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

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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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