So you’re thinking about building your own home gym, and probably for one or more of the following reasons:
I mean, as an unabashed meathead, it kind of gives me a chub just thinking about it.
As they say, however, the devil’s in the details, and in this case, that comes down to choosing the best possible equipment for your budget, goals, and floor plan.
And that’s where this article is going to help. In it, I’m going to share . . .
Basically, by the end of this article, you’re going to know exactly how to set up a kick-ass, affordable, and effective home gym that lets you do (almost) everything you can do (or at least would want to do) at a commercial gym in the convenience of your own home.
Before we get into all of that, though, let’s take a closer look at whether or not you should build a home gym, because although it’ll always be more convenient, there are downsides as well…
Table of Contents
Building a home gym comes with pros and cons in terms of cost effectiveness, convenience, and privacy.
First, the good:
And then the bad:
Personally, I like to train at a commercial gym. It’s slightly less convenient, but it allows me to do many different exercises, it helps me focus entirely on my training, I like meeting new people there, I don’t have to clean, fix, or replace any equipment, and I don’t have to worry about waking up the kiddos when deadlifting.
If the exercise room in my house were a bit larger, however, I’d add a few pieces of equipment discussed in this article for days when weather, work, or scheduling kerfuffles would otherwise keep me from being able to hit my local gym.
One of the reasons more people shy away from building a home gym is they think it’s going to cost an arm and a leg for all of the gear.
This is true if you buy all of the bells and whistles that are often recommended for home gyms—things like medicine balls, treadmills, kettlebell sets, TRX trainers, power towers, and more—but this is often unnecessary.
If you’re just looking to gain muscle and strength as quickly as possible, you don’t need very much. Just a few key pieces of equipment allow you to do most of the exercises that deliver the biggest bang for your buck, like the squat, deadlift, bench press, and overhead press.
The main pieces of equipment you’re going to want as as follows (and in this order):
With this equipment, you can do a wide variety of highly effective exercises for all major muscle groups, including the absolute best ones mentioned above.
If you’re going to build a home gym, I recommend ensuring you have these seven bases covered before splurging on other equipment.
Next on the list are some “luxury” items that are nice to have but not entirely necessary:
And finally, you have some completely nonvital odds and ends that can make for more effective and enjoyable workouts:
Let’s review all of this, starting with the most important equipment.
Use this workout and flexible dieting program to loseup to 10 pounds of fat and build muscle in just 30 days…without starving yourself or living in the gym.
Proper strength training programs emphasize the use of compound (free weight) exercises, not machines. As strength training is my default recommendation for anyone who wants to do any kind of resistance training, my equipment recommendations reflect this.
This doesn’t require much in the way of money or space, either—$1,000 to $3,000 (depending on what type of equipment you want) and 100 to 200 square feet. For reference, the average two-car garage is 676 square feet.
Let’s start our review of the essentials with the single most important piece of workout equipment you can buy: a power rack.
A power rack, also called a squat rack, is a sturdy metal frame usually about eight feet tall, four feet wide, and three to six feet long with adjustable hooks to hold a barbell and safety bars to allow for safe solo weightlifting.
Many power racks also have pegs to hold weight plates.
This is what you’ll use for the squat, bench press, pull-up, and chin-up.
I recommend the Rogue RM-3 Monster Rack. It’s one of the sturdiest designs out there, with overbuilt bolts and wider struts, so you can rest assured that it’s not going to fall apart.
I also recommend you get their optional knurled pull-up bar and nylon safety straps to protect your barbell.
If you want a more affordable option, go with the Fitness Reality 810XLT Super Max Power Cage. It’s sturdy and has all of the features of the Rogue power rack (hence the loads of positive reviews on Amazon).
All of the best exercises you can do are going to require a barbell, so it’s worth investing in a good one.
The main things you want to look for in a do-it-all barbell are standard knurling (the rough pattern milled into the barbell to improve grip), 28.5 mm shaft width, and a lifetime warranty.
You also want a barbell that has a gaps in the knurling near the middle of the bar, so that the bar can more easily slide up your shins during deadlifts.
I recommend the Rogue Ohio Power Bar with Cerakote finish. It’s made of high-quality steel that’s guaranteed by their lifetime warranty never to bend, and the Cerakote finish looks neat and protects the bar from scratches and corrosion.
If you want a more affordable option, go with the iheartsynergee S-2 Olympic 20kg Barbell. A horrible company name, but a good bar.
You’ll need to buy at least two 2.5-, 5-, 10-, and 25-pound plates and six 45-pound plates when you set up your home gym. You can buy more as you get stronger (most people like to add extra 10- and 45-pound plates).
Make sure you get round plates and not multi-sided ones, which shift out of position when you deadlift.
Standard cast metal plates are usually going to give you the best bang for your buck, but it’s also a good idea to have a few rubber-coated bumper plates for deadlifting. These are usually more expensive but are easier on your floor and quieter while deadlifting.
I recommend the Rogue Olympic Plates for cast metal plates, and the Rogue Hi-Temp Bumper plates for bumper plates. Rogue’s plates are known for being extremely durable and accurately calibrated (they actually weigh what the company says they do).
If you want a more affordable option, go with the CAP Olympic 2-Inch Weight Plates. They’re well-made and will last a lifetime.
You’ll need a padded, adjustable bench with wheels that can be set completely flat or upright.
This allows you to do your seated isolation exercises and dumbbell presses, incline and flat barbell presses, and seated shoulder presses.
You can find plenty of cheap benches out there, but I recommend you invest in something quality. It’s common for the bolts to come loose, the covering to rip, and for the wheels to be misaligned on cheap benches which can be annoying and unsafe.
I recommend the Rogue Adjustable Bench 2.0. It’s a well-built and minimalist bench with wheels and an adjustable seat and backrest, which is everything that we want in a bench.
If you want a more affordable option, go with the Fitness Reality 1000 Super Max Weight Bench. It’s not as heavy-duty as the Rogue bench, but it’ll get the job done just fine.
Adjustable dumbbells are dumbbells that allow you to select different weights while using the same handle.
They allow you to do just about any dumbbell exercise, and are much more space efficient than normal dumbbells.
On the other hand, the advantage of normal dumbbells is that they often feel more balanced and ergonomic than adjustable ones, and they make it easier to do certain exercises (like overhead triceps extensions).
That said, adjustable dumbbells are better than paying for, shipping, and storing an entire rack of normal dumbbells.
I recommend the Bowflex SelectTech 1090 Set. With them you can quickly and easily select anywhere from 5 to 90 pounds of weight per dumbbell, they have comfortable handles that feel a lot like traditional dumbbells, and they’re engineered to last.
The only (minor) downside is they’re longer than most dumbbells, which makes them feel a bit unwieldy on certain exercises.
If you want a more affordable option, go with the Yes4All Adjustable Dumbbells. They’re just as comfortable and versatile as the Bowflex ones, but they take longer to adjust.
Collars, also called safeties or clamps, hold weight plates in place on the barbell while you’re throwing it around.
Weight plates tend to wiggle toward the outside edge of the barbell during your sets, and collars hold them in place so you don’t have to shove the weights back into place after every set.
Some people also feel safer when using collars because they prevent the weight plates from falling off of the barbell (though you shouldn’t be tilting the bar enough for that to happen anyway).
If you want a more affordable option, go with the Clout Fitness Quick Release Collars.
Floor tiles are rubber or foam sheets usually about an inch or two thick that interlock to create a protective layer over your floor.
Even if you’re careful, you’re going to drop weight plates, barbells, dumbbells and other heavy hard things on your floor, and it’s going to cause some damage unless you have floor tiles.
You can buy good floor tiles from most hardware stores like Home Depot, Amazon, or a speciality flooring company. Personally, I’d just something generic and reasonably priced from Amazon like the ProSource Puzzle Exercise Mat.
So, that covers all of the need-to-have items for your home gym. Now let’s go over some of the nice-to-have items.
A deadlift platform is a metal frame that sits on the ground and holds thick tiles of rubber.
As the name suggests, a deadlift platform allows you to deadlift without damaging the floor or your equipment or making too much noise.
Regular floor tiles are fine for protecting your floor from dropped weight plates or dumbbells, but you need a deadlift platform if you plan on doing a lot of heavy deadlifting.
It’s also useful for barbell rowing for the same reasons.
You don’t need a deadlift platform, but it’ll let you descend faster while deadlifting and barbell rowing, which means you won’t have to waste energy slowly lowering the weights.
I recommend the Rogue deadlift platform. As you can tell, I’m a bit of a Rogue fanboy, but for good reason: they make durable, aesthetic, and fine-grained products, they take care of their workers and customers, and they’re made in ‘Murica.
If you want a more affordable option, make your own platform with some heavy duty rubber floor tiles like Rubber-Cal Shark Tooth Heavy Duty Mats. You’ll likely have to push them back into place every now and then, and they don’t offer quite as much protection as a real deadlift platform, but they work fine.
A dip station is a metal stand with two handles that allows you to do dips and leg raises. Dips are one of the best chest, triceps, and shoulder exercises you can do, but since there are suitable replacements, this isn’t an essential item.
Leg raises are also an excellent ab exercise, but you can do these hanging from a pull-up bar like the one attached to your power rack, too.
Although they aren’t essential, dip stations also aren’t expensive, so I recommend adding one after you’ve purchased the essentials listed earlier (if you want to include dips in your routine, that is).
I recommend the Rogue Monster Matador, which is a dip station that attaches to the Rogue Monster power rack I listed earlier, saving space.
If you want a more affordable option, go with the Ultimate Body Press Dip Bar Fitness Station. It’s cheap, collapses down for storage, and is easy to move around.
Here’s how it looks:
You can easily overload this exercise by holding a weight, and you can also use the glute-ham raise machine to do weighted situps, which is a nice bonus.
I recommend the Rogue GH-1 glute-ham raise. It’s a simple, attractive, and fairly priced (some companies charge $800+ for similar machines).
If you want a more affordable option, go with the Cap Strength Roman Chair.
The lat pulldown machine is a great back exercise for using more or less of your bodyweight in a pullup motion.
I recommend the Rogue lat pulldown machine. It’s well designed and featured high quality cables and pulleys that won’t wear out (which is the main problem with lat pulldown machines), and it also lets you do cable rows, which are another excellent back exercise.
If you want a more affordable option, go with the Valor Fitness CB-12 Plate Loading Lat Pull Down. It’s durable and uses regular weight plates, which saves space and shipping fees.
I don’t do much cardio (an hour or two per week), but when I do it, I like to stick to low-impact activities like rowing, cycling, and walking instead of more impactful stuff like jogging and sprinting.
Rowing machines display all of your stats like time, strokes per minute, and power output, which is helpful for tracking your progress. Plus, they’re usually less expensive than treadmills and easier to store.
I recommend the Black Concept 2 Model D rowing machine. It’s considered by many to be the best rowing machine on the market because of it’s super smooth and quiet flywheel, durability, and stowability.
If you want a more affordable option, go with the Sunny Health & Fitness Magnetic Rowing Machine Rower.
Indoor cycling is my favorite form of cardio for a few reasons:
I recommend the Keiser M3i Indoor Bicycle. It’s stylish, durable, easy to store, gives you tons of data on your workouts, and is at the top of almost every “best indoor bike” review you can find.
If want a more affordable option, go with the Sunny Health & Fitness Pro Indoor Cycling Bike.
If you already own a road bike then you can hook it up to an indoor bike trainer like the CycleOps M2 Smart Trainer.
If running or walking is your cardio of choice and you can’t or don’t want go outside (I highly recommend you do if you can), then a treadmill is the obvious piece of cardio equipment for you.
I recommend the Sole F85 Treadmill because it’s durable, quiet (some treadmills are unbearably loud), and comes has some neat features like a built-in heart rate monitor, cooling fans, and MP3-compatible sound system.
If want a more affordable option, go with the NordicTrack T 6.5 S Treadmill. Yes, that’s still a chunk of change, but if you’re going to the trouble of installing and storing a treadmill, you’ll want to get something nice.
The lightest weight plates in most weight sets are 2.5 pounds, which means the smallest increase in weight you can make is usually 5 pounds (one 2.5 pound plate on each side of the bar).
When you’re a newbie, adding 5 to 10 pounds to the bar every week or two is easy, which means you can get by with standard weight plates.
Once your newbie gains are gone, though, you’ll have to accept that you won’t set new personal records (PRs) every week. Instead, it will be more like every 4, 8, or 12 weeks . . . or even longer if you’re cutting.
What’s more, sometimes moving up in weight on a big lift by 5 or 10 pounds can be tremendously difficult, and you can “unstick” yourself by moving up by just 2.5 pounds.
That’s where fractional plates come in handy. They allow you to keep progressively overloading your muscles in small increments, which is what you have to do as you inch closer to your natural ceiling for muscle and strength gain.
Most fractional plate sets include plates that range from 0.25 to 1 pound, which allows you to add anywhere from 0.5 to 2 pounds to the bar.
I recommend the Ader Fitness fractional plates. They’re carefully machined out of high-grade steel, meticulously calibrated to within 0.1 to 1% of the advertised weight, and they look nice.
If want a more affordable option, go with the Micro Gainz Fractional Weight Plate Set.
Most people don’t know these exist, but they’re useful for the same reason barbell fractional plates are: they allow you to make smaller increases in weight on your dumbbell exercises.
These little guys are particularly helpful with some dumbbell exercises are more difficult to improve on than their barbell counterparts, like the dumbbell bench press.
With stock dumbbells, you’re forced to increase in 10-pound increments (5 pounds in each hand), but with dumbbell fractional plates, you can increase the weight by just 2.5 pounds per hand, which can make for smoother progression.
I recommend the PlateMate Microload 1.25 pound magnetic hex plates. They’re strong enough to stay on your weights but easy to take off, and they’re covered with a plastic coating that prevents them from pinching your fingers or scratching your weights.
Also, keep in mind that you’ll want two pairs of these if you want to use them for two-handed dumbbell exercises like the dumbbell bench press.
(And I haven’t found a set of magnetic fractional plates that were more affordable than these.)
An ab roller, also known as an ab wheel, is a small wheel with handles on either side of the axis that allows you to do an ab exercise called the abdominal rollout.
And the abdominal rollout is a classic unweighted ab exercise that deserves a place in your repertoire.
You start this exercise on your knees, gripping both handles with your arms straight out in front of you. Keeping your back in a neutral position, push the wheel forward in a straight line in front of you, allowing your torso to move forward, then bring your hands back toward your knees.
Here’s how it looks:
There are plenty of other abdominal exercises you can do, but ab rollouts are effective, fun, and don’t require much space, which makes them perfect for a home gym.
I recommend the Perfect Fitness Ab Carver Pro Roller. It looks cool, the handles are comfortable, and it’s designed in such a way that you don’t need quite as much balance as with other similar rollers.
If want a more affordable option, go with the Fitnessery Ab Wheel.
I’ve been following an at-home (well, office on most days) yoga routine for over a year now, and I’ve seen significant improvements in my upper and lower body comfort and mobility during my squat and press workouts in particular.
(Check out this article to see my exact routine).
If you’re going to do something similar, the one piece of equipment that you’ll want is a yoga mat. Doing things like kneeling lunges on a hard floor is about as comfortable as it sounds, and even on carpet it’s easy to scrape yourself up.
I recommend the Harmony Jade Yoga Mat. The surface is grippy enough to keep you from sliding around and cushy enough to comfortably rest your knees and elbows on for several minutes.
If you want a more affordable option, go with the Suxess Fitness Yoga Mat.
Weightlifting chalk helps by absorbing sweat and increasing the friction between your palm and the bar, and it’s helpful for every kind of barbell or dumbbell exercise (especially for improving your deadlift grip).
The only problem with regular chalk is that it makes a complete mess. If you’re cool with that, then have at it, but personally I prefer liquid chalk.
Liquid chalk is simply regular powdered chalk that’s been dissolved in alcohol. When you rub it on your hands, the alcohol evaporates leaving behind a thin layer of chalk on your palms.
I recommend Liquid Grip. It’s one of the first brands to start making liquid chalk, affordable, stays on my hands for the entire workout, and smells good.
Like any bodyweight exercise, though, you’ll eventually need to add weight to keep progressively overloading your muscles.
That’s where a dip belt is helpful. It allows you to comfortably add progressively more weight as you get stronger by suspending weight plates from around your waist. It’s also helpful for weighted pullups and chinups.
I recommend synthetic dip belt from Rogue. The materials and stitching will last forever and the chain is longer than many dip belts, which allows it to hold more weight.
If you want a more affordable option, go with the Harbinger Polypropylene Dip Belt.
People have mixed opinions on mirrors.
Some like to use them as another form of visual feedback so they can see what their technique looks like.
Others consider them a distraction that you should try to do without.
I’m somewhere in the middle—I think they can be helpful when you’re first learning an exercise, but over time you want to be able to perform your lifts using internal cues and muscle memory.
So, if you’re new to lifting or enjoy looking at yourself in the mirror while working out (don’t we all?), then they’re a good option. I recommend you look for a local company to do the installation for you. If you’re determined to DIY it, then get something cheap like this mirror from Amazon.
Depending on where you set up your home gym, you may need to install lighting. Personally, I like the products from Philips because the bulbs are bright, energy efficient, and reasonably priced.
If you want to get really fancy, their lights can link up to smart home devices like Alexa, Google Home, or Apple HomePod, along with your speakers.
That brings us to the last few items worth mentioning—the “fun stuff” that’s completely unnecessary but can make for more enjoyable workouts.
For me, that starts with good music.
I probably don’t have to sell you on listening to good music, but did you know that studies have shown that the right music stimulates the nervous system and increases adrenaline levels while exercising?
This can make high-intensity exercise feel easier and improve your endurance during low-intensity cardio and your sprint times during HIIT workouts. It can also improve your body’s ability to process oxygen (really!), and may increase strength.
(The “right” music, by the way, is generally exciting, fast-paced style music like electronic, rock, heavy metal, etc., although people respond differently to different tunes.)
As far as speakers go, I’m a huge fan of Sonos products. They’re pricey, but they sound great, they’re durable, and they link up with a variety of services and gadgets (I use mine with Spotify).
If you want the all-in experience, I recommend the Sonos PLAY:5 Ultimate Wireless Smart Speaker.
If you want a more affordable option, go with the Sonos PLAY:1. I have both and while the PLAY:5 is clearly superior, the PLAY:1 is no slouch.
And if you want something even more affordable (and that isn’t Sonos,) I like the Anker Soundcore 2.
I’m always on the hunt for motivational and inspirational quotes, sayings, and aphorisms, and I believe that regularly reminding ourselves of the right ideas can make it a little easier to keep doing the things we know that we should (like working out).
As I wrote in this article, your environment is . . .
“. . . the invisible hand that subtly molds your attitudes, decisions, habits, and over time, your life, for better or worse, as well as the dead hand that sways so many of us to engage in so many of the same self-destructive behaviors.”
So why not throw up a poster or three in your home gym that energizes and encourages you to keep putting in the work?
Here are some nice collections to choose from:
I recommend you pick a room that has a concrete floor, like a garage or unfinished basement.
I also recommend you set up your home gym on the first floor or in the basement because working out on an upper floor—and deadlifting in particular—can scare others in the house or even damage your floor.
Even if you set up your gym on a concrete floor, I strongly recommend you lay down rubber tiles. These are going to be much cheaper than repairing chipped concrete flooring after dropping a weight on it.
Building your own home gym is the best way to make your workouts as convenient as possible, and this can work wonders for compliance (and thus long-term results).
It does require a bit of space and money, however. Good exercise equipment isn’t cheap and usually takes up enough space to fill a small room.
If you’re willing to spend about $3,000 and have about 200 square feet of space to spare, however, then you can have a kick-ass home gym that will last you a lifetime.
The first pieces of equipment you should buy are . . .
Once you have those set up, you can consider buying the following:
If you were to get everything on that list, you’d be better equipped than most commercial gyms!
Finally, I recommend you set up your home gym in a 1st floor room with a concrete floor, a garage, or an unfinished basement.