Cross-training is essential for becoming and staying a stronger and less injury-prone runner. It can also really help you improve your running form, and, ultimately, speed. The easiest way to cross-train is in the comfort of your own home, without the commitment or cost of attending a gym, and with the convenience of having the workout essentials you need right there in your bedroom/living room/spare room. Also in these times of concern around a global pandemic (yes, Coronavirus I am talking about you), we believe it would be prudent to spend time working out at home rather than in a public place with equipment touched and used by an unknown number of people.
It can be overwhelming when working out what pieces of kit will make up the best home gym equipment for runners specifically, as there is so much to choose from. To help narrow things down, we’ve put together this list of the essentials runners need for a home gym, without spending a fortune and without taking up too much space in your home.
The key to selecting these home gym essentials is their VERSATILITY and LONGEVITY, as well as selecting equipment that is generally going to fit in a home, and does not require you to have a garage to build your own personal gym. With the exception of the cardio equipment, all other items can be used in multiple different ways for different types of exercises, and we’ve identified high-quality products from trusted brands, as well as, where applicable, budget alternatives.
1. BOSU NexGen Pro Sport Balance Trainer
If you invest in one piece of home gym equipment, we suggest making it a BOSU NexGen Pro Sport Balance Trainer. The BOSU is a super-versatile piece of equipment that can be used for regular training as well as injury recovery. It is filled with air and therefore unstable when you sit, stand or place a hand or foot on it. The BOSU’s instability makes any exercise done on it harder than doing it on the floor and works a wider range of muscles as you have to focus on stability and posture while exercising on it.
Our favorite moves on the BOSU are ab crunches, lunges (with one foot on it), squats, press-ups (even harder when used with the BOSU upside-down) and simply one-legged balances. These were all really helpful to me when recovering from my latest sprained ankle, as it works like a wobble-board to help improve range of movement and proprioception. The BOSU’s sheer versatility and durability make it a great investment for your home gym.
Here’s a full review of the BOSU NexGen Pro Balance Trainer including a short video of Alastair demonstrating some of these home gym exercises with our BOSU NexGen Pro.
2. Yoga Mat
A good yoga mat is important for your home gym as it provides a cushioned, non-slip place to do your strength and flexibility exercises – especially if you have hard floors in your home. Even if you have carpets or rugs, it’s better to sweat on a yoga mat than your floor coverings, and it should offer better traction. A good yoga mat will last years, and of course can also go on the road with you if you head out to yoga classes as well.
Our favorites are Lululemon’s 5mm reversible yoga mats, which are high quality and thick (so they don’t rumple or slip when on the ground).
Another less-expensive option for a yoga mat is a Gaiam Yoga Mat – I definitely suggest you get the 6mm version and don’t get a yoga mat that is thinner than 5mm unless you need a lighter-weight, more portable one.
3. Free-Weights: Medicine Ball, Dumbbells or a Kettlebell
Free-weights are small and portable compared to machines or larger barbell setups, and are great for adding difficulty to mat and floor exercises such as squats, and working your core and upper body – therefore they’re definitely an essential when picking out the best home gym equipment for runners – squats and core work is soo important for us! If you buy just one weight for your home gym, I suggest making it a medicine ball.
For a high-end, quality medicine ball check out XD’s Medicine Balls. They are made from Kevlar material, designed to last a lifetime, and available in a range of weights and sizes.
My choice is the 14-inch medicine ball in the 14lb weight option – and Fireball Red is much more interesting than a black or grey ball!
A less expensive option can be found on Amazon, such as their own-brand AmazonBasics Medicine Ball, which also offers a variety of weight options.
Alternatively, a few pairs of dumbbells will give you more choice when it comes to what weights to use, and if you have the space to swing a kettlebell, then a quality kettlebell could be an option instead of the medicine ball – if you go for a kettlebell, I would personally choose a soft or vinyl-coated kettlebell rather than a plain metal option.
4. TRX Suspension Trainer
Depending on your available space, a TRX Suspension Trainer is another versatile addition to your home gym – and can also be easily taken with you if you travel or can take your workout outside when the weather is nice. Our favorite TRX exercises are press-ups, pikes, planks and crunches (face-down) with our feet in the loops.
We suggest the TRX Go Suspension Trainer Bundle, which includes a ceiling or wall mount and several different strength resistance bands. If you cannot or do not want to drill holes in your ceiling or wall, the TRX Suspension Trainer also comes with a means of attaching it to the top of a closed door, which is handy if you’re renting or using it when traveling / in a hotel room, for example.
5. Do you need a treadmill for your home gym?
Ok, here’s the biggie. Not everyone has space or funds for a treadmill in their house. However, as runners, this is the most obvious piece of cardio equipment that would be great to have in your home gym, if you want or need to run indoors. If you do have space and are able to make the investment, we recommend going for a high-end treadmill (but not necessarily one built for commercial use, which would cost a lot). In our experience, the least expensive treadmills are too small and unstable when run on intensively, and don’t often go up to a fast enough speed to satisfy Alastair’s need for sprint intervals.
We have a NordicTrack T Series Treadmill, which cost in the region of $600 and is solid, stable, and has a fast top speed and range of incline options.
When used systematically a treadmill is an effective training tool that is perfect if you’re unable to run outside. A treadmill is also, in our opinion, the best way to work on your speed via interval training, as you have the advantage of controlling your speed, time and gradient, and measuring these and your distance accurately, with no outside factors such as weather conditions or traffic lights affecting your times.
Or an indoor bike if space and/or budget are an issue…
If you don’t have space (or funds) for a quality treadmill, then a great alternative is an exercise bike, which has a smaller footprint than a treadmill and is still a good piece of home gym equipment for runners. A decent quality exercise bike can be found on Amazon for around half the price of a good quality treadmill. Cross-training cardio via bike is great as it is low-impact, compared to running, which can really help if you’re doing an intensive training block and want to reduce the impact on your body compared to doing all your cardio via running.
If you have a bicycle, another potentially lower-cost option is to get a turbo-trainer that you can attach your existing bike to. This has the advantage that you get to use your bike’s frame and setup, train on a bike that you also ride outside, and also when you are spending more time riding outside, the turbo trainer can be stored much more easily than a purpose-built exercise bike.
6. Resistance bands
To make many workouts harder without adding more weights, you can add a resistance band into the mix. These strong rubber bands don’t take up much space and can be used in conjunction with free-weights and bodyweight exercises.
Resistance bands come in different strengths so if you get a set of them you can increase or reduce the resistance by switching out a band.
My favorite way to use these is around both legs, above my knees, when I am doing glute bridges and squats. Bring on the burn…
7. Foam roller for a post-workout massage
A foam roller is an important yet simple addition to any home gym, especially for runners. A foam roller can be used in many ways to relieve post-workout tension in your muscles and connective tissues in all parts of your body – especially your legs, glutes, and back.
Our favorite foam roller is the Trigger Point GRID, which has just the right amount of firmness and is long enough to easily use on all these parts of your body.
For rolling the bottom of your feet, and for getting into the really niggly parts of your glutes, then a 2.5-inch massage ball is also a nice (if painful) companion (a lacrosse ball will also do a good job here).
8. Compex Mini Wireless Muscle Stimulator With TENS
If you want to up your game when it comes to recovery, a foam roller is good, but a TENS machine is better! The Compex Mini Wireless Muscle Stimulator with TENS is so small that it can very easily be taken with you on the go as well as regularly used at home. Very handy if you want to give yourself a recovery massage straight after a race. The Compex Mini has 6 programs to help athletes improve their running performance. The programs are ‘Prewarm Up’, ‘Endurance’, ‘Resistance’, ‘Training Recovery/Active Recovery’, ‘Muscle Relaxation’, and ‘Pain Management’.
The Compex Mini is also a great additional method of gaining muscle strength while giving your legs a break from the impact of actually running. On a day when I’m not running, I can still build muscle in my quads and calves all while watching my favorite tv show! It’s a huge time saver and also a practical way to supercharge and fast-track your training.
This is a tool that not many people know about! Alastair has also written about some other little-known methods of improving your trail running performance in his post ‘20 hacks to help improve your trail running performance‘.
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I hope you found this list of the best home gym equipment for runners helpful, let me know if you have any questions in the comments below!