4 fitness tools every older adult should own

Create your own home gym with just four pieces of equipment

Woman lifting dumbbells

There’s lots to love about gyms and fitness studios. Convenience may not be one of them. By the time you’ve packed your gear and factored in travel time to and from the gym, you may have been able to complete two or even three workouts.

Plus, these days we’re often trying to scale back our outings to help stay safe and minimize our risk of becoming infected by the coronavirus.

That’s where the beauty of having a few essential pieces of exercise equipment at home comes in. Sure, you can head outside for a walk or do a few sets of squats and pushups and get in a great workout. But having fitness equipment close at hand expands your exercise options to give you more variety and prevent boredom.

Let’s start with the basics. These four fitness tools are all you need to set up an awesome home gym, according to the pros at the American Council on Exercise (ACE). Best of all, they’re designed to be easy on your budget and won’t take up a ton of space in your closet.

Talk with your doctor before beginning an exercise program or making changes to your lifestyle or health care routine.

Fitness Tool #1: Resistance Bands

These small but mighty rubber bands can deliver a total-body workout, says ACE-certified trainer Chris Gagliardi.

Some have handles on each end; others are a closed loop. They come in different lengths and varying thicknesses — light, medium and heavy — so you can adjust the resistance as you build strength.

A thicker band means more resistance. In general, it’s good to start with thinner bands for upper-body work and heavier bands for lower-body work.

Put resistance bands to work in a variety of strength exercises. Here are three to try:

Pull Apart:

  • Stand tall with your feet hip-width apart
  • Holding a resistance band with both hands, raise your arms in front of you to shoulder height (or as high as you comfortably can), palms facing down
  • Brace your core and keep it engaged for the entire move
  • With control, squeeze your shoulder blades together to pull your hands farther apart (your body should form a small “t”)
  • Pause, then slowly reverse the movement to return to start
  • Complete 10 to 12 repetitions


  • Sit on a mat and loop a resistance band around both legs just above your knees
  • Lie on your right side with your legs stacked and knees bent at a 45-degree angle
  • Keeping your feet together, slowly raise your top knee as high as you comfortably can (like a clam opening)
  • Pause, then slowly lower your knee back down to start
  • Complete 10 to 12 repetitions, then switch sides and repeat

Biceps curl:

  • Stand on the middle of a resistance band with your feet hip-width apart (you can also perform the exercise while sitting in a sturdy chair)
  • Holding each handle (or two points within the loop) and keeping your elbows tucked, slowly curl your hands toward your shoulders
  • Pause, then slowly lower your arms to return to start
  • Complete 10 to 12 repetitions

Price range: $9 to $30 (bands are often sold in packs of three to five)

Fitness Tool #2: Dumbbells

Dumbbells are bigger and heavier than resistance bands, yet they offer similar benefits. They’re great for a variety of exercises that can be performed with a single piece of equipment, says Gagliardi.

Dumbbells come in different weights and are often used in pairs — one for each hand. But he says it’s possible to work all your major muscle groups with just one weight.

You can hold a weight in front of your chest, for example, and perform lower body exercises. Or simply work one arm at a time to tone and strengthen your arms and shoulders.

Lighter weights in the 3- to 5-pound range are good if you’re new to exercising, coming back from an injury, or interested in going for a higher number of exercise repetitions. You can also get a similar resistance by grabbing two soup cans, or two full 8- to 12-ounce water bottles.

A medium-weight set in the 8- to 10-pound range is good for adding a challenge. For a DIY weight, you can take those same water bottles and fill them with sand to give them more heft.

Give one of these dumbbell exercises a try:

Farmer’s Carry:

  • Stand tall with your arms at your sides, holding a dumbbell in each hand
  • Brace your core and keep it engaged for the entire move
  • Keeping your back straight and your shoulders square, walk across the room or down a long hallway (for about 10 feet)
  • Turn around and return to your starting point
  • Repeat three times
  • Make this move easier by using just one weight and carrying it in one hand going one direction, then switching hands for the return trip

Single Arm Supported Row:

  • Stand in front of a countertop (or other high, sturdy surface) with your feet in a split stance, left foot in front of your right
  • Brace your core and bend slightly forward from your hips, not your back
  • Hold the countertop with your left hand and a dumbbell in your right hand, palm facing in
  • Squeeze your shoulder blades together as you bend your right elbow and pull the dumbbell up to the side of your torso
  • Keep your arm close to the side of your body and avoid rotating your torso
  • Pause, then slowly lower the dumbbell
  • Complete 10 to 12 repetitions, then switch sides and repeat

Price range: $3 to $25 for cast iron weights covered in a non-slip material (steel weights will cost more). Remember to pick up two of each size.

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Fitness Tool #3: Yoga Block

Typically made from dense foam, yoga blocks are rectangular and very lightweight. In yoga classes, they’re often used to help support your back and hips as you settle into a pose.

Blocks are also great if you’re new to yoga or need help modifying certain poses because of a physical limitation. Outside of yoga, you can use blocks for several general exercises. For example, you can get a little more out of a glute bridge by placing a block between your thighs and squeezing it tightly as you lift and lower your hips.

Here are two variations of a glute bridge that make great use of a yoga block:

Glute Bridge with Yoga Block:

  • Lie on your back with knees bent and feet flat on the floor about hip-width apart
  • Place the yoga block between your thighs, squeezing it to keep it in place
  • Press your arms into the floor and brace your core
  • Push through your heels and squeeze your glutes as you lift your hips
  • Your body should form a straight line from your knees to your shoulders
  • Pause, then return to start
  • Complete 10 to 12 repetitions

Supported Glute Bridge:

  • Lie on your back with knees bent and feet flat on the floor about hip-width apart
  • Press your arms into the floor and brace your core
  • Squeeze your glutes to lift your hips up
  • Place the yoga block under your hips
  • Hold the pose for three to five slow, deep breaths
  • Remove the yoga block and return to start
  • Complete 10 to 12 repetitions

Price range: $5 to $25

Fitness Tool #4: Exercise Mat

When it’s time to do planks, sit-ups or stretches, a yoga or exercise mat becomes your new best friend. Not only will it protect you from the hard floor or scratchy carpet, but the grippy surface can help keep you in the proper position. Look for one that’s thick to give your spine extra cushioning.

Price range: $10 to $50