Maybe it’s always been your dream to have a home gym of your own one day. Maybe it’s just an idea you’ve toyed around with because you are sick of the driving to the gym in the cold winter months, or you’ve just had enough of that weird sweaty guy that seems to want to share equipment with you. Always. (Why has he latched on to you? Did you make an invitation?)
Whatever the reason, here are few things to consider before going out and spending all your cash, hard-earned or not. Personally, I don’t think I would go back to training at a gym. After 5 years of building up my own home-gym, not only have I saved quite a bit of money but I have created the right place for me to get done what I need to get done and I save so much time not travelling anywhere to train. I also get to choose the music and make my own dress code.
There are generally two things that people have a finite amount of when planning their home-gym, or even a large sale facility. A finite amount of money and space. (If this isn‘t you then I hate you)
It’s a good idea to explore all your options regarding the space you would like to dedicate to your workout area. Will it be your garage? Basement? Backyard? Family room? Balcony? What are all your options and how can you utilize different areas of your house or building? How will your chosen area impact the other areas of your house or your family’s life.
Consider how much money you are willing to spend on your own gym. Is this a solid budget or just an amount of money that can be negotiated depending on what additions you decide to make? What would you have spent if you had a gym membership and how long would the equipment take to pay for itself? What is your time commuting to and from the gym worth?
Be honest about the goal of your home gym. You may have this grand idea in your head but don’t actually need half of what you’d like to put into it. Are you trying to create some intense barbell club in your garage or do you just want to delay aging and enjoy life a little bit more? Are you planning on doing all of your workouts at home or do you just want to reduce the number of trips to a gym? Depending on what your goals are can seriously impact what you should purchase and how much it might cost you.
Make a list
After you have honestly answered these questions the fun begins. With your goals in mind and an idea of how much money and space you have now you can create a list of your dream equipment. With this list made you can start to prioritize equipment purchases, prioritizing the equipment that will get you closest to your goals. Buy the equipment that you will use the most and if you want to add more later on you always can.
To get a bit stronger you don’t have to buy bumper plates, 10 different medicine balls, slam balls, a rowing erg, a treadmill, 9 types of bands, a plyo box and 4 specialty barbells and 6 selectorize machines. Maybe start with an economy set of weight plates and a barbell that is appropriate for your level. (You don’t have to buy the competition bar for $1000 if the bar doesn’t even bend when you put weights on it. You’re probably ok with a cheaper one.) You can always add in some dumbbells or a TRX later on. Hell, maybe that is what you start with.
It’s never a bad idea to draw up a rough floor plan for your gym area. There’s nothing worse than getting a bunch of equipment only to find out it doesn’t all fit or it does fit but now you can’t do anything with it because you can’t move in the space.
OK, there’s like ten thousand things worse than that but in this context, that’s a pretty shitty result. Don’t let poor planning leave you in this state.
Before you buy, check out what kind of foot print your equipment will take up. Also consider how much space you’ll need to store things like weight plates, dumbbells, accessories like a ball, boxes or a bench. You will also want to make sure you leave space for loading a barbell and a bit of room if things go wrong during a lift.
Barbells should generally be 18” away from a wall and 36” away from the tip of another barbell. Treadmills really shouldn’t be facing out-ward from a wall… Try to think about things like that. Also think about ceiling height. Maybe your reach is only 7 foot 8 but the plates on the barbell you’re lifting overhead could go through your 8 foot ceilings.
Consider if you actually need to buy the piece of “cardio” equipment or could you just use the stairs in your house? Perhaps you have a nice hill near-by. If a piece of cardio equipment is important to you then think about how much space it will take up and if it outweighs what else you could use the space for. I chose an airdyne bike (also called a dual-action bike if you want to keep the branding out of it). It allowed me to complete my interval training during the winter and I have access to a rowing erg in the fire station so there was no reason to buy a concept 2. Other than that I prefer to sprint outside or do the stairs so a treadmill was never a consideration for me, even when I was offered one for free. The research on interval training has also played a big role in the type of equipment I chose.
If this gym is just for your own personal use then you don’t need to buy everything at a facility-quality level. It won’t get the same use and abuse that a gym with hundreds or thousands of members will. It will breakdown over time but nowhere close to how quickly a commercial gym will need to replace their equipment. Buy quality where it’s not an option for you and consider economy options, even some off-brand equipment where you can.
I’m also a fan of repurposing old equipment and making what you can. I built a stand for my Powerblock dumbbells that doubles as an anchor point for glute-ham raises/Nordic leg curls. A Powerblock stand costs a few hundred dollars and I bought two 2x4s and used some left-over plywood and it doubles as another piece of equipment (that costs a few more hundred dollars). I have repurposed a factory-defective, slightly-bent barbell to use with my landmine unit (it was free), I fixed up a broken platform from the gym I worked at by combing parts from 2 platforms and re-surfacing the oak insert; total cost of $12 to dump the parts I didn’t need. Be creative and try to save some money where you can and then spend it where you really need to or better yet, want to.
Finally, there are some pretty creative equipment choices out there for small spaces. If you need your space to double as a room other than a gym there are plenty of options. You can use moveable squat stands instead of a rack or they even have fold-up racks on the market for a larger price tag – but they’re really cool. Powerblocks are a cheaper and more space-friendly option to a full set of dumbbells. It’s amazing what you can find with a little bit of google magic. There is no shortage of DIY fitness equipment on the internet. I have seen hide-away lifting platforms complete with barbell and weight plate storage and it looks like part of the wall.
This wasn’t supposed to turn into such a long post but if you’ve made it this far I hope you can appreciate how important it is to consider what you put into your workout space. A little planning can save you a huge headache down the road because hopefully you’ll be spending some considerable time in there.