Creating your Own Affordable Complete Home Gym

Avoid the commercial gym crowds, expense, and commute time: discover the four home gym essentials you need to be able to work out safely and effectively at home.

Imagine the convenience of having your own home gym setup, where you can train whenever you want without any time constraints. Not only does it ensure training consistency, but it also offers long-term affordability. A dedicated space for fitness in your home also acts as a constant reminder and motivation to prioritize your health and well-being. 

But how do you do it?

The bewildering array of fitness equipment available today can make it difficult to know where to start. As an in-home personal trainer, I’ve seen every type of home gym imaginable. I’ve noticed that the most functional gyms are often the least expensive. They’re built around a few key pieces of fitness equipment that can be used for a wide range of exercises and can accommodate various fitness levels.

In this article, I’ll lay out a blueprint for a functional, simple home gym you can set up for a few hundred dollars.

Preparations

Before you start shopping for gear for your new home gym, there are five quick preparatory steps you'll want to take:

  1. Make sure you have a dedicated space of at least 40 square feet.

  2. If you rent, check with your landlord before affixing anything to the walls, ceilings, or floors.

  3. Clear out your dedicated space so that it is entirely empty.

  4. Buy a couple of Mirror Sheets/Stickers and place them where you can see your exercise form in a full-body perspective

  5. Determine whether you need heavy-duty floor protection (for wood floors, tile,etc.), lighter weight foam flooring covering, or no floor covering at all

Four Home Gym Essentials

Four essential pieces of equipment will allow you to perform nearly every exercise on the weight room floor of your local commercial gym. I’ve listed them in the order of priority as you build your gym according to your budget allowance. 

Adjustable Olympic Dumbbells

Dumbbells allow you to work individually on each side of your body, ensuring even strength and muscle development. Working with dumbbells also provides a fuller range of motion on critical exercises like the bench press than a barbell. 

A reliable pair of adjustable dumbbells will allow you to adjust the resistance according to your increasing strength level. You want to look for dumbbells with at least six inches of knurled grip, reliable collars, and self-lubricating bearings for a smooth spin (and our Olympic Loadable Dumbbells fit the bill).

Resistance Bands

Resistance bands allow you to simulate those expensive cable machines that populate commercial gyms. Attaching the band anchor to an internal doorway allows you to perform pulling exercises such as lat pulldowns, chest presses, and seated rowing. They can also be used to support body weight exercises such as pull ups and dips.

Bands also provide variable resistance, so your muscles need to work harder as the band stretches. This better accommodates the natural strength curve of many exercises. 

Look for 100% all-natural rubber latex resistance bands sold in sets with bands ranging from super-light (5 lbs) to super heavy (125 lbs) to cover your current and future training needs.

Weight Bench

A flat or an adjustable weight bench provides a solid platform for performing a wide range of resistance exercises with dumbbells. Adjustable benches can be set at an incline, flat, or at a decline to hit multiple angles, however they are more expensive than their flat bench counterparts. Many people start off with a sturdy and reliable flat bench, because finding a budget friendly adjustable bench with simple and solid mechanisms can be difficult.

You'll also want your bench padding to be comfortable but not too soft, or you’ll end up with an unstable surface to lie on. Look for a minimum of two inches. with high density foam construction. Finally, make sure your bench is made from a solid steel frame with a rated weight capacity of at least 400 pounds.

Barbell & Weights

A quality barbell allows you to perform compound lifts such as deadlifts, clean and press, and bent-over rows. Avoid the cheap 5—or 6-foot one-inch diameter bars in favor of a regulation 2” Olympic bar made for safety and performance. It should be tested to handle at least 1000 lbs, feature precision integrated bushings and/or needle bearings for easy sleeve rotation, and be made from rugged steel with a corrosion resistant coating. Check out our Guide to Picking the Perfect Barbell for more information on how to choose the right bar for your goals and needs.

Buying a barbell set with weight plates and collars provides the best value for the money. A good starting set will provide you with at least a set of 2.5, 5, 10, and some combination of the heavier 25-45 lb plates, and a set of collars. Our 175-lb Bar and Weights set even includes lifting straps to keep your grip firmly in place while doing those heavier pulls. 

Next Steps

Having established your basic set-up with dumbbells, resistance bands, an adjustable bench, and a barbell set, you can add extra equipment as your budget allows. Here are the next couple of pieces I recommend.

Squat or Power Rack

A squat or power rack allows you to perform exercises starting with the bar at upper body level without picking it up from the floor. They also provide built-in safety spotters, allowing you to train safely at home without a training partner. 

These racks are available in various configurations to suit all available space requirements. If you’ve got the room, you can invest in a full power cage that you exercise inside of. For those with hardly any space, wall-mounted squat racks fold flat against the wall when not in use.

Rowing Machine

Total fitness involves exercising both your aerobic (with air) and anaerobic (without air) systems. Strength training is primarily anaerobic, though you can get an awesome cardio workout with dumbbell circuit and HIIT training. The best way to work your heart and lungs and burn calories is with a dedicated cardio exercise. That’s where the rowing machine comes in. 

Rowing is unique among cardio exercises because it works 80 percent of your body’s muscles. It also has a very low impact on your joints by removing the stress of running or jumping based cario.

Rowing machines typically offer different types of resistance, including air, magnetic, hydraulic, and water resistance. Each type has its pros and cons, so consider factors such as smoothness of the resistance throughout the motion, noise level, and how much the machine can be adjusted to your body and needs.

Wrap Up

You don’t need to spend a fortune to set up a functional home gym. With a pair of adjustable dumbbells, a set of resistance bands, an adjustable bench, and a starter barbell set, you’re good to go.

If you can’t afford to get all four at once, no problem: with just a pair of dumbbells and weights you can work every muscle in your body. Stay tuned for our upcoming home workout series to get your workout routine on point.