Essential Home Exercise Equipment to Keep You Pain-Free, Strong, & Mobile During COVID-19
The Coronavirus has made our world that little bit smaller of late. And the need to take charge of your own pain, health and fitness have never been more important.
With direct access to health, medical, and fitness professionals more difficult for the time being, it’s up to you now more than ever to take charge of your health. Any real success now starts at home.
And when trying to empower anyone to help themselves, a few quality and affordable pieces of home exercise equipment are vital.
Interestingly, we aren’t talking the big-ticket items like exercise bikes and treadmills here. They tend to speak for themselves. Instead, I want to promote simpler tools that I personally value, and genuinely help.
So if you need to take control of your pain, strength, and mobility from home, or know someone who does, here is a helpful list of home exercise equipment to consider adding to your repertoire.
Essential, Cheap and Effective Home Exercise Equipment
Please note: This article contains affiliate links.
Useful For: Quickly increasing joint mobility.
In all my years as a Physical Therapist, nothing has surpassed the power band’s ability to improve a person’s joint mobility. Not be confused with those scammy wristbands, the power band can genuinely revolutionize your mobility and help solve the root cause of much of our aches, pains, and injuries.
The idea is to secure one end of the band to something stable and use the other to distract your stiff joint of choice. By holding each position for 1-2 minutes you should always expect to see immediate results.
I have stiff ankles so my power band is tied to the leg of the couch. This way I can quickly improve my ankle mobility as often as possible. It works wonders for stiff ankles but it’s just as effective for chronically stiff hips and shoulders.
Pick a power band up for yourself here.
Useful For: Mobilizing tight muscle and restricted soft-tissue.
The lacrosse ball is the perfect companion to the power band with its ability to help mobilize stiff, tight and restricted tissue. It’s strong but the forgiving density and rubbery surface make it a great piece of home exercise equipment.
A lacrosse ball is particularly useful for self-mobilizing stiff spinal joints, relieving headaches and exploring your body for hidden tightness – like the soles of your feet, glutes, and posterior shoulders.
Resist the urge to roll around on the ball and instead let it gently press into any relevant areas. This is a great way to mimic professional manual therapy and can be done in front of the TV at home.
This is a must-try for anyone hoping to take control of their pain and stiffness. Alternatively, try using a tennis ball or baseball if a lacrosse ball is too hard or too soft.
Pick up a lacrosse ball for yourself here.
Useful For: Mobilizing joints, muscles and soft-tissue restriction.
The foam roller is probably the most well-known piece of home exercise equipment on this list. It’s not sexy, but it’s stood the test of time for a reason.
Many understand the basic premise of a foam roller – lie down, roll around. However, when trying to solve or prevent dysfunction, there’s actually a more effective use.
Instead of rolling around, I’d always suggest two different approaches:
- Keep the roller in the same spot and relax. If mobilizing your spine, find a stiff spot, stay still and breathe your way through it.
- Use the active release method to pin down restricted tissue and use movement to free it up. For example, if mobilizing your calves, let the roller press into a tender spot and then bend and flex your ankle to sheer the tissue free.
There are a number of different kinds of rollers with different surfaces and densities. If unsure where to start, go for something simple with a little give. You can always graduate to something more brutal if you feel the need.
Pick up a basic foam roller for yourself here.
Useful For: Improving glute muscle strength.
One thing that unfortunately binds many modern humans together is gluteal weakness. Our thirst for sitting and poor spinal postures can sneakily deactivate those buns leaving us open to any number of low back, hip, knee, and ankle complaints. The booty band is a convenient way to combat this.
Booty bands are a convenient version of standard elastic therabands but a complete loop instead of a long piece.
These bands lend themselves really well to squats and bridges where the goal is to keep your knees from caving inwards. Placing a booty band around your knees is a fantastic way to force your glutes to work hard allowing you to target an easily neglected area.
Like the power band and lacrosse ball, this booty band provides serious value for relatively little cost making it a must-have piece of home exercise equipment.
Pick up a booty band for yourself here.
Useful For: De-congesting and re-perfusing tissue. Mobilizing soft-tissue restriction.
One of the hidden gems to come from the CrossFit phenomenon is Voodoo Floss.
This strong piece of elastic is a great way to decongest and re-perfuse your tissue and improve surrounding mobility.
Voodoo Floss involves wrapping an area tightly and taking it through its full range of motion for 1-2 minutes. The intense short-term compression helps flush out swelling. Active movement while compressed helps sheer free any soft-tissue restriction. It gets its name from its magic-like results. It may not feel like it’s doing much while on, but there’s a profound difference to be felt once you take it off.
Common sense also needs to be applied to make sure it isn’t too tight or on for too long.
If you can’t get a hold of Voodoo Floss, basic theraband can be a suitable replacement like the image below.
Pick up voodoo floss for yourself here.
Useful For: Maintaining good posture and preventing low back pain.
If your life currently involves a lot of sitting (let’s be honest, who’s doesn’t right now?), invest in a lumbar roll to help keep your back in a good position.
Poor posture has a strong role to play in the onset and persistence of most low back pain and stiffness. Having a simple tool to place in your back is a great way to ensure you aren’t slouching unnecessarily.
The trick with the lumbar roll is to not just place it in the small of your back. This can be useful, but may not be specific to where you individually need the support.
To figure out where it should go for you, sit up tall on the edge of a chair and then slouch. Take note of where your back hinges the most. This is where the lumbar support should go. For many, the ideal spot for it is actually just above the small of your back at the base of your rib cage.
Use a lumbar roll wherever you spend large amounts of time sitting. It’s such a simple way to help improve your daily postural habits and decrease the risk of any unnecessary low back pain.
Pick up a lumbar roll for your seat here.
Useful For: Core strengthening and negating the side-effects of sitting.
A fit ball (or swiss ball as its often referred) can be a fantastic way to re-condition your deep core muscles and make your low back more robust. There are infinite home exercises using a fit ball, however, they also make a fantastic chair to sit on.
Most of the issues that stem from sitting on a chair revolve around a lack of movement. We usually cement ourselves into a position and stay there until we get up. This makes it easy for our hips and low back to get stiff, deactivated, and weak.
However, sitting on an inherently unstable fit ball forces our bodies to undergo constant micromovement, somewhat negating this effect. Its no substitute for standing or walking around of course, but its almost the best-case scenario for those who need to sit a lot throughout the day.
Just be wary of not hooking your legs around the ball when sitting. This will decrease the stability demands on your trunk and hips. Keep those feet on the ground in front of you!
Pick up a fit ball for yourself here.
Useful For: Improving core strength.
In a similar vein to the fit ball, the Ab Roller (or Ab Wheel) is a really effective home core-strengthening exercise.
This simple piece of equipment forces your trunk to stabilize as it rolls away from you making it an effective and functional way to boost the stability and robustness of your lower back.
The idea is to start on all fours, and slowly roll the ab roller away from you. At some point, you’ll feel your abs and other trunk muscles engage. Pause here for a second and then return.
Make this more difficult by going slightly further, extending the pause, or doing it on your toes in a push-up position. Feel free to add a pillow under your knees for comfort.
Make sure your back is straight at all times and keep those glutes squeezed to optimize this interesting home exercise.
Pick up an abdominal roller for yourself here.
Gut Smash Ball
Useful For: Improving sleep quality and back pain
There’s every chance you haven’t heard of the ‘Gut Smash’ technique, but consider it a hidden gem.
The brainchild of Yoga Tune Up‘s Jill Miller, the Gut Smash requires you to lie face down and allow a softer, medium-sized ball to gently press into your stomach muscles.
This stimulates the Vagus nerve allowing you to down-regulate your nervous system, promoting relaxation and improved sleep.
With this in mind, it’s best to do just before getting into bed. Interestingly, it can also improve low back function by releasing a number of rarely massaged abdominal muscles at the front.
It’s very safe and a must-try if you’d like better sleep and a healthier back.
Pick up a Coregeous ball for yourself here.
Useful For: Improving functional upper body strength.
Provided you have something high up to attach them to, Olympic rings are a great tool for fostering functional upper body strength and fitness.
As an unstable object, they force your body to self-stabilize which makes them more advantageous than other fixed home exercise equipment.
Adjust their height to perform chin-ups, pull-ups, rows, and a number of core-based exercises to create a functional routine without needing to leave the house. If you’re game you can even take the rings down and use them for some next-level pushups.
If all else fails, they are a great item to simply hang from. Another side-effect of modern living is a distinct lack of hanging. Those monkey bars that were a piece of cake during our childhood easily become an insurmountable task thanks to a lack of practice.
We can derive so much functional goodness from such a simplistic piece of home exercise equipment.
Pick up Olympic rings for yourself here.
Useful For: Restoring normal strength, mobility, and function to your feet, ankles, and legs.
This is a little left-of-center, but do yourself a favor and consider investing in a pair of barefoot shoes.
Traditional shoes have a number of benefits but also a lot of hidden side-effects. The most telling is the effect of heeled shoes on our feet and ankles.
Many don’t realize that the exact size of the heel on your shoe, is the exact amount of ankle range you don’t get access to. And if you wear those shoes often, it becomes very easy to lose normal ankle range over time.
Combine the banded ankle stretch from earlier with flatter, less supportive shoes and you can reduce your ankle stiffness considerably in a short amount of time.
For context, below are the business shoes I wear to work. I’m on my feet all day and barely notice them.
Similarly, these are my running shoes:
It did take me a little while to transition from decades of built-up, and ultimately unnecessary modern shoe technology, to a minimalist shoe. But the idea is simple. As humans, our feet aren’t designed to be caged and de-sensitized.
Yes, the modern world means its both unhygienic and socially unacceptable to be barefoot too often. But investing in a shoe that allows the foot to do what it’s supposed to do, without sacrificing the social norms of today can be a game-changer for your pain and function.
Related: Why Modern Shoes Stink
Useful For: Improve functional whole-body strength.
You don’t need an entire home gym to stay strong and fit at home. However, the kettlebell is a versatile and valuable addition to any home training program.
The kettlebell can be used to practice many of the broad functional movements needed to foster and maintain a well-functioning body.
Whether it be the traditional kettlebell swing, goblet squat, and shoulder press, or the slightly less obvious Turkish getups, deadlifts and snatches, kettlebell exercises are a valuable addition to any home exercise program.
Pick up a kettlebell for yourself here.
Standing Desk Converter
Useful For: Combatting the negative effects of sitting, maintaining hip mobility and improving general health.
We know that sitting does us absolutely no favors. We are also becoming more aware of the importance of sitting less. However, the reality is it can be expensive and awkward to get yourself a brand new standing desk.
Instead, look at investing in a standing desk converter to help make the transition easier.
By converting your regular desk to a standing station, you can avoid many of the lower band and hip dysfunction directly linked to sitting. Similarly, standing is a gateway to movement. Being on your feet allows you to consistently move and change shapes to better distribute the load.
Just know, you can still slouch at a standing station. So make sure it’s set up to reflect your ideal posture, and add a footstool to help take the load from your lower back.
Pick up a standing desk converter for yourself here.
Useful For: Better balance and functional strength.
The Bosu ball is essentially half a fit ball connected to a flat surface. And it’s a nifty piece of exercise equipment that can be used in a number of ways.
Its ability to challenge your balance is two-fold. You can have it ball-side down and incorporate squats and push-ups on its unstable flat surface. Alternatively, you can flip it over and stand on the ball side to practice general single-leg balance.
Interestingly, if you like to do any upper body strength training, do it while standing on the Bosu ball for core stability boost.
Pick up a Bosu ball for yourself here.
Scraping Massage Tool
Useful For: Improving soft-tissue and joint range of motion.
Scraping massage tools have become more mainstream over the last few years. Gua sha and other instrument-assisted soft tissue massage (IASTM) techniques serve a really helpful purpose.
Traditionally they’re used to help blood flow, but can also be used to target facial restriction and sliding-surface dysfunction – most notably around the heel and ankle.
The heel and ankle is a good place to start as the heat and compression generated from modern shoes can leave our tissue ‘glued’ down. This can be a legitimate limiter of ankle and foot range of motion.
A few minutes of scraping with mild-moderate pressure around the heel and Achilles can do wonders for your ankle mobility.
Similarly, use the same technique for other areas to increase your range of motion and undo any accumulated dysfunction.
Pick up a scraping massage tool for yourself here.
Useful For: Relaxation, boosting your immune system and improving sleep quality.
An ice bath isn’t usually on the top of many people’s to-do lists, but it absolutely should be. Cold exposure kickstarts a whole range of often-latent physiological processes. So having a suitable tub to do it in can be highly advantageous.
Many of us now avoid any meaningful changes in temperature. When it gets too hot we head inside and turn on the air-conditioning. When it gets too cold we again head indoors and put the heater on. The result is that many of us don’t often get exposed to the extremes in temperatures as much as we should – robbing our bodies of the ability to self-regulate in response.
This leaves a number of primal physiological processes dormant. By spending a little time each day exposing ourselves to the cold we can re-activate many of these pathways, promoting better health.
If you’re stressed, an ice bath will help reset your nervous system and bring you down to a more normal baseline. It’s also a fantastic pre-sleep ritual which surprisingly leads to better sleep.
You don’t need to be in there for too long, 30 seconds is often a good place to start. But the goal is to last as long as you can while focusing on maintaining a deep, slow and controlled breathing pattern. If straight ice is a little too intense, start with cold water and add a few ice blocks until you reach your comfortable threshold.
Pick up an ice bath for yourself here.
Useful For: Relieving aches and pains and improving mobility.
Coming from Australia, it’s normal for most people to have a good heat pack at home, but it doesn’t seem a strong part of the culture over here in the States.
A proper heat pack is one of the most versatile pieces of home exercise equipment you can buy. They can be helpful to relieve a broad range of aches and pains, as well as encourage relaxation. You can also use one before any mobility exercise to optimize your ability to make a change.
If your back and neck often feel stiff, place a heat pack on for 5-10 minutes before using a lacrosse ball to amplify your results. Use one on the base of your skull if suffering from headaches.
They’re also a good way to keep warm when needed.
Just make sure to read the instructions before using them. Some need to be microwaved with a glass of water, some don’t take long to heat up. There’s nothing worse than accidentally overdoing it and scalding yourself.
Pick up a heat pack for yourself here.
Blue Light Glasses
Useful For: Improving sleep quality.
Blue light glasses may not stand out as an important piece of equipment, but they can have a huge impact on your life. The glasses themselves may, or may not be for you, but their impact on your sleep absolutely will.
Blue light has a dampening effect on melatonin production, the hormone responsible for regulating your sleep-wake cycle. Essentially melatonin tells your body its time to be awake. Sunlight is filled with it meaning your body knows its time to be awake. The key here is that our exposure to blue light should reduce as the sun goes down, preparing the body for sleep.
However, our TVs, computers, iPads, and smartphones give off large amounts of blue light. And considering we gravitate towards these at night, we can seriously disrupt our body’s sleeping patterns.
Decreasing your exposure to blue light can be as simple as equipping a blue light filter or downloading an app. Most TVs, computers, and smartphones have a setting that filters out the blue light, so it’s important you at least have an awareness of these features.
The only downside is that it plays havoc with the color scheme. So if you value the colors you’re seeing, a pair of blue light glasses can give you the best of both worlds.
Pick up a pair of blue light glasses for yourself here.
19. Blackout Curtains
Useful For: Improving sleep quality and overall health.
As you can see from the list so far, I don’t think we put enough time into optimizing our sleep. Soft-tissue work, gut smashing, cold showers, and blue light filters can give your sleep a huge boost, ultimately improving the quality of your life during those waking hours. Add to this by investing. in a pair of blackout curtains.
If you’ve ever stayed at a hotel and wondered why you slept so well there’s generally a simple answer. Provided you didn’t empty the mini-bar, most hotel rooms have figured out that a key to a good night’s sleep is a completely blacked-out room.
Many don’t realize our skin is one of the most light-sensitive organs in the entire body. So much so, that any light – whether it be natural or artificial, can disrupt our natural sleep cycle.
Hanging up some blackout curtains can again help improve the quality fo your life during the day.
Pick up blackout curtains for yourself here.
20. Becoming a Supple Leopard Book
Useful For: Understanding how your body functions and learning how to maintain that function.
As much as I’d like to think I’m at the forefront of my industry, one man has certainly blazed a trail for many of us. Kelly Starrett of The Ready State (formerly MobilityWOD) has developed a simple and in-depth approach to understanding and improving human movement. He has genuinely helped revolutionize the health, fitness and medical industries with his innovation and critical thinking.
His book, Becoming a Supple Leopard, is a must-read if you are even remotely interested in bettering yourself physically.
If you’ve seen a power band or lacrosse ball used before, you have Kelly to thank. If you’ve ever suffered through the Couch Stretch, you have this man to thank (or hate). His perspective on how the body functions and how the modern world impacts that function is unparalleled in the industry. He’s just someone you need to pay attention to going forward.
Unfortunately, you can’t buy your own Kelly Starret, but you can save a place for his thoughts and philosophies in the self-help section of your bookcase.
Pick up a copy for yourself here.
So if you’re stuck inside for the next few weeks (or months), but still want to walk the path to better strength, mobility, function, and health, consider adopting a few of these pieces of home exercise equipment.
You don’t need anything fancy or expensive, you just need to understand the principles behind these techniques and use something that gets you the results you’re after.
For what it’s worth, I use all of them myself and incorporate them where appropriate with others. It’s not fun being stuck at home at the moment, but hopefully, this list of home exercise equipment helps you come out at the end of this intact!
What piece of home exercise equipment do you love to use? Let me know below!