30 things that can help you work out this summer—even during a pandemic
Fitness is all about finding what works for you.
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When it comes to getting in shape, I’ve heard the same piece of advice my entire life: “the best fitness routine is the one you can stick with.” Like most good advice, this didn’t really sink in until I went and figured it out for myself. I don’t know about you, but there’s no way on earth I’m going to be able to convince myself to eat certain foods and do certain exercises if I hate those foods and I hate those exercises. The solution, it turns out, is exactly what everyone has told me for years. Find a way to love fitness.
Loving fitness can mean totally different things for different people, but for just about everyone, it should include two main components: nutrition and movement. Warm weather is fast approaching (woo!), which means there are more and more opportunities to get active outdoors. This is especially great news since most of the gyms around the country are still closed, so if you’ve been itching to focus on your fitness, you can take advantage of the changing seasons.
Whether you’re a devoted fitness fanatic or just starting to explore fitness in the safety of your own home, we’ve put together a list of everything you need to get you started.
1. A pair of running shoes to absorb impact without weighing you down
A good pair of running shoes should give you some bounce without feeling super heavy. Running can be hard on your joints, so it’s important to have enough cushioning to absorb the shock of hitting the pavement—but at the same time, there’s nothing worse than feeling like you’re wasting energy dragging heavy soles.
This pair of running shoes from Hoka strike just the right balance for cardio. Reviewer Tim spoke about finding this balance, saying, "I was looking for something that had a low drop, nice support and cushioning, and a low weight. This shoe hits all the checks mark. Plus it looks fresh and nice.”
It’s worth noting that while this might be the perfect pair for jogging and sprinting, it might not be the right pair if you’re more interested in powerlifting. If that’s the case, spend some time looking for shoes that are nice and sturdy to help perfect your form.
2. A pair of headphones that will actually stay in place for your whole run
I have probably spent hours of my precious life retrieving earbuds that have popped out of my ears while working out. Thanks to these super popular headphones from AfterShokz, that doesn’t have to be you! We love how well these headphones stay in place, but that’s not even their coolest feature. They’re waterproof, so you don’t have to worry about them when you head out in the drizzle, and they’re also bone conducting.
If you’ve never heard of bone conducting headphones (I hadn’t), they work by vibrating sound right through your cheekbones. This makes them a better option for people who have experienced hearing loss, and also means they can protect against additional hearing damage. It’s pretty cool stuff, although reviewers warn that they don’t get super loud—but if you’re running outside, they’re perfect to help you listen to your music while staying aware of traffic.
3. A sports bra that will support your body without attacking your wallet
If you’re a person who buys bras, you know it’s rare for them to be both cheap and good. This can be an issue when looking for sports bras in particular, since working out tends to be when you need the most support. Luckily, this sports bra from Under Armour is super affordable and also has a following of devoted fans on REI.
One buyer, Melissa, writes, “I was thrilled at the Easter egg in this strappy sports bra's construction: the removable pads are each embossed with which side they correspond to (L/R) with an arrow that shows the orientation and direction to slide them in. PERFECT! Never seen that feature in a sports bra before, I love it. I buy this bra model whenever the color can be worked into my wardrobe.”
4. A windbreaker that will help you rise above your excuses
If you’re like me, it can be way too easy to grab hold of any excuse not to get moving. Does it look like it might start drizzling? Guess I better stay in bed! The best thing I can do for myself—and probably the best thing you can do for yourself, too—is to anticipate those excuses and get them out of the way. Patagonia is a great brand for high-quality outdoor gear, but that doesn’t mean everything costs hundreds of dollars. Their most popular windbreaker is also their cheapest one, and it’s beloved by buyers.
Kiki, who wears the jacket everywhere from high-elevation runs to chilly movie theaters, says that the windbreaker “is so light and can really add some warmth. Sounds crazy for such a lightweight jacket, but it works.” For an easier way to layer up during outdoor athletics, this jacket should do the trick.
5. A hydration pack that will keep you moving without getting in the way
If a full hydration vest sounds like a lot to you, but you still need a hands-free way to carry your water bottle, you might want to consider this secure and spacious waist pack from REI. This pack has space for your water bottle, headphones, and snacks, and reviewers love that it stays in place and doesn’t bounce even during fast-paced exercise. It’s like if you took the general concept of a fanny pack and made it a hundred times better.
Reviewer PunkPink notes how snug the whole pack is, and says you “barely notice it's even there. You're also able to fit other water bottles securely if you wanted to by using the little loop.” Other reviewers also say that while the pack holds a water bottle firmly, it’s surprisingly easy to pull the bottle from the pack, so you don’t have to fuss with it while you’re moving.
Equipment to up your at-home workout game
6. Our favorite water bottle to keep your drink cool and refreshing
I know, I know, you’re already a pro at staying hydrated when you workout. But we all need a water bottle upgrade from time to time, and it doesn’t get much better than this option from Brita, which also happens to be our very favorite bottle on the market right now. During our tests, we loved how this stainless steel bottle keeps drinks cool, and how it keeps water tasting crisp and fresh. It’s also the perfect size to take out on a run or to the gym—at 20oz, it has enough capacity to keep your thirst quenched, but it’s not so big it’ll get in the way.
Oh, and in case you missed it—yeah, this is a filtering water bottle. That means you don’t have to wonder if your gym’s water fountain filter has been replaced lately. Here’s to having one less thing to worry about!
7. The best Fitbit to track your progress
If you’re a gadget geek who likes the idea of a single device that can track your activity, remind you to start moving, and keep track of your diet, a Fitbit might be a great choice. If you’ve never used a Fitbit before, you might wonder if it’s worth the investment. The honest answer is that it depends. The Fitbit Charge 3, our favorite Fitbit of 2020, has a lot to offer. But we just tried and fell in love with the newest Fitbit model, the Fitbit Charge 4.
The Fitbit Charge 4 was highly praised by our testing lab, where it won us over by being user-friendly, lightweight, and accurate. My personal favorite Fitbit feature is the sleep tracking, which can give you information about your sleeping patterns, and help you make adjustments to improve them. Sleep is a huge factor in health and fitness, and this could be part of the solution if you struggle to get fully rested.
The Fitbit Charge 3 costs less than the Fitbit Charge 4 (until it sells out), but the new features that come along with the 4—including its impressive new GPS tracking—make the higher price much more reasonable.
8. A reliable jump rope to get your cardio in anywhere
My jump rope was one of the first pieces of at-home fitness equipment I ever bought, and for me, it was the perfect choice. Don’t get me wrong: if you’re not a total cardio nut, jumping rope is hard. But the challenge is part of what makes it so rewarding to finally be able jump for stretches of time without tangling up your legs or running out of breath. Who knew such a tiny piece of equipment could pack such a punch?
9. A yoga set to take you from novice to namaste
I love yoga. So does my 60-year-old dad, who tried it out for the first time this year. One of my favorite things about yoga is that it’s such a flexible (so to speak) form of exercise—no matter who you are, there’s a form of yoga that can suit your needs. That being said, it can still be intimidating to start a new form of movement that you’ve never tried before (shoutout again to my dad!). This kit includes everything you need to start a yoga practice for a pretty unbeatable price, and reviewers are wild about it.
10. A set of resistance bands to amp up any workout
I know I talked up the jump rope for being a super compact and convenient addition to your workout, but that’s even more true of resistance bands. The idea behind resistance bands is that they add—you guessed it—resistance to virtually any exercise.
11. A pack of wet wipes to help you keep your germs to yourself
Let’s face it—gyms are germy places. That doesn’t mean you need to leave equipment covered in your sweat, or that you have to end your workout feeling like you haven’t had a shower in about ten years. These wet wipes are a brilliant solution. You can use them to wipe down both your equipment and yourself, with their large size making them a decent replacement for a bath when you don’t have immediate access to a shower.
12. A basic dumbbell set to start your home gym
If you’re playing with the idea of investing in a home gym, these dumbbells are a great place to start. Dumbbells are some of the most versatile pieces of gym equipment, and this set should give you enough variation for plenty of different movements. Those five pound weights might not look intimidating, but if you’re just starting out, believe me—even barely weighted lateral raises will have you sweating.
13. A stick of chafe balm to keep your skin smooth and happy
As anyone who wears skirts in the summertime can attest, chafing is not just an issue when you’re exercising—but there’s no reason to make your workouts more uncomfortable than they need to be. This beloved chafe balm can solve the problem of sensitive skin getting in the way of runs, bike rides, and hikes.
14. A measuring tape to track progress so you can throw away your scale
Is it okay if I have a soapbox moment? Here goes: stepping on the scale is not the best way to track your fitness! Sure, it’s a great way to get data about your body, but the number of the scale can be pretty misleading. If you restrict your calories but don’t pay attention to exercise or the quality of your nutrition, you’re sure to lose pounds, but the pounds you’re losing are probably muscle.
No one wants to lose muscle and keep fat, but a scale can’t tell the difference, and getting attached to that number can lead to a really unhealthy relationship to fitness (if you gain muscle, you will weigh more!). Want a better tool to track how far you’ve come? There are a few options. One is a mirror. Another is a measuring tape.
I like taking measurements occasionally because it can give me information a scale never could. Interested in building up your triceps? With a measuring tape, you can see every centimeter of gained muscle. Writer Sara Hendricks swears by this measuring tape, which you can get for less than $3.
15. A luxury fitness machine that will help you target your workouts
If you're more serious about replacing the gym with a machine that can help you get a good workout, there are lots of luxury options out there to try. We've tested a few of the big names, like Tonal, the Mirror, and Peloton.
Tonal is an AI-based home gym that essentially looks like a workout bench you can store on the wall. It allows you to workout with a virtual instructor who appears on the machine and guides you through workouts. It comes with optional smart accessories and requires a monthly fee ($49). If you have the money, we recommend it, especially if you already have some fitness experience.
Similarly to Tonal, the Mirror guides you through virtual workout classes, like yoga, pilates, and others. This one is literally just a mirror, so you'll need to provide your own mats, weights, and accessories. But the instructor appears on the mirror itself, along with stats about your workout and progress. You'll need a monthly subscription ($39) for this one, too.
Finally, you could cave and get the machine you've already heard so much about—the Peloton. Users swear by this exercise bike, which comes with weights and a built-in screen, and provides you access to dozens of instructor-led workout classes, ranging from biking to cardio to yoga and even dancing. Part of the Peloton appeal comes with the community of avid fans who connect and share their tips and tricks, as well as motivate each other to continue moving.
Apps and Training Programs
16. Our favorite workout app that's easy (and fun) to use
We tested the best workout apps this year and found that Nike Training Club was the best. Writer Sara Hendricks explained that even though it was an app, she felt like she was working out with a personal trainer. The app has you complete a quiz, then it gives you recommendations based on your answers and lifestyle.
You can join programs on the app or you can participate in your own individual workouts, meaning it's well suited to those of us who are competitive (guilty) and those of us who like to workout without pressure. On top of targeted workouts, the app also offers healthy recipes and tips.
17. This ultra-popular app to get you started with diet and exercise tracking
MyFitnessPal might be the most popular fitness app in the world, and with good reason. If you don’t mind doing things manually, it has everything you need to start keeping track of your eating habits and movement. I’ve used MyFitnessPal sporadically over the years, and I always love how effectively it demystifies weight loss and gain. If you burn more calories than you eat, you will lose weight. If you eat more than you burn, you will gain. Simple.
The flip side of this is that MyFitnessPal might not be the healthiest choice for someone looking to improve their relationship with food, and although it does give nutritional information, you have to know to look for it. MyFitnessPal is a great tool, but it will work best for someone who already understands some basics of nutrition, and gets that gaining weight isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
18. A simple and comforting app to get your running, no matter your starting point
It’s true—I am among the proud legions who swear by Couch to 5K. This has been my absolute favorite running app for its no-frills simplicity and accessible entry point. After years of trying to motivate myself to run, this app is what finally did the trick. I love that it’s so unobtrusive, so I can listen to music or podcasts without worrying they’ll interfere with the program (this definitely isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but I’ve recently gotten into listening to audiobooks while I run, so check out our review of Audible if you’re curious about that!).
The Couch to 5K community is made up of people constantly advocating for the program. If you’ve never run ten minutes in your life, this program could help you surprise yourself with your own capabilities.
19. A less-comforting running app, because sometimes stress is motivating
So, Couch to 5K is great for those of us who thrive with bare bones simplicity. It took me a while to figure out that’s the person I am—but before I realized that, I dabbled with some very different running apps. One app with a concept I genuinely loved was Zombies, Run! This completely unique program is half running app, half horror podcast. It takes you through a post-apocalyptic narrative, punctuated by periods where you are “chased” by swarms of zombies.
One downside of the app is that it does include ads in the free version, which can be irritating. The appeal here is the way the running portions melt into the story. If I had to give one reason why this app didn’t ultimately work for me, it’s because I got a little too into the narrative, and was honestly not in good enough shape to be sprinting through the streets in that much terror. But for a fellow nerd in slightly better shape than I was at the time, this could be great.
20. A ClassPass membership to help you find the exercise you will actually stick with
We all want to love our workout, but if you haven’t had the chance to dabble in different forms of exercise, it can be hard to know what you’ll take to. Is it worth signing up for a kickboxing class if you’re not sure you’ll ever want to return? ClassPass is here to solve this problem. With a ClassPass membership, you can drop into a variety of classes at a huge array of participating gyms for less than the normal price.
ClassPass can be a great investment if you’re looking for the opportunity to check out a lot of different classes, or to mix up your regular routine without something outside your comfort zone. When we tested it out we thought it was worth trying out, with some caveats—if you’re interested in finding out more about ClassPass, be sure to read our full review before committing.
21. A program that could make all your other fitness apps irrelevant
If you’re reading through this list and getting more and more overwhelmed, never fear. It is totally possible to invest in just a single app, and get all the information you need to get in shape for good. That’s the whole concept behind Noom, a program designed to build better habits for long-term weight loss.
Like MyFitnessPal, Noom helps you track food, but it takes a more guided approach. You log your own meals, but Noom will help steer you with motivational content, quizzes, and more. The general message of Noom is that your weight loss journey can be as private as you want, but that doesn’t mean you have to figure everything out on your own. Our experience with Noom was very positive, but since there is a heavy emphasis on weight loss and diet changes, it’s not the perfect fit for everyone. If you have issues with calorie restriction, proceed with caution.
Food and Nutrition
22. An easy way to adapt spaghetti night to a low-carb diet
There have got to be hundreds of veggie replacements for traditionally non-plant-based foods, but I have to give a shout out to the love of my life, zoodles. There is absolutely nothing wrong with regular pasta (we need carbs to generate energy! Carbs are not the enemy!), but it can also be nice to have some vegetable-heavy meals up your sleeve to add nutrition, flavor, and variety to your diet.
Plus, I know myself, and sometimes I want the experience of eating a lot of food even if I’m not that hungry. Coming from that perspective, it’s pretty great to spiralize a whole huge zucchini and gobble it up without feeling so bloated I want to pass out. One of my favorite meals right now is a mass of zoodles cooked in tomato sauce under a spicy, juicy chicken thigh. Mmmm. Okay, we can move on.
23. A meal kit that can help you manage your meals
Ever skip dinner in favor of a bowl of cereal? Yeah, me too. While making sure you use the right equipment is important for staying fit, it's equally important to make sure you're eating. Meal kits are great for those of us who don't have the time (or energy) to plan out weekly meals, but want to make sure they're still eating dinner every night.
When we tested meal kits, our favorite was Home Chef. You have the option to customize your kit, so you can get the meals and serving sizes that best fit you and your lifestyle.
24. A perfect set of storage bags to make meal prep easier
Effective food prep is one of the best ways to make sure you’re eating mindfully. You’ll be a lot less likely to eat a bunch of food you didn’t really intend to eat if you had adequate snacks on hand that you already know you feel good about. Not to mention, it’s a pretty great feeling to come home tired and hungry and remember that you already have dinner finished.
These awesome bags are made from bee’s wax and act as a great way to store snacks, sandwiches, and more. I tried Bee’s Wrap and was obsessed with how well they worked and how easy they were to use. I’m not sure how they’ll hold up during the peak of summer, but from my experience, I really enjoyed them.
25. A powerful single serving blender to simplify your mornings
Forget fitness: I just love smoothies in general. This Magic Bullet is our very favorite smoothie blender right now, and its convenient single-serving size makes it super easy to throw ingredients together and go. We were won over by how reliable this blender is, along with the strength of its blade—it chopped through our frozen ingredients without a problem.
Smoothies can be integrated into a fitness-oriented diet in a number of ways. If you need a little extra protein for muscle building, just toss in a scoop of protein powder to make a great post-workout snack. If you want a light sweet, something cold and fruity can be perfect. As with every other item on this list, this tool is a great way to supplement your diet, but smoothies shouldn't be replacing whole meals. They can, however, be a delicious way to help you get the nutrients you need to keep your workouts strong.
26. Our favorite air fryer because no one should have to say goodbye to french fries
If you’re trying to cut down on deep-fried food but can’t stop craving a carton of perfect, crispy french fries, this air fryer might be your savior. It took the crown as our top air fryer of the year, rising above the competition due to its impressive capacity and ability to turn out perfectly crunchy treats. Now, “healthier” is a relative term, and not everything you stick into an air fryer is going to come out good for you. But if you want a little less oil in your life, you can start by introducing an air fryer.
Reviewers like the convenience of this fryer, and the ease with which it comes apart for cleaning. Spyce says, "I like that the food basket separates completely from the drawer. The part by the handle is not a part of the body of the air fryer. Just slide the drawer out and lift the food basket right out, no buttons to push or break, and no fear that the bottom will separate from the food basket as it is removed from the air fryer.” If you want an easy-to-maintain kitchen gadget to help you tweak your diet, give this one a look.
27. An incredible dark chocolate to satisfy cravings
Yes, I am prescribing chocolate to help you get in shape. Let’s be honest with ourselves: fighting cravings all day is a miserable way to live, and it might not even be mentally healthy for you. The better, more sustainable approach is to find some sweets you love, that will leave you feeling satisfied and happy.
For me—and according to studies, for many people—that’s dark chocolate. Unlike cookies and ice cream, which tend to leave you craving more sugar, dark chocolate can actually grant your sweet tooth some peace. This bar might be too dark for some, but Taza’s chocolate is a great choice in general. They offer incredible bars of stone-ground, transparently-sourced chocolate with a uniquely gritty texture, coming in a variety of flavors from coconut to guajillo chili. I’ll spare you from my impulse to wax poetic about Taza forever, but trust me, it’s good stuff.
Self-Care and Wellness
28. Our favorite foam roller to keep you going after leg day
Our favorite foam roller on the market right now is also one of the more affordable! As the proud owner of this roller myself, I can attest that it delivers an impressive massage without being too intense on overworked muscles. My personal favorite use for this roller is to help me out with my supported bridge pose. After a tough workout my lower back occasionally complains, but this roller offers instant relief.
Foam rolling was introduced to me by my chiropractor, but you don’t have to wait to be ordered to start to get ahead of the curve. Many people (smarter than me) integrate foam rolling into their regular cooldowns, protecting their muscles, and therefore making it easier for them to sustain more intense workouts. It’s both a way to recover from injuries, and a way to prevent injuries from ever happening.
29. A lacrosse ball to work out your trickier knots and kinks
My other best friend when it comes to massaging achy muscles is even simpler, smaller, and more affordable than a foam roller: I’m talking about a regular lacrosse ball. I swear by these things for massaging out smaller and more difficult muscle knots. A lacrosse ball gives you more precision than a foam roller, making it ideal for funny spots like the neck, shoulders, and lower back.
Reviewer M&M Dyer writes that "these little balls are great quality [...] Rolling the muscles against the balls activates the muscles, and in my case has done wonders for decreasing the pain I have in my foot due to overworking it." I can say the same for my back. I have honestly never found another tool that’s better for muscular recovery, and therefore better for making sure I get myself back to the gym.
30. A solution to insomnia from late night screen time
It really can’t be said enough that one of the best things you can do for your own health and fitness is to make sure you’re getting enough high-quality rest. We need to accept that sleep is a component of wellness. If you’re working out and eating well, but not getting the rest you need, that’s still not a healthy lifestyle. Being well-rested also means you can give more when you exercise, and has been shown to reduce your cravings (after all, craving sugary food is just another way that your body tells you it needs energy).
If you’ve never used f.lux before, you might be surprised how much a browser extension can help improve your sleep. Yes, we should ideally all put away from our screens well before bedtime, but let’s be real—it doesn’t always pan out that way. For those nights where we wind up on our computers way later than we intended, f.lux is there to make the transition to bedtime easier. It works by adjusting the tint of your computer screen to a warmer, less stimulating light, so you don’t wind up staring at overly-energizing blue light late into the night. I can attest that it works shockingly well. Sometimes all it takes is f.lux turning on for me to realize how sleepy I am and head to bed, really increasing the chance that I’ll actually get up in the morning and go to that early yoga class.
Prices were accurate at the time this article was published but may change over time.