It’s a total myth that you need an entire gym – with hefty machines and monkey bars – to get fit. While the popularity of the video workout soared during the pandemic, many of us also discovered that all you need is a 3-foot by 6-foot space to lay a mat down (with a bit of room around it so you don’t kick anything over), perhaps a couple of small pieces of equipment and some great online instruction.
Fitness brands have become super savvy about creating simple, extremely lightweight portable exercise equipment that will fold up so small they can fit into your handbag or carry-on so you can work out any time, any place, anywhere from your bedroom to hotel room.
Here are some of our favorite portable pieces of kit you can travel with or workout at home with, and also pack away so they aren’t an eye-sore afterwards.
The packable yoga mat
Don’t listen to anyone that says a towel will suffice for a mat – it won’t. In fact, we would say it’s probably the most important piece of fitness equipment you can own because a workout is transformed if you can grip the floor. One of the best travel mats we've come across is the Manduka ProLite Yoga Mat, which is light but amazingly grippy (and a yoga teacher favorite). Another favorite is the YOGO Ultralight Travel Yoga Mat, an eco-friendly folding mat made from natural tree rubber that folds up to the size of a newspaper.
A phone holder
Having spoken to a few people about their online workouts, the one bugbear that they have is that they can’t see their phone or tablet, or that it keeps falling over mid-workout. If this sounds like you, then you might want to invest in a phone holder. Some of our favorites are the Lamicall Gooseneck Flexible Arm Clip, which will attach to a desk or chair and allows you to angle your phone however you wish. Alternatively, if you prefer to put it on a flat surface, then their Cell Phone Stand will support your phone while you sweat.
The full body gym (that fits in your handbag)
There's nothing new about the TRX. Created by a Navy Seal Squadron Commander, Randy Hetrick, he created the first version of TRX in 1997 using only a Jiu Jitsu belt and parachute webbing, rigging it up wherever he was in order to keep fit away from home. In 2001 he then created a proper version, selling it out of the trunk of his car. Today the brand is known globally as a trusted training system and is even used by the US Marine Corps.
Why do we love it? Because it negates the use of big machines. Just one very strong strap with handles, you attach The TRX Suspension Trainer to either a door frame, a tree branch, a hook or a beam and you're ready to work out with just your body weight. With a downloadable app to take you through a series of guided workouts, it can improve fitness, strength, core stability, and is a great all-over full body blast wherever you are.
The pocket PT
Stephen Pasternino (the P in Pvolve) is a personal trainer to Hollywood’s elite. The man behind many a Victoria Secret and celebrity body (Pvolve just recently announced a new partnership with Jennifer Aniston), Stephen has invented a unique way of working out, developed from years of training. “After years of study,” he says, “It was clear to me that other workouts were doing it wrong. They push muscles beyond their capabilities while ignoring others, putting too much pressure on joints and creating pain and injury. You don’t need to hurt yourself to transform your body.”
The result is a set of small, packable and almost weightless pieces of equipment – the P.ball thigh toner (which can be pumped up and deflated to save on space), the P.band and the P.3 Trainer, which makes use of bands that attach to different limbs to increase resistance. It’s essential to follow the app in order to get the exercises right, but this is a whole-body workout designed to create a long, lean body. If it’s good enough for Jennifer Aniston…
The world’s smallest, lightest and cheapest exercise equipment
If you enter any gym these days or have a session with a personal trainer, you will undoubtedly encounter the use of exercise bands. Originally used in physio rehabilitation, they're essentially very large elastic bands that you can use in a variety of ways to increase resistance and strength without the need for heavy weights.
The smallest, most portable, lightweight and inexpensive piece of exercise equipment there is, one of the most well-known is Theraband. Alternatively, the Wodskai resistant bands are a new type of band with added benefits: coated in cotton, they don’t pull, roll up or rub skin like some of the latex ones do, are made from environmentally-friendly rubber and look super stylish. Download the Virtual Trainer Resistance Band app for guided exercises.
The handbag trainers
Imagine a pair of trainers so light you could roll them up and stash them in your handbag. There is such a thing: the Women’s Primus Lite Trainer Running Shoe from Vivo Barefoot is a high-tech barefoot running experience that follows the natural shape of the foot without interfering with natural movement. Made from lightweight recycled, they can also be rolled up almost to the size of a rolled sock. Yes, really.
The suitcase-friendly foam roller
If you exercise a lot, then you may use a foam roller for ironing out knots in your fascia. When traveling, the Blackroll Duo Ball Foam Roller is perfect for stashing in your overnight bag, is virtually weightless and really helps to massage and release all-over muscle tension.
If you’re a bit lost when it comes to exercising on your own, then follow a tried and tested fitness app. Here are our favorites…
Best all-round fitness app
The Nike Training App is one of the best fitness apps out there. With 185+ workouts to choose from, the options in this app are endless. You can exercise different areas of your body such as arms or abs, take fitness advice and follow videos from world-class trainers and athletes, choose boxing, yoga, strength, or endurance work, use bodyweight-only or light equipment, and you can tailor the exercises from beginner level to athlete. What’s more (and the best bit), is it’s free.
The Yoga app
Whether you want to do yoga to lose weight, build strength, get better sleep, help develop a spiritual practice, become more flexible or just go with the yoga flow, then Asana Rebel is the one for you. When you have zero time, there’s a 5-minute workout, and when you have more, you can boost your mindfulness as well as your body with ‘Music for Focus.’ With specific yoga for men as well as meditation sessions, it’s one app everyone can benefit from.
For hormone-attuned health
Created by Olympic Gold medalist and women's health champion Jess Ennis-Hill, the Jennis app delivers results by tapping into hormonal health science and syncing your hormones with daily expert-backed fitness, lifestyle and nutrition recommendations that directly map to the four menstrual cycle phases (they also have a perimenopause program). The best part, though? The high-quality exercise combinations were developed with busy schedules in mind and are between just 5 to 35 minutes, driving big results even when you're short on time.
Pilates that packs a punch
If you haven’t heard of Zero Gravity Pilates then you're missing an ab-firming trick. Set up by UK-based Chris Richardson (a one-time trainer of Claudia Schiffer), his cheeky persona will have you hooked after one session. With a following that jumped to 101,000 over the pandemic, he regularly has 10,000 attend per class from all around the world, with many British celebrities often tuning in as well from football star Rio Ferdinand to TV presenter Rochelle Humes - both of whom he has done a live workout with and whom he pokes fun at throughout.
This body-changing workout works by isolating the muscle he wants to work, then activating it so that it fires up, fatiguing it with a high number of reps and then stretching and elongating that muscle. Classes are 45 minutes long, start at 3 pm EST/10 am GMT every day and are for all abilities and ages.