With gym memberships costing anywhere from $50 to $90 per month plus personal training sessions, it doesn’t take long for a home gym set up to pay for itself. But what do you need? There’s the question of what gear to buy, setting up a safe space and ensuring that you know what you’re doing so you don’t injure yourself.
So, let’s get this straight from the start. I’m not looking to recreate a commercial gym environment at home. My aim is to create a decent exercise space with enough equipment for an individual or small group of two or three people to train for general fitness. I’m not going into setting up a powerlifting rig or crossfit cage.
Before I get started, there are two things I want to highlight.
- Remember, if you’re working to the point of failure, where you can no longer lift the weight, it’s important to have a spotter with you to help so you don’t get pinned.
- Make sure you learn how to perform exercises correctly and don’t sacrifice good form in order to lift extra weight. Going too heavy and using poor technique is a recipe for injury. Lift with your head and muscles – not your ego.
It’s easy to spend a lot of money on equipment but you can start out with a quite modest investment. For under $100 you can pick up a beginner’s dumbbell kit, a Swiss ball, a yoga mat and a skipping rope.
Although you can spend plenty, a trip to your local department store like Kmart or Target will reveal lots of low-cost options.
With those, you can build a pretty decent all-body workout, not take up an entire room at your house or apartment with equipment and have the ability to work out whenever you feel like it.
An example of a workout you can do with this gear is
- two to five minutes of skipping
- body-weight squats
- Dumbbell bench press on the Swiss ball
- Dumbbell squats
- Planks (that’s where the yoga mat can be handy if the floor isn’t very forgiving) or Swiss ball crunches
- Dumbbell shoulder press (either standing or sitting on the Swiss ball)
- Dumbbell deadlifts
- Bicep curls
- Tricep dips or extensions using the dumbbells or skull-crushers using one dumbbell
When starting out, one or two sets of each exercise is a good place to start. Once you get comfortable with the exercises you can either increase the weight you use or push the intensity by doing the workout as a circuit.
Adding to your kit
As you get stronger, you’ll likely find it difficult to work hard enough using your dumbbell kit. That’s where a bench and barbell come in handy.
Weight benches can cost a lot of money. But you can save plenty by looking at sites like eBay – particularly early in the year when benches bought in January as part of a New years resolution are cleared out once folks less committed to training than you decide to clear some space.
While a brand new bench might cost as much as $500, you might pick up a near-new, barely used bench for far less. I purchased mine, in near new condition for under $100.
The downside of committing to a bench is the need for a permanent workout space. I’m fortunate that my garage is large enough to accomodate my bench and car.
For added comfort, I bought some rubber matting for the floor.
With a bench, barbell and extra weights, you can increase the weight on your bench press and deadlifts quite easily. But be wary of trying to lift a heavy barbell onto your shoulders for the squat. The best way to add weight to your squat is with a decent squat rack.
Some years ago, I had a squat rack made for me using a couple of steal wheel rims, some iron and the welding know-how of a friend. The rats that I had made do the job for me but I won’t use them for really heavy work.
For that, I’m saving my pennies for a more robust rack that will let me safely rack a weight if I can’t get back up to complete a squat.
But that kind of investment is likely to run into several hundreds of dollars. as well as another barbell (so I don’t have fully unload and reload a single barbell between different exercises).
As far as extra gear, I like to wear a pair of gloves when lifting. If you start working with heavier weights on some lifts, particularly the deadlift, then some straps are useful for assisting your grip.
I now have three barbells and two pairs of dumbbells. This means I don’t have to fully unload bars between different exercises. It also means i can set up different stations in my garage so I can create a small circuit for training where I combine barbell, dumbbell, bodyweight and cardio exercises.
I also have an EZ curl bar – this is a shorter barbell that is bent wth two v-shaped sections so that your wrists are in a more comfortable position when doing bicep curls or tricep extensions. However, I don;t use this every time I train. It’s definitely an accessory I’d classify as optional.
So, what;s your home gym look like? What do you recommend? Can you suggest anything I have missed or could add?