It doesn’t matter where you are. When the urge to sweat strikes, it should be met with whatever workout you can muster. You might be at the park or beach, at home, or even driving by an empty playground or basketball court. You could trek to the gym if you’d like, but what’s the point? Why do later what you can do right now? With the right equipment, you can strengthen your heart and muscles almost anywhere, even in your home. To that end, here are the packable pieces of workout equipment that experts swear by. Consider this your ultimate, go-anywhere gym, perfect for someone who wants an in-home workout.
What looks like a wad of plastic and nylon unrolls to become a 10- to 20-foot cardio obstacle that will get your heart pumping like an NFL running back in any park, driveway, or empty parking lot. “It’s fantastic for foot mobility and spiking your heart rate,” says Christian Koshaba, founder and lead trainer at Three60Fit.
There are dozens of potential exercises you can do, all of which can be done in your home. Start with single-leg drills, where you jump in and out of each rung opening on just one leg, and then turn around and do it again with the other leg. Or for a killer quad and glute workout, make your way down the ladder with a set of jump lunges.
Bonus: Working on your agility skills has brain benefits, according to a study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. The researchers divided 41 participants into two groups, one that spent six weeks working on traditional training through exercises like running and calisthenics, and one that focused on agility training. The latter group not only saw an increased improvement in footwork skills and VO2 max, but also boosted their attention levels and memory.
Over years of dedicated use, boxers and sweat hounds have elevated the lowly jump rope from its double-dutch playground persona to the realm of cardio hall of fame. “It’s one of the greatest tools you can use for hand speed, foot speed, muscle endurance, and just overall burn,” Koshaba says. And while it weighs almost nothing, a good rope is a solid stand-in for the much larger equipment you’d find at the gym: According to Arizona State University's Compendium of Physical Activities, jumping rope at a moderate pace—100 to 120 skips per minute—requires about the same amount of intensity as rowing at a solid effort
A basic jump rope will set you back about $5 to $10, but for a little more challenge and not much more investment, opt for one with weighted handles or a weighted rope. This piece of equipment is perfect for your next home workout. That way it’ll deliver a combo of endurance boons for both your muscles and cardio system. Then try jumping as fast as you can for 60 seconds, adding more time as your body becomes stronger. For an extra challenge with a lightweight rope, see if you can work in the occasional double-under, a common CrossFit move in which the rope rotates under your feet two times for each jump.
TRX Suspension Kit
The TRX system—a set of suspension straps that you can hang from monkey bars, a sturdy branch, or the top bar of a chain-link fence—was invented by a Navy SEAL. So you know it’s a pain-inducing workout. (If you haven’t tried it, you’ll be shocked at how quickly your muscles begin to quiver.) “I think it’s literally the best tool you can use, regardless if you’re an extreme athlete or a physical occupational therapy patient,” Koshaba says.
It works like this: With the two straps hanging, you slide either your hands or feet into the handles. From there you can do a series of bodyweight exercises that take your burn to the next level. A study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research found that holding a plank while using a suspension system like TRX activates more muscles than a traditional, on-the-ground hold. Similarly, a Journal of Human Kinetics study found that suspended pushups require more muscle activation than the traditional kind. Once you’ve mastered those two exercises, try mountain climbers (with both feet in the straps), single-leg lunges (with one foot in the strap behind you), and inverted rows (where you lie beneath the handles and lift your back off of the ground). TRX bands are great for an anywhere or home workout.
The humble foam-and-plastic saucers weigh less than a paperback novel, but because they prevent you from making firm contact with the ground, they force you to recruit more muscles during bodyweight moves. “They challenge all of those secondary muscles,” Koshaba says.
They won't give you much advantage on grass or sand, but put them on a smooth surface—like tile, hardwood, or the thin carpeting of a hotel room—and suddenly every workout becomes harder.
For a starter workout, slide them under your feet during reverse or lateral lunges, planks, and reverse tucks (where you lie on your back, pull your feet in toward your butt, and then straighten them back out). Then work your upper body with arm circles (hold a pushup position and make a large wax-on circle with one arm, then the other).
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