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How to build a perfect home gym

Imagine the freedom of being able to exercise whenever you like, free from distaction and interuption, right on your doorstep!
No monthly fees, no commute there and back, no strangers watching your every move.  Open 24 hours!

With minimal expense and just a little planning, you can easily create the perfect refuge and build a great home gym that will help you get toned, lose weight and improve your health.

Here are some awesome home gym examples:

Courtesy of Reddit/r/homegyms:

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build the perfect home gym

Where should I locate a home gym?

Ideally you need a spare room, or a garage.  With a little imagination, you could also use a back yard or even a corner of a room in your home!

What temperature is ideal?

If it is possible to keep the temperature down to between 65 and 70 F, then you will have a very comfortable environment to work out in.

You may need to invest in a good quality fan such as this one from Holmes:  

A fan will help to maintain air flow and help control the temperature.   One huge advantage of this product is that the fan has a remote control so you can easily crank up the air flow while you are busy getting that heart pumping!

The best music system for a home gym

You will also need to think about good lighting, a tv or music system, and some mirrors (especially if you are weight training).  Entertainment is essential to keep you motivated as you train.  Earphones are fine in a commercial gym, but there is nothing like a good speaker system when you are in your own environment!  We’d strongly recommend a bluetooth speaker that you can link your phone or device to.

The Cambridge Soundworks OontZ bluetooth speaker is one of the bestsellers on Amazon.  It is small, sleek and has fabulous reviews:

If you really want to impress however (and this would be the most perfect gift for a birthday, Christmas or special occasion), then the Bose Soundlink Mini is one of the most sought after technical products this year, with unparalled sound and quality.

What equipment should you buy?

The equipment you buy will depend on the outcome you want to achieve.

Cardiovascular Fitness

If you are interested in improving your cardiovascular fitness, then it is worth investing in a good quality bike, elliptical trainer or treadmill that will stand the test of time.   For around $1000, we would recommend:

  • The Proform Pro 2000 is on our wish-list every time, retailing at around $900 from Amazon.  With both incline and decline functions and the ability to upload personalised and scenic routes from Google Maps (with the iFit wireless module), you can train for specfic events and races and run all around the world!
  • The Nautilus E616 Elliptical retails at around $650.  It packs in 25 different resistance levels and has 29 in-built programs, so it really is suitable for everyone, from complete beginner or someone who likes more of a challenge.  Of course, one major advantage of an elliptical trainer over a treadmill is that there is far less impact on the joints, bones and ligaments.   Secondly, elliptical trainers, especially those that allow the upper body to push and pull, tend to burn significantly more calories that bikes.
  • The Diamondback Fitness 5 10SR Recument bike is simply the top-0f-the-range when it comes to comfort, build quality, features and sturdiness.  It currently available for around $800 on Amazon.

If your budget cannot stretch that far, then these are good options that cost considerably less (under $500):

  • The Proform Pro 2000 is an Amazon Choice Treadmill retailing at less than $300.  It is lightweight, fold-able but allows users to walk or run up to 10mph.   This product would be ideal for those looking to warm up before a weights session or those who want to walk or power-walk to improve their fitness levels.
  • The Schwinn A40 Elliptical Machine is a great budget option between $400 and $500.   It is simple, light, and very quiet but gets really great reviews!
  • Schwinn produce some great quality, yet affordable, bikes for home use.  One of their top sellers is the Schwinn 130 Upright Bike.

Muscle Tone and Definition

If you want to tone, bulk or define the muscles, then weights are the way to go!  There are a number of options depending on how much space you have and your budget.   Undoubtedly, you will get the best results if you invest in the following equipment set which will allow you to do all the most recognised and useful weight training exercises such as squats, bench presses, deadlifts and pull-ups:

A Barbell: an Olympic Bar:   An Olympic Bar is a 7 foot barbell, onto which you can attach weight plates at each end (secured by a collar).   This is one item where quality is important.  Cheap brands can bend over time and will need to be replaced as you start to lift heavier weights.  We would recommend the

Weights for the Olympic Bar (Bumper Plates):  For the weights they are generally sold in pairs.  You will need up to about 150kg /320lbs to start off of mixed weights.

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Power Rack: This is fundamental for doing bench presses and squats safely, and importantly, will allow you to lift heavier weights.  The bars on the cage will stop the weight collapsing on you.  You need a power rack that is robust and solid.  Look for one that you attach pull-up bars to so you can work the back and bicep muscles to balance out chest and tricep exercises.

Bench:  A flat bench is needed for doing bench presses.  Ideally, purchase one that is adjustable (inclines and declines) so you can work both upper and lower pecs.   The bench also comes in useful for other exercises such as tricep dips, split squats, decline press-ups and bunny hops.

Adjustable Dumbbells.  While they are slightly more expensive than regular dumbbells a good set of adjustable dumbbells such as  Ironmaster adjustable weights will give years of use. Dumbbells are essential for working out the smaller muscles, or if you are tight for space and can’t fit in a full size bar.

Dumbbells.  A good quality set of dumbbells will last years.  Dumbbells can be used to work the arms, back and chest in exercises such as bicep raises, overhead presses, one arm rows and chest flyes.  Sets of 3 or 4 will usually save you money, but it can be quite difficult to determine what weights you will need.  Here are our recommendations:

Women beginners = 2, 4 and 6 KG

Women advanced = 6, 8 and 10 KG

Men beginners = 8, 10 and 12 KG

Men advanced = 12, 14 and 16 KG

Men bodybuilding = 16, 20 and 24 KG

Body Weight Machine:  This might not be an essential item but a lot of programs call for body weight exercises such as dips and chin ups.  The chin ups can be done on the Power Rack, but a body weight machine will be great for leg rises and dips.  A great alternative is the TRX system for body weight exercises.

Multi-Gyms:  Multi-gyms are quite expensive, heavy and cumbersome, but sometimes this could be the only product you need to work all the major muscles of the body.  For beginners who have not had instruction and coaching in strength-training may find themselves drawn towards a multi-gym set-up as opposed to a rack, dumbbell and weight set-up.   The exercises performed on a multi-gym are certainly more straight-forward and accessible for the general public.  There are a huge array of gyms available.  See here for unbiased reviews:  Home Gym Reviews

Floor Mat: Mat for floor protection, especially if you are in a garage with concrete floor.  A non slip mat will allow you to do stretches, body-weight exercises and abdominal exercises in comfort.    Interlocking mats are the best type of flooring, providing support, protection and insulation.

Additional Equipment:  In time, you can also add in resistance bands, bosu balls, medicine balls, TRX systems, kettlebells, ab trainers, foam rollers, jump ropes, ab wheels, punch bags etc.

Best Olympic Bar for Home Gym Use:

They are 7 foot long and need at least a foot of clearance at either end.  If you do the maths then you need at least 9 foot of space for these to go in.g weights then I would recommend using free weights rather than a machine.  This will last you for years, require no maintenance and is cheap to upgrade.  Weights are easy to come by, and you can pick them up from Craigslist or Amazon cheaply.

Size a problem?  If you don’t have 8 ft of space then you should go the dumbbell route.  First we will look at the ideal: an Olympic bar set-up

Power Cage
Power Cage

 

 

The foundation of any gym is the bar.  You can work out your whole body with just an Olympic bar and a few plates.  When you start out the bar might not be baring much weight, but overtime its going to increase and you need to buy a bar that’s ready for this.

Our Pick of Olympic Bar:  CAP Barbell Olympic bar

Cap Barbell ReviewWe have chosen the  CAP Barbell Olympic bar as our best choice for home use.  Its not the cheapest bar at  but its strong, well made and with the ability to lift upto 1000lbs strong enough to grow with you.  This is the ‘entry level’ Olympic bar from Cap, that means it weighs in at the regulation 20kg/44lb which is the standard for olympic bars.

Even though you might not ever lift 1000lbs (that would be a truly impressive feat!) that over engineering ensures that the bar will be solid and resist flexing when you lift.  On cheaper bars if you find them flexing then you are either wasting energy, or worse making the bar wobble right when you don’t want it.

The handle of the bar features a good pattern of grip embossed in Black Oxide.  I prefer black oxide as its less prone to slipping than the steel finish.  It also looks better.

We found that the rotation of the ends was good, even under weight.  This makes controlling the bar easy during lifts, as the weights can rotate to their natuaral balance point without trying to twist the bar from your hands.

If you want to trade up then there are some great options from both Texas Power Bar and Rouge Bar:

Alternatives to the CAP Barbell:

Best Olympic Bar Clamps for basic lifts: CAP Barbell Olympic 2-Inch Spring Clip Collars

I don’t know why but olimpic bars never come with Collars.  This means that you have to pick them up when you buy the bar.  Fortunately they are not expensive!  When you are starting with basic lifts then simple spring clamps are all you need to keep the weights safely attached to the bar.  Never lift without spring clips, even if its light warm up sets, we have tried cutting corners often enough to know that this is a mistake!  It only takes a second..

Our pick of clips are the CAP Barbell 2″ Spring Collars, these perfectly fit the Cap Barbell Olympic Bar.

As you start to lift more, or want to do more dynamic moves like power lifts then you will need to upgrade to more substantial clamps.

Best Olympic Bar Clamps for Power Lifts:  Ritfit Pair of 2″ Inch Pro ABS Locking Clamps

If you are looking to lift dynamically then you need more than spring clips to keep your weights in place.  You can spend a fortune on solid metal clamps for us though the Ritfit ABS clamps are good enough!  They are 10 times more powerful than the spring clamps and do an excellet job of keeping your weights together whether you are powerlifting or crossfitting.

Best Weights Bumper Plates for Home Gyms: Premium Color Bumper Plate Solid Rubber with Steel Insert

My first time lifting with full sized bumper plates was a revelation!  Now I will only use a set where all the weights are the same diameter.  It makes loading the bar much easier, also as the bar weight increases it spreads the weight over a larger area protecting the floor, the wights and your toes if they should come under the weights.  Our pick of the best bumper plates for Home Gyms are the Premium Color Bumper Plate Solid Rubber with Steel Insert.

Bumper plates can be expensive, since they are simply rubber coated iron there is no need to go to high end on these.  We have picked the color versions simply because it makes keeping track of the weights simple.  Some weights come all black.  This is fine, and it keeps costs down, but you will end up putting different weights on each end of the bar, especially as you become tired after the end of a long workout.

If mony we no object we would go for the Troy plate set, which includes the bar and a great set of coloured bumper plates.

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Now we have our weights it’s time to look at some furniture for our home gym!

Best Adjustable Dumbbells for Home Gyms: Bowflex 552 and Ironmaster 75LB Adjustable dumbbells

Yes, we have gone for two options here.  First is the incredibly popular Bowflex 552 Adjustable Dummbells.  These are the biggest selling adjustable dumbbells on the market, rightly so they are safe and easy to use, the weights can be changed in seconds.  However they do have a couple of drawbacks.  First their weight limit is only 52lbs. Second they are not as rugged as the Ironmasters.  While this is only really an issue when the higher weights are dialed in it is worth thinking about if you are looking to lift more than 50lbs.  What the Bowflex do represent is great value for money:

So if your ambition is to lift heavy, and maybe you will be a little harder on your equipment then the Ironmaster Adjustable Dumbbells are well worth a look.  With their weight limit of 75lbs each, and solid construction they are as close to fixed dumbbells as you will find.

Best Power Rack/Squat-Cage for Home Gyms

Best Squat Cage for Home Gyms: Atlas Power Rack Squat Deadlift Cage

The prices of squat cages can go from a few hundred dollars to thousands for high end commercial gear!  If you are planning on setting up something for your home then it does not need to be anything to fancy.  What you need to look for is the weight capacity, and make sure that you plan ahead.  If you want to increase your lifts, make sure the cage can take where you want to be, not where you are now!

If you want to go a step further full length mirrors will increase the feeling of space, and also allow you to check from and progress as you get better.

Best Weights Bench for Home Gyms

We like the basic Xmark Fitness flat bench for chest presses and flyes, but for better functionality, this Reebok adjustable bench inclines and declines allowing you to do a much greater range of exercises

Best Adjustable Dumbbells for Home Gyms

Best Dumbbell Sets for Home Gyms

Best Bodyweight Machines for Home Gyms

Best Floormats for Home Gyms

Best Body Weight equipment for Home Gyms

Summary

How much does it cost to equip a Home Gym?

You don’t need to buy everything all at once!   Take your time to build a home gym.  You can make this a project that will last years and eventually have a great place that is totally tailored to your needs and capabilities!   The basics are really either the barbell/power cage or a good quality multi-gym.  You could expect to budget at least $1000 to start with (still less than most annual gym memberships!).  After that then you can add an item every year or so.

Good luck with your new home gym!

Resources:

  1. Reddit Home Gyms
  2. Reddit Fitness
  3. Craigslist