Home Gym: Essential Gear

Becoming a better runner is about more than just running - you need to make your body fit for purpose through cross-training. And with gym memberships having bitten the dust at the first sign of the credit crunch, and winter having curled its frosty tendrils round our toes, now's the time to turn your living room, spare room or garage into an elite (but cost effective) training facility.

Here's our pick of the best stay-at-home kit - so you never have to choose between a good workout and EastEnders.

Plyo Ball (6 lb)

£58.50; fitnessaccessories.co.uk

These sand- and air-filled medicine balls come in various sizes and weights. A textured surface makes for easy grip and they can be bounced against a wall or floor, too.

Foam Roller

£21.99; physioroom.com

Use this firm EVA roller as part of your regular recovery routine. It is ideal for stretching, improving core strength, posture and stability, and is an easy way to self-massage the major muscles after exercise.

Original Step

£66.60; fitproshop.com

Popular in aerobics classes the world over, the step is extremely versatile and means that using a dining chair to do elevated press ups, tricep dips and step-ups is a thing of the past. It comes with flat and angled risers so you can adjust the height and gradient of the step to suit you.

Step Straps

£9.70 each; fitproshop.com

Pound for pound (or rather ounce for ounce, as these are super light) Step Straps are one of the best pieces of home kit you can buy. Easily stored, cheap and available in different strengths, you can use these babies to work your arms, legs, back, core...in fact, all the major (and minor) muscle groups in your body.

Training Mat

£24.99; argos.co.uk

This 10mm-thick training mat has a ribbed underside for good grip, and rolls up to attach to shoulder straps for easy carrying.

Dynamic Movement Skills Mat

From £175 with DVD and manual; runningschool.co.uk
"A bit like hopscotch for grown-ups, this mat will improve your motor skills and foot speed as well as strengthening your core, toning leg muscles and giving you a cardio workout," says Mike Antoniades, director of The Running School in London (runningschool.co.uk).


Make it Work

Around the World

1 Stand with your feet together in the middle of the mat. Jump forward so your feet hit the letter A.
2 Then move clockwise through B, C and D. This is one rep.
3 See how many reps you can do in 20 seconds. The faster you go, the more you'll have to engage your core. Do three sets of 20 seconds with one-minute recoveries.

TRX

From £115; trxfitness.co.uk

"This workout strap can be hung from a door hook, fireplace or a tree. It uses your body weight to give you an all-over strength training session," says RW running coach Nick Anderson.


Make it Work

Plank to Prone Pike

"This improves core, arm and shoulder strength," says Anderson.

1 Assume a plank position on the floor, before putting your feet in the stirrups and pushing up on to your hands into a press-up position, back straight. Adjust the TRX straps if necessary.
2 Keeping your legs straight and elbows locked, pull your feet towards your body, making sure your toes are pointed to the floor and your bum pushed up so you form an upside-down V shape. Lower again. This is one rep.
3 Perform as many reps as you can. Rest for one minute. Do one more set.

ViPR (6KG)

£137; fitproshop.com

"The ViPR is the kit of the moment," says Anderson. "It's popular because it is an easy alternative  to using a barbell in your living room and, as a single item with the weight evenly distributed, it's easier to manipulate." ViPR bars come in different weights and they are not cheap, so think carefully about the weights you are likely to need for most of your exercises before you purchase. The more room you have in your home workout space, the more you can do with them  (they come with an exercise manual), but even if you live in a bedsit you can gain great benefits from using them for squats, cleans, leg presses and moves such as the following stability exercise.


Make it Work

Woodchopper

This classic runner's exercise strengthens the muscles around your knee and activates your glutes and  rear leg muscles - which is crucial for preventing poor form and avoiding overuse injuries such as runner's knee and hamstring strains.

1 Stand tall with your legs placed at hip-width apart and the ViPR above your head to the right, the end facing forwards.
2 Crouch down into a two-legged squat, keeping your core engaged, back straight and your weight on your heels. As you do so, bring the ViPR down in front of you, across your body and down to the left so it ends up with the other end facing forwards down by your lower left leg. Make sure you keep your hips and pelvis facing forwards as you do this, and do not allow your body to twist.
3 Come up from the squat, bring the ViPR back up across your body and return to your starting position. That's one woodchopper rep.
4 Do three sets of 20 per side with one-minute recoveries.

York 6KG Vinyl Kettle Bell

£14.70; argos.co.uk

Perfect for doing a core workout in your living room, this compact weight packs a mighty punch. As opposed to simply building muscle, as lifting dumbbells will, the act of swinging your way through a kettlebell routine forces you to engage your core and activates the kinetic chain (the sequence of muscles used to power you through the running cycle). This in turn makes your body more efficient at switching on the correct muscle groups at the right time.


Make it Work

Kettlebell Cleans

"This is perfect for working your glutes and the backs of your legs in a tight space, without having to swing a barbell around under the light fittings," says Anderson.

1 Crouch down into a squat position, keeping your back straight. Pick up the kettlebell with one hand.
2 With your weight on your heels, drive up using your thighs.
3 Lift the kettlebell to just below chin level. As you do so, change your grip so your palm is facing up and your elbow pointing out.
4 Push the kettlebell up above your head as far as you can with your arm outstretched, while pushing up on to the balls of your feet so you are as tall as possible.
5 Return through the move back down into your original squat position. That's one rep. Do a total of three sets of 10 per side with one-minute recoveries in between.

Gymstick Bootcamp

£99.90; gymstickuk.com

A versatile piece of kit that can be used for flexibility and mobility training as well as for building and lengthening muscles all over your body. Not bad for something that takes up no more space in your living room than a snooker cue. This model comes with a DVD, a wall chart of exercises, an extra resistance band and a carry case.


Make it Work

Floor Row

"This is great for working your upper back," says Anderson. "The pull works the rhomboids, the laterals and all the muscles that you use to drive the arms during the recoil phase (backwards push) of running. It's important to work on this because arm speed helps dictate foot speed, so introduce some upper back toning work into your routine."

1 Sit on the floor with your legs out straight, hip-width apart. Fasten the straps round your feet and adjust them so you have to bend forwards at the waist with your arms reaching the bar.
2 Grasp the bar with hands shoulder width apart and pull back towards you in a rowing motion, keeping your elbows tucked in. Release.
3 Do three sets of one minute with 30-second recoveries.

FreeFORM

From £215.99; freeformboard.com

An ingenious tool that brings muscle-developing instability to strength, balance and mobility training. This multi-directional balance board comes with a DVD and manual to show you new, more intense ways of doing many of the moves commonly practised in Pilates, yoga and other conditioning classes.


Make it Work

Standing Circumduction

This move mobilises the hip joint, as well as improving balance and proprioception (the ability to sense and adjust the orientation of the body), which will make you a more flexible and light-footed runner.

1 Stand with your right foot on the floor and your left on the FreeFORM.
2 Keeping an upright posture and engaging your core, push the board in front of you (12 o'clock), maintaining control with your foot. Pull it back to the centre with your leg straight and without letting your hips sag.
3 Now push it out to your left (nine o'clock) and return. Then push backwards (six o'clock) and return
4 Repeat the cycle returning upwards (nine, 12) and back down again. Keep going for one minute. Do three sets of one minute with 30-second recoveries.
5 Repeat on your right foot.