Whether you’ve been working out at home for years or are new to the concept of performing lunges in your living room, the right equipment can reinvigorate a routine or inspire a fresh one. While the pieces of a home gym setup will vary from person to person, there are a few items that can help almost everyone reach their goals — bonus points if they nudge you out of your comfort zone. (As a Wirecutter fitness writer and certified personal trainer, I’ve seen how far that can go.)
Here are seven home exercise tools to help jump-start your workouts in 2021. Each recommendation is based on expert experience and what we at Wirecutter have discovered over years of comparative testing.
Resistance bands allow you to perform a variety of strength training exercises without overwhelming your space. They can also step in if you’ve found yourself without access to dumbbells or heavy weights. Wirecutter recommends Bodylastics Stackable Tube Resistance Bands (about $20 for a pack of 4), which come with five interchangeable tubes of different resistances that add up to a claimed 96 pounds. The tubes clip to a pair of handles or padded ankle straps. A door anchor allows you to orient the bands at varying heights for exercises that involve pulls (like standing rows) or pushes (such as a standing chest press). The Bodylastics tubes are reinforced with an internal cord, which helps prevent them from overstretching — a common issue with resistance bands.
If you’d prefer smaller bands for prehab (injury prevention) or rehab (injury recovery) exercises, Wirecutter likes the Perform Better Exercise Mini Bands (about $20 for a pack of 10). Shorter than other looped bands we tried by a couple of inches, they provide just the right amount of tension for exercises like lateral steps.
A Foam Roller
Self-myofascial release (SMR), also known as self massage, is a technique that manipulates connective tissue called fascia to help relieve tightness and release knots. Foam rollers are tools that can be used on specific muscle groups to get the job done. Wirecutter recommends the 36-inch AmazonBasics High-Density Round Foam Roller (about $25), which has a subtle texture that helps it stay put as you roll, and a long length. Foam rolling can be uncomfortable. For beginners or those who prefer a lighter touch, the medium-density Gaiam Restore Total Body Foam Roller (about $30) is a bit softer, though still sturdy enough to keep its shape. I foam-roll myself and have also coached clients through it. Identify a knotty spot and linger on it with gentle pressure for about 30 seconds before moving on. Try it before or after a workout or during the day as a break from sitting.
A Fitness Tracker
Technology isn’t always the answer to increasing activity. But a fitness tracker can help you identify patterns that could lead to healthy, long-term changes. Wearable trackers typically monitor metrics like heart rate, daily step count, workouts and sleep. (They are not perfect.) The experts we spoke with agreed that approaching the data as a loose outline versus a fixed absolute can help inform daily decisions about when and how to move. Among the most important things to consider are ease of use and battery life, and Wirecutter recommends the Fitbit Charge 4 (an updated model of our previous top choice, the Fitbit Charge 3, about $150). Among the most accurate in testing, the Charge 4 has an intuitive touch screen and a concise companion app. It also has built-in GPS, reliably detects and begins to record activities after about 10 minutes, and delivers reminders to move throughout the day — plus, it has a battery life of up to seven days per charge.
A Comfortable, Durable Yoga Mat
A good yoga mat will deliver on density, durability, grip and overall feel. We recommend the Lululemon The Reversible Mat 5mm (about $80). The dual-sided mat — one side is smooth polyurethane (for “stickiness”), the other textured natural rubber (for “grippiness”) — provides excellent traction whether you prefer gentle restorative yoga or more intense flows. Dense enough to sufficiently cushion joints, it is also commodious: 71 inches long and 26 inches wide (three inches longer and two inches wider than a standard mat). For a comfortable budget-priced mat, the Yoga Accessories ¼-inch Extra Thick Deluxe Yoga Mat comes in a plethora of colors and costs around $20.
A pair of no-fail workout headphones makes immersing yourself in music, a podcast or a streamed workout from an app or YouTube easier and more fun. Wirecutter recommends the Jabra Elite Active 75t wireless earbuds (about $150), which fit securely even amid high-energy movements and come with three sets of tips in different sizes, giving most people a crack at finding a good fit. They deliver quality sound (during phone calls, too) and are simple to use — one button on each earbud controls everything from volume to play and pause. They stood up well to our experts’ real and simulated sweat tests. One charge delivers seven and a half hours of battery life, likely offering more than enough power to propel whatever workouts you choose.
An Indoor-Cycling Bike
If you’re looking for an at-home cardio experience, there’s a rapidly expanding array of exercise equipment focused on connected fitness — streamed, on-demand workouts that bring the camaraderie and energy of a studio class into your home. The most well-known of these is Peloton, but if the $1,900 (and up) bike is too expensive, there are other stable and well-constructed indoor-cycling bikes to consider. The Bowflex C6 (about $1,000) is one of them. A relatively simple bike, the C6 has an open-platform Bluetooth setup that connects with a selection of cycling apps including Zwift and Rouvy. (You can stream Peloton workouts from the Peloton app and ride along — we did and enjoyed it — but the bike doesn’t allow for leader board participation or full real-time metrics.) The clear display shows speed, cadence, time, distance, calories burned and level (resistance ranges from 1 to 100). It delivers a smooth ride and allows you to pedal with or without clip-in cycling shoes.
Amid the pandemic, demand for exercise equipment like treadmills has spiked. It’s still not surprising to run into out-of-stock items or longer-than-normal delivery times. When evaluating treadmills, there are a few things to consider, including size, feel underfoot, intuitiveness of controls and power. Wirecutter’s top choices are either out of stock or have been redesigned and will be retested. Other options we like include the sturdy LifeSpan Fitness TR4000i (about $1,800), which has a seven-inch touch-screen display and straightforward design, and the larger NordicTrack Commercial 1750 (about $2,000), which has a roomy belt (60 inches long and 22 inches wide), a 10-inch touch screen, and a strong motor.