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How To Create A Home Gym
All You Need For Basic to Advanced Workouts
Updated on: January 2023
Written by: Mark Buesing
Creating a home gym can be a convenient option that can save you time, money, and more when it comes to staying fit.
Driving to the gym and back takes time. Packing a bag for the gym, remembering a towel, making sure headphones are charged, etc. can eat up even more time. Then there’s the cost. The average cost of a gym membership is $37.71 per month. That’s about $450 per year.
Or maybe you just want to work out in private, without feeling like people are watching you. Or you live in a rural area without a lot of options. Or you just want to give yourself additional opportunities for a workout. There are plenty of reasons to turn a spare bedroom, basement, garage, or patio into a workout space.
Find What You Need
Finding Space for Your Home Gym
Before buying anything to outfit your home gym, figure out where it is going to be. How much space you have will place strict limits on all the suggestions that follow. The number of square feet available for the gym determines how many separate pieces of equipment you can have for different exercises. With limited space you are going to have to be creative in using the same piece of equipment for different purposes.
If you are in a mild climate, consider putting the gym in the garage or even outside. If you are thinking of putting it in the basement, be aware of limited overhead space – even if you’re not that tall an Urdhva Hastasana or Upward Salute during a yoga routine might find you scraping the ceiling.
And don’t overlook what’s under your feet. If you are using heavy weights or a heavy piece of equipment having a very sturdy floor is necessary. If your budget allows, a rubber or rubberized floor is good at reducing impact, providing predictable friction for your feet, and not absorbing sweat. You are going to work out hard enough to break a sweat, right?
And be considerate of neighbors, especially if they are upstairs or downstairs. Jumping around, dropping weights, and playing your favorite workout mix at top volume will not make you a good neighbor. And check your condo rules. Some have limits or outright bans on exercise equipment like treadmills.
The Best Home Gym Basics
So you have some space but your budget is small. What is the one thing that will get you the most bang for your buck in your home gym setup? What piece of equipment are you going to consistently use? There is not one correct answer for everyone, but there is a correct answer for you. Think about the movements or exercises you like doing. Is it weights? Cardio? Calisthenics? Yoga? The better you can answer this question, the better you can maximize a limited budget.
Let’s look at some of the most common picks for what other home gym enthusiasts can’t do without. And to be clear, we’re still talking about a small budget. I love my stationary bike but that comes later.
This is my number one pick. For $10 – $25 you can get a set of two dumbbells. They take up almost zero space, you can use them to work your arms, core and legs, particularly squats and lunges. Dumbbells can double as kettlebells. Want to go lighter? Lift one dumbbell with both arms. Want to go heavier? Put both dumbbells in one hand. There are hundreds of dumbbell-only workouts on the Internet.
When picking your dumbbell set go slightly heavier than you feel comfortable with at first because, a) you can use them one at a time, and b) if you stick with it you will get stronger. You can also add heavier or lighter sets over time and spread the cost of your home gym over months or years.
Or consider adjustable weight dumbbells. By rotating, clicking, or sliding you can change the weight of the dumbbell in seconds. It’s like having 8 dumbbells in one.
If a dumbbell can double as a kettlebell, then the converse is also true. A kettlebell can double as a dumbbell. Kettlebells are in about the same price range as dumbbells. Kettlebells can be used for upper body, lower body, and core exercises as well as the classic kettlebell swing They are also great for more complex, whole body movements like a Turkish Getup or Thruster. The Internet has thousands of kettlebell-only workouts from simple to complex.
These are large, color-coded rubber bands, sold in sets, with or without handles that function as an entire weight set. For $15 – $30 you typically get 4 bands of increasing resistance. Anything you can do with weights can be replicated with resistance bands. Like dumbbells, resistance bands take up almost no space. Unlike dumbbells, resistance bands are light and packable – take them on your next vacation!
While you have to have a certain coordination level and joint health to use a jump rope, there are people who swear by them. A jump rope is a terrific cardio break for bodyweight exercises. Jump ropes vary in price more than you might imagine, but you can find a good quality one for around $25 and up. Tap into your inner Rocky (and make sure your ceiling is tall enough to accommodate the rope!)
If core work or yoga are your go-to exercises then a good mat is your first home gym purchase. Mats vary a lot in price from $10 – $100+. If this is your first exercise mat purchase, I recommend going to an actual store and getting a feel for them. Thickness is an important consideration. The thinnest mats are only a couple millimeters thick while the thickest are several centimeters thick. If you are using it primarily for yoga you probably want something in the 4 – 8 mm range (approx. ⅛ – ¼ inch). They need to be thinner for better balance. If you are going to skip the yoga then by all means go plush. I know people with mats I could take a nap on and these folks love the cushioning for their tailbones, knees, and backs. If you sweat a lot during your workouts, getting one that doesn’t get slippery when wet is key.
Home Gym Cardio Equipment
The most common home gym equipment people invest in is cardio equipment. The big four are: stationary bike, treadmill, elliptical, and rowing machine. There are other choices like climbers, stair machines, and skiers. Remember that you are building this for yourself so get what you want. Just because it’s popular or your friend swears by theirs doesn’t mean it’s right for you.
There are dozens of manufacturers for cardio equipment. If you are looking for stationary bikes read our review of the best exercise bikes. Full disclosure, the stationary bike is my go to exercise. One of the biggest reasons I like it is that it allows me to binge TV shows guilt-free while I ride. (More on multimedia later.)
Picking a bike, treadmill, etc. can be overwhelming as there are so many options. Nowadays almost every piece of equipment has the ability to connect to the Internet, gather data on exertion and other metrics, or come with built-in screens. Read reviews, but also lean on your experience in using equipment in gyms, health clubs, and hotel fitness centers.
Like the Smart Gyms, some Internet connected cardio equipment is at the top of the price scale and some require subscriptions. Budget wisely.
Adding On To Your Home Gym
With just the basics above, you can create a functional, effective basic home gym. But what if you have the space and budget for a little more? What’s the next best add on? Again, it’s important that you outfit a home gym for YOU and how you like to work out. Make it a space where you will find your favorite stuff in an environment that suits you.
Here are some suggestions to take your basic home gym up a notch or two.
The much smaller version of resistance bands. These go around ankles, knees, wrists, or elbows to give added resistance to movements or involve more muscles in the movement.
Foam rollers are great for loosening up tight muscles, relieving joint pain and increasing mobility.
Increases the range of motion for pushups.
My dad used one of these back in the 70s to get rid of his beer belly. They’ve made a comeback.
A pad that goes under your low back and sometimes extends under your butt. Gives your sit ups a little hyperextension and feels a little better on your tailbone.
I recommend getting one that mounts permanently from the wall or ceiling over the ones that wedge into or above door frames.
These weighted balls can be used for strength training and cardio. I’m sounding like a broken record, but there are hundreds of medicine ball workouts out there.
Suspension Training Straps.
These are 1-2 inch wide, adjustable length nylon straps with handles. Hundreds of body weight movements possible with these.
Simple straight benches are the cheapest. If the budget allows, get one with an adjustable seat and back. If you want to do a lot of lifting this is a must.
Barbell and Weights.
Bars are usually 25, 35, or 45 pounds. The weights or “plates” slip over the ends of the bars and are held in place by collars.
If you are going to lift heavy, this is essential.
Brand name for total gym system that uses cables, pulleys, and rods to change resistance. There are other competitors in this space.
Also known as “Universal Machines.” They have multiple stations like bench, shoulder press, curls/extensions, and leg press organized around all sides of the machine. Be sure you have the right floor to support the weight of these.
These are the newest entrants to the home gym market. Tonal, Mirror, ForMe, and Echelon are just a few of the most popular ones. Most of these feature glass panels that act as both mirror and projector so you can observe yourself and the movements of the virtual instructor. On top of the purchase price, most require a subscription. As close to being in a fitness class you can get without actually going to the gym.
Home Gym Atmosphere
You have the space and the equipment to outfit your basic home gym. That’s all you need, right? Technically, yes. But it’s your space. Why not jazz it up a little and make it a space you want to be in. Consider some of these options:
Personally, this isn’t optional. Isn’t it required to have music going while you work out? This could be as simple as a Bluetooth speaker or headphones connected to your smartphone or a full blown system with ceiling mounted speakers in each corner. Make sure you can play your favorite tunes or podcast while you sweat, and it will make the workout that much more enjoyable.
At a minimum, you need some kind of screen on which to watch the follow-along YouTube videos for all the great workouts you’re doing. Hang a big screen TV right in front of the elliptical or buy a little plastic smartphone holder. I know some people don’t like TVs in their gym and that’s fine. But if I can watch half of a football game while working out, I just don’t feel as guilty when I sit on the couch to watch the second half.
This might actually be number one on my list. I sweat. A lot. I have to have a fan blowing on me while working out. Two fans are better than one. They can be a couple of basic box fans you can move around or something more sophisticated like swivel mounted fans on the wall or ceiling. I have a low-power clip-on fan that attaches to the front of the treadmill and blows right in my face. It feels like I’m running outside!
Consider things like dimmable lights, especially if you are making a yoga studio. Consider really bright lights if it’s a basement or garage space. How about colored lights or even better … selectable color bulbs. I know a doctor with a disco ball in her home gym! If there are windows, consider what time of day you will be working out and take that into account for both heat and screen glare factors. If your space is well lit and inviting, you will be tempted to spend more time there. Lighting is key.
Sure, it’s on your wrist or smartphone, but a big, easy to read clock/timer is a bonus. If you only have 15 minutes to workout, those seconds counting down are a great way to stay motivated the whole time. Setting a timer also helps prevent quitting early. If your goal is to work out for 45 minutes, that timer on the wall won’t allow you to quit at 40 minutes.
A clock/timer can be a great way to be accountable to the minutes you have promised to workout. So can writing your goal down. Consider adding a whiteboard on the wall or use whiteboard paint. Writing your workout on the board will help keep you accountable to yourself. It says right there on the wall “3 sets” so no quitting after two. There are also apps that perform this same function.
Storing It All
Maybe you can leave everything out in your home gym but consider ways to keep the equipment neat and organized. If it’s a garage or unfinished basement you might have options for hanging things from ceilings or walls. Modular storage systems for garages and workshops can work well for gym storage too. Consider racks and shelving. As much as possible try to keep things off the floor – it makes sweeping, vacuuming, or mopping much easier.
Home Gym Budget
Your home gym does not have to break the bank. I am still using a set of weights and a bench I bought at a garage sale 20 years ago. So many people buy equipment, use it for a few months, stop using it, and then sell it. Besides garage sales, consider Facebook Marketplace, Craigslist, OfferUp, Nextdoor, and other online marketplaces. There are some amazing deals out there.
If you are putting together your first home gym from scratch, go slow. Buy a few things that appeal to you and give it a few weeks before buying more. As you use your gym more, you’ll start to have more ideas about what works and what doesn’t. During the workout you’ll think about that empty space and what you’d like to put there. In a few weeks you’ll have ideas of where best to mount the second fan or where to place that hook to keep your Suspension Training Straps out of the way.
The gym fees and gas you are saving can be invested in your gym over time. What started as a basic home gym yesterday, can be a full-blown total body gym tomorrow. Just like your fitness journey, the home gym is ALWAYS a work in progress.
Content on this site is for reference and information purposes only. Do not rely solely on this content, as it is not a substitute for advice from a licensed healthcare professional or personal trainer. Aging.com assumes no liability for inaccuracies. Consult with your doctor before beginning any new exercise program.