How to set up a kick-butt home gym

Back to basics in my parents basement

Working out in a gym has several benefits: you don’t have to maintain or clean equipment, there’s more variety in the amount of weight and the equipment available to use, you can often take classes for free, and there’s sometimes a gymnasium and/or swimming pool.  Even so, sometimes you only have enough time to slip in a quick workout before the sun comes up or while the kids are at soccer practice can.  Having the option of working out at home ensures that you are never stuck, even if you can’t make it to your gym. 

There are SO many options when it comes to setting up a home gym.  Depending on your budget, your needs (are you going to be working out mostly at home & outside, or do you have a gym too?), and how much space you have to work with, you can come up with a solution that works for you. 

Option 1: The retro-ghetto basic home gym

People were working out long before there were gyms with fancy equipment in them.  The Weider brothers themselves started their bodybuilding adventures by scrounging up old train wheels and axels in Montreal.  Lately there has been a movement back to more functional, old-school training using old tractor tires, pullup bars, calisthenics (pushups, burpees, etc).  You really don’t need a lot of equipment to get a good workout but there are a few things that may help.

  1. A decent mat to sit or lie on while stretching and doing core work.  Save your back and knees by investing in thick mat that cushions your joints.  A yoga mat is nice for doing yoga but if you can still feel your spine digging into the floor beneath you while doing russian twists it’s not enough!
  2. A stability ball.  With this piece of equipment you can do a lot of different exercises that increase muscle activation (i.e. you use more of your muscle fibers to do the exercise).  From leg curls to jack knifes and pushups, using a stability ball can help improve balance, strength, and stability.  Make sure you get the right size ball for your height – your knees should be at a 90 degree angle when sitting on top.
  3. A broom handle or dowel.  Twist off the broom end so that you just have a long handle.  You can use this to do overhead squats or use it to do reverse pushups by placing it between two chairs (with enough space for you to lie in between).  A broom handle is also really handy for helping stretch your shoulders, chest, and back.
  4. A stable chair or bench.  Make sure it can support your weight and is not too high.  Benches are best, as they are more versatile, but chairs are okay too.  Use them for incline pushups, front and side step ups,  bridge hip lifts, box jumps, split squats, and triceps dips.
  5. A sturdy backpack filled with heavy stuff.  Fill a backpack with canned goods,  books, bricks, or a bag of sand from the beach and you are ready to do weighted squats, pushups, sprints, and plyometrics.  Don’t add more weight than you can handle, and make sure that the “stuff” doesn’t move around too much inside the bag or it could feel like you’re getting punched in the back while you are working out (not nice). 
  6. A Foam Roller.  Although a good one can run you $50 or so, these last forever and are vital for stretching out your IT band.  Runners, cyclists, and really anybody who is active will benefit from regular use of a foam roller. 
  7. A Skipping rope.  Cardio and metabolic training made easy!  Combine skipping intervals with plyometrics, sprints, and calisthenics for a simple yet super effective workout.
  8. An old stereo (optional).  If you don’t have an old ghetto blaster you probably can find one in a friend’s attic or at Value Village for $5.  Obviously you can use an MP3 player but I kind of like the retro feel of rocking out to old cassettes while working out in the basement.

Option 2: The Low End gym

Ready to invest a little more into your home gym?  Here are a few fabulous things you may want to add to your fitness inventory:

  1. A TRX Suspension Trainer.  For about $200 you get a very versatile piece of equipment that you can use anywhere.  Why I love it: great for travelling, doesn’t take up space (you can hang it over the door and take it down when you are done), easily adjustable to increase or decrease difficulty level, and you can do tons of different functional exercises that work your whole body.  AWESOME.
  2. A Medicine ball. Great for core training, this is a great addition to a home gym.  Unlike dumbells which can be a little awkward to hold for some exercises, medicine balls are easier to grip when doing woodchoppers, russian twists, and wall or floor ball throws.  Make sure you get one that is heavy enough and that bounces (not all do!)
  3. Dummbells or resistance bands. Add some resistance to your workout with some medical tubing from a medical supply store or a store-bought resistance band.  These come in different strengths, so make sure you try them out first with a variety of exercises that you will use them for.  Tubing is great for traveling and you can do lots of different exercises with it.  Dumbbells are a bit more cumbersome and can take up lots of space, however I do prefer them over resistance tubing because I get a better workout.  An alternative to traditional weights are Powerblocks which include a range of weights with one handle. 
  4. A weighted vest.  Similar to the backpack full of stuff, a weighted vest makes everything harder.  Unlike the homemade version, a weighted vest evenly distributes the extra weight instead of just loading it all on your back – something to think about for sure!  Plus, they make you look tough (obviously important lol).
  5. A wind trainer for your bike.  For rain days and Canadian winters, this simple piece of equipment can really make a difference.  Why I like this option: doesn’t require external power to operate, you can use most bikes on it, easy on the joints, doesn’t take up a lot of space, and it’s fun!

Option 3: The High End Gym

For those of you looking to work out mostly at home, having the right set up is essential.  Whether you are an endurance athlete or a crossfit enthusiast, having access to heavy weights is an essential part of your training plan.  Increasing strength makes everything else easier 🙂   In addition to some of the essentials above, you may want to consider investing in some heavy duty lifting equipment.

  1. A Good Power Rack.  There are a few different types of power racks but basically they are a big metal rectangle that will support barbells, weight plates, and your body weight.  The best ones have handles at the top for doing pullups.  Before investing in a power rack, make sure you have enough space in your house and that you make a budget for all of the equipment you will need to get.  A power rack without barbells and plates is a very expensive pullup bar!
  2. Olympic Barbells.  If you have a power rack, you will need at least one Olympic barbell.
  3. Weight plates.  Expect to pay about $2/lb of weight.  If you are squating 100lb that is $200 – it adds up quickly so make sure you are prepared for the cost of setting up your gym.  Over your lifetime, it will SAVE you money to invest in your own equipment if you think about the cost of a gym membership ($40/month x 12 months =$480/year).
  4. A Rowing machine.  For a super cardio workout, rowing machines rock.  They don’t take up much space, don’t need to be plugged in, and rowing requires the use of all of your muscles, whereas many cardiovascular activities primarily use your legs. 

No matter what you have to work with you can have a kick butt workout at home.  With all of the home exercise equipment out there, it’s always important to ask lots of questions before you buy something.  Take your time, make a plan, and start with less.  Remember, even the best exercise equipment won’t work if you don’t actually use it! 

~Live Inspired~!