Sunday Special: Building a Home Gym on a Budget

Very nice condo gym

As many of you know, I am an independent personal trainer.  What that entails is this – I work in various locations, ranging from actual gyms (where I “rent” the gym space for hour-long intervals) to people’s home gyms (think shared condo spaces) to outdoor parks and private backyards.

Because of my diverse client needs, I carry a lot of fitness stuff in the trunk of my car.  Like, a lot.  At any given time, I am hauling:

  • three kettlebells
  • two sets of dumbbells
  • a Perfect Pushup set
  • two jump ropes
  • various resistance bands
  • a medicine ball
  • two yoga mats
  • ankle weights
  • boxing gloves & pads

Let’s not even get into my gas mileage when it comes to driving all this equipment around Los Angeles.  But that said, given the large amount of stuff I bring all over town, I had a client ask me the other day which items I find essential – what I would recommend for building her own home gym – on a budget.

What a fantastic challenge.

First, make sure you have a designated space to set up and store items for your home gym.  Whether it’s just a nice, flat piece of pavement and a Rubbermaid box or a garage with some shelves, you want to feel like your home gym is a separate, contained space – not an afterthought or just another mess to worry about.

Next, I suggest finding a bencha sturdy, padded bench, 18-20″ high, adjustable if possible (but flat works, too).  This will run you between $100-200 (more if you want bells and whistles) and can also be found all over Craigslist with a simple search for “weight bench.”

Myofascial release is the best release

Equally important is a mat for your floor work (and for stance stability, if you need it) – but all you really need here is a yoga mat, unless you want to go all-in with a gym-quality mat or rubberized interlocking tile.  If you tend to get tight muscles (and honestly, who doesn’t?) I recommend keeping a foam roller nearby your mat as well.

Once you’ve got your mat and bench, you can build around it with resistance.  Think about your intended results – are you trying to build muscle (heavier weights)?  Maintain flexibility or work on range of motion (resistance bands)?  Lean out (lighter weights)?  Work on balance and strength simultaneously (resistance trainer like TRX)?  Dominate your workout with a combination of strength and cardio training (kettlebells)?

Whatever your primary goal, make sure you purchase the resistance equipment to match it – and then add on from there once you’re progressed.  For most, dumbbells are the cheapest and most convenient option – I recommend purchasing three pairs in increasing weights (for women; 5, 8, and 12 pounds; for men; 10, 15, and 20 pounds).

Next, consider your cardio.  This is where your lifestyle and fitness goals really come into play.  Are you a runner?  Skip the treadmill and head outdoors – it’s free, better training, and the variable terrain gives you limitless workout options.  Need to be home while the kids are napping?  Consider investing in a single cardio machine, such as a rower (my personal pick), treadclimber, or stairmill, and commit to using it regularly.

Jump for joy…and pain

Can’t commit (or afford a large machine)?  Then consider a cheaper – and more portable! – option: the jump rope.  I am always encouraging clients to “rediscover” the jump rope of their youth because it’s cheap, goes anywhere with you, burns more calories per minute than running, and has tons of variations to keep you progressing and getting more fit.

If you have all of the above on hand, you’ve got yourself a pretty decent home gym – and any trainer you work with will be able to guide you through safe and effective workouts with just those items.

Of course, there’s always the “extras” – the luxury upgrades, if you will (hey, Christmas is coming, right?). In my dream home gym, I’d also recommend the following add-ons:

Pinchy pinch

Oh yeah – one more thing.  If you are truly committed to home fitness and want to make sure you’re making measurable progress, invest in a decent home scale and a pair of body fat calipers.  This way you will know exactly where you stand fitness-wise and can easily keep track of your goals and make adjustments to your program on a regular basis.

Do you work out at home?  What are the must-haves in your home gym?

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