These days I go to the gym two or three times per week but it wasn’t always like that. For years, I never stepped foot in a gym. Shocked? Well, don’t be. The reason I was able to do that is because I had a decent home gym in my not so huge apartment.
When you read the words “home gym” you likely picture an unfinished basement with storage boxes piled up around a weight bench and a dusty old treadmill. Or maybe you go the other way and picture a mansion, with a dance studio-sized room that features mirrors on every wall and every exercise device known to man lined neatly up around the perimeter. Well, neither of those versions of a home gym is what I am envisioning. The style of home gym that I am a fan of is minimal and affordable, yet entirely functional.
If you know me, you will know that I don’t go in for the idea that you have to have the latest, greatest, cutting edge, and newfangled device in order to get a decent workout. I know many amazing athletes, like body weight and callisthenics master Al Kavadlo, who do the majority of workouts in parks and playgrounds. Then there is Darryl Edwards of Primal Play fame, who shuns gyms altogether and prefers to make all of his workouts into playtime. So throw away the idea that your home gym needs to be obtrusive and filled with expensive gear. My idea instead is to start with the bare minimum and work from there.
Throw away the idea that your home gym needs to be obtrusive and filled with expensive gear—instead start with the bare minimum and work from there.
But before we get into the gear, let’s find a suitable area in your home to set this up.
Choosing the Space for Your Home Gym
It is definitely not necessary to have a single room in your house that is devoted to exercise, but it is important to have a location for fitness equipment to live. Preferably a space that isn’t “out of sight and out of mind,” as well. Before deciding which room will house your exercise gear, let’s stop to consider a few things.
- Is there carpet on the floor? Carpet obviously is really good at soaking stuff up (especially red wine, am I right?) That means that it can quickly become stinky if you are sweating all over it on a daily basis. So, choose a room that isn’t carpeted and has flooring that can be quickly and easily wiped down after a heavy sweat session. If that is not possible, you may want to invest in some oversized yoga mats or a tarp that you can pull out before you get your sweat on.
- How high is the ceiling? Even if you aren’t super tall, if you want to do workouts that include jumping or hoisting objects over your head, and you don’t want to have to wear a helmet during your routine, you will want at least one foot of extra space overhead when your arms are fully extended.
- Is there decent airflow? If you are hitting it hard or the air temperature is high, a hot and stuffy room will make you less likely to want to exercise. Having at least one (hopefully two) windows that open is handy, or at least invest in a portable fan that you can point in your general direction.
- Is the area unobtrusive? My partner is an Emergency Room Nurse which means that she works odd hours. If I kept my workout gear in the bedroom, this would pose a serious problem for either my workouts or her sleep. Choosing a location that is convenient but also isolated enough can be a trick for us small home dwellers but with a little ingenuity, it is possible.
OK, now that we have our location sorted out, let’s look at some gear!
Home Gym Equipment
If you are a big spender, you could simply go to your local sporting goods store and invest $500 to $2000 in a multi-gym apparatus, and we’ll get to that type of stuff in a bit. But as I said before, I don’t think that is necessary. If you start minimal and only add pieces of gear as you decide they are necessary, I think you will find (like I did) that you can cover most of your bases with some smart purchases and some clever alterations.
I think you will find (like I did) that you can cover most of your bases with some smart purchases and some clever alterations.
Here are the tools I recommend:
1. Mat: A standard yoga mat will likely do, although there are thicker options if you happen to be standing on concrete or something else with no give. If you are using the mat to protect the floor (or carpet) from sweat, you may want to get an extra large size, but generally, the run-of-the-mill exercise or yoga mat is perfect for the job and can be washed easily in the shower.
2. Stability Ball: This is a big inflatable ball that you can use for crunches, chest press, squats, sit-ups, and can even double as your desk chair. You can read about how to use it for stability ball planks, knee to chest, and stability ball pikes in the article called 10 Flat Stomach Alternatives to Crunches.
3. Elastic Resistance Bands: Although one piece of elastic band (with or without handles on either end) is fine, a few different ones with varying levels of resistance can offer you more variety for exercises from pulling to pushing to twisting. You can find out more about how to replace weights with resistance bands in this article about Tom Brady’s TB12 book.
4. Free Weights: A set of light dumbbells or a light barbell is OK if you’re just starting out. But as you get stronger, you are going to want more weight variety. The best space-saving piece of equipment I have found is called the adjustable dumbbell. These allow you to adjust a single dumbbell from five pounds up to over 50 pounds without having dumbells scattered all over the room.
5. Pull-up Bar: This is a cheap and discreet piece of exercise equipment that I think everyone ought to have in their home and my reason for that may surprise you. The pull-up bar is adaptable and effective and it allows you to use your own body weight to exercise a range of muscle groups in ways that are nearly impossible to fudge without a bar. Believe me, I have tried!
6. Foam Roller: They are usually long and cylindrical, but they come in many shapes, sizes, lengths, textures, and densities. A foam roller can be used for a warm-up or cool-down muscle massage, as a balance device, or as a fulcrum for doing variations of crunches and back bridges. You can learn more about how to use them in this in-depth look at foam rolling.
7. Step Platform or Yoga Blocks: Whether you’re using it for cardio, body weight exercises, or plyometric workouts, picking up a sturdy and lightweight, adjustable platform will allow you to do certain exercises with ease. If you want to save space, a few yoga blocks will do in a pinch, as will a set of stairs or a sturdy footstool (that you don’t mind getting sweaty).
Bosu Balls, Jump Ropes, Kettlebells, Medicine Balls, Suspension Straps, and so on are some small items that you can add every few months (or years) if you decide that you have the space and the need. But I suggest starting minimally and waiting until you are sure you need more before you buy more.