Building a home gym is the ideal way to get all the benefits of a gym membership without the membership costs and the hassle of travel.
If the gym is your sanctuary, it’s only natural to want to build a sanctuary of your own in your home.
While the idea of building your own gym can be a little daunting, having a guide and thinking about what you need in a gym can make the process smoother.
Below is everything you need to know if you’re planning on building your own home gym in 2021.
The Benefits of Building a Home Gym
While the startup costs and effort of building a home gym are sometimes large, creating your own home gym has several benefits in terms of fitness, finances, and convenience.
IT PAYS FOR ITSELF OVER TIME
Depending on where you go, gym memberships can be expensive. This is more likely to be true if you lift at a gym that is well-equipped. The average monthly cost for a gym membership is $58.
While the startup cost for a home gym can be substantial, it’s generally a one-time investment. The length of time a home gym takes to pay for itself depends on a variety of factors, including the cost of your current gym membership and the cost of the equipment you’re using to build your gym.
Regardless, you’ll save yourself the monthly cost of going to a traditional gym.
If the average monthly gym membership is $58, then over the course of three years you’ll have racked up $2088 in fees (and that’s not including initial sign-up costs).
Whereas you could build a pretty good home gym for $1000, or a pretty badass set-up for $2000. It seems the obvious choice is canceling that membership as soon as possible.
NO WAITING FOR EQUIPMENT
We all know the feeling – you’re focused, motivated, and burning through your workout. Then, you get to the machine you want to use next, and it’s taken.
The roll you’ve been on grinds to a halt.
Waiting for squat racks or machines is at best an occasional inconvenience, and at worst a workout-ruining regular occurrence.
This is especially true if your gym is so crowded that you have to switch exercise order. You likely know that it’s important to do your compound exercises before your isolation exercises.
Saving your squats for last because all the racks are taken is a sure way to mess up your results and possibly predispose you to injury.
When you’ve got your own home gym, you don’t have to wait for equipment at all. This can lessen your stress and can also ensure that you do the exercises you want to do when you want to do them.
NO TRAVEL TIME
One of the most obvious conveniences of having your own gym is that you have zero commuting time.
Time driving, walking, or biking to the gym can add up. Plus, many people say that finding the motivation to actually get to the gym is the hardest part of training. 67% of people with gym memberships don’t use them.
When you have your own gym, the difficulty of getting a workout in is simply a walk to your basement or garage.
While the camaraderie of a traditional gym is ideal for some people, having privacy is a benefit for many when it comes to building a home gym.
Whether you have a lucky pre-lift ritual you don’t want anyone to see or just want to try a new movement without worrying about people making fun of you if you do it incorrectly the first time, a home gym affords you privacy that you simply can’t get at a traditional gym.
Even if you religiously wipe down gym equipment after use, not everyone at your gym does.
And since free weights can have 362 times the germs of a toilet seat, having your own set at home can reduce the amount you’re exposed to.
Since you’re in charge of cleaning your own equipment, you can also choose the cleaning solution used for optimal cleanliness.
YOU GET TO CHOOSE YOUR EQUIPMENT
Are you disappointed that your gym doesn’t have bumper plates? Would you prefer a squat rack with wider safeties?
When you build your own gym, you choose everything, making it easier for you to get your ideal workout.
Provided you have the budget for everything you need, you can build the perfect gym for you – with all the equipment you need, and none that you don’t.
Common At-Home Training Methods
What type of equipment you buy will depend on what training discipline you follow.
While you may end up choosing a combination of equipment from different disciplines, having a basic understanding of the three most common at-home training disciplines – strength training, CrossFit, and gymnastic/bodyweight training – can help you decide what equipment is right for the exercises you’re planning on doing.
While many people utilize hybrid methods of strength training, three of the most common methods of strength training are powerlifting, Olympic weightlifting, and bodybuilding.
The Stronglifts 5×5 program is a powerlifting-focused program that is often used to help beginners get into powerlifting, which consists of the “big three” lifts – the squat, the bench press, and the deadlift.
While powerlifting is a competitive sport, many people train to recreationally power lift.
Olympic weightlifting also involves barbell lifts, but the movements are dynamic. The competitive Olympic lifts are the snatch and the clean and jerk, but those training in this discipline may also train using additional movements.
Bodybuilding training involves the use of compound barbell exercises and isolation exercises, and even beginner programs generally include a combination of both.
Unlike powerlifting and Olympic lifting, bodybuilding is focused primarily on aesthetics.
Training usually involves body-part splits, PPL (push-pull-legs) splits, or multiple full-body training days per week. Like the other two disciplines, those who train in bodybuilding may be competitive, or they may simply do it because they enjoy it.
The relatively new sport of CrossFit combines elements of Olympic weightlifting, powerlifting, and plyometric training.
It differs from strength training in that, instead of having a relatively narrow goal like building strength or developing aesthetically, CrossFit aims to increase your fitness across a variety of disciplines.
While CrossFit is often done in groups at commercial CrossFit gyms called “boxes,” it is possible to build your own gym and do workouts of the day, or WODs, alone.
A typical WOD may include box jumps, pull-ups, pushups, deadlifts, and power cleans, although the types of exercises included can vary dramatically depending on the WOD followed.
Some WODs involve AMRAPs or doing as many reps as possible within a given time frame. Because of the time pressure and the variety of exercises, this discipline can be especially challenging, particularly if you are new to fitness as a whole.
Gymnastic or Bodyweight Training
Even though elite-level gymnasts are often incredibly muscular, their training tends to consist almost entirely of bodyweight work.
If you want to train at home but don’t necessarily have the money or space for more expensive equipment, bodyweight or gymnastic style training offers an opportunity to build an excellent physique.
Much of gymnastic strength training involves doing exercises that involve supporting bodyweight on straight arms. Keeping the arm straight creates a longer lever arm, which makes the exercises more challenging and the resulting gains impressive.
While the straight-arm work that gymnasts do is one element of bodyweight training, there are plenty of bodyweight routines available.
Understanding the fundamentals of bodyweight training can also enable fitness enthusiasts to design their own programs. While having some equipment on hand can improve your workouts, it is possible to get a decent workout while using no equipment.
Essential Equipment for Each Discipline
While the exact equipment you choose for your home gym will vary depending on budget and the exercises you want to do, having an understanding of the basic equipment often used in each discipline can help anyone planning a home gym to select the best possible equipment.
Equipment for Strength Training
Because there are several disciplines within strength training, the equipment you choose will depend on the main discipline you want to follow.
Of course, since many traditional gyms include equipment from all disciplines, you may want to choose some equipment from each if you’re looking to re-create the traditional gym environment in your home gym.
Essential Powerlifting Equipment
While you may end up choosing additional equipment for accessory work, since powerlifting consists of three main lifts, you’ll need a setup that allows you to bench, squat, and deadlift.
If you’re short on space, a power rack with very adjustable safety bars can allow you to both squat and bench press safely. You also need a flat bench for bench pressing, and of course a barbell and plates.
If you prefer, you can purchase a separate bench setup. Some of these setups allow you to mimic a liftoff, and some come with their own safeties.
You would still need a power rack (or a half rack with safeties) in order to safely squat. When choosing a barbell for squats, it can be helpful to choose one with center knurling, since this can help keep your bar centered on your back during squats.
Any accessory equipment you choose will depend on your weaknesses or what you want to focus on. Many powerlifters perform glute ham raises to help strengthen the posterior chain, so this may be an accessory worth purchasing.
Essential Olympic Weightlifting Equipment
Like powerlifting, an Olympic weightlifting setup will require you to have a barbell and plates.
Since Olympic lifting involves dropping or throwing the barbell down after a lift, it is essential to have bumper plates or plates that bounce on impact. These plates also all have the same diameter, so the bar has the necessary ground clearance even at low weights.
When choosing a barbell for Olympic weightlifting training, it may be best to get one without center knurling.
If you are performing power cleans or other movements that involve racking the bar across your chest, repeatedly doing these movements can result in the knurling scratching your chest.
Essential Bodybuilding Equipment
Because a bodybuilding routine can encompass a huge variety of exercises on a variety of equipment types, it’s essential to start with the basic necessary equipment and then go from there.
Since barbell work is a major part of bodybuilding, having the necessary equipment for powerlifting (enough to let you bench press, squat, and deadlift safely) is a smart place to start.
However, since bodybuilding necessitates isolation work, it’s up to you to choose the equipment you need for isolation exercises.
How much equipment you can get largely depends on your budget and space limitations. Some people find that all-in-one home gym systems give them multiple exercise opportunities in a relatively small space, so this is one option.
Another option is choosing versatile pieces of equipment like a cable setup. A cable setup allows you to hit nearly every muscle group, and a setup with two cables also allows you to do flyes.
Free weights are another essential – while many people enjoy machine training at commercial gyms, using dumbbells allows you to train explosively and recruit more muscle fibers as you work to stabilize the weight.
While commercial gyms generally have a considerable range of weights, you can save money by choosing only weights you’ll use (or better yet, a pair of adjustable dumbbells).
If there are particular isolation machines you use regularly and think are necessary, you can add these as finances and space allow.
Equipment for CrossFit
Because CrossFit involves exercises from so many disciplines, it can be challenging to choose which types of equipment to include.
Many people looking to build a home gym build garage gyms using CrossFit equipment.
Wall-attaching power racks with safeties and pull up bars can be a way to save space.
Hanging rings can help you to perform the bodyweight exercises that are a part of many CrossFit WODs, and specially-designed boxes can ensure that you do box jumps safely and securely.
CrossFit involves a significant amount of barbell work, so you also will need barbells and plates. Since power cleans and Olympic lifts are common in WODs, bumper plates are the best choice.
Medicine balls and kettlebells can help round out your equipment selection.
Since many commercial CrossFit gyms also have cardio equipment, you may also want to include some of this if your budget allows for it.
Equipment for Gymnastic and Bodyweight Training
As the name suggests, bodyweight training often involves using primarily your own bodyweight to perform movements. However, having certain pieces of equipment available can be helpful for ensuring that you get a varied, challenging, and safe workout.
For bodyweight training, it’s a good idea to at least have a comfortable mat. If you’ve ever done a plank on a hard floor, you likely know how uncomfortable doing bodyweight exercises without a mat can be.
Another good item to have on hand is a set of hanging rings like the ones used to perform the iron cross. And while most people can’t do an iron cross right from the start, hanging rings can be used for a variety of beginner and intermediate exercises as well.
While they are not strictly bodyweight devices, training implements like pull-up bars and ab rollers are inexpensive, take up little space, and can be used in conjunction with bodyweight training for a complete and challenging workout.
While many of us would probably like to build huge home gyms, the fact is that most people have limited space. For strength training, CrossFit, and gymnastics/bodyweight home training, the size of your gym will be limited by the amount of space you can allocate.
As for essential materials, for most forms of strength training, you just need enough space to accommodate a power rack (at minimum).
Most power racks are around four feet by four feet, and they are often seven to eight feet high. If you’re very short on space, some power racks can fold back into the wall when you aren’t using them.
And if you’re looking to only train in Olympic weightlifting, you just need bumper plates and a bar. It is worth noting that, if you’re working with a barbell you might drop, you will need to ensure that the flooring in the home gym area can withstand the force of a loaded barbell being dropped onto it multiple times. Most people select specialized flooring for their home gyms.
If you’re looking to do serious bodybuilding training, you will need to take up a little more space. If you have very little space, an all-in-one home gym may be the best route to take, as it combines multiple exercise machines into a space that’s smaller than your typical power rack.
If you have enough room, a set of free weights and a cable setup can afford you many more options for isolation work.
Many CrossFit boxes are warehouse-like spaces with seemingly endless opportunities for exercises. It’s important to keep in mind that limiting your equipment will likely limit the number of WODs you can perform.
For a good at-home CrossFit gym, a power rack with a pull up bar is a must. Many CrossFit commercial and home gyms use racks that can be bolted to the wall.
You’ll need a barbell and bumper plates as well, although these can be stored within the power rack, so they essentially do not take up extra space.
Since CrossFit involves plyometric work, a good box for jumping and a few differently-weighted medicine balls are a necessity. Many WODs also use kettlebells (as opposed to dumbbells), but a rack of kettlebells is fairly space-efficient.
As with strength training, it is important to ensure any space you use can withstand loaded barbells being repeatedly dropped. This is why many home CrossFit gyms are “garage gyms” – the heavy concrete at ground floor level can support the dropping of barbells (although many people choose a cushioned flooring to place over the concrete).
For this sort of training, you don’t need much space. However, if you are incorporating hanging rings as part of your training, you’ll need to make sure you have an appropriate, safe place to hang them from.
Most other implements, like mats, ab rollers, and Swiss balls, can be easily stored away when not in use. As long as you have enough space for a set of hanging rings and your exercise mat, you should be well equipped to perform a wide variety of strength exercises.
Budget Requirements and Suggested Builds
It is difficult to recommend an exact budget for each type of gym, simply because, generally speaking, it’s best to purchase the best gear you can afford.
For some, that means a fancy $5,000 power rack, while for others, that means buying the second-cheapest power rack they can find.
However, it’s wise to keep in mind that, if you’re putting together a gym on a budget, thinking of the longevity of each piece of equipment is essential.
While cheap equipment from big-box stores may seem alluring, it often will wear out faster than quality equipment.
For those who start with very little weight and then work their way up, this may not be apparent until they begin to make progress.
If you don’t have unlimited funds available, many experts advise buying the most essential pieces of equipment first.
If you invest in a high quality power rack now, it will still be around and performing well when you’ve saved up enough to buy a rack of dumbbells.
Budgeting for Strength Training Spaces
If you’re looking to start strength training at home on a budget, you can realistically find a setup of basic equipment for under $1,000.
In this scenario, you would be getting a bar, plates, collars, a power rack, a bench, and a pull-up bar. This setup is ideal for powerlifting training, and it’s an excellent start for a home bodybuilding gym.
The cost may be less if you’re willing to shop around for used gear on Craigslist or in your local classifieds.
If you’re on a budget, a suggested build for starting your home strength gym is simple a sturdy power rack, a bar, plates, and a bench. Many power racks have a built-in pull-up bar.
Getting these elements, which will allow you to perform the big three lifts (plus pull-ups) safely, is an excellent starting place.
From there, you can add dumbbells, cable machines, and other materials you may want.
Budgeting for Crossfit Training Spaces
If you’re willing to shop for used gear, you can likely put together a home CrossFit gym for $1,000 or less.
When buying newer gear, a CrossFit space may set you back a little more than a strength training space, since, in order to do most CrossFit WODs, you’ll need not only a power rack but also medicine balls, boxes, and hanging rings.
If you want to save even more money, you can even make hanging rings yourself.
While it’s not always recommended, you can also build your own power rack for about $40. However, because you can often find a good used-rack for a little more than this, it may be worth taking the time to shop around.
Similarly, you can put together a home CrossFit space for around $1,000 if you find used kettlebells and medicine balls. While plyometric boxes are sold specifically for CrossFit, any sturdy, heavy box that won’t move when jumped on is sufficient.
To start out your CrossFit space, a suggested build is a power rack with a pull up bar, as well as a bar with plates. You can round out a basic setup with some hanging rings, a few kettlebells, and a box for jumping. Then, you can add more training implements as budget and space allow.
Budgeting for Gymnastic/Bodyweight Training Spaces
Because it requires minimal equipment, you can set up a good gymnastic/bodyweight training space for under $50. You’ll need to put this cost toward a good exercise mat and a set of hanging rings.
Then, if you have additional funds, you can add other training implements like resistance bands, an ab roller, and Swiss or Bosu balls.
A suggested build to start is a mat with hanging rings above it. This way, you can utilize the rings in a variety of bodyweight movements while having the support of the mat. Having a larger mat that extends beyond the rings can allow you more training space, which can be beneficial.
Extra Equipment to Consider
While the above-suggested builds address the minimum materials needed for strength, CrossFit, or bodyweight/gymnastics workout, additional equipment can let you diversify your training and improve your workout.
While the exact extra equipment you choose will vary depending on your individual preferences, below are some suggested additional items.
Additional Equipment for Strength
The basic strength training setup involves a power rack and a bench, but there are many other pieces of equipment that can round out your workout. As mentioned above, a set of dumbbells is the next piece of equipment you should get, since free weight training is generally preferable to machine training for isolation work.
A cable setup is also a great choice for strength training, as it allows you to do lat pulldowns, cable curls, tricep pushdowns, and other isolation exercises.
If you are considering doing supersets or circuits, additional barbells and plates can be a convenient addition. For instance, if you want to alternate between squats and deadlifts, it’s significantly easier to have two barbells than to unrack and rerack the same barbell over and over again.
A landmine attachment also allows you to use your existing barbells for different exercises – with this simple and affordable device, you can do T-bar rows, landmine lateral raises, landmine presses, and more.
Additionally, a glute-ham raise can be used in several ways to build your posterior chain. This is popular with powerlifters, but it’s a valuable strength aid for anyone who strength-trains.
Once you have these implements, if you have a particular isolation machine (like a pec deck) you particularly like, you can add it in if space and funds allow.
Additional Equipment for CrossFit
As noted above, the essentials of CrossFit include a power rack with a pull-up bar, a mat, medicine balls, and kettlebells, and hanging rings.
However, once you have the essentials, there are plenty of CrossFit tools you can add in to improve your workout.
Jump ropes offer a challenging but inexpensive form of cardio, and many commercial CrossFit gyms also have climbing ropes suspended from the ceiling.
If space and funds allow, you may want to invest in a rowing machine or other cardio machine, as you may want to superset lifts with cardio.
Adding mats for bodyweight work, pushups, and more is also a good choice.
As with strength training spaces, if you can afford to buy additional barbells and plates, this can allow you to more easily superset different lifts. Since many WODs are time-pressured, this may make completing them much easier.
Additional Equipment for Bodyweight and Gymnastics Training
While much of bodyweight training involves strength and flexibility exercises involving only the body, once you have your essential training setup of a mat and rings, you can add other pieces of equipment as needed.
As mentioned above, an ab roller is one inexpensive way to add challenging variety to your training.
If your focus is specifically on gymnastics and not on bodyweight training alone, it is possible to obtain home balance beams, bars, pommel horses, and more.
While this equipment requires a great deal of space, it can be a worthy practice investment for the serious gymnast.
Building your own home gym can pose a challenge both logistically and financially. And since many people only have a relatively small space to convert to a home gym, prioritizing what types of equipment you need often poses a challenge.
But by carefully considering your purpose, deciding your budget, and looking for deals if need be, you can assemble a great home workout space without having to take out a second mortgage.