Working Out at Home

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Harvard Medical School
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Chrome 2001

Working Out at Home

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Working Out at Home
Working Out at Home
The easiest place is not always the best.
InteliHealth Medical Content

Reviewed by the Faculty of Harvard Medical School

Working Out at Home


If you enjoy exercising by yourself at home, you're not alone. The home fitness industry is booming; Americans spend close to $1.7 billion on home equipment every year. Although working out at home can be both convenient and effective, the dropout rate for home exercisers is very high. So before purchasing a home gym, consider the following questions:

Will your roommates and/or family support your scheduled exercise time and not bother you?

Are you disciplined and motivated enough to exercise alone at regularly scheduled times?

Do you know how to exercise properly, and are you fully aware of the proper techniques for using home fitness equipment?

Evaluating exercise equipment

After you've made the decision to work out at home, the most important consideration is to be realistic about buying your equipment. Too many people purchase expensive exercise bikes or treadmills, work out on them for a few weeks and then use them for hanging clothes. Before making any substantial investment in a piece of equipment — whether it's a bike, treadmill, stair climber or skiing machine — try out a similar device at a health club or gym for a month or two (using a guest pass or a temporary membership) to make sure it can hold your interest for 30 minutes or more. Some manufacturers also offer a free trial period.

The other important factors to consider are how well the machine functions and how it holds up over time. Avoid cheaper models by lesser-known companies — a well-made, leading brand will be worth the extra cost, because it should last for many years.

Other tips:

  • Invest in a floor mat (available in sporting goods stores) for stretching exercises.
  • If you plan to do strength training with free weights, adjustable-weight dumbbells with metal plates are the preferred choice, because they're easier to manage than barbells. If you prefer weight machines, your best bet is still a health club, which offers a variety that can't easily be matched in a home gym.
  • If you have the room, try to set up an area exclusively for exercise. This added convenience will boost your motivation to work out.
  • If you purchase an aerobic device for home use, don't rely exclusively on it. To make workouts less boring, mix some stationary aerobic exercise with some walking, running or cycling. (You can alternate days — or do 20 to 25 minutes of one activity, then switch to another.)

>Exercise bikes

The seat should be padded and adjustable. The bike should be able to challenge but not exhaust you, and it should ride smoothly and quietly. You should be able to vary the level of exercise easily. Recumbent bikes are good for people with lower back problems.


A quality unit should have 1.5 horsepower or more, and the deck size (minimum 25 inches wide and 65 inches long) should accommodate your walking and running stride. You should be able to vary the speed and incline easily, and the treadmill should run fairly quietly.

>Cross-country ski machines

The machine should have a solid construction, independent arm-lever action and a smooth sliding action. You should be able to easily adjust the resistance and the angle of incline without dismounting. The machines with bidirectional resistance are easier to use than the fly-wheel and pulley-type units.

>Stair climbers

The unit should be solid and stable and have a smooth stepping action. You will get a better workout from stair climbers with independent foot action.


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Last updated June 10, 2014

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