Home gyms are a solution to so many fitness problems, but there’s not a one-size-fits-all approach to putting one together. Everyone has different needs, and we’re all limited to things like usable workout space, time, the know-how to assemble or fabricate equipment, and money. Fitness Weights has put this great resource together to help you with some home gym ideas that will suit your own personal needs.
From years of personal experience with about a dozen different home gyms (I was a traveling military brat), I can tell you that workout space is by far the most valuable asset – even over money. Of course, the more space one has for a gym, the better, but big space isn’t always available. Your needs might not even require a lot of space – in fact, you can get an amazing workout by just using a hallway and door jamb with weight resistant exercise. Putting this aside for now, I’m going to discuss common spaces that you can utilize for your own gym.
The great thing about transforming a spare room into a home gym is that it’s almost always inside your house, and thus, it has heating and A/C. Gyms in sheds, garages, and backyards are great, but when the temperatures get too hot or cold, it’s hard to stay dedicated to a regular routine, and very easy to quit working out all together.
A spare room (or even a shared room) is ideal for a year-round workout space, and they usually have windows, doors, and closet storage for all your little workout accessories. A carpeted room can have its advantages when it comes to doing sit ups and stretching on the floor, but it can be annoying for certain equipment and fitness racks. An easy, cheap solution to this (if you buy such equipment) is to buy and lay down sheets of plywood over areas of the carpet that your equipment sits on. Additionally, lay down rubber mats on top of the plywood, and you’re good to go with heavy weights and fitness racks that work better on flat, even surfaces.
Take into consideration what type of home gym you’re wanting to set up in a spare room, too. Not sure yet? Jump down to “Workout Needs For Your Home Gym” for some home gym ideas. A core piece of equipment like a power rack or pull up/dip station might be too tall for a spare room if the ceilings are low, so make sure you have the clearance ahead of time. Be sure to set up a few mirrors on the wall in order to keep an eye on your workout posture and technique. Some people like putting stereos or TVs in their workout room – or inspirational images of people like the young Arnold Schwarzenegger saying something really profound about getting ripped. Whatever floats your boat, really – I just wouldn’t have a phone or laptop around because they can be distracting.
If you have or are intending on getting some fitness equipment, and the only space you have for a home gym is some corner space in a living room, bedroom, or office – fret not! This works just fine, too. I currently have an olympic weight bench and pull-up dip station right next to my bed. Every now and then, I accidentally walk into it in the middle of the night on the way to the bathroom, but I’d gladly take this problem over being out of shape and on high blood pressure meds again.
I guess I’d say from lots of personal experience that you would be amazed at what you can actually fit into a small space when it comes to workout equipment. Just be sure to research the equipment you want in advance (mostly measurements), and verify that it will not only fit in your corner gym, but also function properly. There’s a big difference between having the space for a bench and actually being able to use the bench, if you know what I mean.
The big drawback to using a small space like a corner for a home gym is that it’s challenging to workout with other people. My equipment is currently in the corner of my bedroom (next to the laundry hamper!), so I don’t usually invite people over to lift with me. For as much as I spent on a weight bar and plates, I deeply regret not getting a power rack instead. It would have actually taken up less room than my bench does now, and I could lift more weight without any spotter. Another drawback is distraction. My bedroom is more bedroom than home gym. It’s hard for me to get into the right zone and drum up as much intensity as I would if I had a room exclusively dedicated as my gym. Whatever corner you choose to use for your workout, just remember that you might be sharing space with other people in the house that may distract or bother you.
Yes – garage gyms rock, and they are, hands-down, my favorite! I have had a handful of garage and basement gyms over the years, and you simply cannot top their spacious openness and the extended ceilings that allow for taller equipment and hanging heavy bag. The flat, concrete surface is ideal for any home gym as well; not only will equipment sit on it flush, but if need be, you can easily mount and anchor equipment down (throwing weights on garage floors is also great, too – rubber coated weights, that is).
I’ve got a money-saving tip for you. If you’re in the position to sacrifice your garage (or any large amount of home space) for a home gym, you can actually get friends, coworkers, and neighbors to fund some of your investments in fitness equipment by letting them use your gym with monthly fees. For around $2,000.00, you can build an amazing, versatile home gym that will attract and satisfy all your workout homies. You don’t need to get all the equipment at once either – just start with some essentials, discuss reasonable dues (like a fraction of a major gym’s monthly membership), and be transparent with what you’re investing their money in. It can even be fun taking votes for equipment. Within a year’s time, you and your friends will have a home workout haven with the exact equipment and rules (“we don’t need no stinking rules!”) you all want – all for a fraction of the price of typical gym membership.
The disadvantages to a garage gym are that few garages have A/C or heating. That’s never really been a big deal to me – you just need to get going, and then the temperature doesn’t matter that much. However, if you expect other people to pay to use your garage gym, you might need to think about accommodating their experience a little more. There’s also stupid problems like occasional ants, potential trashcan/yard equipment odors, and having to frequently move your car(s) in and out or simply leave them on the street. Nothing, though, is better than a home gym in a garage or unfinished basement – at least in my experience.
Setting up a basement gym can be every bit as awesome as a garage gym, but it really depends on what kind of space you’re using. Are you using part of a basement, or the whole thing? Is the basement finished with carpet , heating, and the works, or is it a dark, damp space like you see in the film Silence of The Lambs? Whatever it may be, it has some capacity to work for a home gym, and it just takes some planning and measuring to determine what you want and can afford to get.
Finished basements can be a really nice space for workouts – even with a friend or two. If you’ve got carpet, you may need to utilize the plywood and rubber mats technique I mentioned back in the “Spare Room” section. Certain equipment just doesn’t sit right on carpet, or it can actually damage the carpet from excessive weight and usage. A dedicated space with plywood and mats over carpet for deadlifts and squats helps to muffle the sound of the bar when you set it down. If the floor is raw, you’ll want to invest in at least one comfortable workout mat. Mirrors are always good to have for watching technique and posture.
It’s challenging to know specific disadvantages to a particular basement gym because, like I said before, every basement is different. Some older homes and rentals have very low ceilings, and this will prevent you from using taller equipment like power racks, smith machines, and pull-up stations. Some basements are dark, cold, and have no windows for ventilation. The space might also have a permanently weird and displeasing smell, and it might, in fact, not be desirable for anything beyond storage space.
Gyms: Backyards, Outdoors And The Likes
Sometimes nothing beats working out outdoors when the temperatures and weather are right. I’ve lived in a lot of places over the years and never truly had the luxury of having a permanent, all-year, outdoor home gym, but they do exist for some people. Well, the good news is that these kinds of home gyms can still work seasonally, too. You just have to be willing to break down and move (possibly store) your equipment when the weather gets nasty. This, of course, disrupts one’s workout schedule and momentum, so if you want this to work, have a plan and keep to it – otherwise you could be derailed and your equipment will go unused.
Any ground can work for an outdoor home gym (i.e., grass, patios, decks, driveways, plain-old dirt) – just make sure it’s flat, and that heavy equipment will not sink into it when it rains. The heavy stuff should really be on plywood, pavers, concrete, etc. Grass and dirt will not only be ruined by the weight benches and racks, but they can also ruin your equipment with moisture and salt. Rust is a major pain for outdoor fitness equipment, and you may need to sand your surfaces down on occasions and then prime and paint them to keep them protected from the sun and weather. I’ve found that any kind of foam padding on equipment really breaks down fast in the sunshine, so if having a home gym outdoors is your thing, then carefully select equipment that doesn’t have this type of padding on it.
With an outdoor gym, anticipate the following inconveniences: being seen by neighbors (maybe that’s what you want you exhibitionist!), battling potential sunburns, wiping bird poop off your benches and racks, possibly having to cover up your gear with tarps, possibly having your equipment stolen, and an increase in dehydration from the heat (unless you workout in the dark – then anticipate needing adequate lighting).
Hey – what do you really need for your home gym, anyway? There’s a plethora of equipment on the market to choose from, and the reason why, is that there’s just as many ways to workout, so what do you want to accomplish? If you’re wanting to increase some muscle, then there isn’t a real need to invest in an expensive piece of cardio equipment, and vis-versa, if you want to boost cardio and not gain mass, why buy weight racks and benches.
When planning out a home gym, first start off with space: “Do I have any space at all?” If the answer is yes, then it’s time to move onto what you want to accomplish – what you actually need. I’ve got some categories for you to consider, here.
Bodyweight Workout Gym
If you have a body, then you can use its mass (weight) in very simply ways to build and maintain an astonishing amount of strength. Have you ever seen rock climbers, martial artists, or military soldiers? They have lean, strong physiques (a bit of bulk) and sinuous muscle that’s loaded with endurance and power. They didn’t get this way from pumping iron; they built their strength primarily from lifting their own bodyweight, and it requires very little equipment and space.
What sort of workout are we looking at here? The classic calisthenics, of course – a variety of push ups, pull ups, dips, sit ups, crunches, bridges, planks, squats, and stretching. You’re never going to get big and bulky from this kind of exercise like you would from weight lifting, but you’ll gain the kind of muscle and strength that doesn’t fatigue easy, and it’s an excellent way to drop fat. Bodyweight workouts can be performed in spaces as small as hallways, so there’s no need to invest in big, expensive equipment. Still, there’s some affordable gear out there that you will need to buy or build – especially for pull ups and dips.
I started off as the guy who hung a piece of galvanized plumbing pipe from ceiling rafters to do pull ups, and slowly evolved to an actual pull up rack. I switched from “DIY” to “BUY” because, frankly, it was too cheap not too. Most pull up racks today come with dip bars and push up handles (even works for inverted push ups). These racks are easy to assemble and move around, but be warned – they’re sort of like a ship in a bottle. If you build it in a room, then it’s going to stay in that room unless you disassemble it or you have some very large doors. If you just want to do pull ups without the hassle of assembling a rack, you can buy hangable bars with a variety of grips that hang directly to door jambs. I like these, too, because they are easy to take off and on, but they have a tendency to scratch paint.
I work out a lot on the floor, too, and having some additional padding for doing sit ups, leg lifts, and crunches is worth the small amount of cash. Some people like doing planks, push ups, and stretching on mats – I personally don’t, but that’s just me. My wrists and forearms feel much more solid on firm ground rather than a cushy pad. Having a decent foldable floor mataround the house is also great for the kids to practice tumbling on, if you have any.
I’m sort of “love and hate” when it comes to exercise balls (AKA stability balls), but they are a good piece of cheap, core strengthening equipment to have in a home gym – especially if you favor using your own body as weight to work out with. There are a lot of different ways to use these workout balls, and if they get too much in the way, they can easily be deflated and stored away. This has always been my issue with them: they’re great for working out with, but otherwise, they’re just in my way.
Push ups are the crux of my fitness – they always have been and always will be. I easily rotate through at least 10 different kinds of push ups a week to hit the different muscle groups and keep my body guessing. Push up handles are cool tools that allow you to get deeper with your workout and build your chest and back up even stronger. The handles are also great for people with weak wrists that struggle to flat-handed or knuckle pushups. We’re talking cheap investment, here, and they can be stored away under beds or just about anywhere. Pushup handles are also excellent for getting more out of inverted push ups. When your feet are up at an angle, there’s an increased chance of hitting your chin or forehead against the floor, but not when you’re boosted up a couple extra inches with push up handles.
Years ago, I had to have my shoulder rotator cuff worked on, and afterwards, I was prescribed physical therapy with elastic exercise bands. I initially thought these things were lame, and that the exercises would be a waste of time, but it was around this time that I changed my mind, and have been using them ever since. Whether the bands have handles or not, you can work out muscle groups with elastic resistance bands that you never knew you had. You can also utilize almost any object in your house to assist you in this matter, so technically, something like your bedpost combined with an elastic band can do what an expensive piece of nautilus equipment can do for a fraction of the cost. Elastic bands are great, safe way to build (rebuild) stabilizer muscles and soft tissue.The bands also roll up and can be stored as easy as a pair of socks.
Building and toning muscle is awesome, but getting in some serious aerobic at the same time is even better. Way back in the day, I would shadowbox with a 3 pound splitting wedge in each hand, only because I had them in my garage, and they were easy to hold. Well, I’m also weird, too, but anyway, it built my arms up and really got my heart jumping out of my chest. Later, I switched to punching with 2 liter soda bottles filled with sand. They were about 6 lbs each and worked very good, but they were too bulky to stay relaxed with. About 5 years ago, weighted gloves hit the exercise market, and after I got my first pair, I’ve been using them regularly ever since. The heft varies, but you can pick up weighted workout gloves between 1 to 4 pounds, and even if you have no idea what to do with them in the beginning besides imitate Rocky, you will get a serious workout. If you’re actually into boxing, these are a must have – they will increase your speed, cardio, and power very rapidly.
There are lots of other gadgets and gizmos out there that you can buy for a home gym that assist you in training with your own bodyweight, but the ones that I’ve listed are really the staple. If you want to up your game a little, but stay with this style of exercise, then get an adjustable weight vest. You think you’re in great shape until you try your typical workout routine with an additional 20 to 50 pounds on. Man! That really confuses your body and brings you back down to Day 1 when you first began working out. Having a small set of adjustable hand dumbbells is also good for building and toning some extra arm, neck, and back muscles. Right now, the cream of the crop hand dumbbell set is probably the Bowflex SelectTech (they are really nice), but I see people selling or giving away cheaper, older hand dumbbells on Craig’s List all the time. They work fine – I just hate weights with cheap chrome plating on them because it will flake off and leave little, sharp metal flakes around. Yes – it will cut you like glass!
One of my current workout buddies insists that I recommend an ab wheel to your home gym if you’re going to be using your own bodyweight to build strength. They actually do work your back and abs out very well; they don’t cost much, and they are easy to store away, but I’ve never really used them much. I’d prefer to just do a few extra sit ups and crunches instead of having an extra piece of equipment around my house.
Bodyweight Home Gym’s Total Cost: Between $100 and $500
Home Gym: Beginner/Amateur
Ok. You’ve got a small to fair amount of space in your home for a gym, and you want to get the best bang for your buck. Top-of-the-line brands are not in your budget, but you don’t want crap either. No problem! I can recommend some essential bodybuilding equipment that’s going to do the job without breaking the bank. I’m also going to tell you now that you don’t have buy everything I’m recommending right away. In fact, you should really take your time to look for sales and great deals. The kind of home gym I’m about to describe requires a minimum 8’X8’ space, though a 10’X10’ plus is far more desirable.
Olympic Weight Bar and Weights
I’m the kind of guy that has used pretty much anything as a weight to work out with (i.e., boulders, tractor tires, cheap, crappy weights – even buckets filled with wheel rotors). I’m here to tell you now, after all the years of lifting weights, accumulating miss-matched weights, and giving away weights, that it’s well worth the investment to start with a good olympic weight bar and about 200 to 300 pounds of weight. This equipment is going to be the core of your home gym, and it’s going to last you forever. Don’t mess with anything else – seriously! Unless you can score a standard, 45 Lb, solid iron weight bar from the 70s, just about anything else is going to be a cheap, bendable, piece of trash. Worse, it’s going to be covered with some chrome coating that will start to peel off from day one, and leave razor sharp flakes of metal on your floor for you to step on. An olympic weight bar and weights is worth the money, so get one. Try looking for used Olympic weights on Craigslist to save some money. If you buy them new, you’re looking at around $1 per pound. It’s not extremely expensive, but the cost adds up.
At some point down the road, I recommend investing in a pair of olympic hand weight bars (adjustable dumbbells) because they are as strong as it gets, and fully compatible with the weight plates you’ve already purchased. I much prefer using hand dumbbells instead of a full bar for doing shrugs and preacher curls. They’re also great for working out pecks with, too.
If buying any olympic weight bar and some weights is all that you do for awhile, great! You can get pretty cut with this equipment, in and of itself for years. Work on Deadlifts, Forward Rows, Shrugs, and high-rep bare-bar squats. These exercises, mixed with push ups, pull ups, dips, crunches (bodyweight calisthenics) will get you looking like a college football player in no time.
When you finally get a little extra cash for your home gym, the next thing you’ll want to buy is a power rack so that you can safely start lifting more weight (alone, too, if you like). Kill as many birds with one stone as possible and get a power rack that stores weights, has a pull up bar, and has (or can have) a dips station. There is no reason not to. Getting everything on the rack saves space and money, and the power racks with all the bells and whistles on them are higher quality and built to last.
Don’t be intimidated by a power rack. I know it looks like something that only a professional gym would have. Well, it is a piece of equipment that every professional gym has, and for a good reason: they allow you to work out safely and efficiently. You’ll also be able to use your olympic weight bar to its maximum potential, which is very important. Some racks are as high as 7 feet tall, so be sure to read the descriptions before buying them. Make sure to measure the clearance at home to confirm the fit, otherwise you might buy something that you cannot use at all.
With an olympic weight bar and power rack, your home gym actually has all the essential equipment needed to get pretty strong and healthy. You can also do a wide variety of exercises efficiently by yourself, too. One of the last things you’re going to need to get to start doing presses is a good bench. You can build one, too, for cheap, but remember – you’re going to be lifting a lot of weight now, so be sure your bench is comfortable and durable. You can go with a basic fixed bench, or a versatile bench with various incline settings. You can even find benches that incline and decline, but I personally like to focus on good technique and posture, so a basic bench for me is perfect.
Beginner/Amateur Home Gym Total Cost: Between $1,300 and $2,000
Home Gym: Semi-Professional/Professional
Alright. You’ve got the fundamental weightlifting equipment already (i.e., olympic bar and weights, power rack, pull up bar, dips station, mirrors, mats, etc.), and now you’re looking to fill in the “specialty void” of a home gym and take this show to the competition level (or you simply have the space and money for the fancy stuff). Well, let’s get going! There’s a ton of equipment out there to buy, and you really don’t need most of it, but here is my personal recommendation for the best home gym workout equipment.
I’d like to recommend one of the best leg machines you can ever buy – the leg press. These machines take up a bit of space and are extremely heavy, but they are made to engage all the right leg muscles in all the right ways. They feel great on your body, too, because you’re no longer balancing weight on your shoulders. The workout is also much safer for your back, neck, and knees. On a down note, leg presses do not engage your core as well as old-fashion squats do, so you will not get as much of a full-body workout with a leg press; however, you’ll get much better leg results in a shorter period of time.
Ready to get controversial? Great! When it comes to building a lot of muscle, it requires a lot of weight, and the heavier you go, the more you increase the chances of injury which equals pain, taking time off, losing of mass, etc. By utilizing the precision of nautilus lifting equipment with a smith machine (vs. free weights), you’re actually stacking the odds staying healthy in your court. Smiths are ideal for lifting seriously heavy weight safely with presses and squats. On the other side of the argument, you’ll have plenty of people tell you that you’re not building up your stabilizer muscles with a smith machine like you do with free weights. This is true, but that’s not really the point of bodybuilding at a high level. The point is to add and shape mass efficiently, and a smith machine will make this happen.
Discussing cardio equipment makes me cringe. Don’t get me wrong, I love cardio equipment, but buying it brand new is extremely expensive, and frankly, everyone likes different stuff, so I’m not going to be prescriptive about your purchase.
Recumbent/Stationary Exercise Bike
With that said, what do you like? If you’re into low impact, then try out a recumbent exercise bike. They’re great for cardio, and if you have old knee and back injuries, or you’re starting a rehabilitation regimen, then this is a great piece of equipment to buy new or used. If you’re a cyclist most of the year but quit riding in the winter, a stationary exercise bike is a great way to keep on top of your game and get your weekly miles in. I love riding my bike – I ride about 15 miles a day, 5 days a week, but nothing is worse than stopping altogether for the winter and picking the bike back up in the late spring after 3 or 4 months. Keeping up with a stationary bike is great for the cold season workouts, and I don’t have to start over from the beginning again every spring.
Cycling is fine for cardio, but climbing and walking require a different use of the lower body, so if you happen to enjoy hiking, mountaineering, and rock climbing, a stair stepper is a great piece of fitness equipment for your home gym. The take up about as much space as an exercise bike, but not quite as much as a treadmill. Besides getting your heart to really beat, stair steppers are astonishingly anaerobic, and they will build nice leg and glute muscles quickly.
Treadmills… what would a deluxe home gym be like without a treadmill? Come over to my house and I’ll show you! To be fair, a treadmill practically saved my life back in graduate school when I spent uncountable hours reading books. Instead of reading while sitting down (and accruing a mass amount of bodyweight), I trained myself to read on a treadmill. The activity not only helped me to keep the weight off, but it was a great way for me to manage stress and nervous energy so that I could sleep better at night. Today, I’d much rather invest in a good pair of running shoes and jog outside rather than do it on a treadmill. If you like working out on treadmills, though, I suggest getting one that can fold up against a wall (they can really take up a lot of room and be dangerous/deadly to small children), and at least get one that can provide an adjustable incline. Quality is important for treadmills – there is a reason why so many people are selling their cheapies in the newspapers and Craigslist. Sometimes you can find good deals on a quality treadmill, but be warned – there’s a lot of garbage out there.
Rebounder trampolines are actually amazing pieces of cardio equipment. I didn’t know this until a few years ago, but you can burn way more calories on a rebounder, just bouncing in place, than you can running or jogging, and it’s so much better on your knees, back, and hips. Yes – believe this or not, rebounders are a low-impact workout (who would have ever thought), and since I’m sort of ADHD, the outward activity matches up nicely with my inner mind (shamelessly, I feel peace and harmony bouncing on my rebounder). These things are cheap and durable, and best yet, you can use them all over the place. Want to watch your favorite T.V. series and still get in a great cardio workout? Watch it while bouncing on your rebounder. Is it super nice outside? Enjoy the sun and fresh air on your pigmy trampoline.
I think I mentioned before that love punching with weighted gloves for cardio and for toning muscle arms. My all-time favorite cardio activity is working the heavy bag. If you’re new to it, or have never done it, punching drills on a heavy back will completely exhaust you and get your arms, lats, and back cut! The more you put into this exercise, the more you can put into the next time, so it never becomes easy. The impact from making contact with the bag rattles your entire skeletal structure causing vibration through the bones and soft tissue. This activity actually causes bone density to ossify and increase – it’s great for fighting against aging and osteoporosis. You will want to have a way to hang your bag, and to get some bag gloves to protect your hands and wrists (especially in the beginning). I wouldn’t recommend anything lighter than a 75 pound bag. Remember folks – the bottom of the bag is the heaviest and densest, so to start punching it down there right away!
Here in the States we don’t row little boats for exercise like many of folks do in England. When I was a teenager, I thought I was in great shape, and during my stay in Oxford, I met a short, wiry fellow named Phillip who introduced me to scull boats. I thought I would do amazingly better than him, but his cardio, arm, core, and back strength was legendary. It’s from rowing the boat every day for exercise. If you can’t afford a scull boat or have access to using one, there are cardio machines that will give you the same workout. Rowing machines are amazing, and it really brings to light the old sailor’s saying, “put your back into it!” Row off the pounds and get your heart racing – you won’t get bulky with this equipment, but certainly wiry and tone.
Semi-Professional/Professional Home Gym Total Cost: Between $2,300 and $10,000
In this section, I’ve spared you the descriptions and have provided lists of recommended equipment for my my three primary home gym categories:
Bodyweight Workout Home Gym ($100 to $500)
- Pull ups/Dips rack or hangable bar
- Floor mat (for working out on floor)
- Free weights
- Weight Vest
- Weighted Gloves
- Push up Handles
- Exercise ball
- Resistance bands
- Jump Rope
- Plyometric Box
- Ab Wheel (yes, it’s at the bottom of this list)
Beginner/Amateur Home Gym ($1,300 to $2,000)
- Olympic Style Weight Bar
- 250 to 300 pounds Olympic Style Weights
- Power Rack: Basic, Deluxe
- Weight Lifting Bench: Plain Jane, Incline, Incline/Decline
- Olympic Hand Weight Bars (Adjustable)
- Wall Mirrors
- + Any Goodies From The “Body Weight Workout Gym” List
- Optional Cardio Equipment
Semi-Professional/Professional Home Gym ($2,300 to $10,000)
- Olympic Style Weight Bar
- 250 to 300 pounds Olympic Style Weights
- Power Rack Or Smith Machine
- Weight Lifting Bench: Plain Jane, Incline, Incline/Decline
- Olympic Hand Weight Bars (Adjustable)
- Leg Press
- Wall Mirrors
- + Any Goodies From The “Body Weight Workout Gym” List
- Optional Cardio Equipment: