Starting a workout routine is an exciting challenge. It can also be, well, challenging. Exercising for the first time can make you feel breathless, tired, and even little sore—all normal parts of the fitness process, if a little uncomfortable to workout newbies. But consistency is key to reaping the benefits of your workouts, according to Rob Sulaver, a certified personal trainer and founding instructor at Rumble Boxing in NYC. “In order to be consistent, it’s helpful to find a routine you enjoy. Other than that, I’d suggest starting slow and light with a strong emphasis on form,” he says.
Looking for something to help with consistency? Dedication is key—and the right gear to motivate and support you in the beginning stages of your workouts doesn't hurt, either. Here are some top-rated picks to start with.
1. Resistance bands for upping the challenge without weights
Anyone in search of small space-friendly gear should look to resistance bands. These stretchy bands can be used to add variety to common bodyweight exercises. “The beauty of resistance bands is they’re very versatile and you can easily increase the resistance in different ways and to your personal needs,” says Jennifer Jacobs, CPT and founder of The J METHOD. “With the use of resistance bands versus exercise machines, you’re challenging your muscles in different ways than they may be used to. […] The muscle is receiving greater resistance at its strongest point in the range of motion and therefore is receiving more adequate resistance to better stimulate strength adaptations.” Sulaver adds that because they’re cheap and simple to use, they may inspire you to stick to your workout.
With nearly 100,000 reviews, the Fit Simplify set provides five varying degrees of difficulty so you can customize your workout to suit your fitness level. Each rubber resistance band displays the level you’ll be working with, and you can incorporate them into a full-body routine, and its included carrying case makes them easy to take on the road. For even more workout versatility, you can try tubed resistance bands like the Whatafit 11-piece set. The set includes five bands that range in estimated resistance level from 10 to 50 pounds, a door anchor, handles, and a carry bag, and has more than 24,000 reviews. The bands can be used alone or stacked to upgrade all kinds of activities.
- Get the Fit Simplify Resistance Loop Exercise Bands with Instruction Guide and Carry Bag, Set of 5 from Amazon for $12.95
- Get the Whatafit Resistance Bands, Set of 11 from Amazon for
2. A yoga mat to protect your joints
Most at-home workouts require getting down on the ground. This means a good yoga mat is essential, whether or not you're planning on becoming a yogi. Our all-time favorite mat for all kinds of exercise is Lululemon's 5mm reversible mat. One side is smooth and the other has more texture, but both keep hands and feet in place—and prevent the mat itself from slipping around—no matter what exercises you use the mat for. It also has a unique firm-yet-cushiony feeling, which helps keep joints guarded from the ground without sinking through to the hard floor beneath.
Not looking to spend Lululemon money? Our top value yoga mat pick is Gaiam's 6mm Premium mat. Its waffle-textured surface provides ample grip and it's lightweight and easy to roll up, which makes it a treat to take on the go.
- Get the Reversible 5mm Yoga Mat from Lululemon starting at $78
- Get the Gaiam 6mm Yoga Mat from Amazon for $39.99
3. A yoga block to get into poses safely
Yoga can be intimidating at first, but the excuse "I'm not flexible" is not a good one for not giving it a try—if you have a yoga block on hand. Using one can bring the floor closer to your hands or feet, allowing you to explore poses previously unattainable. This bestselling Gaiam yoga block, made of a soft yet durable foam material, boasts 4.8 stars across more than 7,000 Amazon reviews. It measures 6 inches high and 9 inches wide, which makes it accessible for a wide array of poses. It also comes in 28 colors and patterns like mint, lavender, and striped teal, so you can find one that suits you best.
You can also use a block as a seat during meditation or a back and calf support during savasana (a.k.a. "corpse pose," or when you lie down and rest at the end of a yoga class). "As someone just starting a home yoga practice, these blocks hit the sweet spot for affordability and durability," writes a reviewer. "Extra points that they’re bright and match my yoga mat! I’m able to hold more difficult poses using these blocks. Perfect amount of give plus firmness, I think they’ll last a long time."
4. A mini trampoline for high-flying fun
Mini trampolines (also called rebounders) are so fun to use, you won’t even realize you’re getting in some valuable cardio and weight-bearing exercise while using it. A study from NASA published in the Journal of Applied Physiology found that bouncing is a more effective way of stimulating heart rate and oxygen uptake than jogging.
Take your fitness routine to, ahem, new heights with Amazon’s bestselling mini trampoline that folds in half for easy portability and storage. It contains a safety railing adjustable at various heights for added stability while you jump. Of its 5,000 reviewers, many note how quickly time flies by on the trampoline. “It’s fun to jump on and doesn’t feel like real exercise or work," one reviewer writes. "I jump on it for about 20 to 30 minutes per day. It’s really great and easy but at the same time, works up a sweat.”
5. A Bosu ball to work on your balance
Good balance is a core tenet of fitness for people of all ages and abilities. The ever-popular Bosu ball allows you to practice balance and stability with either the flat or domed surface facing up.
Use it for the likes of squats, toe taps, and planks to create a feeling of instability that keeps your muscles challenged and engaged. If the classic blue hue is all too evocative of crowded gyms, opt for one of Bosu's other color options, including hot pink and lime green. Of its nearly 7,000 Amazon reviews, many call out how it’s helped them improve their balance and strength for other activities like skiing, cycling, and yoga.
6. Adjustable weights for all types of lifts
Lifting weights doesn’t need to conjure images of crowded weight rooms lined with heavy barbells and squat racks. After all, strength training has benefits for everyone, not just bodybuilders. Try you hand at boosting your strength at home with a set adjustable dumbbells, which allow you to easily and quickly reduce weight or load up once you advance. “The variety of weights are useful for exploring a bunch of different exercises,” says Sulaver. “Plus, they don’t take up much space, which is nice.”
Bowflex's 552 adjustable dumbbells allows you to switch from 5 to 52.5 pounds in 2.5-pound increments. Finessing the load is easy with the twist of a dial, and allows you to ratchet up weight depending on the part of the body you're working—and how strong you get. “I was debating between these adjustable dumbbells and a rack of weights and am so glad I went with the Bowflex SelectTech 552," writes a reviewer. "[They] are a little bulky but still easy to use and manageable. I love that I save room by not needing an entire rack of weights. It is easy to adjust the weight and they appear very well made.”
7. A recovery ball to give your muscles some TLC
Overtraining can lead to injury. This is especially true for beginners, who may not account for the time needed for muscles to rest and rebuild, according to Jacobs. She says recovery balls are a great way to help target hard-to-reach areas, loosen up specific muscle groups before a workout, or break down and knead out any points of tension after a workout, allowing the muscle to recover faster.
With nearly 15,000 reviews, the Keiba massage balls allow you to use your own bodyweight to release muscle knots and tension, and numerous reviewers said it helped supplement a trip to the physical therapist. "I'm in physical therapy and they recommended getting some lacrosse balls to help with my stress and tension that I hold in my upper shoulders and neck," writes a reviewer. "Not only do they hit and help your trigger points, but they help to relieve stress as well. I am so happy with this purchase and highly recommend them."
8. Anti-chafe solution to prevent skin irritation
One unexpected aspect of diving into a new fitness routine that no one talks about? Skin chafing. That is, a tender, raw, stinging sensation that can crop up between your thighs, under your armpits, or anywhere else skin tends to get irritated due to repetitive friction from workout clothes or contact with other parts of the body.
Maximize your comfort levels—and enjoyment of your newfound activity—with BodyGlide, a protective balm that prevents skin from being rubbed raw. Our tester loved that it comes in a deodorant-like container that allows you to apply it wherever you need with ease—plus, it lasted all day, so there's no need for constant reapplications. Just slide it where needed and you'll maintain dermal comfort through your workouts and beyond.
9. A personal trainer to make sure you're doing things right
A certified personal trainer isn’t an object you can add to cart—but signing up for a session or two to orient you in the right direction is one of the most crucial steps you can take as you begin your fitness journey. Sulaver calls it “arguably your best investment early on” because “a good coach is like a cheat code to level 10. [A knowledgeable trainer] can put together a complete training program for you, make sure your form is on point, and help keep you motivated.”
What’s more, exercise participants are far more likely to adhere to a workout plan when they receive social support, according to research from Stanford University—if you haven’t yet pinpointed likeminded fitness-oriented friends, let a personal trainer be your guide. You can check out your local gym to see trainer options or opt for a virtual trainer platform like Fyt, which lets you connect with personal trainers all over the United States via Zoom.
If a personal trainer isn’t within your budget, an app can be another way to start. Nike Training Club is our favorite workout platform, and it offers its premium workout content for free. After taking a quiz, it’ll provide you with a structured, personalized workout plan that gradually and safely increases in intensity as you go further into your plan. “I like Nike Training Club because it makes exercising a lot less complicated. In many ways, it fulfills the function of a personal trainer—it gives you building blocks to work with, sets a schedule, and sends you reminders to exercise—without the cost,” writes health and fitness editor Sara Hendricks in her rave review of the app.
Prices were accurate at the time this article was published but may change over time.