You can build an excellent home gym area inside your living space – whether it’s within a corner in your studio apartment, an entire guest room in your house, or even a garage or backyard patio.
What follows are several ideas for configuring your home gym so that it matches your unique needs, workout style, and budget.
I’ve also included a video with exercises that are perfect for a home gym – a firming, full-body workout. Then, toward the end of the video, I provide a quick tour of my home gym and an explanation (turn the video player’s sound ON) of what tools you can put in your own home fitness area (when you designate a specific area within your home for fitness, your health can improve and life becomes more enjoyable), so be sure to watch the video all the way through.
Benefits of a Home Gym
Often I have a better workout in my home gym than I do at the commercial gym.
Even though a commercial gym has machines I don’t have at home, the equipment I do have at home is highly effective. Plus, I don’t have to wait for any equipment to become available.
Your home gym will likely be cleaner and more organized than any commercial gym, and once you get started in your home workout it’s easier to stay focused and avoid distraction.
Since time is truly your most valuable resource, you’ll likely enjoy not having to commute to and from a commercial gym. A home gym will use your limited time much more effectively, and you’ll even save on fuel costs.
Different Types of Home Gyms
In an earlier article, I outlined how you could easily create a mobile circuit-training gym, by keeping specific types of fitness equipment inside a canvas crate within the trunk of your car. I do this myself, and I enjoy working out in my neighborhood parks – usually between three to eight times a month.
But I also enjoy exercising at home. In my particular case, I turned my entire living room into a gym. Additionally, I put a fitness-friendly astroturf in my backyard so I could exercise there. Of course, many people would find this arrangement a bit extreme, so I’m providing you with several other home gym scenarios that might work better for you.
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Downsides to Exercising at Home
The hardest part of working out in your home gym is simply getting started (when you arrive at a commercial gym, sometimes the environment will provide you with a bit of external motivation that makes beginning exercises a tad easier). However, once you actually begin the workout, I believe it’s easier to keep going in a home gym because there are fewer weird distractions.
Allow me to give you this vital tip: once you set up your home gym area, keep it pristine. Do not fill the area with clutter. Do not set boxes on your treadmill, or drape laundry over your bike. The more seriously you take your home gym, the more hours of joy and meaning it will provide you.
How to Make a Home Gym (Equipment Recommendations)
The least expensive equipment you can put inside your home gym area is a selection of resistance bands! Bands are comparatively cheap and outrageously effective. I’m a big fan of resistance bands; they have helped strengthen and define my physique in a way that other fitness equipment can’t quite achieve.
For the most simple and affordable home gym set-up, you will need:
- a selection of resistance bands
- a textured rubber mat (unless your gym area is carpeted or matted already)
- a non-slip, microfiber towel that matches the size of your mat
- a kettlebell (get one that is a bit heavier than you’d like)
- stationary recumbent bike
With your mat, towel, resistance bands, and kettlebell, you can have a fantastic workout. Use any of my workout videos as a jumping-off point (or peruse the limitless selection on YouTube).
If you can swing it, you might want to also find a stationary recumbent bike for your home gym area. Though on fair-weather days you can always walk or run outdoors, on days when the weather is less than perfect you’ll find a recumbent bike comes in very handy. You can perhaps find a used one at a discounted price on a local list site such as Craigslist.
The rest of the suggested equipment is optional.
You really don’t need anything else beyond the five items I’ve already listed. However, if you have more to spend in your budget, the next level up would be to get:
- a pair of adjustable dumbbells
- an adjustable bench
- suspension straps
- stability ball
For my adjustable dumbbells, I use Bowflex (see video). They are excellent, in my opinion.
For your adjustable bench, find one that has a decline setting, a flat setting, and (preferably) five incline settings. Do your research before purchasing your bench. The more settings it has, probably the better the bench will serve you. On the other hand, you want it to be portable.
You might also want to consider getting some suspension straps, such as TRX, for your home gym.
One big benefit to straps is that it makes it easier to train the torso’s posterior chain of muscles – rear delts, lats, and rhomboids. Most straps come with an attachment that you slip over a door before closing it. This is helpful because not everyone has a pull-up bar (assuming one is even strong enough to do pull-ups).
Organizing the Equipment in Your Home Gym Area
As time passes, you’ll likely begin to acquire a collection of various workout toys. You’re going to need a designated place to keep that stuff. Consider placing cubbyhole shelving units in the room corner (see video). This way, each cubby represents a fitness tool category. I have mine divided up into:
- fitness books
- mobility tools (lacrosse balls, rollers, etc.)
- glute tools
- weight training (push-up platforms, weighted balls, weighted fitness vest, grip strengtheners, etc.),
- fitness DVDs
- massage guns
- neck tools
- resistance bands
Finally, if you’re an enthusiast like me (I’m a complete fitness nerd), you’ll want space to place your not-necessary but fun-to-have pieces. In my case, that includes a vibe plate, and my Pilates equipment:
- trapeze table
- Wunda chair
But please don’t be put off by my elaborate set-up. Again, all you really need are 4 or 5 basics, and that requires little space and the least amount of money.
Garage Home Gym Tips
Garage gyms are increasingly popular, which I think is great.
However, my viewpoint is that a garage is, firstly, for the car.
I have often seen houses with messy garages that are strewn with $4,000 worth of junk and clutter; meanwhile, the $80,000 car sits on the driveway or in the street getting baked in the sun or rusted in the snow.
That makes no sense to me.
Automobiles are often the biggest family investment (or next biggest, if they also have a house mortgage), so it makes sense to protect that investment and use the garage as it was designed – for the car. Fortunately, they now make power weight-training racks that are collapsable. Usually, they are squat racks with pull-up bars and accessories (such as a bench or dipping handles) that are foldable and only take up four inches of space when not in use. That means you can back your car out of the garage, then workout, and return the car when you’re finished. Another option, if you have a level driveway and the weather is pleasant, is to workout in the driveway. I’ve noticed more and more people are doing that lately.
Example of a Home Gym Workout
Try this workout at home (refer to video). Modify the exercises to match your circumstances. Beginners can use lighter weight and do 2 sets of each exercise (12 reps each set). Intermediate-level athletes can do 3 sets. Advanced exercisers can go significantly heavier on their final, third set:
- Reverse Dumbell Lunges for Thighs and Glutes
- Single-Leg Heel Raises for Calves
- Single Leg Pull for Abs
- Double Leg Pull for Abs
- Alternating Straight-Leg Double Pulse for Abs
- Subtle Pelvic Scoops for Abs
- Slow Bicycle for Core
- Single-Leg Box Step Up with Kettlebell for Lower Body and Core
- Cable Fly from Underneath (with cables, springs, or bands) for Pecs
- Single-Arm Dumbbell Row for Lats and Rhomboids
- Tricep Dips (using handles or benches)
- Kettlebell Pull-Over for Torso
- Reverse Fly with Band for Posterior Deltoids
- Dumbbell Shoulder Press
TIP: when doing Kettlebell Pull-Overs, the hips should be slightly lower than your hips. Rest your neck on a bench. Keep your navel pulled in tightly and your glutes should remain activated to help protect your lower back.
TIP: for Dumbbell Shoulder Press make sure your first set is very light to help warm up the shoulder joints.
As always, proceed cautiously and obtain your doctor’s approval before making any significant changes to your movement regimen.
4 More Strange Exercise Accessories for Your Home Gym
Exercise accessories are those additional fitness tools that help make your workouts even more effective and enjoyable.
I keep my home gym and my car both stocked with exercise accessories.
During a typical week, there are several different locations at which I workout:
- in my neighborhood gym
- in my home gym
- at local fitness parks (I live in the desert, so I can workout outdoors throughout the year).
For all of these workouts, I find it helpful and motivating to keep an ample supply of exercise accessories on hand.
These Exercise Accessories Inspire the Most Comments and Questions
I share ideas and motivation online – in photos and videos featured on Pinterest and this website – and, over time, I’ve noticed that there are 4 specific exercise accessories that I get asked about every time they appear.
I’m sharing these products in case you find them helpful. For the record, I’m not affiliated with the companies that make these items and I don’t participate in any revenue from their sale.
I’ve also included a video lower within this article that you might find particularly helpful.
1. Barehand Partial Gloves
In the culture of CrossFit, it’s considered cool to build up very thick hand calluses. However, when calluses get too thick, they tear easily during pull-ups or barbell work – exposing small, pink openings that become a simple way for staphylococcus pathogens to enter your body.
Open skin tears and staph infections are not cool, folks.
Also, that hardened skin on your palms might not bother you much, but probably doesn’t feel great to your romantic partner when touched by you – the edges of calluses can get textured and sharp.
Using gloves while exercising helps to secure your grip (particularly if your palms become a bit sweaty during intense exertion) and prevent callus build-up on the pads at the base of your fingers.
Some people wear full gloves that cover the entire hand including fingers; however, this extra padding over-corrects the problem by making the skin too soft and unresponsive (the nerve endings at the tips of your fingers are highly sensitive and responsible for sending sensory information to your brain).
Barehand is a brand of partial gloves that protect the pads at the base of your fingers while still leaving the heels of your palms and fingertips exposed.
For me, they have been a game-changer.
There are other brands of partial gloves that are less expensive (find them on Amazon), however, I pay a bit more for the Barehand brand because I can throw them in the laundry machine over and over. They’re so well constructed that they don’t fall apart after multiple washes.
Once or twice a year, Barehand usually offers a 40% off sale.
2. Resistance Bands with Padded Cuffs
Everyone knows about resistance bands, both open and looped, but not everyone knows about the bands that have padded cuffs. The padded cuffs allow for a whole other menu of possible exercises!
Even today, I’m still surprised that people don’t use resistance bands more often. They’re outrageously effective, versatile, and affordable.
Some brands currently available with padded cuffs include Spri, TheraBand, and Elite Supplies.
3. Glute Ham Roller
The exercise accessories in this list are all made by different manufacturers, and the Glute Ham Roller is made by a company called Samson Equipment. Use this roller to do a variety of bridge thrusts and reverse hamstring curls, and also push-ups, lunges, and more.
The Glute Ham Roller is in no way essential to a good workout. It’s just an extra tool that can add some fun variety and spice to your workouts. I imagine it might also come in handy if you have to move a sofa!
4. Toe Sox
Your feet form the foundation upon which the rest of your body is built. For this reason, it’s important to have healthy, strong, and supple feet.
The principle behind Toe Sox is the same as is behind the Barehand Partial Gloves (see above) – better grip and absorption.
I’m a big believer in working out barefoot – particularly for yoga and pilates – but sometimes you need a little arch support, protection, and non-slip texture while still leaving your heel and toes exposed.
Because of the 20 muscles in the human foot, toes are like little suction cups that help you to both propel and stay grounded (if you’ve ever seen a monkey move around and climb trees, you know what I’m talking about). Standard socks and shoes squish the toes together, which is disadvantageous. Another benefit to Toe Sox is that they help create a little extra separation between your toes.
Exercise Accessories Can Make a Positive Difference
There are many more exercise accessories that I use during a typical week than what is listed here; I’m sharing these in particular because they’re the ones that others find most intriguing.
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