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Muscle for life

How to Build a Kick-Ass (and Affordable!) Home Gym

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How to Build a Kick-Ass (and Affordable!) Home Gym

An affordable home gym can be just as good, if not better, than your local gym. Here’s how to build one.

 

If the only nearby gym is a Planet Fitness, or if you’re just sick of waiting for bros to finish curling in the squat racks, half-repping in the bench stations, and drop-setting the entire set of dumbbells, then a home gym might be for you.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And even if you’re happy with your current gym, a home gym not only saves money in the long run ($30 – 50 per month adds up over the years), but it saves quite a bit of time as well (no driving to the gym and back, no waiting for equipment, and nobody to waste your time chatting).

Building a home gym can be daunting, though.

There are hundreds of brands and pieces of home gym equipment to choose from, and many are quite expensive. Space is an issue, too. Chances are you’ll be setting up in your garage or guest bedroom (guests can sleep on the couch–priorities!), so even if you’re ready to spend some cash, you don’t have the luxury of being able to get one of everything that looks remotely useful.

Well, in this article I’m going to show you how to build a home gym that gives you everything you need to build the body of your dreams without requiring a ton of money or space.

Make Your Home Gym a Refuge

affordable home gym ideas

If at all possible, set up your home gym in a room that allows you to escape the hectic home life, like a basement, garage, or simply any room with a door.

This will allow you to fully concentrate on your workouts and avoid the many distractions and interruptions that are likely to occur if you’re not locked away, grunting and groaning like a cave troll.

Make Your Home Gym Motivating

affordable home gym equipment

Another great benefit of a home gym is you can make the space entirely your own. That is, you can make it look, sound, and feel exactly the way you like.

Think staying motivated: loud speakers, at least one full-length mirror and good lighting, and maybe even some posters if that’s your thing.

For affordable speakers, I would probably go with a Sonos setup, and for lighting, full-spectrum fluorescent lighting (BlueMax makes good stuff).

Home Gym Equipment Essentials:
Free Weights, Not Machines

home gym essentials

Proper weightlifting programs focus on free weights, not machines, and particularly emphasize compound lifts like the Squat, Deadlift, and Bench Press. This not only helps keep your workouts relatively simple, it also keeps your home gym equipment shopping list short.

Let’s go over the key pieces of equipment that you’ll need.

Use this workout and flexible dieting program to lose up to 10 pounds of fat and build muscle in just 30 days…without starving yourself or living in the gym.

Power Rack

rogue-r3-power-rack

You won’t be able to lift heavily or safely without a power rack. You’ll use it in just about every workout you do (you’ll bench press, squat, military press, and even deadlift in it if you’re short on space).

Not all power racks are equal, though–some are solid, high-quality pieces of equipment, and others are rickety pieces of crap. Here’s what you want to see in a power rack:

  • Tall enough for overhead pressing in it. 

Although I prefer seated military pressing, it requires the addition of a utility bench. If you don’t want to shell out extra money for one, you will be doing your presses standing, and if your rack isn’t tall enough, you’ll have to clean the weight up into position before you can press it.

  • Strong enough to hold at least 300 (women) to 500 (men) pounds.

You never know how much you might be squatting one day!

  • Safety arms that can be raised and lowered.

As you probably won’t have a spotter, safety arms will catch the bar if you miss a lift.

In terms of brands, I like Rogue’s power racks. They’re commercial quality with a consumer price tag, and the company offers a lifetime warranty on all products. This model in particular also comes with a dip and pullup setup, which is great for saving space.

Barbell and Plates

rogue-hg-bumper-plates

Moving a barbell around is what real weightlifting is all about. You squat it, pick it up and put it down, and push it, and your body gets bigger and stronger.

There are two types of barbells though: standard and Olympic. Standard bars are about 1 inch thick and begin to bend at about 200 pounds. Olympic bars are usually 7 feet long, are thicker, and are made for heavy lifting. You want an Olympic bar.

In terms of plates, there are the standard metal or rubber-coated plates you find in every gym, and thick bumper plates that are becoming more and more popular these days thanks to Crossfit.

Unless you’re going to be performing Olympic lifts or making some noise while deadlifting is an issue, you can stick with regular plates. If, however, you are performing Olympic lifts or would like to cut down on the banging, then two 45-lb bumper plates should be enough (as the rest of the plates you add won’t touch the ground).

You can also go the used route here and save money without compromising safety. Search Craigslist, flea markets, and classified ads, and check with friends or family. Post-holiday sales can be a boon as well. After-Christmas sales often feature heavily discounted barbell sets.

An Adjustable Bench

home-gym-equipment

I’m kind of picky with benches–I hate rickety, rock-hard pieces of junk.

In my opinion, a sturdy, comfortable bench is another vital piece of home gym equipment. I also recommend an adjustable bench over a flat bench, so you can use it for incline chest pressing and dumbbell shoulder pressing.

In terms of a specific product, I really like this bench from Body Solid. Like all of their home gym equipment, it’s basically a commercial-quality bench–stable, sturdy, and comfortable.

Dumbbells

bowflex-selecttech-dumbbell

While dumbbells aren’t a vital necessity (a barebones setup of just a power rack and barbell set is enough to get you going), they are worth considering. I find them particularly useful in my chest workouts, shoulders workouts, and arms workouts.

As far as home gym equipment goes, the most economical solution will be plate-loaded dumbbells. If you’re a guy, you’ll probably find them quite unwieldy as you move past 30 pounds, and you’ll also quickly outgrow them as they max out around 50 to 60 pounds.

A traditional set of dumbbells is a workable solution, but they can be problematic as well. If you’re a guy, it’s not only quite expensive to install a rack that goes as heavy as you’ll need, it takes up quite a bit of space.

That’s why I recommend adjustable dumbbells. They’re not cheap, but they’re easy to use and they come heavy.

The two most popular adjustable dumbbells are the Bowflex SelectTech and Powerblocks. I prefer the Bowflex product because its weight selection mechanism is easier to use than the PowerBlock’s pins.

That said, the Bowflex dumbbells do max out at 90 pounds whereas Powerblock offers 125-pound and 175-pound sets.

Home Gym Equipment Extras:
Things You’ll Probably Want at Some Point

home workout equipment

A good rack, barbell set, bench, and dumbbell set are the home gym equipment essentials, but there are a few more things worth considering if your budget allows.

Flooring

Home gym workout mat.

Proper flooring is cheap and worthwhile. It protects the floor and your equipment from wear and tear.

CAP Barbell makes great products, and their interlocking high-density foam mat squares are no exception. They’re sold in packs of 6, covering 24 square feet.

Recumbent Bike

schwin-220-recumbent-bike

Cycling is my favorite type of cardio because it’s no-impact, it has helped me improve my leg strength, and it’s great for high-intensity interval training (treadmills aren’t so good for this because their speed limits are almost always below full exertion).

In terms of exact bikes, I really like this model from Schwinn. Schwinn knows how to make bicycles, so it’s no surprise that their exercise bikes are top notch.

Shoes

Inov-8 Bare XF-210 lifting shoes.

I used to work out in running shoes, and was surprised at how much of a difference a proper lifting shoe makes, particularly with squats and deadlifts.

What is a proper lifting shoe, you ask?

The most important aspect is a flat sole with a little arch and ankle support. The two shoes I’ve liked most are the New Balance MX20 Minimus and Inov-8 BARE XF 210.

CrossRope

crossrope

Jump roping is great whole-body cardio, and unlike ropes with weight only in the handles, the weight in the CrossRope’s  handles and ropes create a more dynamic workout experience because of how smoothly the rope rotates around your body.

It comes with a lighter rope suitable for beginners and a heavier rope for smoother, faster jump roping (great for high-intensity workouts).

 

Dip Belt

Harbinger dip belt.

Exercises like weighted dips and pull-ups are great additions to your routine, but they require a dip belt.

The Harbinger Polypro Dip Belt is affordable, durable, and holds up to two 45lb plates comfortably.

Foam Roller

Foam roller exercise.

Foam rolling used to be a mysterious, “experimental” technique used solely by professional athletes, coaches, and therapists, its ultimate effectiveness unproven. Well, thanks to years of technique development, and a bit of recent clinical research, foam rolling has become a common practice for people at all levels of fitness, and for good reason.

Foam roller exercises are a fantastic, inexpensive way to increase mobility and performance, prevent injuries, and eliminate nagging muscle pains.

For just $20 – 40 and 5 – 10 minutes of your time, a few days per week, you can use foam rolling to dramatically improve mobility and thus range of motion, to reduce the risk of injury, and to remove pains that you might be experiencing while you put your body through certain motions.

 

What did you think of this affordable home gym guide? Have anything else to share? Let me know in the comments below!

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  • MsJadensDad .

    Great suggestions–I’ve had great luck with Craigslist finding plates and heavy dumbbells (80 lbs and up) for around $.50/lb. One suggestion on flooring is horse stall mats. 3/4″ x 4′ x 6′ for way less than mats marketed for fitness. As far as durability goes—well, they’re made for horses. Big, big horses. With hooves.

    • Michael Matthews

      Thanks! Yeah you can get great deals on CL. Good call on the flooring!

    • HotChemist35

      I’ve used the horse mats purchased from Fleet Farm for years. One down side is that they trap water in a basement setting, especially during the summer air conditioning season. Have you had any luck getting them to breath better?

    • Jorge

      Mike if I get all these things, how should I substitute the closed grip lateral pull down or the triceps push down?
      Please consider that Im not strong enough yet to do pull ups

  • Paulo Ferreira

    What about Swiss balls, Mike? They’re pretty cheap and good for core work without having to rely on crunches and situps. They do take a bit of space, though. 😉

    • Michael Matthews

      I’d rather do hanging and lying leg raises personally.

  • beaker

    I’d also check out ironmaster’s line of products. They make an excellent set of adjustable dumbells that combine the feel of traditional dumbells with the convenience of adjustability. They can go all the way up to 165 lbs each, I believe. They also make a sweet adjustable bench that is both solid and comfortable. You can also purchase some nice attachments for it, for doing leg curls with olympic weights or dips. Check out their website – I’ve been very happy with the dumbells and the bench.

    • Michael Matthews

      Those look really neat. First time hearing of them.

  • Steven Garcia

    I saw the kettlebells in the picture. I love my kettlebells. If used creatively, kettlebells are an asset.

    • Michael Matthews

      True! Forgot about KBs actually. Good point.

  • Krystle

    I love your articles! I’ve read a few of your books, and enjoy reading here just as much. I love that you share your favorites, and give exact suggestions for everything. :)Thank you

    • Michael Matthews

      Thanks! 🙂

      • Guest

        I agree 100%. It is super nice to have your EXACT suggestions, that way we can either get the same or compare the other products as well if the ones suggested are not available. I am referring to the supplements:)

  • Artem Avetisiants

    My dream is to have a house where I will surely have 1 single room dedicated to gym!:) No more idiots curling in the squat rack 100 reps per set with 5 pound dumbbells listening to HUGE PINK earphones ignoring everyone around them, GOSH 🙂

  • Dom Tyler

    Hi Mike, great article, wish I’d read it before building my own home set up! Anyway, since it’s too late for that maybe I can share the one item I’ve bought for my setup that I’ve found such a great addition, they are called Lock Jaw barbell collars, I got them to replace those horrible spring collars that most barbell sets come with that tend to be a workout in themselves just getting them on and off! They really have made changing plates a much more enjoyable job, if enjoyable is the right word…
    Thanks Dominic

    • Michael Matthews

      Thanks!

      Ah right I’ve heard those are really good. Thanks for the tip!

  • Connor

    Good article!

    A great extra that many people overlook is plywood for deadlifting on. Just get a piece of plywood and split it into 3, then add rubber on the top. It protects your floor, your plates and it reduces noise.

    • Michael Matthews

      Good tip!

  • Simon

    Another great article! Thank you!

    Since i also like to train muay thai/boxing etc i got a real moneysaver tip: DIY boxing bag for 0 bucks.
    Go to a tire shop/auto shop/garage and search for old tires that should be thrown away. Most of the time you can get them for free.
    Go to your Dads basement and steal a few bolts, screws and nuts 🙂 Thats what you need for the most part so you can build this: (see picture)

    You can also wrap some material around it to make it look a bit nicer if you like 😉

    best regards from Germany!

    • Michael Matthews

      Thanks and hah that’s great!

  • Natalie Kowasic

    Weider Power Tower to do pull-ups, dips, and leg/knee raises all in one station 🙂 and even possibly a hyper-extension bench

    • Michael Matthews

      Yup! Great piece.

    • Estafador

      that sounds like a huge machine for nothing. Free weights over machines any day brother.

      • Natalie Kowasic

        Its not a machine, it’s just a stand to do bodyweight exercises, look it up 🙂

        • Estafador

          Ah I see, I apologize for my ignorance then.

  • Void

    Hi Mike! I like your articles. I´ve been training alone for a year and a half and I cant afford a gym membership, I dont even like them at all. Besides I dont have space for a power rack. I have dumbbells, bench and a door attachable chin up bar. In the past I have tried and find that doing bar exercises without a cage or spotter to dangerous when big loads are involved.
    Can I do the all the bar exercises with dumbbells and achieve the same results?

    • Michael Matthews

      Thanks!

      You can make gains with just DBs but it’s not the same. For instance, deads and squats just can’t really be replicated with DBs…

      • Void

        Yes thats what I was thinking. Dead lifts cause no problem because I have a bar and enough space. Squats are a different matter indeed. Even knowing that squats are the king of compound they´re just too unsafe without a rack. I just hope that on the other exercises this wont be such an issue.

        There are many guys out there who give up on home gyms
        because they live in small apartments and have this same issue with bar and safety. I´ll just have to manage with DB.

        Thanks though!

        • Michael Matthews

          Cool so you can do the deads and yeah that’s a no go on the squats unless you could get a simple upright stand?

          • Void

            yes thats right! I have tried front squat barbell, but I loose balance more easily and get back pains from heavy loads, and besides, bringing a heavy bar back down from that position is also a bit of challenge…

            By the way, seem a couple of your podcasts today, loads of useful information there. great stuff man! 😉

          • Michael Matthews

            Yeah I understand. What do you think about getting the stand?

            Thanks man!

          • Void

            like I said, unfortunateIy I dont have enough space for a rack. I´ll have to go with heavier dumbbell Squats or try front dumbbell squat instead, Ill do all presses with heavier db and dead lifts with the bar.

          • Michael Matthews

            Okay 🙂

  • Thanks for stopping by and checking out my article! I hope you enjoyed it.

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  • Rogue’s racks, mobility stuff and plates are great. I also like Onnit equipment for home use too. As far as rings go, craigslist is full of near free olympic rings people bought and never used. I got mine for $5. Same for battle ropes. A lot of people buy them and then never use them.

    Here is another good article i found on onnit a few minutes ago. https://www.onnit.com/academy/top-5-unconventional-training-tools-for-your-home-gym/?a_aid=holdfastiron

  • Nick Skoczen

    Check us out, a great option for a home gym!
    http://www.isawallsystems.com

  • Bart Dierickx

    Great article on how to build a hardcore homegym. I made a website on which you can share a homegym just like that for free. You list your gym, a visitor who is travelling in your neighbourhood wants a hardcore training. Contacts you. You agree on a price. You can list your gym here: http://www.hardcoregymfinder.com

  • Carlos Eduardo Schuster

    Hi Mike! I am from Brazil and i like a lot of your book Bigger, leaner, stronger. It was an awesome reading! I woud like to know your opinion about sandbag training. Do you think sandbags are an good option to be used in a home gym? If yes i would like to make a sugestion to you write an article about how use sandbags eficiently in a exercises program like yours. Thanks a lot!

  • Kam Barnes

    Hey Mike,

    What Olympic bar company would you suggest at a somewhat reasonable price? I recently used a Marcy and it didn’t make it but maybe 8 back sessions before breaking during a set of deadlifts so I was wanting to get a high quality bar that’s safe.

    Thanks in advance!

    • Good question! Sorry to hear about what happened to your last barbell. 🙁

      This is the one I recommend:

      http://www.muscleforlife.com/product/rogue-ohio-bar/

      My pleasure. LMK what you think.

      • Kam Barnes

        Appreciate it mike!

        Also, I was reading about how cast iron plates can ruin your barbell when deadlifting. Specifically the sleeves. I deadlift on top of stall mats with cast iron plates now using a cheaper bar but I was wanting to know if you think this would actually have an effect on the life span of the bar or not?? I don’t care if it gets the finish scratched up some. Just as long as it doesn’t break or bend quicker over time than it would using other plates. Only lifts I do are the ones from BLS & BBLS, no cleans and jerks or anything like that.

        Thanks for all your advice!

        • YW!

          You know I’m not sure about that! Shoot an email to Rogue and ask them? LMK what they say…

  • Hey Michael, this is a really nice article. Thanks. Also, you have a really nice website with much needed info and resources. http://intenseapexalphamale.com/home-gym-set/

  • seistoes

    In Beyond Bigger Leaner Stronger you recommend doing leg presses in addition to squats and deadlines. What alternative exercise can I do in my home gym since I do not have access to a leg press machine?

  • Tora

    Do you need to fix the R3 power rack to the ground or can you just mount it over the flooring? Also I was considering the R4 as I like doing heavy lunges with the barbell, but I do those with a short step for quads after my front squats! do you think I can fit that in the R3?

    • You’re supposed to. I guess, it’s not a big deal if you don’t but you have to be careful racking and unracking weight because the rack will move.

      The R3 should be fine. You can also set up so the hooks on the outside so you can just do your lunges outside the rack.

      Thoughts?

      • Tora

        Guess I will be looking for some other options, I will have to move from one city to another for work and I was looking for something easier to bring along, also i feel safer with the safety arms…
        I have to figure it out but it’s not imperative right now (great gym closeby in the new city for a change).

        Thanks as always for the great tips though!

        • Ah okay. Makes sense.

          Sounds good. LMK how it goes.

          My pleasure. Always happy to help!

  • Sgt. D

    you must make a hell of a lot more than I do if this is what you consider affordable. Do anyone of you guys know any other name than Rogue

    • That’s true that Rogue isn’t cheap but it’s not the most expensive either and it’s really high quality.

      Powerline and Valor make decent stuff too.

  • Timo

    Any tips on barbell squat substitutions? i know, rule number 1 is squating, rule numer 2 is squating and so on, but I dont have a rack or cage and also not the room for it. I’m thinking of combing barbell hack squat with the RDL and some goblet squats or walking lunges? Thanks for all your information! (and your reply in advance 😉 )

    • You listed good options. You can also consider single leg squats or Bulgarian split squats. Those can get pretty challenging.

      • Timo

        Cool thanks! forgot about the split squads, I liked them before a lot! Curious to do these substitution type of exercises in the 4-6 rep range as BLS suggests, i’m used to do these in a higher rep range.

  • Crystal Patton

    Hey Mike! Any thoughts on adding a barbell pad? Sometimes the barbell hurts my back when I’m doing barbell squats so I was thinking about getting one for comfort. Also do you recommend any specific bands to assist with dips and pull ups? Thanks!

    • Kyle Barichello

      What i like to do is buy pool noodles and cut a slit down the center of them. Then, find a velcro strip package to tighten them up on the bar. Very simple, cheap, and effective for me.

    • Barbell pads are great for comfort. You can make one or buy one! They’re pretty affordable.

      No specific brand in mind for bands, but be sure to pick up multiple ones so you can progress towards less and less assistance.

  • sakib800

    Hey mike whats the difference between a recumbent vs a upright bike.
    Arent the bikes with those chairs easier to do HIIT on?

    Why do you prefer the recumbent ones and which one should i do my High intensity on?

    • Uprights are harder, generally. I actually switched to an upright recently because the recumbent was getting to be a bit easy, haha.

      • sakib800

        Lol yea…But i have another question. If i hit a deficit so i lose about a pound a week, my hair growth is to be expected to be slower right?

  • armen6184

    Hi Mike – I’m building a garage gym and wondered what equipment you recommend for lat pulldowns and rows? Thanks

    • Use the pullup bar on the power rack and dumbbells and the barbell for rows.

  • Nawel12

    Hi Mike, I’m currently reading your book ‘Thinner leaner stronger’ (thanks for this amazing book!) and I’m looking to start your training program soon.

    I cannot train in a gym and I would have to train at home, however, as I don’t have enough space (I live in a house share and can only train in my room) I cannot get a power rack or an adjustable bench. Is it possible to train only with dumbbells and barbells equipment? It looks like the adjustable bench is essential for bench press and the rack for squatting, key exercices of the program. Can I still squat without the rack or is it not safe to lift the weights from the floor? For bench press, is there variation exercices I can do at home on the floor? Additionally, I have kettle bells at home, would you recommend exercising with kettle bells and is there any exercice variations in your training program I can do using dumbbells such as squats?

    • Working out with only dumbbells is a bit tough because you can’t squat, bench press, or military press (and these are some of the most important exercises in any program, really).

      You can also add a couple exercises to make your legs day more challenging:

      Goblet squats are decent, albeit limited.
      One-legged squats are challenging even without weight.

      I wouldn’t squat the barbell without a rack.

      You also have the option of working in some modified body weight exercises, as discussed here:

      http://www.muscleforlife.com/the-ultimate-bodyweight-workout-routine/

      I hope this helps and let me know what you think!

  • Sri

    What do you do for lat pulldowns, cable crunches and rows? You could use the Power Rack to do inverted rows though. The Pull up however takes some time to work up to for beginners. I think a Power Tower would be a great addition as you can do quite a lot of exercises including Leg Raises.

    Those adjustable dumbells are a huge bargain in comparison to a full set, a full set costs close to a thousand bucks!

    Have you tried crunches with weights in lieu of cable cruches?

  • Great article, especially the shoe section. I’ve often wondered if lifting shoes can be used for other exercises after lifting weights. Sounds like they are more versatile than I thought. I will strongly consider a pair of lifting shoes to use for both lifting and full body exercises.

  • Emily Collins

    Hi, Mike. What is the absolute minimum equipment I can start my MFL home gym with? I can’t afford to get everything at once, but would like to finally get the weight training portion of my TLS program started. We already have basic Dumbbells (3#, 5#, 8#, 10#, 15#, 20#), a Flat Bench, an Exercise Ball, an Elliptical and a Total Upper Body Workout Bar. What would I need beyond a Squat Rack and an Olympic Bar…just to get started and build on over the next few months? An Adjustable Bench? A few of the lighter weight plates? I am female and fairly naturally strong, almost 47, and a former athlete with very little experience in weight training, if that helps. 🙂 Again, I am trying to minimize initial costs to get started and build on that. Thanks!

    • Hey Emily, nice work so far assembling all the equipment. An adjustable bench, squat rack or power cage, adjustable dumbbells, olympic barbell set, and you’re good to go!

  • Lilly Richards
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