similar in principle to using a rubber cord or Theraband. Also, check out my “ITB Rehab Routine” for your sore ITB – it may help: http://bit.ly/bE2PXY. Take care!

Trevor Dyck

Jason – love your articles, as usual. Minor editing error (I think) – you said “With these simple tools, you can design a workout that will make you stronger, less resistant to injury, and allow you to run more.”

I assume “less resistant to injury” should be either “more resistant to injury” or “less prone to injury”.

:-)

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