Building a home gym from scratch can be a daunting task. Do I have enough space? What equipment do I need? Can I afford it? These are all questions which may be stopping you from getting started. In this guide, I’ll be using my own experience to help answer them. I’ve been working out at home for years, with varying amounts of money, space and time. Despite this, I’ve always found it possible to build a home gym perfect for my needs. I hope that what I’ve learnt can help you to do the same, and build your ultimate home gym.
- Why Build a Home Gym?
- Money Saving
- Tailored to You
- The Room
- Choosing a Space
- Gym Layout
- Creating an Atmosphere
- The Equipment – What Should I Buy?
- Decide On Your Goals
- Compact, Efficient and Multipurpose
- Free Weights or Machines?
- Noise Reduction
- The Equipment – Essentials
- Strength Training
- Flexibility and Balance
- The Equipment – Where to Buy
- Buying New
- Second Hand
- Budget & Cost
- All-round Gym
- Weightlifting Gym
- Price Comparison
Why Build a Home Gym?
Unless you live next door, going to a gym will involve travelling. For most, this will be jumping in the car to sit in rush hour traffic. Not only is this unpleasant, it’s a waste of time. Once you arrive, it can often be busy, smelly and noisy. Having your own space, means there’s no commute and no queuing for equipment. You can put your own music on, get in the zone, and then be in the shower just minutes after you’re done. Sounds good doesn’t it?
Gym membership is pricey. It’s an ongoing expense, with contracts, conditions and cancellation fees. Yes, there is an upfront cost to building a home gym, but this doesn’t have to be a huge amount. Once set up, the money saved will far outweigh any costs, saving you a big chunk of cash over the coming months and years.
Tailored to You
Everyone has different tastes and needs. Equipment varies a lot across gyms, not always suiting us best. Some even have rules and restrictions. A home gym can be tailored to be exactly what you want. You can build it around your training goals. You can buy the quality of equipment you like. You can create your own atmosphere. You really have control over every aspect, meaning you can make it your own.
Choosing a Space
This will be your first big decision. If possible, try to have a dedicated room for working out. It doesn’t have to be huge, you’ll be surprised at how much you can do with a small space. Rooms with a couple of windows are perfect, giving both light and ventilation. As you’d expect, good air flow is important for a room you’ll be exercising in. I like to choose somewhere on the ground floor, as it avoids moving equipment up & down stairs.
In reality, you may not have a room that ticks all these boxes. Aim to include as many as possible, and then compromise where needed. Outdoor spaces, such as garages and sheds, are great options if space is tight in the house. If you can’t have a separate room for your gym, try to at least dedicate a section or corner of a space. You don’t want to be tripping over equipment after your workout is done!
There are a few things you might want to consider before adding the gym equipment itself. For a lot of exercises, like weightlifting and yoga, a mirror is useful for keeping an eye on your form. Consider picking up a couple of basic ones on the cheap, and your technique will feel the benefit.
When deciding where to place things, ensure there is a clear space for moving between equipment. A cluttered gym will slow down your workouts, and can also be unsafe. Bearing this in mind, make sure you have somewhere to store certain items. Weights, barbells and kettlebells are all things that should have a place to live (not just on the floor). Again, this reduces the risk of accidents causing injury.
Depending on your room, and where you live, think about whether air-con is necessary. I’ve never needed this personally, but I have invested in a decent electric fan for those hotter days. I also have a place to keep other useful things, like towels, wrist supports and water bottles.
Creating an Atmosphere
This is the fun part, where you make your gym your own. I love listening to music whilst working out, so I always have a good quality pair of speakers set up. As well as elevating mood, music increases endurance, and distracts from pain and fatigue. You might also want to add artwork or posters, which can be used as a source of inspiration.
If there isn’t much ventilation, add a few indoor plants. Not only do these add to the ambiance, but they release oxygen, improve concentration and remove harmful toxins from the air. I keep my home gym clear of mess and generally quite minimalistic, but everyone has their own taste. I also don’t have a TV in there (I find it quite distracting) but it’s certainly a worthy addition if it’s your thing. The main point here is, do whatever you like! Make it somewhere you enjoy being, that helps you to workout as best as possible.
The Equipment – What Should I Buy?
Decide On Your Goals
First things first, what are you training for? Your gym goals will have a big say in which equipment you buy. If you’re struggling to set targets, have a look at our post on how to start working out. For example, if you’re training for a marathon, it’s unlikely you’ll be needing a whole stack of free weights. So think about this for a while before filling your gym.
Compact, Efficient and Multipurpose
The four main types of exercise are cardio, strength training, flexibility and balance. Regardless of your aims, you’ll want some variety from each. Space can also be tight in home gyms, limiting the amount of equipment you can have. Both of these things mean that you have to make every purchase count. Always look for equipment that is compact, efficient and multipurpose. This will ensure you get the best results from your space and money.
Free Weights or Machines?
For weightlifting, this is often the dilemma. In my experience, free weights win every time. They’re more compact, less expensive and incredibly versatile. They are also perfect for doing highly efficient compound exercises, which work more muscles. If you can afford the money and space to buy a top quality multi-gym, then go for it. There’s no doubt, they’re great pieces of equipment. However, for the average home gym, machines will be overly expensive and take up too much precious space.
Some workouts can be noisy, which is an issue if you have sensitive neighbors. There are a few things you can do to help however. Some things will be exercise specific. For example, buy rubber weight plates when possible. These are more durable than cast iron versions and also make less noise when dropped. If you’re planning on getting a treadmill, do your research first, as some are significantly quieter than others.
In terms of the room, you may want to look at the flooring. If you have the budget, there are rubber and foam tiles you can have installed, which are great for shock absorption. For a cheaper option, consider getting a few exercise mats to soften impact. Weightlifting platforms are another alternative, which are ideal for heavy lifters and will also protect your floor.
Whenever you can, workout with a gym buddy. However, when using a home gym, you will inevitably spend some workouts alone. This makes safety vitally important. When buying equipment, always go for for something with good reviews on construction, durability and safety. If weightlifting, ensure you have a rack or cage with safety catches. When in doubt, just reduce the weight, or wait until you have a spotter.
The Equipment – Essentials
In this section we’ll take you through the core essentials in equipment. These are the things that we think best meet our equipment criteria, so are ideal options for first purchases. Everyone has different goals, so we’ve split this up by exercise type. As mentioned before, it’s good to do a variety of exercises, so don’t be afraid to mix and match between categories.
Barbell, Bench & Plate Weights
These things tend to come as a trio, and are the building blocks of a weightlifter’s gym. Incredibly adaptable, these can be used to target almost every muscle in your body. Even if you owned nothing else, you’d be perfectly equipped to get bigger and stronger.
Typical Exercises: Bench press, bent-over row, deadlift, bicep curl, upright row, power clean.
A pair of dumbbells will provide you with limitless options for your workouts. You can even focus an entire session around this one piece of equipment, and get serious gains in every muscle group. When combined with a bench, they are a great complement to barbell exercises. If you’re short on space or storage, consider getting an adjustable pair.
Typical Exercises: Bicep curl, reverse flye, tricep kick-back, chest flye, overhead press, lunge.
Power Tower or Squat Rack
Both of these are larger in size, but can provide huge benefits. A power tower enables you to carry out bodyweight exercises, key to building overall strength. Other than squats, a squat rack can also be used to assist with other exercises, such as bench and shoulder press. Due to their size, look out for versions that combine the benefits of both. Some squat racks include bars for dips and pull-ups. Another option is buying a detachable pull-up bar for a doorframe, and performing dips using the edge of a bench or table.
Typical Exercises: Squat, pull-up, dip, leg raise.
Affordable, and relatively small in size, the exercise bike is a good first option for building stamina. Cycling is a low-impact exercise, which will also build up strength in your legs and lower body. For an efficient and intense workout, try using it for high intensity interval training (HIIT).
Key Benefits: Aerobic fitness, burning calories, lower body strength, HIIT.
Getting a punching bag doesn’t necessarily mean drilling a hole in your ceiling. Good quality, free standing versions have made them more accessible and easy to setup. Using a bag for as little as 2-3 minutes will put you through an intense aerobic and anaerobic workout. Regardless of your skill level, this will build up your cardio fitness, burn calories and reduce stress.
Key Benefits: Aerobic fitness, coordination, core strength, reduced stress, self defense.
You don’t get much more compact and affordable than a skipping rope. One of these can be great for a warmup, or a whole workout on its own. As well as cardiovascular benefits, skipping strengthens the muscles in your lower legs and ankles. This helps to reduce your risk of injury in other sports.
Key Benefits: Aerobic fitness, coordination, mental focus, ankle strength.
Treadmill or Rower
These are certainly more expensive options, for those of you with a higher budget and a little more space. If you manage to add one to your gym however, both running and rowing have amazing benefits. Both can be used for improving aerobic fitness and maintaining a healthy weight. If you’re also looking to build overall strength, rowing targets an incredible 85% of your body’s muscles.
Key Benefits: Aerobic fitness, HIIT, burning calories, full body strength (rowing).
Flexibility and Balance
Yoga or Pilates Mat
A yoga mat is easy to store away, and there are plenty of quality ones available at good prices. The only other things you need are some floor space and a routine to follow. Both yoga and Pilates are shown to improve flexibility, balance and core strength.
Key Benefits: Flexibility, core strength, improved posture and circulation.
Another very small piece of equipment that can have a big impact. They can be used to workout your whole body, whilst also being very affordable and portable. Along with balance exercises, they can also be incorporated in to a strength training routine.
Key Benefits: Balance, strength training, rehabilitation from injury.
This would be an optional extra. Exercise balls aren’t the smallest, or easiest, things to store away. There are also plenty of balance exercises you can do with no equipment. However, if improving balance is one of your workout priorities, owning one of these will help to widen your workout repertoire.
Key Benefits: Balance, core strength.
The Equipment – Where to Buy
If you’re committed to using your home gym, then buying new and high quality equipment is our recommended option. The initial cost may be higher, but your equipment will last for years without the need for replacement. This will save you money in the long run. It’s also safer than buying low quality, or worn-out, equipment which is at risk of breaking. There are plenty of places online selling what you need, but always check reviews first. Our reviews cover a selection of strength training and cardio equipment, and a quick Google will help too if what you want isn’t covered.
Those of you with a lower budget may want to consider buying used. Lots of online marketplaces have made this easier than ever. There are some bargains to be had, but take your time. Only consider items that are still in excellent or good condition, to ensure they’re safe to use. If you can, try to physically see the item before agreeing to buy.
If you like getting your hands dirty, why not make it yourself? This will only be an option for certain items, but is a great way to add your own touch to your gym. Check out the video below, which shows the awesome DIY construction of a weight rack.
Budget & Cost
Here we will go through a couple of example home gym setups, including their cost. The prices have been estimated using several online sources (which can vary). This is to give you an idea of the budget you will need, and to demonstrate how affordable a home gym really is.
This is a good basis for building an all-round gym, suited to various types of exercises. This is most similar to my own setup (minus a squat rack), which allows for workouts in all exercise areas.
- Adjustable Bench – $180 / £150
- Barbell & Plate Weights Set – $250 / £210
- Lightweight Dumbbell Set – $100 / £85
- Pull-up Bar – $30 / £25
- Free Standing Punching Bag – $150 / £125
- Skipping Rope – $10 / £8
- Resistance Bands – $15 / £13
- Yoga Mat – $20 / £17
Total Cost: $755 or £635
This would be a great start for those of you primarily aiming to gain strength and muscle mass.
- Adjustable Bench – $180 / £150
- Barbell & Plate Weights Set – $250 / £210
- Adjustable Dumbbells – $300 / £250
- Squat Rack – $200 / £170
- Pull-up Bar – $30 / £25
- Weightlifting Mat – $100 / £85
Total Cost: $1060 or £890
Now we’ll take a look at a price comparison of our all-round gym setup, with the average gym membership. To keep things simple, we’ll do this calculation in US dollars (there are prices in UK pounds above if you want to do your own).
Home Gym vs. Gym Membership
Our all-round gym came out at $755.
The average gym membership in the US is $58 per month (source). Along with joining fees, this equates to around $750 per year.
This means that our home gym pays for itself after just 1 year of use! From then on, it’s all savings. Let’s have a look at the price comparison:
|After 2 Years||After 3 Years|
|Home Gym Setup||$755||$755|
|Gym Membership||$750 x 2 = $1,500||$750 x 3 = $2,250|
As the years go on, you can either keep adding to your savings, or use some of them to improve your existing setup. Hopefully this has shown you that the initial costs of a home gym can be kept to an affordable level, and that significant savings can be made in the long run.
Building a home gym can make your life more convenient, save you money, and improve your workout efficiency. All you need is a little bit of space, some clear fitness goals and a plan. If you follow a few simple steps, this can be an easy and financially affordable process, delivering your very own ultimate home gym in just a few weeks. Once you’re all set up, don’t forget the most important part… working out! If you’re a beginner looking for advice, check out our guide on how to start working out. I hope you’ve found the information here useful, if you have any questions don’t hesitate to get in touch. Enjoy!