Are you asking, “Why in the world would I want to build my own home gym?”, when what you should be asking is “Why would I NOT want to build my own home gym?!”
Perks to building a home gym:
Let’s start with the perks to a home gym and the reason I decided the initial cost was worth it.
- Convenience (on location, open 24/7)
- You own it – get what you need, leave out the stuff you don’t
- You control the atmosphere (temperature, music, lighting)
- No lines, no waiting for equipment, it’s ALL yours!
- No distractions
- Fits your schedule
- Not all the equipment needs to be purchased (more on this later).
My “ah ha” moment:
Approximately 18 years ago I was living in a small remote mining town. My fitness program focused on running anywhere from 20-35 miles per week. I envisioned myself still as lean, athletic and strong as I was when I was in the Marine Corps my 20’s; yet I was 35 and I wasn’t doing any strength training or toning.
The image I had of my physical being was rudely burst when I had a photo of me taken from behind, with my shirt off.
This was not the image I had of myself in my head. How could this be? I was able to run 5 miles at a 6:30 pace, yet I was approaching skinny fat – lean everywhere , except for those prominent love handles that were so obvious to me in that photo.
Time for change:
It was time for change! I tried going to a local small fitness center (mostly Nautilus equipment). At the time, I had a young son and daughter at home and although it allowed me to expand my fitness program, I didn’t want to work all day and then miss out on more time with my kids by going to a gym.
I wanted convenience, actual weights instead of machines, and I wanted to be near my kids. With a home gym, I could take my kids into the gym with me from time to time.
The start of my home gym:
I had a small garage and decided to build my own home gym. My first purchase included a standard bench, squat rack, one barbell and basic set of plates. I used climbing webbing to hang a pull up bar from the rafters. It had a little swing to it, yet it worked! My new fitness program now included basic lifting. Although I continued distance running, I also threw in some sprinting and intervals.
I fell in love with the simplicity of my own garage gym. My schedule could now be arranged to fit my lifestyle (early morning and weekend workouts).
Guiding principle for my home gym:
The gym equipment I chose for my gym allowed me to move my body as it was designed – as a complete system that works together. My focus was on equipment that would allow me to work my body holistically.
I prefer free weights and functional, full body movements. It would have been easy to get lured into fancy equipment. but I wanted to focus on simplicity by sticking to the basics, stuff I’d seen gyms years ago.
And, with wanting to keep the cost down, I discovered it didn’t take fancy or expensive equipment to get a good workout. I also discovered how easy it was to build my own equipment.
Starter Equipment for a home gym:
The equipment I started with and recommend to build your gym on a budget include:
- Basic Olympic bar (spend the money and get a decent bar). Cheaper bars can have bolts that loosen over time and create a huge pinching hazard. I also recommend bumper plates opposed to steel or concrete plates as bumper plates will allow you to push yourself and drop the bar, if necessary.
- Squat Rack (I like this one as it meets two needs (squat rack and pull-up bar).
- Pull up Bar (if space is an issue, a pull-up bar that mounts to the ceiling might be an option).
- Jump Rope (I like these as they are easily adjusted to meet your height).
- Tunes and a Timer or clock (I love this free online Tabata timer).
- Gym shoes (Converse, No Bull, Vans, Innovates … something without a cushy raised heel)
When I became involved in CrossFit and decided to upgrade my gym to allow for more of the movements in a CrossFit workout, I knew I couldn’t add everything a CrossFit gym had; so I opted for items that would give me the most bang for my buck. These included:
Our first upgrade:
- Kettlebells – One each of 18#, 26#, 35#, 44#, and 53#. (Eventually I added a 70#). Although you can get these on line. I bought ours from a second hand sports store.
- Dumbells – two each of the most likely used weights, depending on your goals and strength (5# – 45#).
- Plyobox (I suggest starting with a 20″ as it is good for step-ups as well as box jumps). If you are handy with a saw, you can easily make your own 3-sided plyobox with these free directions.
- Gymnastic Rings
- Yoga Mat (great for yoga as well as cushioning for sit-ups, supermans, bicycles, etc).
- Paralettes (although you can purchase paralettes – we made ours out of pcv. This DIY site offers plans for pvc and wooden sets.
Additional Perk of a home gym:
Having a gym at home allowed our family to work out together, supporting fitness as a family goal.
As our gym (and fitness program) developed – we added additional equipment:
When we moved into our current home, I took advantage of the large metal garage on the property to build our dream home-gym. I added the following equipment to “round out” our gym. These items are not necessary, yet we like the diversity that they add to our workouts.
- Horse mats or tough rubber flooring
- Bench for bench press
- Medicine Balls (we learned the hard way that the quality of the ball is important. Cheaper balls have problems with keeping their shape).
- Slam Balls (AWESOME for a strong core workout)
- Lifting Shoes (if you want optimum balance and support when lifting heavy)
- Lifting Belt (only if you want that added support)
- Treadmill (these range from basic models, mid-range models, to high end models). Whatever your budget, I do recommend getting a quality treadmill that will hold up to constant usage.
- Rogue pull-up station
And…the Coup de Grace of a home gym:
The ability to personalize your gym to meet your sport or recreational activities.
Be and I are avid outdoor junkies who enjoy camping, hiking, cross-country mountain biking, and especially rock climbing. Most weekends you can find us on a crag pushing our climbing skills or risking life and limb (as Be sees it) taking on a single-track through desert landscape (which means lots of cactus).
In order to climb like we want, we need to include climbing specific movements in our workouts. Unless we go to a climbing gym, we aren’t going to find the equipment we need to work on climbing specific moves. What this means is we would need to pay membership fees at two separate gyms in order to get the total workout we desire.
BUT…. in our very own home gym, we can include as much climbing and cycling specific equipment as we want. To support our climbing, I even built a traverse wall on the outside of our garage (something I’m sure a big box gym would frown upon).
Before you design your home gym:
Before you decide what equipment you want to include in your gym, there are two things to take into consideration.
- Is your fitness goal to exercise or to train? To determine the difference between the two, check out our post “Exercise vs Training“.
- What are your goals within your program? Do you want to gain muscle, build strength, improve specific skills? For more information on starting an exercise program, check out our post “So, you want to start an exercise program.”
Anyone can have an excellent gym and gain incredible fitness capacity with just the basics (starter equipment). A relatively simple and basic home gym that gets used 3-5 days a week will give huge results compared to a membership at a world class facility that rarely gets a visit.
I feel our home gym has been a big reason that I have been able to meet and hold on to my fitness goals. No matter how busy my work schedule gets, I can always find time to walk the 25 yards to the gym.
Do you have a home gym? What motivated you to build your own gym? Do you include equipment not mentioned in this post? I’d love to hear from you and share ideas.