If there’s one thing 2020 taught us, it’s to be prepared. Many of us (self included) prefer to workout in a gym. But when gyms aren’t available for whatever reason, having a few key pieces of equipment can at least help you keep your body (and mind) healthy. Here are my top picks.

1. Kettlebells

With 2 kettlebells, a heavy one and a light one, you can do a whole lotta movements with a decent amount of variety. With your heavy one you can do lower body movements such as all different kinds of swings, 2-handed cleans, goblet squats, loaded carries, lunges, deadlift variations, and even work up to heavy Turkish get-ups. With a lighter one, you can do cleans, snatches, military press, floor press, and core moves galore. I also use the lighter bells for some of my favorite warm-up movements.

Kettlebell movements can be linked together in a series called a complex. This is different from circuit training because it’s all the standard movement patterns (press, squat, hinge, etc.) done together in a flow. This allows you to work on not only strength but conditioning and coordination as well.

You will never find a more versatile tool than a kettlebell.

2. Dumbbells

Just like the kettlebell, you can have a smorgasbord of different exercises with just a light set and a heavy set. You can do many of the same movements as with a kettlebell, but no ballistics like swings (you can snatch and clean dumbbells, but I’m not a huge fan of those). And frankly you have far fewer uses for very heavy dumbbells, heavy being relative to the user. But! You can do more upper body and isolation movements like bicep curls and lateral raises, which means more variety, more balance, and less boredom.

3. Adjustable Bench

Can you do floor presses instead of bench presses? Absolutely. But the bench will add different challenges such as less stability, require and encourage more mobility, and best of all, VARIETY (are you noticing a theme here?). With an incline bench especially you can throw in incline presses and flyes, chest-supported rows and flyes, all of which can be done at higher or lower angles.

4. Barbell

You don’t NEED a rack or even a lot of space to use a barbell. You can roll up a mat and stick it in a corner like a landmine and do TONS of different exercises (lunges, squats, all sorts of presses, all sorts of rows, core work, etc.). Plus you can use the barbell by itself to do Zercher squats or floor presses. Again, variety is what will make you more likely to stick with a program and stay balanced throughout your body.

5. TRX Suspension Trainer

This thing is amazing. I’ve used it for over 10 years and you can use it for everything from stretching to explosive movements to building strength. My favorite moves on the TRX are all the fun core exercises and row variations. It can be hard to target both of those areas with weights or just bodyweight alone. You can use the TRX safely in any doorway with the doorstop they provide (you do not need a special anchor). They are light, compact, and easy to travel with. If it sounds like I’m gushing, I am. This is a really great product.

And there you have it!

I would also recommend a good mat and an assortment of bands. I like the 2 lightest pull-up assist bands, and the bands that come in a set with handles that can be put into your door. These are all pretty inexpensive as well, which is nice.

I honestly don’t know what I would have done during lockdown without my kettlebells, bands, and TRX. As someone who relies heavily on physical activity for her mental health, these were an absolute lifesaver for me. Plus all the extra sitting made my body beg for movement. Don’t get caught unprepared. With an investment of a couple hundred dollars, you don’t have to ever leave your home to keep your body moving well. 

Remember, exercise is not just about a nice ass and abs. You need to move to stay healthy, feel good, stave off preventable illness and injury, and combat stress. Make it a nonnegotiable part of your life.