The Ultimate Guide to Building a Home Gym
How to Build a Home Gym: Our Ultimate Guide
Gyms are one of the best places to build your dream body, reach your athletic potential or just get some movement in to stay active and promote a health lifestyle - and they have been for quite some time. But there are multiple downsides to physically going to the gym -- you have to deal with other people, the machine or weights you need are taken, it costs a monthly fee, and takes up time and energy just to go there and back.
For the last few years, creating your own home gym has become a more and more popular route. With your personal gym open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, and catered to your specific needs, there’s nothing stopping you from achieving your ideal physique and superior athletic prowess.
In this complete overview, we’ll go over the benefits of building a home gym, what to consider when building your own, how to best construct your gym and where, as well as what workouts work best in the comforts of your own home.
If you’re looking to build the ultimate home gym, you’ve come to the right place.
The Benefits of Having a Home Gym
Creating your home gym is loaded with terrific advantages, including:
- Saves time and reduces excuses: The commute to the gym gets drastically slashed. Now it’s from your couch to the garage or spare bedroom. The increased availability of your at-home workout zone strips away all of your pathetic reasons why you can’t make it to the gym. And once you’re “in the gym,” you can easily slip into a solid workout.
- Helps you avoid distractions: Let’s be honest -- commercial gyms can be distracting. Whether it be good-looking people or watching new people try to figure out what machines do what, you’re probably doing more people-watching sets than actual lifts. An at-home gym has you get in, get out, and get fitter without all of the distractions.
- Specialized for YOU: The best benefit of owning a home gym is that you get to customize your space and experience. Whatever your preferences are in terms of working out, you can cater to those wants by purchasing the exact equipment for those exercises.
- Privacy: No more prying eyes. No more insecure feelings. With your personal gym, you don’t need to work out with the entire world watching. Privacy is nice sometimes, especially when you’re grunting out the last final reps.
- Clean equipment: You don’t have to worry about other people’s sweat and smell digging into your exercise equipment. It’s just you. And there will only be a couple of pieces, so you can keep your workout area sanitized and clean. This will keep you healthy and away from anyone else’s gross bodily fluids.
- No rules/clothes requirements: “No running around the equipment.” “No loud clanging of the weights.” “You must wear close-toed shoes.” These rules and requirements are a thing of the past with your own gym. You make your own rules. (And your first rule is that there are no rules!)
- Gets you your ideal physique faster: You can work out more often with a personal at-home gym. It’s open all the time, no matter when the desire to lift hits you. This gets you your athletic physique in half the time.
- More family time: This is a big one for us at Strength Warehouse. Working out a home means more family time. Fitness can and should be a family activity when possible (probably not every workout, but maybe once a week?). It's good to get young kids exposed and can be a great bonding experience when they're older.
While many of the benefits are social-based, some are also fitness-based. Therefore, it makes a lot of sense to build your own at-home gym.
The Cost of a Commercial Gym vs Home Gym
How much does it cost to build a home gym? Let's take a look:
We'll start with how much a commercial gym costs. Over the span of ten years, the lower end cost of a gym membership at $25/month is $3,000. This DOES NOT factor in your time to commute, additional gas and car expenses, etc - just the membership fee for a low end gym assuming no price raises over those 10 years.
Many people spend as much as $150/month on their monthly membership - which would put you $18,000 in the hole after a decade of fitness. Man, that's a lot!
Now, a home gym -- which includes the equipment that you want, accessories, and anything else you need for your workouts -- can be made for under $1,000 on the budget end of the spectrum. Plus, you cut down your commute to exactly zero minutes.
You get more exercise opportunities, you can cut your total time spent in half and it costs a fraction of the price of a commercial gym membership. And the quality of your workouts? It can be exactly the same. In fact, it might even be better, considering you don’t have to wait for others to finish using machines and getting their sweat all over the equipment.
Figuring Out Your Home Gym Budget
Your budget should reflect A) how much you actually have to spend on a home gym, and B) include the equipment you want in your personal gym. These are two very important rules when you start out. For many - sticking to A can be a problem.
If you were to go with, say, only a functional trainer, it could cost anywhere between $600 for a plate loaded machine to $2000 or more for one with built in weight stacks.
If you were to mix and match benches, squat racks, bars, and bumper plates, it could also find you in the same price range.
If you’re looking to build a gym that looks similar to a commercial gym, then you’ll be grabbing a squat rack with a pull-up bar up top, a barbell, bumper plates, a kettlebell or two, a jump rope, and some mats to put underneath your rack. That will come to around $1500 for a quality home gym.
You can always add stuff or remove some things from this list to get it to the way you want, at the price you want. Remember, it’s your gym, so you can spend as much or as little as you deem “fit.”
What Equipment does my Home Gym need?
The best way to build a home gym is -- carefully.
You want to think long and hard before deciding which equipment is right for you. Once that’s figured out, you still should conduct thorough research on what the top brands are for that equipment. Look at customer reviews, figure out what materials they use to determine durability, double-check your budget to see whether you can get a quality version of that piece.
There are so many machines, accessories, and pieces you can go for. Here are the most effective pieces of equipment you should be looking for, and what we at Strength Warehouse consider to be must haves!
- Squat rack or power rack with a pull up bar! This is the power house of your gym and everything will be centered around it.
- A great all-around multi-purpose olympic barbell: Learning the ins and outs of barbells can be overwhelming. If you're new to it, there are so many options. However, almost every company makes a great power bar or multi purpose bar that should be the starting point for any home gym owner.
- Weight plates: what's a barbell without weight plates? We generally recommend bumper plates to protect your floor, your bar and your plates. However good old cast iron gets the job done and will probably be the cheapest.
- Adjustable weight bench: you can skip this when you first start out, but we'll always recommend adding a bench to your gym. It provides you with many more options exercise wise. You can now do bench press, seated shoulder press, box squats to a bench, or even use it for step ups.
This is what we would call the starter kit. With these, you’ll be able to work towards any goals that you set - whether you want to build muscle, get stronger, shed some extra pounds, or just get in some good activity a few times a week.
One thing we'll emphasize, is that your should avoid "standard" 1-inch diameter bars and 1" hole plates at all costs. These are extremely basic, not scalable and becoming harder and harder to find. Many companies do not even make these types of bars and plates any longer.
When looking for bars an plates we prefer 2-inch "olympic" style. This will be a barbell with a 2" diameter collar and plates with a 2" diameter opening.
The next step for your home gym, and things you still might consider right off the bat are:
- Adjustable dumbbells
- A piece of cardio equipment - generally we prefer an airbike or rower, but it could be as simple as a jump rope!
- A moderate weight kettlebell
- Resistance bands
- A cable machine - read our take on functional trainers below, or consider something like a lat pulldown/low row combo.
You don’t need all of these, just one or two will give you enough options to create endless workouts and versatility.
Here are some other accessories to keep in mind:
- 3-in-1 Plyo Box
- Slam balls or medicine balls: Ideal for throwing to the ground or up at the wall. They can also be used as an unstable surface for exercises like planks and push-ups or for added weight on sit-ups, leg lifts, etc.
There are so many things you can add to your home gym. Start with the starter kit, then find out what else you need for your workouts.
Are All-In-One Systems or Functional Trainers Worth It?
All-in-One gym systems can absolutely be worth the money. It really does depend on your training style though. These can be much safer to train to muscle failure, and definitely support more of a bodybuilding, hypertrophy based workout routine. An all-in-one multi gym can range anywhere from $1,000 to $5,000 so they aren't necessarily providing any cost advantage and can cost as much or more than the free weight setup recommended above.
Functional trainers are also super versatile and can provide many benefits to a home gym owner. A functional trainer is cable machine with two weight stacks that operate independently, with some type of pull-up bar that attached across the top. They are extremely common in commercial gyms, but shouldn't be confused with a full size cable crossover that take up much more space!
If you have space and budget for one, a functional trainer is definitely worth the investment. It can be your only machine or a welcome addition to your power rack set up. To read more on the topic, check out our Ultimate Guide to Functional Trainers!
The versatility of functional trainers is a serious thing to consider for your space.
Free Weights vs. Machines for my Home Gym
There are benefits to both using free weights and machines. As we said before, using only free weights will give you a slow and steady path to tons of muscle.
Machines like all-in-one systems (single stack gyms, multi-stack gyms, functional trainers, etc.) provide a slew of exercises in a single piece of equipment. This is most likely the more cost-friendly option and is safer as well. You’ll be moving objects through a plane, but you can also perform calisthenics that moves your body as well.
Machines, with the exception of cable columns and gym systems, lack versatility and take up a ton of space. They usually only allow for 1 or 2 specific movements. So if space is a main concern of yours, you will need to be ultra-selective on what machines come into your gym!
What about a combination of the two? This would cover all bases, but it might be a bit overkill. If your budget allows for it, hey, go crazy. It’ll give you the most options when it comes to exercise choice. But if you need to choose one, we’d go with all-in-one systems based on cost, variety, and safety.
The Key to Home Gym Success: Versatile Equipment
You want to get devices and equipment that can do more than a single exercise. This is why functional trainers are great for home gyms. Other versatile items include kettlebells, barbells, dumbbells, and resistance bands.
Items that are not versatile -- air bikes, rowing machines, pegboards, jump ropes -- are great at developing overall fitness but are a little more one-trick-pony than other options. Begin with the versatile stuff, then move on to unique, specialized equipment.
Flooring for Home Gyms
If you’re working out in your garage or basement, you want to keep your floors safe from heavy weights falling. Make sure to grab some thick matting that can be interlocked to form a pad for your squat rack, bench, barbell, and dumbbells.
Rubber matting or foam matting will be your best bet.
Storage for Home Gym Equipment
What about putting all of this away when you’re not working out? You can get a weight storage rack or bar storage pegs to attach to one of your walls. That way it stays off the ground and out of the way, which increases the lifetime of the barbell and plates.
The same goes for your dumbbells. Find storage bins or display racks to keep them ready and neat for the next workout.
Where To Build Your Home GymThe key to building a home gym is to not go stir-crazy and crafting an entire ropes course throughout your house. There needs to be a designated space that says, “Hello. I am the home gym. Nothing else happens here except workouts. Maybe stretching…”
With that in mind, there are only a couple of areas in your home that functions as a fantastic home gym space:
The Garage Gym
The garage gym is an extremely popular space in the home gym community. This is where you can clang your weights and lift heavy and grunt without catching flak for it or messing up your floors. You can load up your garage with racks and barbells and dumbbells galore (instead of unpacked boxes and old furniture).
Have a 2 car garage? Perfect - you only need half the space to get in an efficient set of equipment and start banging out your home workouts.
One con to the garage is that the space is unconditioned - meaning theres not heat in the winter and no AC in the summer. In some areas of the US, this might not be a problem. But for many cold winters can be warmed up with a space heater, and hot summers can be cooled down with big fans!
The Basement Gym
Second in popularity (depending who you ask) is the basement gym. Many homes have an unfinished space that is used for storage - another great opportunity to create a home gym for yourself.
This might be the safest spot in your house. You can bang weights all day long, you can get in the zone without anybody bothering you. It’s like your little workout sanctuary.
A benefit to the basement over the garage is that your basement might already be temperature controlled - making it a nice climate to lift in all year round.
Low ceilings can be an issue in many basements, but manufacturers nowadays usually have options that are under 80" tall - giving you plenty to choose from. However, low ceiling heights may prevent you from doing standing overhead press, kettlebell or barbell snatches, and other movements that require a lot of space above you.
The Office or Spare Bedroom Gym
Have an extra room in your house that doesn't get used too often? This might be your option for a home gym. No one needs wasted square footage nowadays and a 10' x 10' room can pack a lot of punch your gym.
A potential downside might be that it’s carpeted, but throw some thick mats down and you won't even notice. If your spare room is super small, you might have to get creative - but don't count it out as an option.
The Backyard or Outdoor Gym
Your backyard is an option, so long as you find weather-resistant equipment and/or live in an area with mild weather and little to no rain/snow/sleet. This would not be ideal in the northeast, but might be perfect if you live in southern California!
An additional benefit to working out on your patio is all of that fresh air. Plus, you can go shoeless and incorporate some grounding in your natural lawn.
Home Gym Workout Examples
The sky’s the limit when it comes to at-home workouts. You provide even more variety with every piece of equipment you get your hands on.
We’ll give you two sample home gym workouts: One is a no-equipment calisthenics full-body workout; the second workout involves at-home gym equipment that mimics what your gym might look like.
Perform as a circuit, three to four times. Rest for one minute in-between circuits.
- Push-ups -- 30 seconds
- Pull-ups -- 30 seconds
- Air squats -- 30 seconds
- Pike push-ups -- 30 seconds
- Tricep dips -- 30 seconds
- Jumping lunges -- 30 seconds
- High knees -- 30 seconds
- Butt kickers -- 30 seconds
- Run in place -- 30 seconds
- Plank -- 30 seconds
This is a classic 5x5 workout with all of the fan-favorite exercises. This requires a squat rack, a barbell, bumper plates, and an adjustable bench… that’s it.
- Sumo deadlift -- 4 sets x 8-12 reps
- Back squats -- 4 sets x 8-12 reps
- Incline bench press -- 4 sets x 6-10 reps
- Bent-over rows -- 4 sets x 6-10 reps
- Chin-ups -- 3 sets x 8-15 reps
- Close-grip bench press -- 3 sets x 8-15 reps
- Standing military press -- 3 sets x 6-12 reps
- Barbell crunches -- 2 sets x failure (hold the barbell over your head throughout the movement)
- Burpees -- 1 set x failure
Building Your Home Gym: Conclusion
Having a home gym is a really great way to develop your overall fitness and physique. It’s cost-effective, allows you to work out whenever, and gets the same job done as a commercial gym (without those prying eyes).
Find out what equipment you’d want for your home gym, set up a budget based on those pieces and current prices for quality equipment, and start constructing it one piece at a time.
While you’re in the process of building your home gym, perform the Workout #1 three or four times a week. Once you have most of the pieces, do Workout #2 and incorporate other exercises with whatever specialized equipment you purchase.
Trust us, you’ll love having your own gym that you can go barefoot in (if you want). Enjoy!
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