I love my home gym, but is it right for everyone? If so, what level of home gym do you need or want? What level do you have space and money for? How do you start a home gym, and with what equipment? Starting a home gym seems simple, but it is not something a lifter should rush. Just like training, it does require a lot of thought.
I do proclaim myself to be an expert on home gyms. I started lifting somewhere around the age of 12 and was serious by the time I was 14. It was during this time that I started my first of many home gyms in my basement. We could not afford gym memberships at the time, so I started with some old equipment my father had, coupled with anything I could find at friends’ houses that they were willing to part with. Every birthday and Christmas from that point on, I always ask for more equipment. I have sold items and changed my gym many times. Even completely started over at least a few times. In my 36 years of lifting experience, I would estimate that I spent 20 of those years strictly in my home gym. During the rest of the years, I used a mixture of gyms and home gym training. I have trained in my basement, in my garage, on equipment in other people’s garages, and even in the living room of a condo (built on a slab) for awhile. You name it, and odds are that I have tried it in my own home gym.
There are definitely a few important considerations before jumping into the home gym realm. The biggest question—and I think the most important question—you need to ask yourself is if you are a self-motivated person who can train seriously on your own at home. For me, this was always easy, and some of my best training sessions are still on my own. I love being able to focus on what I need and push myself to the place I want to go. My alone sessions are usually even more intense and difficult than my sessions with partners. Home gyms can be very difficult for a lot of people, though. Could you find partners to train within a home gym? I find that I have much more control over the atmosphere in my home gym when training alone or with a group. Moving on, I have to ask if you’re the kind of person who enjoys being creative and using your mind. Most home gyms will not be able to have everything you want, but if you’re creative, you can always find a way. I know that I can mimic any machine at any gym in my home gym. I find it fun to try to come up with new ideas and new ways to train the muscles that I want to hit. Are you the kind of person who needs others to hold you responsible for your training? Are you the kind of person who needs the premade atmosphere of a small or commercial gym? There is nothing wrong if you do, but I would put some serious thought into these questions before putting in the time, effort, and money it takes to create a home gym. Before making up your mind, please read further because more questions may modify your ultimate decision.
The home gym comes in many different versions for many different uses. Why are you interested in having a home gym? Are you looking to train serious and full-time there? Are you looking to do recovery or supplemental sessions there? Is it just to have a little convenience on hectic days with little time? Is it just to get through this COVID-19 situation or just in case other things like this happen? Are you looking for some dumbbells and a bench with a few bands to do those lighter or get-in-shape training sessions? Are you looking for a place to do yoga or to work on flexibility and mobility? These are the kinds of questions that must be answered before you delve further into a home gym. For the rest of this article, I will focus on a serious home gym for intense training because gyms for anything less are pretty simple.
Equipment for the Serious Home Gym
I have found that the home gym is an ever-evolving, almost living creature. It can never be finished because strength sports and lifting are ever-evolving. New equipment, new theories, and new ideas continue to come. So, I think the best thing is to start off with the basics and to make those basics of solid quality. The home gym is not going to be inexpensive, but there are ways to save money. These basic pieces are not the place to scrimp; it will only cost you more in the long run. The very first and most important piece of equipment for most home gyms is the power rack followed closely by a bench. Spend the money on a quality rack that will stand the test of time. I prefer the elitefts 3x3 rack. It offers weight holders, band attachments, and tons of safety pin/hook heights, which will all come in very handy. I have put mine through the paces for years and have never had one issue. For the bench, I think it is best to go with a flat, incline, and military one. Again, I have an excellent elitefts bench with wheels, which are seriously convenient for the home gym. Next would be a good Olympic bar. Again, it’s worth getting one that has a solid name and will last. These items will be the foundation of your gym, so strive for quality.
By this time, I hope that you have already thought about your available space, but now is when it becomes important. Most people will look to the garage for a home gym such as this because it has a concrete floor. You may live on a slab and have a spare room, though. I do not recommend lifting heavy on a sub-floor without reinforcing it. It is worth looking up the footprint of the rack and bench plus the bar length (most Olympics are 7’ long). Don’t forget that you will need room to load plates, and a squat bar is longer if you eventually want one. I recommend some graph paper and a scale ruler to make a scale model of space and equipment. At this point, you'll have a much better idea about what space you have available. Do you have room for the minimal setup like we just talked about? If you have more space, what equipment possibilities do you have room for, and what equipment would be best to have?
For many people, it starts to become a matter of money even if they have room. Either way, I like to look at it from the standpoint of bang for my space. Plus, don’t forget you can start with these basics and add in more as you’re using your new gym. Nothing speaks like experience. Next, I would begin collecting plates and dumbbells. I think that for the home gym, a landmine is essential because it uses little space and can do so much. Personally, I found an elitefts GHR to be a must-have. All of my partners missed having a Reverse Hyper®, so I added one of these. Eventually, a belt squat was something I really wanted as well. This will be YOUR gym, so get what you like and feel is essential.
There are many ideas that can help someone to get more out of his or her gym space and his or her bucks. I used a 4’x6’ and I believe ¾-inch-thick horse stall mats from a ranch livestock place, which you can find on sale. When it comes to plates and dumbbells, shipping is a killer! Try some of the local for-sale websites to pick this up. A full set of elitefts bands is a definite to pick up. So many things you can do with these in the home gym. Blast straps are another low-cost, no-space-eating piece of equipment that you can do so much with. Things like boards and boxes can easily be made and are a way to save money so that you can spend more on bars or equipment.
I love my home gym, and my roots are deep in that style of training, but it still is not right for everyone. If it is right for you, then remember that it is a living, growing, and evolving thing. Don’t feel like you have to start with everything. I recommend starting with the basics, even if you can afford more. Test yourself to come up with finding alternative ways to train or hit a certain area of muscle. You may decide that you don’t need certain particular pieces of equipment. On the flip side, you may end up realizing that you need a piece of equipment you initially did not think you needed. You may end up changing your gym around, which could change the available space. Some things look great on paper, but when you are actually training, you may not like it. These days, I train at a great gym, and I still have my home gym. Both have advantages, but I honestly love my home gym the best. In the end, a home gym gives you a chance to create your own space, setup, and atmosphere.