Best home exercise equipment to keep working out while the gyms are closed

Indybest Team
·22 min read
<p>The mental benefits of exercise are vast: it can boost your mood, relieve stress, improve your memory and help you get a better night’s sleep</p> (iStock/Independent)

The mental benefits of exercise are vast: it can boost your mood, relieve stress, improve your memory and help you get a better night’s sleep

(iStock/Independent)

On Monday 4 January, prime minister Boris Johnson announced a new national lockdown across England, which mandates the closure of all non-essential shops, including gyms, from midnight on 5 January.

The news means that we’re all going to have to get creative with our home workouts again and has even inspired fitness entrepreneur Joe Wicks to relaunch his live “PE lessons”, which first began when the UK went into lockdown for the first time in March 2020 as a way of keeping children fit. The first run of sessions lasted for 18 weeks and one of Wicks’ classes helped him achieve a Guinness World Record, with nearly a million people tuning in live to watch.

Exercise is a vital part of keeping well both mentally and physically, even more so during these challenging times, and there are plenty of ways to work out effectively at home.

The mental benefits of exercise are vast: it can boost your mood, relieve stress, improve your memory and help you get a better night’s sleep. These things are all especially important during a crisis, and luckily there is a range of equipment out there to help you break a sweat at home.

Thanks to social media, we have direct access to top fitness trainers, many of whom have been running live stream work out classes to help people feel connected during the pandemic, plus there’s a range of fitness apps available to help you plan your work outs and stay motivated.

Then there’s the kit you need to take your work out to the next level, from hand weights and rowing machines to yoga mats and fitness skipping ropes.

To help you stay fit while stuck at home, we’ve compiled a list of the best exercise products that will ensure you get the most out of your work out.

You can trust our independent reviews. We may earn commission from some of the retailers, but we never allow this to influence selections, which are formed from real-world testing and expert advice. This revenue helps us to fund journalism across The Independent.

Best fitness app

Fiit membership: From £10 a month, Fiit

Think Netflix, but for fitness. Fiit provides access to many of the best trainers in the country – including Adrienne Herbert, Alex Crockford and Richie Norton – for video-led workouts that can be completed in your bedroom and beyond. There are three categories to choose from – cardio, strength and rebalance, which includes yoga, pilates, mobility and breath work – and all feature sessions comprised of body weight moves, so they’re accessible to everybody.

There are hundreds of videos already available – either 25 or 40 minutes in length and varying in difficulty – and new ones drop frequently. Upgrading to a premium membership (which costs from £10 per month) provides you with a Fiit device, which allows you to live track your heart rate and calories burnt during a workout, and also provides access to unlimited classes and exclusive content. Plus, if you have more specific goals you can try out one of the new personalised training plans, which recommends specific videos along with nutritional advice to help you hit your goals.

Buy now

Read our full round-up of the best fitness apps

Best rowing machine

JTX freedom air folding rower: £569, JTX Fitness

Dimensions: 225 (L) x 58 (W) x 86cm (H)Resistance: Air + magneticWeight: 38kgMax user weight: 130 kg

Combining air resistance with 16 levels of electromagnetic resistance, the Freedom Air is a big step up from some of the other models on our list. We loved the range of guided fitness programmes, which maximise the cardio and strength training benefits on offer. It also ships with a chest strap for monitoring your heart rate for interval programmes, while enabling users to set BPM-based workout targets.

It also offers more detailed metrics like revolutions and power, as well as split times. The more substantial build gives a sense of security while rowing at full speed, while it has a sleeker design than some of the other rowing machines in our round-up. Oh, and if you hadn’t guessed by the name, it folds down too.

Buy now

Read our full round-up of the best rowing machines

Best exercise bike

Schwinn IC8 indoor cycle: £999, Fitness Superstore

indybest
indybest

As you’d expect from renowned bike manufacturer Schwinn, this indoor cycle is straightforward to put together, doesn’t take up a lot of space, and feels solid and stable once you’re done. The flywheel is super quiet and impressively smooth, using magnetic resistance to level up from 1-100 on the bike’s computer, making it easy to play around with to find the level needed.

We found the dipped handlebars were ergonomic and comfortable to grip, and the saddle takes the pressure off in all the right places. There is a small digital display to feed back your usual metrics (time, calories, speed etc), but the bike really comes into its own when you connect it (via Bluetooth) it to an external app like Zwift, Explore the World or even the Peloton app and use the media cradle with your own tablet or phone. We also liked the dual water bottle holders for those super sweaty sessions.

Buy now

Read our full round-up of the best exercise bikes

Best boxing gloves

Venum elite boxing gloves: From £54.90, Amazon

Sizes: 8-16oz​Material: Skintex leatherUse: Training

These gloves have been completely handmade in Thailand with 100 per cent Skintex leather (which is a high quality imitation leather making it suitable for vegan pugilists). These gloves offer a triple density foam, which serves to minimise shock and reduce the stress on your arms whenever you make impact. There’s a mesh panel underneath the fist to improve thermal regulation and of all the gloves tested, these were the least sweaty. The long Velcro cuffs and the fact the thumb is also fully attached to the glove, are both helpful for injury prevention. Plus, that matte black finish is all kinds of menacing.

Buy now

Read our full round-up of the best boxing gloves

Best women’s yoga pants

Sweaty Betty power gym leggings: £75, Sweaty Betty

We’ve been wearing these Sweaty Betty Power leggings for years now and can confirm that even after hundreds of gym sessions and just as many machine washes, they’re still as good as new. They feature a small zip pocket at the back where you can stash your keys and another pocket on one side, perfect for storing your phone. These fit us perfectly but there’s also an internal drawcord if you need to make them tighter at the waist. The stretchy fabric is very flattering, with one fellow gym-goer even coming over to compliment us while we were wearing them (not something we’d expect when red-faced and out of puff).

Buy now

Read our full round-up of the best women’s yoga leggings

Best men’s yoga pants

Warrior Addict eco-warrior sweatpants: £70, Yoga Emporium

These sweatpants do everything you want in yoga pants: they stretch effortlessly when you need them to, are lightweight and comfortable, and they stay cool even when your movements are pacey. The material, Tencel, is also antibacterial. Tencel is made from wood pulp and there is even an eco story: Warrior Addict makes them from up-cycled sample fabric – most companies don’t use all their sample fabric. The blue is dark and discreet-looking. Also available in grey cotton for lower-intensity yoga.

Buy now

Read our full round-up of the best men’s yoga kit

Best yoga mat

Liforme yoga mat: £100, Liforme

The first mat to convert our reviewer to a smooth surface, this ingenious, spacious offering from Liforme is as balanced as a good tree pose. The surface is really grippy, even in the most intense hot yoga class our reviewer tried, and it is longer and wider than most (at 185cm x 68cm) and it sits right at the sweet spot for thickness (4.2mm). What makes it so unique, though, is the grid system laid over the top to help you align yourself in poses.

This is brilliant for anyone with a home practice, who doesn’t have a teacher on hand for adjustments. The lines are very slightly textured and they do take a bit of getting used to – particularly if you have a set shape for downward dog, for example – but it’s worth playing with. The mat comes with its own carry bag but is heavy; if you plan to mostly use it at home, that doesn’t matter.

Buy now

Read our full round-up of the best yoga mats

Best men’s running shoes

New Balance fresh foam 1080v10 London: £140, New Balance

indybest
indybest

If you’re nervously anticipating your first marathon then you can give yourself the best possible chance of finishing by partnering up with this responsive shoe. Nice and lightweight, so you know the shoes won’t turn into bricks after mile five, these give a really smooth ride on the road and keeps the legs feeling fresh even on the longest of runs.

Cushioning is so important in running kicks that the material often gets name checked in the branding, and these shoes are no different. The “freshfoam” midsole is one of the best on test and when you combine this with a stretchy knit upper, which is fantastic at keeping the foot in place and anchoring the heel, you have a real all rounder that excels in comfort and performance.

Buy now

Read our full round-up of the best men’s running shoes

Best men’s trail running shoes

Inov-8 roclite G275: £114.90, Wiggle

Inov-8
Inov-8

The British manufacturer, which specialises in trail, has introduced graphene into the 6mm studs of this shoe which makes them very hard wearing (essential for the amount of punishment trail shoes get) without having to forgo the sticky grip needed on tough, technical trails. The shoe dug in superbly through thick mud and the traction wasn’t compromised even when we were transiting smooth sections of wet rock. The construction never felt rigid, which meant that the shoe gave a really nice ride both on the trail and over any road sections that you might need to cover on your way there.

Buy now

Read our full round-up of the best men’s trail running shoes

Best women’s running shoes

New Balance fresh foam 1080v10: £135, New Balance

New Balance
New Balance

This fairly light, neutral shoe is billed as having an “energetic rebound” and that couldn’t be more true – it gives a gazelle-like spring. It comes in different widths but the standard is fairly wide already and supremely comfortable. The heel design is the perfect balance between secure and gentle, cupping the heel comfortably.

The sublime cushioning kept our legs feeling fresh on a 15km run – these are high-mileage shoes and we would happily train for a marathon in them. The grooves in the outsole that help to flex the shoe are well placed for a smooth and effortless ride.

Buy now

Read our full round-up of the best women’s running shoes

Best women’s trail running shoes

Saucony peregrine 10: £110, Saucony

Saucony
Saucony

A neutral shoe with a low profile that doesn’t look far off a regular running shoe. But its appearance belies its performance. The 5mm lugs grip like Spiderman in the mud, but still managed some road sections without feeling too clumpy, and there’s enough cushioning for comfort but without losing too much ground feel. The 4mm heel to toe drop makes them feel quite racy and they’re nicely responsive. There’s a small lace strap across the tongue for tucking your laces into and a small ring at the base of the laces for attaching gaiters if you want to – both nice touches. They’re slightly on the narrower side, so if you have wide feet and you may want to go half a size up.

Buy now

Read our full round-up of the best women’s trail running shoes

Best running socks

Under Armour run cushion crew sock: £15, Under Armour

Under Armour
Under Armour

These are the kind of socks where you give a little sigh as you slide them on. Cushioning in the right places, ventilation in the right places, breathable but warm for colder runs, a supportive arch, a reflective logo on the back, no lumpy seams and a funky crew length. The part of the sock that comes up the leg is the same thinner, ventilated fabric as the upper foot, making it low profile enough to wear under running tights if you want to.

Buy now

Read our full round-up of the best running socks

Best women’s winter running jacket

Asics accelerate jacket: £125, Asics

Asics
Asics

Soft and extremely comfortable, this jacket provides all you need in a training jacket – breathability, warmth and protection from the wind and rain. It’s waterproof but the soft fabric means that it’s not as noisy on a run as a crinkly sounding traditional waterproof. It dried quickly after getting wet and the nicely designed hood doesn’t flop into your face.

All we’d say is that you may want to size up if you want an autumn base layer underneath – it moves well with your body and it’s a good length but it’s quite a form-fitting, narrow jacket with a tapered waist so a bigger size would give you a bit more room.

Buy now

Read our full round-up of the best women’s winter running jackets

Best women’s running tights

Under Armour women’s UA rush cold gear running rights: £42, Under Armour

Under Armour
Under Armour

Under Armour promises these tights have been tested and are “proven to improve strength and endurance”. How on earth does that work, we hear you ask. Well, apparently the mineral-infused fabric absorbs the energy your body emits and reflects it back to your tissues and muscles, meaning you can work harder...

We're not 100 per cent sure of the science, but we were super excited about testing this pair – and are pleased to report that whatever magic the brand's worked on, it does seem to make a difference. These compression tights felt like they were actually helping to support our muscles during our sessions, preventing any signs of cramp and keeping us comfortable throughout.

Like many of the other pairs on the market, the super-soft fabric is warm at the same time as being breathable with an elastic waistband helping to ensure they stay in place. Crucially, they have two pockets including that all-important zippered back pocket so you don't have to carry your keys in your hand (or stuff them down your bra).

Buy now

Read our full round-up of the best women’s running tights

Best men’s winter running gear

New Balance impact run heat tight: £70, New Balance

indybest
indybest

Tights are a winter running staple: you can pair them with just about any outfit to make it suitable for cold weather, layer them up to keep warm without adding too much bulk, and they look very cool. New Balance’s do all of that – somehow managing to feel comfortable in both warm and cold weather, and across long and short runs. Made from wick-way fabric, they’re have useful details like a very clever pocket built into the sides to carry your phone or any other valuables without it feeling bulky.

Buy now

Read our full round-up of the best men’s winter running gear

Best running watch

Garmin forerunner 935: £389.99, Garmin

indybest
indybest

A running watch that stands on the shoulders of giants, the 935 is Garmin’s 29th release in the Forerunner series (its line specifically for runners and triathletes), so it’s no surprise then that this flagship model is the best running watch on the market.

It boasts a great battery life while still being lightweight (49g) and has a very clear colour screen (NB, not touch screen). Its menus are easy to navigate using the annotated buttons, and little touches such as the autolap alert delivers a strong vibration and a backlit few seconds so you can glance at your stats even in the dark (others are more subtle meaning sometimes you’d miss the autolap alert).

As well as being great for running, it has the added bonus of being totally at home with multi-discipline activities such as swimming and cycling – it’s effectively the replacement to the 920XT for those familiar with Garmin watches.

This is a very impressive piece of hardware indeed – built in barometric altimeter, compass, gyroscope, accelerometer and thermometer – perhaps the only let down is Garmin Connect, but then does that really matter? All your data can be auto-synced with the likes of Strava, so we don’t see this as a particular drawback.

Buy now

Read our full round-up of the best running watches

Best running armband

Armpocket racer: £25.99, Armpocket

Armpocket
Armpocket

This armband is the brand’s bestseller and we can see why. It isn’t the lowest profile armband that we tested, but it ticks all our performance boxes. Its padded backing with sweat wicking mesh feels smooth against the arm and wraps nicely around it. The soft strap has ventilation holes in it, and it stayed put throughout a run. The pocket is also weatherproof, which many are not, so it’s our choice for muddy trails and rainy runs. A small internal pocket can house a key and some cash, or a credit card, and there are three holes for headphone port access at the bottom. There's a nod to sustainability too with its bamboo rayon mesh and recycled plastic fabric. It fits devices up to 5.5in in length and the racer plus model houses bigger phones.

Buy now

Read our full round-up of the best running armbands

Best running headphones

Jabra elite active 75t: £189, Amazon

Jabra
Jabra

Battery life: 7.5 hours (earbuds), 28 hours (charging case)

Size: 0.9 x 0.76 x 0.6 inches

Sweatproof and waterproof: Yes

Do I need to download an app? Yes

By far our favourite, thest perform superbly during high-impact exercises and are the most comfortable pair by far. Be prepared to run, jump and burpee without any interruptions or feeling the need to readjust the earbuds – they fit snugly without the feeling of completely blocking your ears.

The noise cancelling capabilities are excellent, and if you’d rather be able to hear what’s going on around you, pressing the button on the left earbud once activates the "hear through" function that allows you to hear ambient sound with astonishing clarity. Too much clarity? Use the Jabra+ sound app to adjust how much ambient sound is allowed in.

You do have to download an app in order to use them, which might feel a bit inconvenient to start with. But once connected, using the earbuds is a breeze and the app allows you to set different audio profiles, adjust call volumes and update the earbuds whenever a new software version comes about.

The charging case is small and compact, and feels sleek. Popping the earbuds into their magnetic spaces automatically turns them off and disconnects them from your phone.

Many true wireless headphones tend to result in some uncomfortable in-ear pressure, depending on the fit and shape of your own ear. For our tester, that pressure usually means being able to hear her own breathing or the impact of her own footsteps – neither of which she wants to have to listen to while powering through a run. With these, that pressure is non-existent.

Buy now

Read our full round-up of the best running headphones

Best fitness tracker

Withings pulse HR tracker: £89.95, Withings

Heart Rate monitor? YesWater-resistant? 50mBuilt-in GPS? NoBattery life: Up to 20 days

Withings makes outstanding health and fitness gadgets, from smart bathroom scales to sleep monitoring pads. This one can track over 30 different activities and the built-in heart rate monitor measures heart rate continuously during workouts. There’s also sophisticated sleep monitoring that can analyse how well you’ve slept, showing a graph with details in terms of light and deep sleep on your smartphone.

Since it’s lightweight enough to wear in bed, it’s a great sleep companion. You can also set smart alarms, that is, the tracker will spot when you’re going from deep to light sleep and wake you at that moment when it happens just before your set alarm time. This means you are waking up at the optimum moment in your sleep cycle and, because it wakes you through vibration, your significant other can keep slumbering.

Although it doesn’t have GPS built in, if you’re running with your smartphone it can connect to that. The Withings interface on the app is clear and attractive and if you have other Withings devices, the information is collated there, too. Some basic notifications are passed from your phone to your wrist but this is primarily a health gadget.

Buy now

Read our full round-up of the best fitness trackers

Best fitness skipping rope

Beast Gear beast rope pro: £14.97, Beast Gear

In our previous roundup on the best fitness skipping ropes, the beast rope came top by a country mile. This time around, we’ve turned to Beast Gear’s next generation beast rope pro – and we’re pleased to say that it is one of those rare sequels where it’s even better than the original.

Like its cousin, the beast rope pro is fast, durable and pretty nice to look at. It includes a unique double bearing system, which enables a smooth rotation, and a locking mechanism to prevent the cable from slipping, even during the fastest workouts.

The steel coated cable is ultra strong and can withstand users putting it through its paces day after day in HIIT sessions, interval training and longer aerobic workouts. We loved the smaller, lighter handles, which are hollow, and found it aided our sessions although some beginners might prefer something a little more chunky. Plus, the rope is easy to adjust and you get a nylon bag for storage. What’s not to like?

Buy now

Read our full round-up of the best fitness skipping ropes

Best winter cycling gloves

Rapha winter gloves: £80, Rapha

Rapha
Rapha

London-based cycling brand Rapha has pedalled through its fair share British winters. That’s evident when you pull these snug-fitting winter gloves on for the first time. Boasting insulated padding to the back of the hand, strategically positioned gel inserts to the palm, a DWR coating and a secure ribbed cuff, they’re perfectly equipped to block out the worst of the weather while keeping you planted on the bars.

The touchscreen functionality was the most efficient of all the gloves we tested and the reflective detail on the little finger is a nice addition too. The fleecy lining is soft and comfortable and finger mobility is so good it’s easy to forget you have gloves on at all after a few miles.

Buy now

Read our full round-up of the best winter cycling gloves

Best women’s cycling jackets

Rapha explore women’s pullover: £250, Rapha

Rapha
Rapha

Best known for its ultra stylish, race-ready professional kit, Rapha has recently expanded its range to include more bikepacking/expedition kit. Our reviewer lives in Rapha kit on ultra long distance rides, and this pullover jacket is her new favourite. It’s lightweight but absolutely weatherproof, comes with a hood – an often forgotten, extremely useful feature for a cycling jacket – and has a generous map and phone-sized pocket on the front. We love how this looks on, as it combines Rapha’s signature tailored look with a looser (but not baggy) fit, which also makes it easy to pull on over your baselayer.

Buy now

Read our full round-up of the best women’s cycling jackets

Best men’s autumn cycling top

Rapha brevet insulated gilet: £130, Rapha

Rapha
Rapha

If there is a piece of clothing that sums up the needs of autumnal cyclists, it is this one: somehow both incredibly light and astonishingly well-insulated, it is perfect for the days that awkwardly hover between jacket and jersey weather. Somehow this gilet will keep you the perfect temperature; just enough heat stays in, and rain bounces off it like magic. Plus, if you get too warm, the zip opens up, or it can be easily rolled up and stashed away in a jersey pocket. Autumn demands versatility, and this has that and so much more.

Buy now

Read our full round-up of the best men’s autumn cycling tops

Best reusable water bottle

Thermos super light direct drink flask in rose pink, 350ml: £21.99, Lakeland

This diminutive Thermos holds an impressive 350ml of liquid despite its size and is super lightweight too, making it brilliant for squeezing into a handbag on your commute or a suitcase even. The clever flip-lock airtight design ensures this will never leak or spill (it didn’t!) and there is an insert inside the mouth of the flask for easy sipping on the go. All Thermos products are brilliant for keeping things hot or cold, and this model keeps soups, coffee etc piping hot for eight hours and drinks cool for 24 – it’s best to get the flask to temperature first with hot or cold water before pouring away and adding your desired contents if you’re going to put these claims to the test. We’ve opted for the metallic rose colour, but there is also a graphite option too. It’s a little fiddly to hand wash all the components of the lid after something like soup (again, not dishwasher-proof) but overall a brilliant and reliable buy.

Buy now

Read our full round-up of the best reusable water bottles

Looking to take up running? Read our beginner’s guide to getting started

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