Setting Up Your Complete Home Gym: The Essentials EditionSeptember 1, 2020
As a personal trainer who has helped a lot of people get into shape, I can say one thing: setting up a home gym is easier than you think.
With so much equipment available, you can tailor a gym perfectly for you–giving you the ability to match your budget with your goal, space, and drive.
While some home gyms can get downright expensive, they don’t have to be. They also don’t have to take up huge amounts of space.
You really can have a modern, efficient home gym on a budget that suits you, but where do you start?
In this article, I’ll help you through the minefield of options and touch on the 6 most important things to think about when setting up your home gym: equipment, space, storage, noise, fitness goals, and cost.
I’ll cover the options available to you because we know how important it is to get it right. The last thing you want is to set up a home gym and realize you’ve left something out and you now have to make do with what you have. We want you to hit the ground running.
Envisioning Your Ideal Home Gym
The benefits of a home gym are many, but aside from the convenience (roll out of bed and into your own gym), the investment in your health can’t be overstated.
Getting fit, strong, and flexible improves your lifestyle. You move better, have more energy, and suffer fewer injuries.
You also have more energy to do the things you want to do, but may have put off because you didn’t feel you were physically up to it.
Financially, home gyms make sense. If you get the right equipment for a good price, you should be able to resell it when it’s time to upgrade or move on.
They say ‘time is money.’ Imagine how much time you save not traveling across town in traffic, to get to a crowded gym where you have to wait for equipment.
If I’ve convinced you that a home gym is a great idea, let’s get you going.
There are some fundamentals that you have to decide on first, so I’ll cover those before we talk about the exciting stuff like equipment.
- Space: Don’t underestimate the need for the best space you can manage. Think swinging kettlebells, and an area to move without tripping over equipment. The space you have available will determine the equipment you buy to a large extent. Think outside the square here. Will you dedicate a room to your gym, or are you using the corner of your living room?
- Flooring: If your budget allows, anti-fatigue or non-slip matting is perfect. If not, you might need an old carpet or rug to protect the floor when you place the weights down. You can also purchase individual mats and place them strategically where you need them. Read our in-depth guide on my top picks for the best home gym flooring.
- Training Requirements: What type of training are you going to do? Are you looking for an all-round workout, or are you training for a specific event? Are you doing resistance training, or cardio, or both?
- Storage: Storage racks are essential, even just to keep order and allow your workouts to flow, without having to search for your next piece of equipment. You don’t want to fall over equipment either, so work out a good storage routine, because it makes a big difference.
If you are looking for some amazing home gym setups for inspiration and ideas, I wrote this article that goes over 11 mind-blowing garage gym setups.
Stock Your Home Gym With the Best You Can Afford
Being an essential guide, I’m going to break your new gym into three distinct functions. Only you know your space limitations and budget, so you decide whether you set up all three activities or a combination of what’s important to you. You’ll also need to decide on the little extras that make your training specific to you.
As I said, before you stock your home gym, you need to decide on what type of training you’ll do. For me, the best bang-for-buck is resistance training, core strength/rotational power, cardio, and flexibility.
You are different. Are you a runner looking to supplement your cardio with resistance, or a bodybuilder looking to add cardio to your routine? Are you a beginner or seasoned gym junkie?
You need to be cognizant of exactly what style of training you’re aiming to do, and match your new gym to your exercise preference.
If you are a seasoned fitness exponent, you may need equipment capable of harder, heavier work than someone new to the game.
Resistance and Strength Training At Home
Big cable machines take up a lot of space and require maintenance to keep them safe. I prefer the initial setup to choose equipment I can use for multiple exercises and body parts.
Home gyms require efficiency, so only get what you know you’ll use. An example of this is something like an ab roller.
Although you may like them, there are plenty of other pieces of equipment you can use, or even traditional bodyweight exercises to cover your abdominals.
- Bench: Choose an adjustable bench for your home gym that you can use for bench press, incline, and decline press. This bench should enable you to sit upright for shoulder press. These come in a variety of sizes and prices. Choose the best you can afford because, in the home gym, a bench is a pivotal piece of equipment you’ll use often.
You want good back support with a pad thick enough that you don’t have to adjust your body weight due to being uncomfortable.
The adjustable bench enables you to mix barbell and dumbbell resistance exercises. Choose a good quality bench rack for the weights or a combination bench and rack. (You may not have a spotter in your home gym)
- Barbell and Dumbells: You can use adjustable dumbbells or a set of fixed weight dumbbells. I prefer fixed weight so I don’t have to stop my workout to change weights. Over time, adjustable weights often become loose from being changed all the time.
- Kettlebells: Who doesn’t love kettlebells? If you have room to swing a kettlebell, I highly recommend them as a great strength, resistance, and rotational power tool. They come in different styles. From cast iron to adjustable kettlebells, you’ll find your preference.
- Squat Rack: Leg day has to be done. Bearing in mind you may not have a spotter, a squat rack is important to be able to perform full depth squats, with a safety mechanism in place. There are various options when it comes to this important consideration. I have mobility issues in my shoulder, so I’m a big fan of using a safety squat bar. If you’re into lifting really heavy weights, be sure to check out our best weightlifting belts product review.
- Pull Up Bar: This is a great piece of equipment because you can attach it to the wall out of the way. The lats are a difficult muscle to work effectively without a pull-up bar, but they are super important for rotational power, in conjunction with the core.
In House Cardio Training Options
This comes down to two considerations. Your desired style of cardio and space. A decent treadmill takes up a lot of space, while a stationary bike doesn’t. Let’s look at the basics.
- Treadmill: Treadmills come in all shapes and sizes, but my suggestion is if you have the space and funds, buy a commercial grade treadmill. You need it to last and also retain its resale value. If you like to run, this is the perfect cardio for you.
- Stationary Bike: Less space is required for a bike so if space is limited, a bike is a great option. You can warm down, warm up, or use the bike for HIIT. You could even put your road bike on a winter trainer. If you are looking for awesome (and affordable) stationary bikes for your home gym, we review the top 5 air bikes here
- Rowing Machine: Like treadmills, rowing machines take up a lot of space and are also difficult to move around, but are a good way to get your heart rate up. Rowing machines can be noisy too.
- Elliptical Machine: Another option very popular in gyms, and being upright, take up less space than rowing machines and treadmills.
Cardio machines are only an option when you set up a home gym because if you’re short on space, you can run or cycle on the road.
Optional Extras (That Would Be Great to Have)
These are the pieces of equipment that give variety to your workouts and provide additional training outside of the traditional weight-based resistance training.
Some of these things are for very specific exercises, while others can be used to replace weight/resistance training to keep things interesting.
- Punch Bag: Boxing training is great for cardio, toning, and coordination. You’ll need straps to support your wrists and bag gloves. If you’re a little more adventurous, kick boxing is fantastic for overall fitness and strength. You will need a sturdy beam to hang the bag from, but they are a good piece of equipment if you have the right set up. There are also bags you can sit on the floor or even punch bags you can inflate.
- Jump Rope: Want to get your heart rate up while losing weight and toning? A jump rope will be your best friend. Make sure you have space (height clearance as well) and a floor suitable for jumping on. Using a jump rope well takes practice, but it’s well worth the effort.
- Bosu Elite: Bosu balls have a bad reputation among many followers of traditional weight training. But, the Bosu Elite is a step up. I use one and find it very effective for strength, balance, speed, agility, and aesthetics. I use a Bosu Elite to train clients, and it takes up very little space. This is one piece of equipment you probably don’t want neighbors downstairs though as there is a bit of jumping involved.
- Medicine Ball: These are great for plyometrics, abdominal workouts, and balance exercises. You just need to figure out the weight that suits you and your fitness goals.
- Slam Ball: These are a relatively cheap item, so you don’t need to spend a lot on slam balls. They aren’t good if you live in an apartment with people living below you, so have a think about your environment.
- Yoga Mat: Being able to lay or sit comfortably while stretching or doing abdominal exercises is important for form. Mats roll up and are easily stored.
All in One Machines
Okay, I know what you’re thinking, but if you are short on space, or can’t dedicate an area of your home to a permanent home gym, all-in-one machines may be an option.
Often scoffed at by traditional weight trainers, they are effective in keeping you fit, increasing muscle mass and cardio fitness.
These machines are designed for efficiency, space-saving, and longevity of the components.
If you go down this route, there are a lot of options, from permanent cable-based systems, to fold away machines you can get out and put away as you need to.
At the end of the day, it’s all about fitness and being the best and healthiest you can be.
Even the best-rated, or most well known space-saving machines are limited and you may find yourself needing to upgrade or switch to free weights sooner than you think. It comes down to your training requirements.
Let’s look at some of the different types available:
Probably one of the most well known because of the spokesman, but it’s also an effective machine to a certain level of fitness and strength. You are unlikely to get the gains like you get pumping traditional weights, but I know that’s not everyone’s goal.
With over 200 pounds of resistance and 25 exercises, Bowflex will suit many fitness enthusiasts.
Smith machines have come a long way. They can take up a lot of room, but generally cover all of your body, including squats. They are also good if you have no spotter because most smith machines have hooks you can use to catch the bar for safety.
It’s not often that the words resistance bands, barbells, and dumbbells feature in the same gym planning. Resistance bands aren’t just for low-level resistance training. They are becoming more acceptable, especially because they can be thrown into your suitcase when you travel.
Bands come in various thicknesses, so they can be tailored to your ability, so don’t underestimate their ability to give you a solid workout as a part of a balanced and varied session.
You can cover most of your body parts, and although nowhere near as intense as a weights based resistance workout, you can challenge yourself.
Used correctly, resistance bands fatigue muscles just like weights do. I’ve worked clients’ shoulders and increased intensity purely by changing the angle of their wrists. I use them to improve postural issues and increase flexibility. Adding the gentle resistance of a band while stretching, improves the efficiency of the stretch.
Resistance bands are also great for rehab when you’re able to start increasing the resistance to an injured body part, but you’re not ready for heavy resistance.
Before you go out and buy equipment, make sure you plan your gym. Decide on space and budget, the type of training you want to do, and what extras you will get.
Although buying brand new equipment would be nice, the reality is a lot of us need to look at good quality second-hand gear. Sites like Craigslist are great places to look at because some of the second-hand equipment has hardly been used.
A word of warning though. If you can, inspect the equipment before you buy it and if it is the type of fitness gear that needs servicing, ask for the records if they have them available. You just want to make sure cables are in good condition and there isn’t any damage.
Setting up your first home gym doesn’t need to be complicated. Envision your ideal set up.
- Select the space you’re using. Think area, flooring, and storage
- Consider what resistance training equipment suits you.
- Think about your cardio equipment based on your goals and budget.
- What extras will you use?
- Think about your end goal and the type of training and equipment to help you
I hope this has helped you and given you the confidence to start the planning for your very own home gym. Remember to use storage and above all else, have fun!
Here are some additional readings you might find useful in your home gym journey: