How to Design Your Home Gym

I’ve been a gym rat since high school, but ever since I started my career in medical device sales three years ago my schedule has been funky, to say the least. Most days I’m between accounts for inconsistent periods of time, sometimes up to  12-14 hours stretches. Needless to say, I started to struggle with getting to the gym consistently. Shelling out $85 a month for a gym membership that I was only using, at best, three times a week no longer made sense. I decided a little over a year and a half ago to build out a home gym. I was a little concerned about going gym-less after nearly seven years of working out almost exclusively in a gym, but I figured it was worth it to see if a home gym would help me get into a more consistent routine (5-6 workouts/week) again. 

I’m happy to report that working out from home has given me a ton of flexibility and a no-excuses mindset to getting a daily workout in. But, it took me a while to find the right ‘recipe’ of gym equipment needed in order to:

  1. Stay motivated to work out from home
  2. Provide enough versatility to prevent boredom and ensure a wide range of exercise options
  3. Continue making performance improvements
  4.  To be safe and comfortable working out
  5. Stay within a limited budget

Below are my recommendations (all opinions, of course) for how to get started, and how to grow your gym over time.

Home Gym Basics – Step 1 ($50):

  • Yoga mat
  • Foam roller
  • Resistance bands

If you don’t already own these items, you should go buy this stuff today.  These items will cost you all of $50 and are a platform for toning, stretching, and strengthening without taking up any permanent space in your home. These pieces will also help you figure out if you are motivated and willing to even work out from home regularly. You need to make a commitment to using what you have before you add more.

Strength – Step 2 ($300+):

  • 5 pairs of quality dumbbells. I started with 5 pound increments from 5-25 pounds. (For any male readers, I’d recommend starting with 10-pounders and go up in 5-8 lb increments to 35 lbs. for your initial investment).
  • Do not buy crappy dumbbells. (You do not want the end of one falling off on your head in the middle of doing a lat pullover, ok?) I have a strong affinity towards rubber-coated hex dumbbells and would recommend the Power Systems branded ones – excellent value and quality. A good rule of thumb is that you’ll spend roughly $1.50-$2 per pound of weight (e.g. One ten-lb. dumbbell will cost you roughly $15-20.) 
  • If your budget won’t allow for an initial investment of 5 pairs of DB’s, you can start with as few as 3 pairs. Ladies, I’d recommend 8, 12-15, and 20 pound dumbbells. Gents, start with 15, 25, and 35 dumbbells.

Cardio – Step 3 (Free-$2,500+):

I added this in after about 1 year of working out from home – I had an established routine and track record of consistency, so I knew I would make the most of this addition to my home gym.

  • You can skip this step if you’re cool with getting your cardio in outdoors, but if you know you won’t consistently hit the pavement, you should invest in one great piece of cardio equipment.
  • I know cardio equipment isn’t cheap, but I caution you against buying the cheapest thing you can find from a local yard sale. (Why? Because I guarantee you that you will not find motivation to run on a POS treadmill from 1994.)
  • Choose your cardio equipment based on your preferred mode of cardio (for some people that might mean the type of cardio that’s least offensive. That is ok.) I personally, LOVE biking. Bike tours and spin classes are among my favorite workouts, so I invested in a spin bike.
  • I found an older but very well-kept commercial quality Lemond spin bike on Craigslist for a whopping $400. I ride it 3+ times a week. Worth it, so worth it.

Versatility – Step 4 ($100+):

I added the below items into my home gym after 18 months of commitment to my home gym workouts.

This is where things start to become more of a personal preference. If you’re cool curling a max of 25 lb dumbbells forever and love your elliptical machine to death, you might be content with stopping here. I, however, am NOT a creature of habit, and can’t stand doing the same thing over and over. Plus, I didn’t want to limit some of my power, strength, and agility goals to a spin bike and light dumbbells. Here’s what I added next (to the tune of $1,300):

  • Adjustable weight bench – I’d been doing chest presses on the ground and lat pull-overs on a chair turned sideways for way too long. I needed to protect my back and increase the number of variations I could do with weights (without an adjustable bench I couldn’t do things like supported reverse flys or incline bench press) so I bit the bullet on a $230 bench.
  • Plyometric box – this wooden one from Power Systems is 20x24x30″ and is my current favorite gym toy ($159). This thing is so versatile. I use it for box jumps, variations of step-up exercises, and as a support for some of my bent-over single arm upper body work (think single arm rows & tricep extensions). Bonus, it’s really pretty!
  • Bosu ball – I bought the commercial version of the Bosu ($130) because it’s what I’d used at the gym for years and I love the quality of it. I love using this for push-ups and squats with the round side of the Bosu ball facing down. 
  • Heavier dumbbells – I added a few more sets of dumbbells to my collection, ranging from 30-50 pounds. This was the most expensive addition to my gym. At $1.56 per pound, a single 50-pound DB cost me $78. Ouch!
  • Short Olympic bar & weighted plates – I personally wanted to invest in some better equipment for deadlifts. Given my space I knew a full-sized Olympic bar would be tight so I got the short one which weights 30 pounds. I bought several 10 and 25 pound plates, clips, and a foam pad for when I used the bar for squats.
  • Thick padded gym mats (2 of them at 3×6′) to protect the floor beneath my weight bench and spin bike

Depending on your favorite exercises, you might choose to forego some of the above altogether, or add other equipment like:

  • Kettlebells
  • Medicine Balls
  • Weighted bars
  • TRX straps

Define Your Space – Step 6 ($500+):
I haven’t done this step yet, but it’s in my one-year savings plan.

Next, I plan to tear out the old carpet in my basement and replace it with a high-density rubber/synthetic gym flooring material. I’ll also add mirrors along the length of one wall and invest in a proper dumbbell weight rack. 

I anticipate this costing me $2-3K.

  • Gym flooring ($1,000-2,000 – totally guessing here.)
  • Mirrors (Home Depot sells quality 36×60″ bathroom mirrors that can be hung flush against each other. I think I’ll need 4-6 of these. At $50/each, this will run me $200-300.)
  • Dumbbell Weight Rack – only the good Lord above knows why these are so expensive. Even on Craigslist I’ll be hard-pressed to find a quality one under $400.)

Wish List – Step 7:

I have to admit, even after step 6 I still don’t think I’ll be finished building out my gym. I have a wish list that looms out another 2+ years. You might be adding up the costs on all of these steps and thinking that it’s not worth the investment to build out a home gym, but for me, my home gym is less about an apples-to-apples comparison to the cost of a gym membership and ALL about what fits my lifestyle, keeps me motivated, and will keep me fit for the rest of my life. Fitness is a huge passion of mine, and the extent to which you build out your home gym will depend largely on your personal goals, opinions, preferences, and budget. So, after all that, what else is currently on my wish list?

  • Squat rack
  • More plates for my Olympic bar (2x 45 lb, 2x 25 lb, 2x 10 lb, 2x 5 lb)
  •  Weighted plate rack

I’ll close with a reminder that this list of ideas for building out a home gym is NOT a blueprint for success, but rather a way to think about how you can build out a gym over time, for both the sake of your pocketbook and to make sure your commitment to a home gym is steadfast. Your gym will also be defined a lot by the types of exercises you love…your gym might not include a single dumbbell, but you may choose to invest instead in a ballet bar and springy flooring so you can dance. Great!

If you only take away one thing here, build your gym slowly, sustainably, and make sure it aligns with what keeps you motivated. Don’t buy equipment you’ve never used before. Buy what you will USE. And, this might be obvious, but if you don’t know what you love, you should spend a few months in a real gym setting to better define your wish list for a home gym.

I’d love to hear what’s in your home gym and see pictures too!! Share what you’ve got below!

I’m not affiliated with or endorsed by any of the products or brands listed above. They’re brands I’ve used, love, and simply recommend. I hope you like them too!


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