Celebs and athletes love touting the benefits of fancy exercise systems and zillion dollar recovery treatments. But when you’re not on a Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous budget, your fitness regimen has to come in at a fraction of the price. Whether you’re new to the workout game or you’ve been pumping iron for decades, a few basic tools can help give your routine that A-list boost.
RELATED: The 25 Craziest Workout Excuses Trainers Have Ever Heard
But before you fall down the QVC rabbit hole, get this: Much of the equipment you need for a great home workout is already right at your fingertips. Need a yoga block? Check the bookshelf. Want an ab roller? Head to the… kitchen? Check out these surprising everyday items that can up the ante at your next at-home sweat session.
7 DIY Fitness Props You Already Own
Your DIY: Yoga blocks When you’re not reading, use that copy of Harry Potter in lieu of a yoga block. Dense foam cubes typically used to make poses more accessible, yoga blocks can set you back $10 or more (and we know you’d rather spend that on lattes). “The blocks can bring the ground to you, enabling [you] to experience the fullest and safest version of the pose possible,” says Rachel VanCleave, instructor and studio manager at Yogamaya in New York City.
RELATED: 7 Beginner Yoga Poses to Get You Through Your First Class
2. Frozen Water Bottle Your DIY: Foam roller (plus cold therapy!) Chances are you’ve seen or heard of foam rolling (aka self-myofascial release), but you may not be ready to splurge on some of the pricier rollers out there. Foam rolling is all the rage for recovery, improving range of motion and more. It works by elevating your temperature to increase blood flow to the muscles, explains Noam Tamir, Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist and owner of TS Fitness New York City, Instead of investing in a “real” foam roller, use a large frozen water bottle, which could offer even better results, he says. Because the muscle is chilled, when it re-warms, the rush of blood is even greater than with foam rolling alone, Tamir says. This can help better prevent inflammation and boost muscle recovery.
RELATED: Are You Foam Rolling All Wrong?
3. Swiffer or Broom
Your DIY: Workout bar Give your cleaning tools a whole new (way cooler) life by using that broomstick or Swiffer to improve mobility. Grab either one during your warm-up to open up your chest and shoulders (super important if you’re hunched over your keyboard all day). Try this: Stand up and hold the broom, hands hip-width apart. Then, extend your arms straight out in front of you. Next, draw your arms forward by spreading your shoulder blades and then retract them back in. You can also try adding shrugs, upright rows, and “pull-ups,” to loosen up tight shoulders. Once you’re ready to get going, Tamir adds that you can also lay that Swiffer handle on the ground to jump over when doing plyometric movements.
RELATED: Is Your Mobility Holding You Back? 5 Tests to Find Out
Your DIY: Exercise strap Take your lower body and core exercises to a whole new level by using a belt (yes, the one from your pants), to engage your upper extremities. Gripping the belt at shoulder-height with hands about shoulder-distance apart, hold your arms straight out in front of you, elbows extended, while doing exercises like sit-ups, lunges, and squats. Keep that belt around for your post-workout stretch, too. “We all have different proportions and levels of flexibility,” says VanCleave. “Simply put, straps can provide a little more length to your arms or legs.” Try wrapping a belt made of a pliable material, like rope, around the ball of your foot while stretching your hamstring.
5. Rolling Pin
Your DIY: Ab wheel, foam roller When it comes to working out at home, less is more (as in, the less gear you have to shove into the coat closet when guests come over, the better). Most of us probably don’t have an ab wheel lying around, even though rollouts are a great way to challenge the entire core. Instead of investing in the $40 gadget, Tamir recommends busting out that good old-fashioned rolling pin. While it’s out, you can also use it as a foam roller — in case you didn’t plan ahead and freeze that water bottle.
RELATED: Hate Crunches? 6 Better Core Exercises for Beginners
6. Bag of Textbooks
Your DIY: Weights Anybody who ever rocked a backpack in middle school knows textbooks can be heavy. Tamir suggests piling one (or more!) into reusable grocery bags (or an old backpack) to create easy-to-lift weights. Hold a bag in each hand for a farmer carry (do a few laps of your yard or block carrying the bags), or use just one for a suitcase carry. Both will improve grip strength, and work your entire body, says Tamir.
7. Bungee Cord Your DIY: Resistance bands Unless you’re a serious baller, we doubt you’ve got a rack of free weights (or even resistance bands) lying around. Luckily, bungee cords can provide a great workout, too. Double- or triple-up on cords to increase resistance and make sure you only use the cords for exercises where you’ve got the band pinned down (e.g. one end in each hand, holding the cord down with your foot). Unlike a flat band, the cord can roll around, and trust us, you don’t want it to come whizzing at your face.
Now that you’ve got a bunch of cheap DIY tools to add to your workout arsenal, here are 9 DIY projects for when you’re ready to really take your home gym to the next level.
Photo: Courtesy of Jocelyn Bonneau If you’ve just run your first marathon, you might relate to the common “never again” sentiment as you struggle to move your Jell-O-like legs. But once the soreness wears off and you’re basking in the glow of your achievement, it’s natural to wonder how much more you’re capable of. Regardless of age and experience level, many repeat marathoners share the desire to crush their personal best. Perhaps that’s running it under four (or even three) hours, or qualifying for the prestigious Boston Marathon. Whatever your...
Photo: Twenty20 The pull-up is the original badass move. Sure, there are plenty of ways to show off just how strong you are, but the pull-up is unmatched. It demands back, shoulder, arm strength, not to mention a strong core, too. But if you finally want to learn how to nail one (or 10), you might be intimidated by the challenge. And we’re not going to lie to you: It takes work. “You’re moving your whole bodyweight on your hands, which is something you typically don’t do. It’s like learning...
Photos (clockwise from top left): Red Bull; the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, Shirley Ryan AbilityLab, Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center for Base 2 Space For a total departure from your typical 10K or trail run, move on up with one of these six vertical races. They give “taking the stairs” a whole new meaning, while skyrocketing your calorie burn and frying your quads and glutes. They each require you to scale a peak — whether you’re sprinting up the staircase of a famous skyscraper or climbing a ski slope. Your reward:...
Photo: Twenty20 If you equate stability balls with core work only, you’re selling them (and your fitness results) short. Adding stability ball exercises to your workout is a great, simple way to increase the difficulty of your favorite moves. Using just this tool, you can challenge both your upper and lower body in new, creative ways, explains trainer Tara Romeo, CSCS, CES, director of the Professional Athletic Performance Center in New York. (If you don’t already have one at home, we like the URBNFit Ball.) RELATED: 5 Stability Ball Exercises for a...