Beginner’s Guide to Building a Home Gym
Some days, you just don’t want to go to the gym. Maybe it’s too much effort to get there, you don’t have enough time for a proper workout, or you’re just over the bad music, sweaty equipment and having to wait for the bench.
It’s times like this you might ask yourself, is this gym memberships really worth it? Or am I wasting my time and money?
Now imagine if you could walk into a gym that is exactly how you like it – all your favourite equipment is there, available, clean and in it’s proper place. The music is great, there’s no one to watch you or get in your way – in fact you’re the only person there. Plus, this gym is free to use at any time…and you don’t have to leave the house to get there.
Welcome to Your Very Own Home Gym
We live in an age where our health and fitness is everything but we have little time to focus on it. Luckily, internet shopping, home delivery and a wealth of home exercise equipment for sale means that creating a home gym is easier than ever. Whether you’re an athlete, body builder or everyday fitness fan, having a gym in your home can get you the results you’re after – often faster, cheaper and more successfully than going to a commercial gym.
In this cover-all article, we’ll explain why a home gym is for you, how to plan it, what equipment you need, how to put it all together and more. Let’s get started – it’s time to get serious about your health and fitness.
Importance of Consistently Exercising
It’s no secret that regular exercise improves our overall health and mood, and reduces out chance of developing diseases like type 2 diabetes and some cancers. Consistent exercise allows us to manage our weight, lower cholesterol, lower blood pressure and lower the risk of osteoporosis. Plus, it makes you feel great with an increase in energy, better sleep patterns and reduced instances of depression.
Yet most of us are so time-poor that regularly going to the gym or playing sports gets relegated to the sidelines, and as a result, our health can really suffer. But what if you had a way of getting fit every day, right at your fingertips?
6 Ways a Home Gym is Right for You
1. Fit in a Workout Any Time
Being able to squeeze a workout in, even in a 20 minute slot in your day, means more exercise overall. Instead of setting aside an hour or more to make that trip to the gym worthwhile, a home gym means you have all the gear at your fingertips and can simply pick up a barbell and smash out a few sets before you walk out the door.
2. Never Wait for the Bench Again
Let’s be honest, waiting for someone to finish using equipment sucks. Plus, all the gear is sweaty and doesn’t get put back in the right place. That wouldn’t happen at your own private gym, where you are the most important and only customer, and can use any gear at any time and keep it exactly where you want it. Who said sharing is caring?
3. Get Exactly the Gear You Want
Sometimes gyms just don’t have the equipment for the type of training you like to do. You might be into the really, really heavy weights, or like doing slam balls when the gym only has medicine balls, or need bars for pull ups. Everyone has different goals in their training, and different equipment that suits their needs. One of the best things about starting your own home gym is that you get to customize it to suit you perfectly. And with custom workouts come the results that you really want.
4. Have Your Own Space
Not everyone goes to the gym to be seen. In fact, true fitness fanatics will go there to get sweaty and red in the face, and often don’t like to be on show. A home gym is great if you don’t want to be watched, or perform best with little external stimulus. And did we mention you can wear whatever you want? Finally there’s a judgement-free zone where you can wear your favourite falling-apart shirt and no shoes, or sweat away in that hoodie that really needs a wash.
5. Save Time, Workout Longer
It’s not always convenient to get to the gym. Even if you live near one, it can be an effort to get all your gear together, look half way respectable and then get in the car or catch public transport to the actual gym. This is all wasted time you could have been spending working out if you had a gym right in your home.
6. No More Expensive Gym Memberships
Finally, the long term savings are amazing. There are certainly some upfront costs associated with setting up your own home gym, mostly in the form of equipment, but these tend to be one-off purchases or things that will last many years. Just think about how much money you spend a year on a gym memberships when it all adds up, and how much of that money could go towards home exercise equipment. Once you’re all set up at home, you’ll be constantly saving money because you won’t have weekly payments going to the gym.
The Many Benefits of Building a Home Gym
Before we jump into all the awesome benefits you’ll get from a home gym, first, here are a few words of warning:
- Many people have bought expensive, fad exercise equipment that was relegated to the cupboard or garage a few weeks later. Like Personal fitness trainer Scott Laidler says, “Just imagine how many ab cradles, ab belts, vibrating dumbbells and other relics of the fitness industry are stashed in attics across the land, never to see the light of day again.” A home gym must be thought out properly with quality, versatile equipment that will stand the test of time.
- Training at home is not for everyone. You need a certain level of self motivation so that you can schedule your workout sessions instead of walking past your equipment every day.
- Some people are social exercisers. They love group fitness classes and catching up with friends at the gym. A home gym can still be great for these people to supplement their training and improve their fitness even more, but if you hate training alone then perhaps a home gym isn’t for you (unless you get your friends over for regular team sessions).
- A main disadvantage of a home gym is that you won’t have a spotter for weight training. This means you’ll need to train carefully and probably shouldn’t be trying to lift your maximum weight on your own – call a friend over for that!
- Finally, if you are new to exercise then commercial gyms can be great to provide knowledge and guidance in the form of personal trainers and group fitness instructors.
However, if you are relatively self-motivated, love working out and have some fitness goals you are aiming for then a home gym is going to become your new best friend. Here are some of the health and fitness benefits:
Having a gym at home means you have easy access to fitness equipment and are more likely to do multiple workouts throughout the week, even if they’re just small bursts. And small amounts are all you need for health benefits, such as reduced risk of heart disease. A study found that as little as 75 minutes of activity a week – that’s just 15 minutes a day Monday to Friday – lowered heart risk by 14%.
Cleaner Gear, Less Germs
Turns out there are some serious diseases you can pick up at the gym, thanks to all that sweating and sharing equipment. Fitness Magazine reported that free weights, machines and exercise balls are prime places for viruses and skin-borne infections like tinea to hang out. The damp locker rooms are favourite places for staph infections, strep and the scary super bug MRSA to hide, while the showers can harbour fungal infections and organisms that lead to warts and ringworm. Meanwhile, the humble exercise mat has been found to have strains of athlete’s foot, colds and flu and even hepatitis A. The bottom line is that you’re much safer working out in your own sweat and bacteria instead of someone else’s!
The federal government recommends 2 hours and 30 minutes of moderate exercise, or 1 hour and 15 minutes of vigorous exercise a week for health benefits. It’s not much, but most people still find this hard to achieve. However, a home gym saves a lot of travel time, time used waiting around for equipment or getting ready for the gym, which means more spare time that can be dedicated to longer workouts!
Building your own home gym means that you can get exactly the gear you want and need in order to customize your workouts for the exact results you want. Commercial gyms try to cater to the average gym-goer but you may have very specific fitness goals. Maybe you need heavier weight lifting equipment than the gym provides, you need more space for resistance bands, or you need all different sizes of plyo boxes because your favourite sport requires some serious jumping. One of the coolest things about a home gym is that it can be whatever you need it to be.
Choosing Between Free Weights and Machines
Fitness author and creator of Muscle for Life and Legion Fitness, Michael Matthews, recommends free weights over machines. The reason being that free weights are essential for some of the most important muscle-building exercises like bench presses, deadlifts and squats.
Other reasons that free weights win out over machines are because they’re cheaper, more versatile and keep your workouts simple. For that reason, this guide will not have a major focus on different types of machines. Machine-lovers, look away now!
How To Plan Your Home Gym
The main things to plan are what space you’re going to use, how much cash you need and what equipment you want – which should be based upon what exactly your fitness goals are.
Step 1: Determining Your Goals
It’s time to sit yourself down and ask some key questions. Start with the following:
- What sort of exercise and activities do you enjoy?
- How do you want to look and feel?
- Are you training for a specific sport or activity?
- What do you want out of the following: weight loss, muscle increase, improved strength, cardio fitness, improved performance.
According to creator of AworkoutRoutine.com and all round fitness guru Jay, most people’s fitness goals will fall into one of two categories:
- Team ‘Looks’ – those who want to improve the way their body looks, whether that’s building muscle, losing fat, getting toned or having a six pack.
- Team ‘Performance’ – those who want to improve the way their bodies perform something. They may want to be stronger, faster or perform better in their favourite sport or activity.
Figured out which category you fall into? This, along with your other health and fitness goals, will help you determine what sort of exercise program you’re going for, and consequently what sort of equipment you’ll need to achieve the results you want.
If you’re not super savvy with how to go about constructing your goal-specific training regime, this is where you’ll need to get help from a personal trainer or other fitness professional and do some research.
Step 2: Finding and Preparing A Space
The best spaces for home gyms are usually contained and quiet, somewhere where you can close the door and forget about stress for an hour or so. Think a garage gym, basement or spare room where there are few distractions and you also won’t be self conscious about your music and possibly grunting a lot. Check the height of the roof too if you want to fit in a squat rack or do skipping.
Sometimes outdoor spaces can work, such as a carport or spare bit of concrete, but this means more wear and tear on your equipment as it’s exposed to the elements, or else lugging your gear out there every time you want to use it. It’s not ideal, but still better than the alternative if you only have a tiny, restrictive indoor space.
Step 3: Figuring Out Your Budget
How much your home gym is going to cost you will differ greatly depending on what sort of equipment you need, if you like certain brands and just how big you’re making your home gym from the outset. A workout that demands big weights and a rack is going to be more expensive than one revolving around floor exercises with medicine balls, and yet probably less expensive than if you were interested in complicated cardio machines.
You might be thinking: That’s all well and good, but what about real numbers? Amber Larsen, a massage therapist, registered yoga teacher, CrossFit Level 1 trainer, CrossFit Gymnastics trainer, and kinesio tape practitioner set up a home gym for her family and did the maths. Larsen explained that she started her home gym by investing in a full rack, barbell, bumper plates, gymnastics rings, clips, pull-up ring and storage. She budgeted for $1,200 and ended up spending $1,000 thanks to some clever spending.
Obviously each gym will be different according to your individual needs, and you could end up spending more or less than Larsen. At the end of the day, you need to do some quick online research to get an idea of the costs. But if $1,000 sounds expensive up front, then consider this: if you’re paying around $150 a month on a gym membership and transport costs to get there, your home gym will pay for itself after six to seven months.
Now, there are some surefire ways to cut down the cost of your home gym and score some cheap workout equipment. Here are some ideas:
- You can get cheaper second hand equipment from online auction sites or direct from gyms.
- You don’t always have to buy brand name goods.
- Check Craiglist and other classified sites.
- Try fitness shows for some good deals.
- Buy at the right time. Wayne Boucher, the fitness and wellness coordinator at Fitness Zone, a gym at Algonquin College, recommends looking for equipment a month and a half after Christmas. “Exercise gear is given as Christmas presents or purchased as part of a New Year’s resolution to get fit, and by mid-February it turns up for sale on websites,” he said.
Step 4: Getting Familiar With Workout Equipment
Now here’s the fun part – choose what gear you want in your personal gym! Remember that you need to base your choice on the equipment’s ability to help you reach your fitness goals above all else. There’s no point in choosing a cheap, awesome-coloured skipping rope if you’re not remotely interested in cardio.
Next, try to opt for versatile equipment that can be used for multiple exercises so you can get your money’s worth.
Then, look for seriously durable equipment that will stand the test of time, preferably with long warranties. When it comes to your home gym, the longer your equipment lasts, the more you save over time, so you’re better off investing in quality gear.
Finally, if budget is not a major issue then you might want to consider the look of your equipment. What sort of colour scheme and general feel are you going for? Maybe you’re into gritty, raw metal finishes or brightly coloured barbells that make your room look like a rainbow. Aesthetics aren’t going to be a priority for everyone, but some people get seriously pumped if their home gym has the right look.
Keep in mind that you don’t need dozens of different bits of equipment in order for you to hit your goals, and you certainly don’t have to buy it all at once. Building a home gym doesn’t have to be big or complicated to be effective. Having said that, next we’ll take a look at some of the essential pieces of equipment you can consider.
Essential Home Gym Equipment
A rack of dumbbells are often the go-to piece of equipment for working your arms, shoulders, chest, back and core, and can be used to add weight to leg exercises like squats and lunges. They’re incredibly versatile and cost effective, and understandably a big hit in home gyms.
Their main drawbacks are that a whole rack of dumbbells can take up a lot of space and they’re generally not heavy enough for some serious bodybuilding. Although opting for the more expensive adjustable dumbbells can solve both of these issues.
The core pieces of gym equipment, barbells and weight plates are necessary for some of the most important exercises, including squats, lunges, deadlifts, power cleans, bicep curls and rows to name just a few. Barbells and weighted plates are considered one of the essential pieces of home gym equipment because they’re relatively cheap, long lasting, versatile and allow for easy progression with increased weight.
You’ll need to choose between standard and Olympic barbells. Barbell specialists Adamant Barbell explained that standard is fine for your regular lifters, but the thicker, stronger Olympic barbells are necessary if you’re doing heavy lifting of 200 pounds or more.
Plates also come in standard or Olympic, and they match up to the type of bar you’ve chosen. Remember that Olympic barbells and plates are essential for those doing Olympic lifts. Consider shelling out a bit more for rubber coated plates as they’re easier on the floor, and quieter, if you have to drop them.
One of the most versatile pieces of equipment in the gym and one that many fitness fanatics swear by. As personal fitness trainer Scott Laidler attests to, they can replicate most dumbbell exercises while adding more dynamic movements and functional training elements.
Exercise balls are great for developing functional fitness, core strength and a bit of hand-eye coordination when throwing and catching them. Keep in mind that there are medicine balls, wall balls and slam balls, which are each designed for different activities. In a nutshell, wall balls are for throwing at walls such as during a squat and wall throw exercise, slam balls are designed for slamming at the ground with little to no rebound, and medicine balls are usually not designed for heavy impacts but are better for rotational core exercises, floor balance exercises and partner throws.
A quality inflatable exercise ball, also known as a stability ball, is great for developing core strength and balance. They’re usually quite cheap, take up next to no room when deflated, and are extremely versatile. Inflatable balls are great for crunches, planks, squats and hamstring curls – and then you can use them for sitting on during dumbbell exercises for some extra core stability work.
Skipping is one of the most simple cardio options out there, and one of the most effective. “Not only is it a fantastic cardio workout, but that up-and-down motion tightens the muscles around the organs, strengthening your core,” adds Boucher. Plus skipping ropes are small, cheap, portable and don’t require much space to use.
These are the go-to pieces of fitness equipment to develop explosive power through plyometric exercises like squat jumps. Jumping on boxes is great for leg and core strength needed for good jumps and fast movements in a variety of sports.
Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist and State of Fitness owner Justin Grinnel points out that box jumps help to develop fast twitch muscle fibres, and also reduce the risk of injury as landing on a box makes you better at coming to a sudden stop. Boxes also happen to be great for cardio and fat burning and, let’s be honest, they’re handy for stretching, putting things on and simply sitting down on for a rest!
Mats are essential for protecting your home and your equipment. They are a must-have item if you’re renting and don’t want to dent the floor, or need to reduce noise so you don’t end up with cranky neighbours. Interlocking foam mats usually do the trick and are cost effective.
There’s something very cool about working out to surround sound with thumping base instead of just your little earphones. An epic stereo system is also great for blocking out external noises and giving you some serious lift when you need it for that last set.
Advanced Home Gym Equipment
A power rack or squat rack can be the biggest and most expensive piece of equipment you get. They’re not essential for all workouts but are a must-have for those of you interested in heavy weights for legs, chest and shoulders, and adds a degree of safety for training on your own.
If cardio is not a main focus for your fitness goals, then you can usually substitute expensive cardio equipment for bodyweight exercises, dynamic stretching, skipping or outdoor running. However if weight loss, high intensity interval training and cardio health is a priority, then consider a treadmill, spin bike or stair stepper to get your heart pumping. They can be great options for the seriously time poor among us, as you can simultaneously make phone calls, listen to a pod cast or just watch TV.
If you’re all about the upper body and need to kick your training up a notch, consider a dip belt for weighted dips and pull ups.
Along with this, you should consider buying a weight lifting belt for your back and leg workouts. They keep your back straight and secure, limiting risk of injury.
Love them or hate them, foam rollers are fantastic for recovery. They’re held in high regard by professional athletes and therapists and increase mobility and flexibility while aiding injuries and little niggling aches and pains. They’re quite small and inexpensive too so you can stash them in a corner.
At first glance, resistance bands seem pretty simple, but they are one of the most versatile pieces of equipment you can get. They offer resistance so they can replace dumbbells and can also come with handles and attachments so you can strap them to a bench or door for pull-downs, squats, standing chest presses and all sorts of shoulder exercises. Resistance bands are great for home gyms because, like elite hockey trainer Chris Schwarz explained, “They’re light, compact, don’t cost more than a couple hundred dollars, and you can do 50 to 100 exercises with them.”
Also known as yoga mats, these are good for stretching, yoga, pilates and ground-based body weight exercises. They are easy on your joints and keep you off the filthy floor!
Weight vests can beef up your cardio when added to skipping, box jumps or jogging, and can also add weight for strength exercises like pushups and pullups. Everything gets worked harder with a weight vest – muscles, heart and lungs. These can also be effective for training when you have an event or adventure coming up where you’ll be carrying weight in the form of a backpack. As an added bonus, they don’t take up much space and you can progress by increasing the amount of weight in the vest as you need it.
Step 5: Determine Which Equipment You will need to Buy and/or Can Afford
Remember that you don’t need to buy all your gear at once. The best home gyms develop over time, so just start with the most important pieces of equipment for you. You might only need a bench and barbell for strength training, a medicine ball and mat for functional fitness, or just a skipping rope and some space to improve your cardio fitness. Home gyms can start seriously cheap, you just have to start!
Your home gym will probably change and evolve as you progress and develop different workout routines. You might find yourself needing more weight, or different equipment altogether if you change your focus or transition to a new sport. The important thing is that by starting your home gym you’re enabling yourself to get fitter, healthier and closer to your goals. Even the smallest workout is better than no workout at all.
Step 6: Figure Out How To Make It Fun For You
Have a vision for your gym. What do you like from the gyms you’ve been to before? Think about colour schemes, lighting, posters, progression photos, mirrors, music. Make it a space that gets you pumped up, or zenned out, depending on how you like to work out.
If you’re not sure where to start, jump onto websites like Houzz and Pinterest for inspiration. You can also check out social media sites like Instagram and search using hashtags to see some seriously cool home gym ideas.
How To Put Your Home Gym Together
Once you’ve got your home gym plan sorted it’s time to kick it into action. Start with buying the actual gear, then putting it all together in the right place and making sure it’s safe to use before you jump into your first ever home gym workout.
Step 1: Purchase Equipment
Now that you know what you want in your home gym, it’s time to get it. But where to start? Here are some ideas to get you thinking:
- You might have already found some good websites while you were researching gym equipment for sale, and often online buying is the best way to go. It’s one of the fastest ways to view and compare different brands, and you can usually check out customer reviews and ratings too. Big sites like Amazon and eBay are fantastic places to pick up cheap workout equipment, and who doesn’t love home delivery?
- Another online option is to buy directly from fitness equipment websites, especially during sales. Online auction sites don’t always stock all of a brand’s products so it can be handy to check out individual brand’s websites.
- Go to an actual fitness equipment store. These are good because you can get the gear right there and then, and can occasionally wrangle a good deal from a salesperson.
- Look into second hand gear on online classified sites like Craigslist or your local classifieds.
- Head to a nearby fitness show to find some good deals.
- A lot of home owners have bought expensive gym equipment in the past that quickly gets left in a dusty garage. That’s why garage sales are great for finding little-used gym equipment for cheap! Just check the quality and safety of it before buying – you don’t want to lug home a rust bucket.
- Finally, Breaking Muscle recommends checking out listings in areas that have colleges and universities, especially in spring time when most students are moving back home and selling off their stuff.
Step 2: Assemble & Maneuver Equipment According To Your Liking
Another fun part of creating your own home gym is setting it all up and watching it take shape. You might already have a home gym vision in mind and will know where you want everything to go, or you may not have thought about it. Here are some things to think about when assembling and maneuvering your new equipment:
- It’s usually best to start by moving in and assembling the biggest piece of equipment such as the squat rack. It will take up the most space and often dictate where your other equipment will fit.
- Think about the exercises you’ll do with each piece of equipment and what range of movement you’ll need for each. You don’t want to feel cramped and end up lunging into a wall.
- If you like to do circuit work consider putting your equipment in the order you would use it.
- More complicated equipment, like squat racks and benches, will not come pre-assembled so you’ll have to do it yourself or hire someone to do it for you (usually from the company you bought it from). It really pays to read the instructions and follow them carefully. If you don’t understand the instructions fully then look online for assembly videos. William Barrett, author of The Lazy Man’s Guide to Fitness Equipment, explained that wrong assembly is not jus plain dangerous but it can also void any warranty on the equipment.
Remember that once you’ve got your gear set up and organised, it doesn’t have to stay there. Feel free to reorganize your home gym every so often for interest and to see if a different setup works better.
Step 3: Inspect All Equipment
Before you launch into a full on workout, double check all your equipment for safety. Are the screws tight and the welded joints secure? Do moving parts glide the way they’re supposed to? Is anything rattling or loose? Are there any manufacturing defects? You don’t want to be thinking about these questions when you’re in the middle of an epic power lift.
If you’ve picked up secondhand equipment it’s especially important to give it a good clean and inspect it for wear and tear like rust, cracks, tears or loose screws. You don’t know what the previous owner did with their equipment!
Step 4: Plan Your Workouts and Enjoy Your Exercise!
Remember that unless you have a training buddy over, you’ll be working out on your own. That means no one is there to tell you when your technique is off, or help you out if you ever get stuck under a bar! For that reason, it’s important to plan your routine around low-risk exercises.
It’s a good idea to get a personal training session every once in a while if you need help to clean up your technique or mix up your program. Home gyms don’t have to be your only form of fitness, and they don’t have to replace a commercial gym entirely. Especially if you’re new to exercise, personal trainers and other fitness professionals will be useful to give you training ideas and help you write up a workout regime that will help you achieve your fitness goals.
Video channels and fitness websites can also be great resources for finding new exercises and training routines, as long as they’re from trusted sources.
Finally, take some time to step back and admire your new home gym. Congratulations, you did it! Now it’s time to jump into your first ever personal gym workout and enjoy all the benefits of getting fit while staying at home.
Tips to Upkeep Your Home Gym
It can be easy to finish a workout, dump your equipment and walk out without a second backward glance. It’s what we do at gyms most of the time, but remember that gyms have professional cleaning staff. In your personal home gym, the cleaning staff is you!
Here are a few things you need to do to ensure the cleanliness, safety and longevity of your home gym:
- Wipe down your equipment after every use or things can get sweaty and smelly quickly.
- Focus cleaning on regularly touched areas like bike seats, treadmill buttons, and handles.
- Try to get fresh air through the room on a regular basis by opening doors and windows or investing in a fan.
- Consider installing an automatic antibacterial hand spray dispenser.
Safety & Longevity
- Minimize clutter & equipment overlap
- Don’t leave dumbbells lying on the ground – they’re just waiting for you to trip or stub your toe on them.
- Regular maintenance means equipment will last longer and is safer to use.
Popular fitness equipment store Fitness Market recommends checking over your equipment about once a month. During your inspections, here are eight common problems to look for:
- Loose screws or bolts.
- Breaks in cables, elastic bands or pulleys.
- Weaknesses in weld joints.
- Cracks in barbells and dumbbells.
- Crimped cables.
- Wear and tear on the braking mechanism of bikes.
- Dust build up, such as on a treadmill belt.
One of the best things about creating your own home gym is that you’re enabling yourself to get fitter, healthier and closer to your goals. Just reading this article and thinking about the possibilities is a step in the right direction towards prioritizing your health and fitness.
It’s certainly not easy to make the time to do a workout but a home gym does make it a lot easier, so as long as you use it, it’s worth every dollar. Try to mix up your workouts to keep your motivation up, be proactive in searching out new workout routines, and progressing your training so you can have continually evolving results. If you get stuck in a rut, seek out a fitness professional to get you back on track.
Finally, remember that a home gym only gives back what you put in. While even the smallest workout is better than no workout at all, all of that time, money and effort you put into your home gym will go to waste if you don’t actually use it. So get into it!
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