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Home gym


You go to a martial arts class to learn a martial art. A side effect of the training is that during class you increase your strength, flexibility, endurance, etc. However, these things are best increased by training outside of class; class time is best used for learning new things and learning how to perfect the things you already know.

You could spend a lot of money to attend a fitness gym, or you could set up your own home gym in which to train. You could spend a lot of money on overpriced machines for your gym, or you could buy or make a few simple devices that will work just as well, if not better, as the expensive machines.


The first thing you need is a space to put the gym; this can be a problem for some people. It is best to have a dedicated space but sometimes you must improvise. When the space is only used for working out, you will not have many distractions, and, anytime you walk into the space, you will feel the need to work out. The area you need for the gym depends on how much total area you have available. A separate room is best, but a corner of a room may work just as well if you use some ingenuity. I’ve practiced patterns in tight spaces on Navy ships; I just used small movements.


To practice patterns, perform kicks and punches, shadowbox, and do calisthenics, you do not need any special equipment—just desire. However, to build strength, flexibility, and endurance more quickly, you may want to purchase or build some exercise equipment. You may get by with just a few inexpensive minor pieces of equipment or you may purchase some expensive specialized equipment.

While stationed on ships while I was in the Navy, I had my gym in a bag that I carried to any available space. I used a seabag that contained: strap-on hand and leg weights, handgrip exercisers, a jump rope, a rope and pulley with a special clamp that I could clamp onto any overhead beam so I could use it for leg stretches, some cable-pulls to use for chest and arm exercises, a mat for floor stretches and sit-ups, a Bull Worker for chest and arm exercises, and an expandable pole to place across my shoulders for waist twists.

Many times, basic equipment may be homemade, check YouTube for ideas. The equipment may work just as well as purchased equipment, but it may not be as durable. It is good to start with homemade equipment so you may evaluate whether it serves your purpose or whether you will use the equipment enough to justify buying it. If you find yourself using the equipment regularly, then it may be good to purchase a quality replacement.

If you want to have specialized equipment, buy it used. Rooms and garages across the country are full of unused exercise equipment purchased with the intention of working out. Check yard sales, Goodwill stores, newspaper ads,, and consignment stores.

Key equipment you need

Some key equipment you should have in your home gym:

Heavy bag

A heavy bag is the first piece of equipment you need, and it is the best training tool you could ever have. It helps develop technique, power, and speed of both kicks and punches. Traditionally, bags are a large cylinder shape but sometimes they were man-shaped with stuffed arms and legs. Sometimes a stuffed leather self-righting bag was used that was like a self-righting inflatable punching toy used by children

You may find heavy bags at sporting goods stores or online. Some bags are designed for boxing while others are designed specifically for martial arts training. Since boxers wear boxing gloves when punching the bag, boxing style bags tend to be hard, while martial arts bags tend to be softer to not damage the hands and wrists. Bags may be made from heavy vinyl (cheaper), rip-stop vinyl that resists rips (more expensive), or leather (most expensive). The more expensive bags come in more shapes and sizes. Some bags have a water-filled core that adds more weight. Some bags have an inflatable core to make them more resilient.

Hanging bags tend to be the best since the swing of the bag may be adjusted to best simulate a moving opponent. However, the bags must be hung from a solid support, either a rafter, brace between rafters, or from a purchased or homemade self-supporting frame. Some heavy bags come with a bungee cord that extends from the bottom of the bag to a mount attached to the floor to help prevent the bag from swinging too much. If you wish not to mount the hardware on your floor, you can attach the cord to a barbell weight plate or a patio table umbrella weight.

The self-righting bags do not need to be hung; they may be placed anywhere, which makes them ideal for those who live in apartments. To increase the stability of the bag, clean, pure sand may be used with, or in place of, the water. These bags tend to slide and wander about the floor; a rubber mat placed under the bag will reduce this movement.

Punching bags may be homemade. Empty punching bags may be purchased or made, or military duffle bags may be used. The bags should be stuffed with something resilient that will not settle and harden. Shredded cloth works OK but cotton offers the best results. Cotton is expensive, so, to save money, cotton can be removed from old mattresses. The bag should be stuffed as firmly as possible. To add weight, fill plastic baggies with cat litter and stuff them down the core of the bag.

Stretching machines

Unless you have a lot of extra money, stretching machines are a waste of money. Free stretching on the floor or placing a leg on objects of increasing height, such as steps on a stepladder, work just as well. Obtaining flexibility does not require a machine; it requires that you perform serious stretching exercises daily, outside of martial art. Other low-cost alternatives include:
  • Sitting on the floor with the legs spread and pulling the upper body forward or toward the side by pulling on the ends of a rope wrapped around a stationary object.
  • Using a rope and an overhead pulley to pull the ankle of a leg to higher heights. Be careful when doing this since it takes some practice to keep your balance.


The speedbag has been used by boxers for centuries to improve their hand speed and timing.
  • If the bag is used a lot, the swivel will quickly wear so ensure it is of top quality.
  • Wood backboards may warp if left outside. Fiberglass backboards are more durable and weather-resistant.
  • If the unit is left outside, remove the bag after use and protect it.
  • Leather bag gloves are necessary; the gloves may also be used when using the heavy bag.

Double-ended striking ball

The double-ended ball is a ball with bungee cords attached to the top and bottom and to the floor and ceiling so the ball will bounce around in all directions freely when struck. The ball helps develop the speed and accuracy of kicks and punches.

For a homemade version, cut a leg from a pair of women's nylon hosiery, place a rubber ball approximately 12" in diameter inside the leg section, tie bungee cords to each end of the leg section and attach them to the floor and ceiling.

Slip bag

A slip bag is used to train your slipping skills.
  • You may buy a slip bag and a stand to hang it from, or you may easily build your own slip bag. To make a slip bag: put a plastic bag into an old sock, and fill the bag with cat litter or sand. Tie off the bag and then tie off the top of the sock.
  • Tie the sock to a rope and hang it from a tree limb or a rafter in the garage. Tie the rope so the sock hangs at chin level.
  • Now swing the sock and step in front of it as it swings toward you. At the last second before the sock strikes you, smoothly slip your head out of the way and rotate so you are in front of the backward swing so you may slip the bag again. You can punch the bag to keep it swinging in different directions.


Dumbbells are inexpensive and highly effective. While lifting the weight, you must balance and control the weight through minute muscle and joint movements over the entire body, which increases the strength-building benefits over the use of a weight machine. You do not need rubber coated or otherwise enhanced dumbbells, simple iron ones are just as effective. Get at least two sets, one lighter weight set you can use for high reps, and one heavier weight set to use for low reps.

Elastic bands or tubes

These are extremely versatile and may be used in numerous ways to strengthen and tone muscles and increase flexibility. They are easy to pack for use when traveling. Purchase a few different levels of resistance than you can handle.

Stability ball

These balls add variety to your core workouts and cause you to use additional muscles during exercises. Try a 45-cm ball if you are less than 5 feet tall, a 55-cm ball if you are 5 feet 1 inch to 5 feet 7 inches tall, and a 65-cm ball if you are taller.

Exercise mat

Hard floors can be rough on joints and bones, especially as you get older, so a cushioned mat is helpful. It may be purchased or homemade.

Suspension straps

Suspension straps are expensive for what they do; it’s easier to make your own straps. Check the next article, DIY suspension training straps, for more information on making a set of straps.

Jump rope

Use a simple jump rope for variety instead of running.

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