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How to Create a Home Gym Without Breaking the Bank

Since the Covid lockdowns, it isn’t just the work from home concept that has taken root. The workout from home concept has exploded in popularity, too. 

Covid changed our ideas about fitness and self-care:  gaining a few pounds during those lockdown periods drove home the point that being immobile does you no good!

As a result, working out at home, joining videos or live Zoom classes may have led you to create a workout space at home – and if you’re still not comfortable going to a public gym or exercise class, you’re probably ready to beef up that space into a home gym. 

Think of the benefits: you can workout whenever you want; you save time and money not having to travel to a separate location; you don’t have to share equipment or clean up after yourself if you don’t want to (conversely you can make your space clean and neat and it STAYS THAT WAY); you never have to wait for a piece of equipment to become available…

If you’ve the room and the budget, you can hire a company to convert a spare room into a workout room. But don’t be surprised if the ghost of Covid interferes with those plans: you may find equipment still in short supply (and as a result overpriced), while construction workers and handymen may be hard to find at all. However, you can always scale down your ambitions and still get serious about setting up a home gym by investing in easy-to-store workout equipment to use in the den or living room or dining area. 

Attention to details will help make your workout area a place you enjoy being in, which will help you stay with your fitness journey through thick and thin. 

Home gym basics

But where and how to start? Here are some basics to cover before you start acquiring equipment.

The basic pieces for any home gym include several strength bands (these come in large loops of varying widths depending on level of resistance),  two sets of dumbbells: one light set for small muscle groups (i.e., the arms) and a heavier set for large muscle groups (i.e., the legs),  and a comfortable floor mat. 

Beyond that, you need to think about what you want to get out of training before investing in more equipment: firming muscles? Improving your aerobic capacity? Remember, equipment is not a fashion statement or part of your home decor. It’s there to improve and enhance your exercises.  

Three kinds of exercise

 Exercises can be divided into three categories: cardiovascular, strength, and flexibility. 

Cardiovascular

Really, nothing beats running and walking outside…except perhaps when the weather isn’t cooperating or your knees and hips are acting up. So if you have the space, one piece of cardio equipment , such as a treadmill, bike, or elliptical, is very useful to get that core temperature up and that heart pumping blood. Stationary bikes and rowing machines take up less room than treadmills and generally do not require electricity, and are generally less expensive. The learning curve for the rowing machine, and the comfort of the bike seat may be deterrents; however these machines foster strength as well as aerobic conditioning, which the treadmill does not. 

A top quality, new commercial treadmill can range from $8,000 -$12,000. The light commercial is more in the range of $3,000 – $6,000. With these machines, you get what you pay for, especially in the service and sturdiness of the machines. 

Rowing machines are $900 for the classic Concept2 machine used by the US Rowing Team. If you want the fancy ones with TV monitors and other bells the cost can be up to $4,000. There are others for under $200, but these are totally subpar for building any kind of real fitness. 

Stationary bikes can go for  $200 to $3000 – barebones to TV screen and programs. The main thing to keep in mind is that you want to WANT TO workout on the piece, so get the best quality you can afford, preferably one that has some kind of trackable workout monitor for feedback on your training. This helps you stay motivated and on target.

Strength

You’ll need a light set of dumbbells for the smaller muscle groups, like your biceps, triceps and shoulders, and a heavy set for the larger compound exercises, like squats, chest press, and rows. You pay for the weight of the dumbbells so the heavier they are, the more they cost. If you pick them up yourself  instead of having them delivered, you will save on shipping costs which are also calculated by weight, and can be substantial if ordering many sets of heavy dumbbells.

Flexibility

Here’s where the mats and bands come in.  

  • Mats:  Yoga mats tend to be thinner and stickier to support those poses. Basic floor mats have more cushion and are great for stretching and sit ups and anything you may be doing on your elbows – think planks! 
  • Bands: You’ll want bands of varying resistance( light, medium, and strong), and there  are two types: large 3-foot loops (some with handles at each end and some are a continuous loop) and smaller 12-inch loops, which are great for knee and hips strengthening. 

You can do a wider variety of exercises with the larger strength bands; however some people prefer the comfort that the handles provide for  basic exercises such as bicep curls, rows, and chest presses.

If you’re considering a more elaborate home gym, you’ll want to add:

  •  a squat rack (a pull up bar can be part of the squat rack, or a separate unit, if you have space); 
  •  an Olympic bar;
  •  a sturdy adjustable weight bench;
  •  a wide range of weight plates to mix and match for your needs;
  •  a set of dumbbells (5-50 lbs for your average male, 5 – 35 lbs  for women, though don’t let me stop you if you want to go big!)  
home gym exercise
Homeowner works out in his garage (Photo credit: Leslie Shuffleton)

And the Cost?

Setting a budget for your new training space is a big part of  your decision making. 

If you want top quality on a limited budget, shop around online and in stores for clearance items and consider used equipment. It’s a good way to get very sturdy pieces that will last a lifetime at a fraction of the cost of new equipment.

There are many online marketplaces ranging from individuals selling what they aren’t using to fully licensed corporations that get used commercial equipment and refurbish it. A few good places to start are Globalfitness.com, usedgymequipment.com, primofitnessusa.com, and many more. There are literally hundreds of places from which to choose. Some used cardio equipment comes with a service package. 

Check all the reviews – not just the good ones – for information on the equipment as well as on the company’s customer service, an important consideration if there is a problem with delivery or the equipment itself. 

You can also find locally owned stores that deal in new and used equipment, and may have better service agreements. 

Don’t Go Crazy

It’s exciting to have just what you need to really get into your workout…but don’t jump in without thinking. Doing these high level moves, like pull ups, cleans or snatches, depends on the strength and integrity of your shoulders and should be eased into if you have never done them before or in a long while. Also, having the right form while using the bands and stretching can accelerate your improvements. It’s strongly advisable to work with a personal trainer if you’re planning on trying new moves with your new equipment. 

Setting up an exercise space in your home is about as essential as having a kitchen in the home. While you may still enjoy going to a gym because it gives you a place to go and interface with others, the convenience of your personal home workout space can help you get more days of workouts in and can be a great supplement to what you do at the gym. 

The real issue is to set in motion your plan to stay motivated to use it. Even if you just want to maintain your fitness level, you’ll need to put in the  work and commitment, buying the equipment alone won’t do it.  So once you set up your fitness area, start tracking the days you use it each week. When you start to see your workouts waning to only once or twice a week, it is time to find a trainer to put you back on the tracks and help you stay committed to your goals.

The adage is true: use it or lose it, the body is never in suspended animation!

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