For anyone who works out at home or would like to work out at home, choosing the right equipment to invest in can be a big decision. And while there are many workouts and programs you can do equipment free (like this one), the right equipment can help you get the best results possible and open up a much wider variety of workouts. Unfortunately the equipment can be expensive, and there are a ton of different options out there.
Of all the options, three of the best tools for a full-body workout in a small space are resistance bands, select-tech weights, and the TRX. I’ve used all three of these (and successfully completed p90x3 and Chalene Extreme with this equipment), so I’m here to weigh in on the pros and cons of each so you can get your best workout – all from the comfort of home.
I consider resistance bands the starter kit of at-home workout equipment. Some workout programs even come with one or two to help you get started. Essentially different bands have different levels of resistance, allowing you to increase or decrease the “weight” of different moves. The moves are generally similar to those that you would do in regular weight-lifting.
The big pros of resistance bands are the size, weight, and price. A good set of bands should only run you about $20-$30! Plus they’re easy to store and easy to travel with since they’re so light and compact.
But are they effective for your workout? Meh. I find that resistance bands are great for upper body movements but much less effective for the lower body. For example, with squats, even with a really high resistance band, you only get the full resistance at the top of the squat, which is the least effective part of the move.
Compare it to a bicep curl: in a bicep curl with a band, as you curl up and flex your bicep, the band lengthens and therefore the resistance increases. When you pause at the top of the curl with your muscle flexed, the band is pulled tight, and resistance is high. In a squat, as you squat down, the band shortens, decreasing resistance. At the bottom of the squat the band will be almost slack with little resistance. Only as you move back up to standing does the resistance increase.
My other complaint with bands is that it is much harder to track progress than with traditional weights. Some moves require you to loop the band on the floor and step on it to increase resistance, so you would have to measure the size of the loop to increase resistance – that’s a really inaccurate way to track progress!
In short, I think resistance bands are a great addition to an at-home equipment collection, if only for travel. Being able to easily take them with you so that you can stay on track (especially if you’re using a program) is really helpful. However, I would not recommend them as your main equipment. You will likely not get the same results as with traditional weights, especially in your lower body.
For those of you that have done Chalene Extreme, you know what SelectTech weights are (she advertises them constantly!). If you haven’t, they are essentially one set of dumbbells in a holder that have adjustable weights. You twist the ends and it locks plates onto the dumbbell to create different weights.
The big pro of the SelectTech weights are that they give you all the benefits of traditional free weights but take up way less room. Plus the weight increments are as little as every 2.5 pounds (which is really helpful for small improvements, especially in light-weight moves like front shoulder raises). They have two versions, a lighter weight one that goes from 5 to 50 pounds and a heavier one that goes from 10 to 90 pounds. I have the lighter one, so my review here is based on that. However I assume the heavier version is almost identical.
The SelectTech weights are awesome for following any at-home workout plan that uses traditional weight lifting. It gives you all the options and is small enough that you can usually find a discreet place in your living room for them. Additionally, buying a full set of weights with that many increments can run you anywhere from $450 – $1,000, so it’s actually a great deal. I have definitely been happy with this purchase, and it’s given me great results at home.
However, they don’t come without their flaws. The first is that while small, they are heavy. They will dent carpet, almost irreparably if you do not move them for a long time. It’s also impractical to move them back and forth to your workout space if you do not have a good discreet place to put them. And you definitely can’t travel with them.
Second, switching weights, while fairly fast, is still not as fast as with a standard set of weights. WIth a full set of free weights, you can easily and quickly go up or down in weight mid-set. With videos, I found myself having to pause frequently the first time I did a workout to figure out the correct amount of weight. And with my own routines, I occasionally admit to either not pushing myself as hard (weights were too light and I didn’t feel like switching), or sacrificing form when they were too heavy.
Lastly, and this may not be an issue for most people, the grips are big. So big that they were hard to hold. When I got up to big weights and pulling exercises, like rows, I had a lot of trouble and occasionally my hands would hurt afterwards. Weight-lifting gloves or chalk might have helped, but I don’t use either of those. With squats I usually had to put the weights on my shoulders. But if your hands are bigger than mine, this definitely wouldn’t be an issue for you.
SelectTech weights are great in combination with resistance bands for travel if you like traditional weight lifting or want to able to complete fitness programs like p90x. Keep the above in mind, however, and always be careful when switching weights.
Ahh, the TRX. If you haven’t used these already, you might recognize the bright yellow straps hanging from some bar in your gym. These have been a hit since they became popular a few years ago. Originally invented by a Navy SEAL for training while on deployment, they are now part of gyms and fitness classes everywhere. And for good reason! They combine traditional strength training will full-body stabilization and core work, as well as promote increased flexibility and mobility. Basically, you put either your feet or your hands in the handles and use your bodyweight to perform various exercises. It can also be used to enhance your performance in other sports or physical activities, like yoga and golf.
I’ve been using the TRX for years, but mostly at a gym or fitness classes. It was actually my husband who eventually bought one to take with him while he travels, and now I can’t believe I didn’t get one for my home sooner. It is an awesome piece of equipment. It is lightweight (only 2 pounds) and compact, so it’s easy to store at home and to travel with. It’s really easy to get the right amount of resistance since all you have to do is step closer or further away from the anchor point to increase the amount of body weight. It gives a great full-body workout and has some of the best ab exercises I’ve ever seen.
Truthfully, the only negatives I can think of for this piece of equipment is that one, you can’t really add resistance for the lower body. I’ve never really found this to be a problem though (just try doing hamstring curls, one legged lunges, or pistol squats – I promise, you won’t be wishing for a weight!). Two, it’s hard to measure progress like with traditional weights. And three, you can’t substitute it in for a pre-built at home program. You would have to create your own workout or do a TRX specific program. They do have various videos that you can buy and download from their site to follow along with. I haven’t used any of them yet, but I definitely plan on reviewing some in the future.
Who’s the Winner??
Overall, if I could only have one piece of at-home fitness equipment, I would choose the TRX. It gives a great workout, isn’t too expensive, is easy to travel with, and easy to store.
However, if you’re really into at-home workout programs that require weights, I would highly recommend the SelectTech weights. They’re very space-effective and really make your home feel more like a gym. And if you travel much at all, I would throw in some resistance bands to take on the road with you.
What at-home fitness equipment do you use? What’s your dream piece of equipment? I’d love to hear about it in the comments!
Looking to become a morning exerciser? Check out how I started getting up an hour earlier every day and getting my workout in with this 3-step process.