Monica Zielinski ▪ May 4, 2023
When I was an in-home mobile personal trainer for 6 years, I had some client prospects debating between going to the gym and training with me from their home. I was constantly asked this question in consultations: “Are you sure I can get fit from home with no equipment?” And my response was always, “Yes. You just need enough room in your home to fit a yoga mat.”
Many people believe that in order to achieve a fit and healthy body requires fancy machines. Although those are great in targeting muscles and can add variety to your workouts, they are NOT necessary. In fact, for the general public, I would stay away from them. Not because they aren’t useful, but because they don’t train our bodies to function in the way they do in a normal day-to-day life. The only time you’re ever going to be strapped into a machine and required to lift weights is at the gym. But in real life, you’re walking up stairs or mountains. You’re pushing, pulling, and lifting free weights. You’re sitting down and getting up from a chair. You don’t get the support that a machine gives you, so you’re required to use your core strength. Machines are great for variety, bodybuilding, and safer for older clients because the weight is controlled. But even when I worked at a gym, with most of my clientele middle aged and seniors, I would use machines with my clients maybe 20% of the time. The rest of the time we focused on exercises specific to their day-to-day life.
There are several benefits to exercising without machines. Using bodyweight, resistance bands, and free weights in my opinion is the best way to get stronger, for life. One of the benefits is accessibility. I can’t even imagine the number of people who stopped working out when the gyms closed during the pandemic because they had no idea how to continue their workouts! Learning to get a good workout no matter where you are is crucial. You could be on vacation down south or at the cottage and you can still get your workout in, no excuses.
Another benefit is versatility. While I did say gym machines can add variety to your workouts, you can’t really add variety to the machine itself. There is usually just one way to do the exercise. Whereas if you do say a pushup, you can start with a wall pushup, then on your knees, then toes, then tricep pushups, then explosive pushups, you catch my drift? There are so many ways you can play around with the variables, including tempo, body position, and order of the exercises. Which by the way is much easier to do at home than at a gym because you’ll never be waiting for a machine that’s being used by someone who’s chilling on their phone, haha.
The third benefit to working out with your bodyweight or free weights is that it challenges your balance and builds functional strength. So what if you’re strong in a lying leg curl if you’re never going to be in that position in the world outside the gym? Although it can increase your hamstring strength, why not focus on strengthening the hamstrings AND be functional at the same time, by doing deadlifts for example? This teaches you to lift and lower weights without hurting your back, something I know most people would benefit from. I also know from experience with clients that the more support you get from a machine for example, the sloppier your form gets and the less your core works. However when you’re dealing with body weight, free weights, or resistance bands, you need to be a lot more focused in order to feel the right muscles. You also have less support so you need to have a strong core to do it correctly in the first place. Getting a strong core is one of the first things you need to do at the beginning of your fitness journey. In my gym days, I would notice that many people would build strength using machines, which don’t demand as much core strength as free weights or bodyweight, due to the added support. Consequently, they would lack the core strength needed to do day-to-day lifts like squats and deadlifts with proper form because although their other muscles were getting stronger, their core had not caught up.
In conclusion, the idea that you need fancy machines to get fit is a common misconception. Bodyweight fitness and using free weights is both highly effective and very functional for life. You can build strength and make your life physically easier without fancy machines. So don’t let a lack of equipment excuse you from your next workout; your body is all you need to achieve your fitness goals!