Good news everyone! You don’t need a room full of expensive equipment to achieve your fitness goals.
My aim with this article is to give you the information you need to build an efficent home gym that meets your specific goals, space constraints, and budget.
The four most important factors to consider when building a home gym are:
Some would argue that budget is the most important factor, but I think not.
Having the money to buy a big fancy power rack won’t help if you have nowhere to set it up and use it. And, that power rack may just sit and collect dust if you’re not particularly interested in Powerlifting.
My goals are more practical – I want the minimum amount of equipment I need to stay healthy and fit, while offering enough variety to help me stay motivated to exercise.
To keep things simple, my recommendations center around the essentials for three main styles of exercise – Functional Training (CrossFit), Powerlifting, and Olympic weightlifting.
The equipment you choose for your home gym will be the tools you use to shape your health and fitness for years to come. Like any good craftsman, you should carefully consider the quality of those tools when deciding what to buy.
My motto is “Buy Nice or Buy Twice”, since cheap gear inevitably needs replacement.
All of my recommendations are focused on value – the best combination of quality and price I can find for the benefit provided, regardless of brand name.
You can build a cost effective and practical home gym with some basic pieces of equipment and a little bit of smart shopping.
You don’t need everything I’ve listed below. I’m offering these recommendations with the understanding that you’ll pick the things from the list that best suit your needs.
However, if you have any questions by all means drop me a comment and I’ll do my best to guide you.
If you have limited space to exercise and to store your equipment, kettlebells are a great option.
Kettlebells are easy to store, relatively inexpensive, and provide a time-saving way to work nearly every part of your body in a short period.
You can read my Ultimate Kettlebell Comparison Review that covers every major brand of cast iron kettlebell, but the top picks are:
If you need workouts, I have several simple and free kettlebell workouts I’ve put together that can be done in 30 minutes or less.
If you prefer instructor-led workouts, I recommend the well designed programs put together by Kettlebell Kings via their Living.Fit online platform.
There’s also an entire sport dedicated to kettlebells, unsurprisingly called “kettlebell sport”. Kettlebell sport has many benefits and is suitable for both men and women.
The kettlebells used in kettlebell sport are made of steel instead of cast iron, and unlike cast iron kettlebells, “competition” kettlebells all conform to a single standard size.
The consistent size of competition kettlebells allows you to stay focused on your technique as you move up or down in weight rather than having to adjust to different sizes as you would with cast iron kettlebells.
Here are my top three recommendations for competition kettlebells:
One kettlebell sport event in particular called ‘long cycle’ is an efficient way to work your entire body in ten minutes with just three moves – the swing, clean, and jerk. It looks easy, but long cycle is actually very technically and physically challenging.
Here’s an example of kettlebell long cycle done by a world champion in the sport. You don’t have to watch the entire video, just watch for couple of minutes and you’ll get the idea.
Dumbbells can be used in place of barbells and weight plates for most exercises, which makes them a great option for those who have limited space to exercise.
There are basically three types of dumbbells – fixed weight, loadable, and adjustable.
As the name implies, fixed weight dumbbells are single fixed weights. If you want to move up in weight, you’ve got to buy a new dumbbell.
Loadable dumbbells are the old-fashioned type where you load weight plates on two ends of a short bar.
Adjustable dumbbells are new-fangled contraptions where you select the weight you want using a dial or pins, no need to add or remove weight plates.
I’m not a fan of fixed weight dumbbells for a home gym because they require the most space to store. They can also potentially incur the most cost, since you have to buy new weights to keep making progress.
Loadable or adjustable dumbbells are much more versatile, although their initial cost will be higher than a single pair of fixed weights.
However, that one time cost covers a wide range of weight which could end up saving you money over multiple fixed weight purchases.
Here are some recommendations for each type of dumbbell:
Barbell exercises are by far the most superior option for improving overall strength, size, and general fitness. Nothing else comes close.
If you have the space and budget for a barbell and bumper plates, then these pieces should form the cornerstone of your basic home gym.
You don’t even need a rack and bench to get the most out of your barbell. Here are just a few of the exercises you can do with only a bar and bumper plates:
Throw in some pull ups and push ups and you can work nearly every muscle in your body with this setup.
If you’re unfamiliar with what to look for in a barbell, I’ve written a Barbell Buying Guide that explains everything you need to know before making your first barbell purchase.
Here are my top barbell recommendations:
If your space is tight and can’t accommodate a full size barbell, there are some great options for “shorty” bars as well.
Check out my short bar roundup, where I compare the best compact barbells I’ve been able to find.
Here are my top picks for shorty bars:
Don’t forget barbell collars, I have a set of inexpensive Lock-Jaw quick-release compression collars and they’ve served me well for many years.
I prefer bumper plates over steel plates for a home gym because there’s less risk of damaging your floors if you accidentally (or intentionally ?) drop a weight.
Along with a good barbell, a set of bumper plates is one of the best investments you can make to improve your strength, size, and overall fitness level.
I’ve written a Bumper Plate Buying Guide that explains everything you need to know to before making your first bumper plate purchase.
Here are my top bumper plate recommendations:
You’ll need a rack or a pair of stands if you want to do barbell back squats or bench press. However, there’s no need to drop a lot of money on a big complicated power rack.
I used a pair of basic inexpensive squat stands from Valor Fitness for several years and they served me well.
It’s also possible to get a good squat rack at a decent price, and some of them include a pull up bar as well.
If you’re short on space, there are options for folding racks that can be stored out of the way when not in use.
Here are my top recommendations for stands and racks:
A sturdy bench has a lot of uses regardless of whether or not you own a rack or squat stands. I own a basic flat bench, although having an adjustable bench increases the range of exercises you can do with it.
Here are my top recommendations for a bench:
Depending on where you plan to exercise, you may want to consider putting down some protective flooring. If your budget’s tight, horse stall mats from Tractor Supply can be used as basic gym flooring.
However, these mats are made from recycled tires and they have a strong rubber odor, so they’re not ideal if your home gym is inside your home rather than in your garage.
If your gym will be inside your home and if you’ve got some money to spare for protective flooring, here are a few options to consider:
I’m using a Shock Mat with blue color flecks on my DIY lifting platform and my only regret is that I didn’t buy one sooner.
The unique waffle pattern on the underside of the mat deadens even the hardest impact and the color options add some really nice flair.
Exercising with free weights and kettlebells is awesome, but if you really want to burn off calories you’ll need some cardio in the form of high intensity interval training (HIIT).
Don’t worry though, no need to spend a lot of money on a machine when a simple speed rope is cheap and efficient.
However, if jumping up and down repeatedly isn’t your thing then there are other options.
Here are some basic low cost ways to get your cardio on:
If you’re interested in machines and you have the space and cash for one, I’ve got you covered.
Here’s what I like and recommend:
This section covers equipment that doesn’t fit into any other category but is still useful to have.
As I wrote at the beginning, you don’t need a room full of expensive equipment to achieve your fitness goals.
My aim with this article is to give you the information you need to build a basic home gym that meets your specific needs, space constraints, and budget.
I’ve outlined several categories of equipment I think are best suited for a basic home gym, including recommendations for each category and some upgrade options for those with extra funds.
Armed with this information, you should be able to build a home gym that suits you.
If you have any questions that I did not cover, please leave a comment and I’ll do my best to answer you.
I'm a software product manager with a full-time job, family, and a desire to stay strong, mobile, and fit. I separate fact from fiction to find the most effective and affordable options for home fitness. If you'd like to build your own home gym, start here.
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