Our ultimate guide to building the perfect home gym for simple success.
One of the biggest advantages of online personal training is the versatility to have your coach help you in any fitness environment, even your own home. The majority of my clients do have gym memberships, and I tailor the customized workout plan based on the equipment they have available, but a lot of Simple Success Fitness clients prefer to workout at home. There’s also a handful of clients that like both; a gym during the week they visit as part of their commute, and a home workout space they can use without travel on the weekend.
Wherever you fall on the spectrum, having a home workout space is incredibly convenient. We’ve been asked a ton of times “what should I have at home?” so we put together this guide to give you the rundown on home essentials (and nonessential goodies).
This guide is broken down into several branches. We’ll group the equipment we consider essential to maximize your home workout potential into an “essentials package” if you will. Then we’ll add to it. We’ll add other valuable, but not quite essential equipment into our “plus package.” Finally, if you really want to create a premium home gym, we’ll expand the list into the “Top Tier Package.” The Top Tier Package will have everything you need for virtually any workout plan, but will also have some equipment that is far from essential for the majority of workout plans. With almost every bit of equipment, we’ll also break it down into different branches of the bare minimum, the best value, and the most premium option.
Just like fitness in general, there is no one-size fits all. We give a lot of options throughout this guide. Feel free to pick and choose, mix and match based on your needs, your wants, your space, and your budget.
WHERE TO BUY
Disclosure: There are no affiliate links in this article. I won’t get paid for any of these suggestions or clicks. I only make money through coaching clients.
There are three websites I most often recommend. Those are Perform Better, EliteFTS, and Rogue Fitness. These companies have a long history of giving quality equipment. You can definitely buy cheaper elsewhere, but I’ve personally run into a lot of shoddy equipment during my career from other manufacturers. Many sites give free shipping on orders over $75, but to avoid shipping charges, you can also check your local sporting goods store.
Another option is looking on local for sale listing sites like craigslist or letgo for lightly used
dust collectors fitness equipment, especially larger coat hangers treadmills or bikes. (Aside: We can make jokes about people who have purchased equipment and not used it, but the reality is it’s much easier to avoid that common pitfall if you have a workout plan instead of just a workout wish. To get a workout plan, check out our ONLINE TRAINING)
The five things I think every home gym should get.
You had to know dumbbells would make the list. There is no single tool that has more versatility and gives more options with resistance training. They’ll make the backbone of most resistance training workouts.
Premium Option: Full Rack
If home is your primary workout space, you workout with a partner, and/or use multiple weights during supersets or circuits, then getting a full rack with many dumbbell pairs may be a good option. This option is not cheap though, but once you have it, it makes everything far more convenient.
Recommendation: Have dumbbells that increase by 5-10lbs (smaller increases allow more options in progressing exercises, but requires more space and money) that range from 10-65lbs as a minimum (stronger clients will want to have dumbbells that go even heavier).
Value Option: Adjustable Dumbbells
There are a few different styles, but these offer your biggest bang for your buck. Broken down into all the different dumbbell options, this is the biggest value. Drawbacks though can be higher initial investment compared to the next option, and changing weights can be more tedious than having multiple pairs of dumbbells.
You could get a set that has a small bar and then adds weight plates for more variability (picture #2 above), but these are slow to change and can be uncomfortable to work with. I personally prefer the powerblock set (picture #1 above) for quick changing and comfort, though bowflex adjustable dumbbells are also fast and moderately comfortable to handle. For a basic set, look for something that goes up to 40lbs at the minimum, though stronger clients can look at the sets that go up to 90lbs.
Cheaper Option: Dumbbells a la Carte
Purchase the most common dumbbells. Here you may even be able to skip some weights adjusting 10-15lbs between pairs, though do expect that to make exercise progress more shocking. You may even have single dumbbells of certain heavier and lighter weights that don’t necessarily require a pair. Rows and Goblet squats tend to be people’s heaviest dumbbell exercises, but neither exercise requires a full pair.
For female clients, we usually think a pair of 15, 20, and 25lbs is essential, with a single dumbbell that can be 30 or 35lbs for squat exercises. For stronger women and men, we recommend a minimum of 20lbs, 30lbs, and 35lbs, with a single dumbbell of 45lbs.
This versatile piece of equipment gives you a platform to perform your exercises on. It’s been a staple in workout spaces since the early 20th century.
Premium Option: Adjustable Bench
Adjustable anything gives more options for use, and in smaller workouts spaces, getting one item to do multiple jobs is incredibly valuable. There are adjustable benches that go from a flat surface all the way up to a 90° chair. There are even adjustable benches that can go into a decline position. Decline can give a few more options, but they’re honestly less common, and usually come with a bulky leg anchor that makes getting on and off the bench a bother. Ultimately, we don’t think getting a decline bench to be valuable in a home setting.
Value Option: Flat Bench
The original. Gives a great platform to do a variety of exercises from. Doesn’t do anything flashy to talk about. There are two common kinds of flat bench based on their support. There are the kinds with three points of contact and the kinds with four (shown above). In theory, the benches with three points of contact is less cluttered so you don’t bump your feet while laying on them, but they tend to be less sturdy, so we recommend the kind with 4 points of contact.
Cheaper Option: Anything you can lay on comfortably.
It should be noted immediately that using any object in ways it’s not intended increases your risk of injury, especially when putting additional weight on that object.
Some people have used chairs, ottomans, work benches, or other types of furniture as a stand in for a workout bench. For most people, if you’re comfortable with it, it can be viable. Be very careful though as using extra weight can potentially break other types of furniture and cause injury to yourself. Honestly, just find a cheap workout bench instead of relying on other furniture.
Bands are another incredibly versatile workout tool that gives an incredible amount of exercise options. They can also be quick and easy to adjust resistance to give you several levels of progression. This section will be a bit different because there are various types of bands with varying degrees of usefulness. We’ll start with minimum needs, and then from there talk about additional bands you can add to your collection for different uses.
Minimum: Tubing Bands
These bands tend to have handles and can be used in a multitude of ways. They give almost as much versatility as dumbbells (if not more). In addition, if you travel often, these take up very little space in luggage and allow you to continue workouts when away from home.
We used to recommend a set that was very SIMILAR TO THIS SET, but they (Fit Force Athletics) seem to have gone out of business (yikes). I don’t have personal experience with the linked set above, but there shouldn’t be much variability with band quality. There’s enough variety of resistances, especially since multiple bands can be attached to a single handle to change the resistance. The set also comes with a door anchor so you can work from a variety of angles and options.
Bonus: Ankle Bands
These little loops most commonly get used when people have specific injuries they need to address (most commonly knee, hip, or shoulder injuries) or most commonly to train the glute muscles more. If either of those two appeal to you, you should pick up a set.
We recommend green most often, but stronger clients can also pick up blue or black. We prefer the traditional length and don’t recommend the XL length. The best place to pickup ankle bands is through Perform Better.
Top Shelf: Loop Bands
These ones also have a wide variety of uses, but are less user friendly without the handles that most loop bands have. These ones are really great if you want more focus on assisted pullups or added stretches. We recommend you purchase these bands through EliteFTS.
Sliders can make some simple movements much harder by creating a frictionless surface your body slides over. The type of slider you get will depend on your surface. For carpet or similar flooring, a hard plastic bottom is ideal. For vinyl, laminate, hardwood, or smooth concrete, you’ll want a cloth material slider. If you have rubber flooring, you’ll probably need something with wheels to glide over the otherwise high traction surface.
Premium Option: Valsides or Gliders
These are the name brand sliders and made frictionless surface exercises popular.
Value: household items like Furniture movers or small floor dollys.
DISCLAIMER: Again, using objects how they’re not explicitly made to be used can potentially cause injury, even when it looks exactly the same as the name brand thing. My lawyer would be happy for me to write “if you choose to use these items, you do so at your own risk and never ever tell me you did so.”
I’ve seen people use furniture sliders, towels, squares of felt, and small floor dollys to be used to create a frictionless sliding surface depending on what type of flooring they had.
5. Suspension Trainers:
Full honesty, I was real close to putting suspension trainers in the next group as a “plus” item, so really you can take it or leave it. But suspension trainers take up virtually no space, can create a large range of different exercises and resistances with a single piece of equipment, and just like bands, can be a super easy piece of equipment to travel with if need be. They can take your body and transform it into a gym smaller than 10 square feet. They’re also a great value for how many options you gain for a small investment (especially if you choose the value option).
TRX is the granddaddy, the OG, the original, the tried and true. I don’t recommend it. It’s overpriced and their reliance on a single anchor point takes away some comfort and versatility. However, as the original, they’ve had more time to tinker and have some great features. Their lock pins are the fastest to adjust and they’ve started using velcro handles for easier set up with leg exercises. There’s a little benefit to paying extra if you wish.
Value: Intent Sports “Total Body Resistance Trainer”
Same thing. It’s a knock off, but it gets the job done and has a built in door anchor for more versatility. The link is for the version with an extra wall mount (make sure to find a stud), but you can navigate the site if you don’t plan to use a wall mount.
This equipment isn’t essential, but it can definitely elevate your workout options.
1. Inflatable Exercise Ball:
You know what I’m talking about. These things are ubiquitous. However, despite how common they are, they won’t actually be that common in many workouts. They tend to be specialized for exclusively core training. PLEASE DON’T EVER USE AN EXERCISE BALL AND FREE WEIGHTS TOGETHER! They have popped often and caused injuries when being used as a substitute for a workout bench.
When buying a ball, make sure to purchase the right size. There is usually a size reference on the side of the box to match with your height. Also, avoid any ball with sand in it (often called “Stay-ble ball” or some variant of it). They make exercises much easier and you’ll quickly progress past that point making your investment worthless.
2. Medicine Balls:
Weighted leather, rubber, or vinyl ball that is also incredibly ubiquitous in a gym setting, but less valuable at home. They’ll probably just get used for ab exercises which means it can be an expense with little use. However, that being said there is a fair amount to do with them and they’re relatively cheap. I think a 10lbs and a 15lbs ball would be all you need.
3. Door Mounted Pullup Bar:
This is most valuable if you’re planning on doing pullups (which I think most people–male, female, old, or young– should strive to be capable of, but don’t often require in home programs). This can also add some ab exercises when combined with a hanging ab strap. The door mounted pullup bar can also be an anchor for band exercises to reverse the angle of gravity. But ultimately, if you don’t plan to do a pullup, this has minimal value. It’s dirt cheap though, so I won’t argue against it too hard.
There tend to be two main styles. One that wedges against the top and outer edges of the door frame (shown above), and another which is a straight bar that expands and tightly lodges itself into the center opening of your door frame. As it goes, I’ve never seen the first kind come loose during use, but some uncommon door frame sizes don’t work for it.
Someone out there is going to be mad that I said kettlebells are nonessential as they are incredibly versatile. Many people base their whole fitness programs on kettlebells alone. However, compared to dumbbells, I feel dumbbells have equal (if not greater) versatility, especially for cost. A lot of kettlebell exercises also aren’t the most space friendly if you’re working out inside in a small home gym.
However, like I said, they are incredibly versatile and their shape gives them some really valuable advantages other tools don’t have. If you’re looking to round out your workout capacity, pick up a couple (I recommend Rogue for these).
For Women clients, I recommend a single or a pair of kettlebells of 15lbs and 25lbs. For men and stronger women, I recommend a single or pair at 25lbs and 35 lbs, and a single at 45lbs. There are more weight options available if you want to expand from the minimums.
What kind of a surface do you walk/stand on? What kind of a surface do you lay on?
Basic: Carpet or a large area rug
I’m actually a fan of just basic carpet or an area rug. With carpeting, there’s a little bit of cushion or padding that makes most exercises comfortable. In addition, the carpet material makes sliding exercises super convenient. If you sweat a lot on carpet, you may want to consider shampooing regularly.
If you’re just placing an area rug down, be sure that it stays still. You don’t want the rug sliding around when you’re doing a lunge. A lot of hardware stores sell a no-slip rubber netting or pad for under rugs to prevent that increases traction.
Bonus: Yoga Mat or workout pad.
Adds a little extra cushion if you’re doing a floor based exercise. Definitely worth looking into since it’s usually pretty cheap, but by no means is it a deal-breaker. You can find a cheap version online or at a local sporting goods shop. Heck, you could even use a fluffy towel as a pad.
Premium: Rubber Mats
They sell interlocking rubber mats online (check Perform Better) or at sporting good stores. On the plus side, it has the most padding and may be the most comfortable. However, it’s expensive. The traction also limits your slider exercise choice, so you may need a small rug to accommodate that.
7. Cardio Equipment
There are a multitude of ways to get an aerobic effect while training at home, but the easiest is with some sort of cardio training equipment. The most common forms at home are treadmills, stationary bikes, or ellipticals. Before spending a couple grand on a new treadmill, make sure to check your local secondhand options. They’re always popping up on craigslist.
Top Tier Package
So you want the best home gym, huh? Maybe you have lots of space, love working out, and don’t want to leave any potential on the table. Alright then, here’s the big toys to finish off your home gym.
1. Power Rack
This is the safest option if you’re looking to do heavier lifting at home. It also often times comes with a pullup bar that you can do an assortment of exercises with. But be sure to get an actual rack. The half rack concept has grown in popularity lately, and they look space conscious, but I strongly recommend you get a full rack/cage instead of the half rack. The safety arms extend out on a half rack which makes the footprint of the half rack practically the same as the full rack, but without the added safety and functionality.
Basic: There are plenty of cheap racks available that are pretty much 4 sides and some pins. That gets the job done and keeps you safe. If I bought a rack for my home, this is where I would stay
Premium: EliteFTS sells some power racks with a Westside style arrangement of settings for more options. You can also get racks with more bells and whistles. Some have trees to hold weight plates, some even come with cable pulley systems attached for doing additional exercise options and could save you from spending extra money on #3 down below.
2. Barbell and Weights:
What people think of when they think of weight training. It only took close to 3000 words to get to, so you can see how high up on the list I’ve ended up putting this. Just like Dumbbells, barbells have a large assortment of exercises and can be incredibly versatile. However, some people’s joints don’t like straight bar work, and not everyone needs to move heavy weights to be fit. This is a good option if you’re healthy, strong, have space for it, and really like weight training.
Barbell: I recommend getting an Olympic Bar and weights from either Rogue or EliteFTS.
Weights: Rubber weights (or bumper weights as they’re often called) are great for deadlifting. They reduce the amount of noise deadlifts can make and can be safer on the floor if you use heavy weights. However, if you don’t plan to have your weights touch the floor often, they’re more expensive and unnecessary. Stick with cheap steel and iron weight plates if you’re not deadlifting at home.
3. Cable Machine:
There are some angles that free weights don’t address as effective as cable machines. If you think of a traditional Lat Pulldown exercise, you just can’t do that with a dumbbell and the alternatives are very limited. However, a cable machine can be expensive and bulky. If you have the space, money, and desire, I recommend an adjustable, multi-function machine like LifeFitness’s Freemotion machine to maximize your space and dollars.
There are a million other bits of fitness equipment out there. I can’t possibly comment on them all, but ultimately would encourage you to judge it based on cost versus versatility and space. If something only has one use and is expensive, focus more attention on something that does more. If something you want is affordable and can be used for multiple things, then Bob’s your uncle, go have fun.
Now That You Have a Home Gym…
Get to work! Make sure to follow Simple Success Fitness on Facebook for Daily Fitness tips and content, or go one step further and sign up for Online Personal Training so that you never have any doubts about how to use your new home gym.