Your Guide to The Ultimate Home Gym
It's 5 AM. You punch the alarm clock and shuffle over to your kitchen to grab some water and pre-workout. You throw your gym clothes on and drive 30 minutes to the gym, get some work in for about an hour, and head back home with just enough time to get ready for the day.
But what if you didn't have to burn that extra hour of travel time, or deal with people asking to work in with you on the bench? What if you could just head out to your garage and make some good old fashioned homemade gains?
A home gym makes this a reality. A home gym affords you all of the benefits of a commercial gym without the hassle and inconvenience that commercial gym memberships come with. In addition, home gyms allow you to work out any time and skip the time it takes to commute back and forth to the gym. Home gyms only benefit you to the highest degree if they are done well.
You don't want to work out in a gym that doesn't cover your basic workout needs. The great thing about home gyms is that they contain what you want; you have the freedom to fill it with your preferred equipment and nothing else. With that in mind, read on for a comprehensive guide to creating a stellar home gym.
Why a Home Gym?
By far the most compelling reason to build your own home gym is the convenience that it affords you. Having a home gym means having a gym with all of your equipment ready to use and that is open 24 hours a day. You never have to deal with a piece of equipment being used by someone else, and you can even skip racking weights if you want to.
Long Term Investment
In addition, having a home gym is a long term investment. You can save money on your gym membership in the long run, especially if you buy reasonably-priced equipment. The cost of a gym membership adds up over time, while equipment is generally a one-time purchase.
Home gyms also allow you to customize your space based upon your needs and desires. If you want to flip tires in your home gym, you can do so without worrying about bothering anyone else. If you want to drop weights safely, you can drop bumper plates in a home gym without worrying about the noise (provided no one in the house is sleeping.)
Home gyms allow you to move through your space and access your equipment in a way that commercial gyms won't. This is especially true if you train for a sport-specific event like strongman training, powerlifting or Crossfit. All of these require specific training implements that are either hard to find or too awkward to use at a commercial gym.
Thing to Consider Before Building
In order to successfully set up your home gym, you'll unfortunately need to face a healthy dose of reality first. The first hurdle that you will have to face is that the initial cost of curating home gym is much larger than the cost of a gym membership. There are a couple ways to manage this.
What Are Your Essentials?
First, consider only purchasing the bare essentials in your gym before buying everything you want. For you, that might look like a barbell, some plates, and maybe a budget rack. You can do a lot of good damage with just a barbell and enough weight.
How Much Space Can You Allocate?
In addition, you need to be realistic about the amount of space that you can dedicate to your home gym. There are a ton of great space-saving options like squat racks that fold into the wall and wall mounts for equipment instead of floor stands. You might have to do without certain pieces of equipment that you would prefer to have because of space limitations.
Repair and Maintenance
In addition, your equipment will wear and tear over time. In a commercial gym, that isn't your problem, but in a home gym it is. You need to be prepared to spend the extra money it costs to repair and maintenance your equipment.
Finally, you probably don't have hundreds of thousands of dollars to blow on gym equipment like commercial gyms do, so be aware that you might not be able to build your dream gym. If you stick to the essentials and browse sites like Craigslist for your equipment, you should be able to supply your gym with everything that you need.
The Equipment: What Are Some Options?
What you need in your home gym depends mostly on your specific goals and what your space and budget will allow. There are tons of great options to fill your home gym with; below we will explore some of them.
All in One Machines & Multi-gyms
There are a few all-in-one home gym pieces available that will allow you to cover a lot of your bases without needing to buy a ton of different equipment. There are some pros and cons to all in home home gym setups, but most of them come with some kind of bench and cable setup. This can be more than adequate for many people.
The downside to buying a setup like this is that it allows for little to no customization and can be expensive to purchase initially. Some products that claim to be a "total gym" are little more than gimmicks with only one legitimate use.
Power racks are a home gym essential if you plan on doing any barbell exercises like shoulder presses or back squats. Power racks can be pretty expensive, but you can sometimes find them at a reasonable price at a garage sale or on Craigslist. You can find power racks with pull-up bars, TRX attachments, and many different types of adjustable rack attachments. You don't have to break the bank here, but try to find one that is quality enough to last for a while.
The smith machine is a power rack alternative that operates on a fixed plane of motion. Smith machines can be safer for exercises like benching if you don't have a spotter, and they are great for exercises like shoulder presses that are best done as high-rep bodybuilding exercises. Smith machines can be large and expensive, however, for a relatively disproportional benefit. For most people, a power rack and barbell will be the most intelligent option.
Adjustable Dumbbell / Kettlebells
Adjustable dumbbells and kettlebells allow you to achieve a great variety of training stimulus without the need for a ton of space. A single adjustable dumbbell is a great place to start. If you can find one that goes up to 75lb, that is ideal, but most only go up to 55. One dumbbell is fine to start with, and you can add another later. Kettlebells are also a great space-saving option. Kettlebells can be bought as a single or as a pair, but they do not come in adjustable sizes.
Stationary / Adjustable Bench
A bench paired with a power rack or smith machine allows for a bench press setup, and the bench on its own offers a ton of utility as well. For the most value, consider getting a bench that can lie flat as well as incline for incline bench press and other inclined movements. Benches can also be used in a pinch as a surface for box jumps and other plyometric movements.
Barbell and Weights
The barbell is a foundation of any home gym setup. The cheapest option here will be metal plates; start off by selecting a weight amount that is enough to challenge your current fitness level. If you plan on doing Olympic-style lifting or Crossfit, bumper plates are essential. If you buy one set of 45 pound bumper plates, that should be enough to last you for a while. A barbell is versatile enough to cover a wide variety of movements for many different skill levels.
Pull Up Bars
As previously mentioned, a good power rack will likely have a pull up bar attached to it, but you may still want to have a separate space for pull-ups. This can be especially helpful if you plan on doing movements like muscle-ups that require a lot of overhead space. Pull up bars with different grips will also help with different pull up variations.
Cable machines provide the unique benefit of providing tension across every point of a movement. For instance, with a dumbbell lateral raise, the resistance that is placed on the muscle is greatest at the top of the movement. With a cable machine, that resistance is constant across every point. Cable machines can be big and expensive, so make sure that it is a priority and you have the space before purchasing one.
This is a pretty broad category, and there are a ton of options out there. One of the best core developers is a Glute Ham Developer. These can be used as a platform for setups and crunches as well as a lower back movement that heavily incorporates the glutei and hamstrings. Cable machines can also be used as an ab resistance machine. A standalone ab crunch machine is also a viable option if you have the space, but consider prioritizing other equipment first for the most value. An ab wheel is a great option here for both price and space concerns.
The rower is one of the most space-effective cardio tools on the market. They are extremely lightweight and can be lifted straight up into the air, clearing a ton of floor space in your gym. Rowers can burn a ton of calories and can be used for HIIT training or steady-state cardio. They also have the benefit of stressing multiple large muscle groups at once, making them a unique alternative to running.
If you don't like to run outside or don't have the option, treadmills are a great alternative. There are tons of varieties or treadmills available, but chances are you can find plenty for sale on Craigslist. In addition, there are self-powered running treadmills that have curved belts, which means you can run at a natural gait. There are also self-powered treadmills on the market made for sprinting and farmer's carries.
Exercise bikes are another great cardio machine to include in your home gym. The most common type is an exercise bike with fixed arms and an electrical interface that displays info like mileage and calories burned. The other option is an air bike. Air bikes have fully movable arm and leg attachments that both work together to spin the fan blade inside the bike, providing resistance to your entire body. These are great for HIIT style training, and are especially great for warmups.
A cheap and necessary piece of equipment, yoga mats allow you to perform core exercises and stretches pain-free on your gym floor. This is especially useful if you train in a garage gym with concrete floors. Yoga mats can be bought for reasonable prices on Amazon in a wide variety of sizes and colors. Roll them up and place them underneath a rack or in a corner for easy storage.
Ab rollers are a cheap and space-efficient way to train your core. They come in a ton of varieties and can even be packed pretty easily in a suitcase. The ab wheel rollout is one of the best and most versatile ab exercises out there, and is surprisingly challenging, even for advanced trainees. Ab wheels can easily be tucked away behind a corner in any home gym.
Foam rollers help with warmups and cool downs and can easily be tucked away in a corner. Foam rollers help you achieve myofascial release, which is important for muscle's performance and recovery. Foam rolling the back and quads is especially important, and most people underestimate the therapeutic effect it has on their body.
Gym and Exercise Mats
If you are rough on your equipment or intend on dropping weights from any significant height, you will need sturdy gym mats to go on the floor of your home gym. Gym mats can be purchased in a variety of materials, and many are fairly easy to cut to size and install.
Medicine balls are a great and perhaps underrated training tool. Medicine balls can be purchased from around 10lbs to around 200lbs. At lighter weights, they are great for plyometric exercises, ab exercises, and movement-specific warmups. At heavier weights, they are an excellent conditioning tool and can be used for strongman movements like shouldering or tossing. One medicine ball in a weight that is moderate for you is a great place to start. Most medicine balls can be thrown and slammed without any damage.
If crunches tend to hurt your back, balance balls are a must-have for abdominal exercises. If you want to work on your balance, they certainly work for that as well. These come in a ton of different sizes and materials. One or two should suffice for most people's needs.
As you might be able to tell, there are a ton of options for a home gym. The most important thing is to most closely match your needs and preferences with options that make sense for you and your space and are easily affordable. The great thing about home gyms is that you can add to them over time; A barbell and plates can easily become a fully-fledged home gym with a ton of options for training in no time. If you want to free yourself from the complications of a commercial gym, join the home gym tribe and see how great having a home gym to yourself is.