MASSAGE Magazine’s associate editor, Allison Payne, took $100 and the advice of master trainer Shaun Zetlin to the sporting goods store, returning home with a compact fitness studio and change to spare.

Massage therapy is a physically demanding profession, and maintaining physical fitness should be a key part of your self-care. Unfortunately, gyms can get pricey and aren’t always convenient to visit when you’ve already worked a long day.

I set out to discover how to get a full-body workout at home, with a budget of $100 for equipment. I also consulted with an expert to get his take on what fitness items are most cost-effective and won’t occupy too much space in your home.

As with any workout routine, start slowly, stop doing anything that hurts, and consult your physician before beginning.

Weights

The sporting goods section of a retail store can be daunting. I turned down the aisle and was met with a dazzlingly large selection of products, from yoga mats to weightlifting belts to dumbbells. Dumbbells were first on my list; even better, the expert I’d talked to said they were better than barbells, which take up way more room.

“The staple of any home gym, dumbbells apply numerous advantages that a barbell cannot provide, such as bilateral and unilateral training,” Shaun Zetlin, a master trainer in New York, New York (zetlinfitness.com) told me. “Additionally, the resistance, range of motion and increased muscle fiber recruitment make dumbbells the obvious choice over a barbell.”

So, I started testing dumbbells. The first pair was too light; some were obviously too heavy. I settled on a pair of 8-pound dumbbells.

Zetlin recommended these dumbbell exercises:

  • Presses
  • Rows
  • Laterals
  • Carries
  • Curls

“You could even hold them isometrically to provide more resistance and increased tendon stability while performing a squat or lunge,” he added. “The possibilities are endless when incorporating dumbbells in your strength routine. Depending on the weight of the dumbbells, a set could cost you anywhere from $16 to $60.”

My set of two dumbbells cost about $18.

Stability Ball

Next up? Core strength. According to Zetlin, a stability ball is the way to go. These inflatable balls force your body to balance itself and maintain correct posture, because if you don’t, you’ll fall off. It has multiple uses.

“The stability ball can be utilized not only to effectively work the core just by sitting with optimal posture, but performing any exercise with the ball will result in more calories being burned due to the instability it provides,” Zetlin said.

“Depending on your fitness levels, the ball can be used for everything from performing a basic crunch to an advanced push-up.”

The stability ball, he added, was also good for enhancing exercises — creating a “deeper core contraction” was how he put it — done with the dumbbells that were already in my cart.

“For the more advanced individual, apply the use of dumbbells with the stability ball for a total body workout,” he told me.

Some exercises with dumbbells using the ball:

  • Dumbbell chest presses
  • One-arm rows
  • Military shoulder presses
  • Shoulder laterals

I found a stability ball for $15.

Resistance Bands

Time for resistance bands. I was glad I had Zetlin’s advice on how to choose them, because they were all different lengths and colors; some had handles and some didn’t.

“These bands allow for a change of intensity and speed that the resistance with dumbbell training cannot always provide. That is why they make an excellent addition to any home gym,” Zetlin said.

“More importantly, these bands can be used as a form of circuit training to increase the volume and intensity during your workouts. This can be an excellent cardiovascular workout.”

Here’s what he had to say about all those colors. “Usually, lighter colors provide a beginner resistance, while the darker colors — brown or black — contain an advanced resistance.”

A few resistance-band exercises:

  • Flies
  • Military presses
  • Cross punches
  • Rows
  • Shoulder laterals
  • Tricep extensions
  • Bicep curls

Zetlin suggested buying a pair of bands, as they are often cheaper in a set. I grabbed a set of two for $10.

Foam Rollers

Stretching is something that’s easy to neglect in a fitness routine, especially if your main goal is to get that routine done. “Many of us do not have time to stretch or even neglect a stretching routine, although it’s extremely crucial to have flexibility and mobility in your muscles.”

The foam roller is used to create a deep, intense stretch similar to self-myofascial release,” he said. “The foam’s hard, stable surface helps aid in muscle recovery by creating a powerful pressure to release the stress of your muscular fibers, [allowing] the muscles to relax.”

Picking out a foam roller is no easy task; they come in many sizes. Some are smooth and some have little foam nubs on them to give you an even deeper stretch. I settled on a 30-inch-wide foam roller.

“By performing this type of stretching for your over-active (tight) muscles, you will improve flexibility by just applying pressure on the area you want to stretch for 30 seconds to one minute,” Zetlin suggested.

Areas you can stretch with a foam roller include:

  • Hamstrings
  • Calves
  • Quadriceps
  • Hip flexors
  • Iliotibial band
  • TFL (tensor fasciae latae)
  • Chest
  • Different areas of your back

The foam roller cost just shy of $25.

Kettlebells

On my shopping trip I encountered kettlebells, weights with a big handle you can lift using both hands at once. In my research for this article, I encountered various opinions about them. Some trainers swear by them and use them in a variety of ways, while others, including Zetlin, say they aren’t essential.

Because I’d come in so underbudget on the important stuff, I added a 10-pound kettlebell to my haul for an additional $13. You can find a ton of kettlebell exercises with a Google search.

The total price of my total-body home gym: about $81. Another plus is that it all fits into a corner when I’m done working out.

Allison M. Payne is the associate editor of MASSAGE Magazine and Chiropractic Economics. Her articles for MASSAGE Magazine include “The MT’s Guide to Meeting Massage Continuing Education Requirements” and “Mobile Massage Apps: The Complete Guide for Therapists.”

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