We put popular home gym equipment to the test. Discover the best skipping ropes, kettlebells, dumbbells, mats, exercise balls, foam rollers and aerobic steps to buy.
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If you're not quite ready to commit to a monthly gym membership but you'd like to start a simple home workout routine, our buyers' guide to the best products for keeping fit at home is a great place to start.
In the winter months, cold weather and dark evenings can put a dampener on outdoor exercise, but we've chosen home gym equipment that can be used in the comfort of your own front room (space permitting).
It's important to support an exercise plan with adequate nutrition. Aim to eat a varied, balanced diet and stay hydrated. After exercise, muscles require carbohydrates and protein to repair – read our guide to the best sources of protein, including vegetarian and vegan options.
If you're struggling to get enough protein in your daily diet, browse our reviews of the best protein powders and protein bars to buy, which also include our nutritionist's guidance on who should consider protein supplements and how to use them safely.
If you have any concerns or conditions which might limit your ability to exercise safely, such as asthma or injuries, it's best to check with your GP before embarking on a new fitness programme. Always follow the manufacturer's safety instructions and ensure you understand how to use the home gym equipment safely before you begin.
The best gym equipment for exercising at home
Dumbbells are a great home gym investment, providing comfortable hand-held weights that can be added to any number of exercises, from upper body workouts to adding resistance to squats. As weights go, dumbbells are relatively compact and easy to store.
The first consideration is weight – what are you planning to do with your dumbbells? Beginners might want to start out with a pair, before considering purchasing a few different weights to target different muscles, or an adjustable system that allows you to customise for each activity (these tend to be on the pricier side, however).
The shape is also crucial – while circular is traditional, hexagonal weights stay in place when set down, and can also be used for press-up variations.
Finally, consider where and when you'll be using your weights. If you're concerned about maintaining the integrity of your floor (or waking up your neighbours during nocturnal workouts), rubber-coated weights might be a more practical option than metal.
Our product pick:
Bodymax rubber hex dumbbells
Available in weights ranging from 1kg up to 30kg (with some half kg increments available in between), these sturdy fixed weight dumbbells are a great addition to any home gym. The hexagonal shape means that you can use them as a steady base for push-up variations and ensure they won't roll away when you put them down in between sets. The metal bars are grippy and easy to hold – both myself and my partner found them a comfortable thickness, despite having very different sized hands.
Powerhouse Fitness (from £4.99)
Amazon (from £8.99)
Foam rolling – also known as self-myofascial release – has gone from eyebrow-raising niche to mainstream fitness practice over the last few years. It's not exactly a workout per se, but a recovery technique – promoting blood flow to the muscles and easing post-workout tightness.
It's also not exactly a walk in the park – imagine the slightly pleasurable pain you get from a deep-tissue massage, then amplify it considerably, and you have an idea of what to expect.
Our product pick:
Gatortail foam roller
Finding the right foam roller is something of an art. Too soft and you don't get that sweet muscle release, too hard and it can be downright painful.
Gatortail offers the perfect compromise – with a rigid shell and firm outer ridges that are made of thick, high-density foam, it retains its shape when compressed but does have a little give, unlike hard plastic alternatives.
It's also longer than most models, meaning that you have more freedom to target larger areas of your body, such as your back or both legs at the same time, without rolling off the end. It's fairly lightweight and comes with a snug-fitting drawstring bag so you can carry it easily. The attractive design and range of bright colours is a bonus, too.
The phrase ‘step aerobics’ might take you straight back to the 80s, but if you're looking for a cheap, easy way to get your heart rate up at home, you can't overlook the simple aerobic stepper.
There are plenty of videos on YouTube that you can use for workout inspiration – start with an easy variation before moving onto more challenging choreography. Expect to work your leg muscles and core, get your heart pumping, and burn calories.
When choosing a stepper, make sure that the surface is slip-resistant and that the structure is sturdy – many brands will specify weight limits on their websites. Ideally, steppers should be adjustable to allow you to work with different heights – this lets you vary the intensity of your workout.
Gallant Sport adjustable height aerobic stepper
This no-nonsense aerobic stepper is great value for money. Made of tough, thick yet lightweight plastic, it has a textured surface to help with grip, and the legs snap securely into place. The feet hold it in place on the floor so you don't have to worry about it slipping during use.
The legs come in four pieces, allowing you to adjust the height up or down to suit your workout. Once you've finished, the stepper packs neatly away – simply detach the legs and snap the pieces into place on the underside of the step for compact storage. A sturdy and cost-effective piece of kit.
Gallant Sport (£16.99)
Skipping may be considered ‘old school’ and remind you of days spent in the playground, but it really is one of the most effective workouts around. On average, an hour of skipping burns over 500 calories, and can be completed anywhere that space permits – the garden, driveway or even living room will do (although do be mindful of pendant light fittings).
Expect to work your arms, back, shoulders, legs, wrists and your whole cardiovascular system. Beginners should start with a lightweight rope – plastic is a common choice for its affordability and durability – while more experienced skippers might want to try a weighted rope for extra resistance.
Our product picks:
Beast Rope Elite
We had high hopes for this speed rope from UK company, Beast Gear, and were glad that the product lived up to the rave reviews. Thanks to metal ball bearings each rotation is super smooth, allowing you to swiftly build momentum and speed.
The aluminium handles are fairly long, slender and very comfortable to hold, with a satisfying weight. Cleverly, the handles conceal the allen key that you need to adjust the cable – simply unscrew from the end of the handle and replace after use.
Each rope comes with two 3mm coated steel cables, along with a rubber protector which easily threads onto the end, offering more protection if you're skipping on an abrasive surface such as tarmac or concrete.
As with all skipping ropes, it's crucial to adjust the length to suit you – we found the process very straightforward, although you will need a pair of wire cutters to trim off the excess length.
At over £20, it is on the slightly pricier side for a skipping rope, but for those who are looking to improve their speed and practice more complex techniques such as double unders, it's a worthy investment.
Beast Gear (£24.97)
Elite SRS boxer’s training rope 3.0
Beginners to skipping or those looking for a slightly lower price point might prefer this bright blue model from Elite SRS. The cable is thicker and lighter, made from durable PVC with a string core, and the snap-on cable ends allow for easy resizing. The handles are lightweight, with a grippy surface and a bell-bottom shape which prevents slippage.
Kettlebells are cast iron or steel balls with handles – they're a super versatile weight you can use in a number of different ways. The shape and size makes them a great addition to exercises which target your whole body, including deadlifts, squats and swings.
They're simple to store and use, but it's easy to be over confident when estimating the weight you'll need – if in doubt, start lighter and work your way up. It's probably best to purchase a single kettlebell to make sure you're happy with the weight and style before splurging on a set.
Choose a model with smooth handles (all those repetitive movements can lead to sore hands if there are rough seams) and consider the size and shape of the handle too – if you have smaller hands you might be more comfortable with a thinner handle, for example.
Our product pick:
Wolverson Competition Russian kettlebells
Created using new casting techniques, these kettlebells are all one piece with no welding – resulting in a solid structure and a smooth, seamless handle.
We tested an 8kg model, and found the thickness of the handle just right, allowing for a secure grip on the top of the handle during explosive movements such as kettlebell swings, as well as a comfortable hold on the sides of the handle during squats.
If you're looking to incorporate kettlebells into push-up variations, the flat bottom of the weight gives a nice stable base. Wolverson also offer a lifetime warranty, so you can swing your kettlebell around to your heart's content (just mind your furniture).
Choose the right yoga or gym mat and it can last for years – this is one piece of equipment that you might consider an investment, if you'll be using it a lot.
Providing a padded surface to perform floor-based exercises, mats can help protect your knees, elbows, hips and tailbone during crunches, stretching, yoga and pilates.
It's worth considering your preferred type of exercise and what your priorities are when choosing a mat. For example, yoga mats are often thinner than fitness mats, which are designed for greater shock impact and cushioning – on the other hand, yoga mats tend to be ‘clingier’, to avoid clipping during balancing movements.
Weight is another consideration – will you be travelling with your mat, or would a heavier option that you only use at home suffice?
Liforme yoga mat
We loved using this premium yoga mat. With a 4.2mm thickness, it offers a good balance between cushioning vulnerable joints and allowing you to stay stable and grounded during your practice.
At 185cm long and 65cm wide, it's larger than many mats on the market, giving you more space to move freely and fewer awkward mid-flow interruptions as you try to shuffle forwards or backwards to avoid stepping off the mat.
The top surface is a lovely smooth material which is a delight to touch, while also providing an excellent grip, even when sweaty. Etched into the surface are markings designed to help keep you aligned – although initially sceptical, we found them to be very useful, however, they're subtle enough not to be distracting if you decide you'd rather not use them.
Liforme have some impressive eco-friendly credentials too – the mat is made from sustainable natural rubber, and once it reaches the end of it's usability, the whole product is biodegradable.
One slight downside is that at 2.5kg the mat is on the heavy side, although it does come with a fabric carry bag with a cushioned strap – we still found it comfortable to carry to classes. If you'll be transporting it a lot, Liforme offer a lighter travel version which might be a better fit for you.
Yoga Matters (£100)
M Life beginners yoga mat
Beginners or those with a lower budget to spend might like to opt for this attractive mat from M Life. With a textured, double-sided surface, this mat didn't slip at all during testing, offering excellent stability.
It's lightweight and rolls up tightly, making it a good choice if you're planning to travel with it. It's 61cm x 183cm and 4mm thick, providing enough cushioning for comfort while still keeping you grounded. The company's eco credentials are a plus point, too.
While they may remind you of space hoppers, exercise balls – also known as fitness balls, Swiss balls or stability balls – are a seriously versatile piece of kit to add to your home gym equipment.
Throw a Swiss ball into the mix and many basic workout moves, such as sit ups, become significantly harder, as your body works to constantly stabilise itself by engaging your core muscles.
What's more, if you regularly work from home you can use a Swiss ball as an office chair for short periods of time to engage your core muscles while you sit at your desk.
When choosing a fitness ball, look out for a few things – for safety reasons, they should be burst-resistant, meaning that in the case of a puncture, they will deflate slowly rather than popping. Choose a size that is suitable for your height – many brands will specify guidelines – and check weight limits.
Our product picks:
Baola Swiss ball
Retailing at £129, the Baola is firmly on the top end of the range for Swiss ball, but if you're looking for a robust product that you can use every day, it's well worth the investment.
If you're planning to use the ball as a desk or office chair (as our tester did when working from home), you'll want one that's not only sturdy and hardwearing, but actually looks nice too.
The Baola comes with a soft, stiched fabric cover and is available in a range of attractive, graphic patterns. It arrives in a box containing several pieces – an inflatable grey ball with two plugs, a valve to connect to a pump and a plug remover, plus the zip-on fabric outer cover which is machine washable. It's worth noting that pumps aren't included (although a bicycle or care tyre pump does the trick nicely).
Opti silver gym ball
If you're after a more budget-friendly option, the Opti Swiss ball from Argos is a great choice. We found it very easy to inflate, sturdy, and good for a variety of balance-related exercises, such as crunches and press up variations. A pump is included for inflation, and it's burst-resistant. The silver model is 55cm but if you're taller or planning to use the ball as a chair, there's also a 65cm purple model available.
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This review was last updated in December 2019. If you have any questions, suggestions for future reviews or spot anything that has changed in price or availability, please get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org.