You don’t need a gym membership to get in shape.
You don’t even NEED gym equipment, but getting a few key pieces of gear can help you reach more goals.
I’ll show you why a home gym is something you should consider, and I’ll guide you on where to start.
(I have no affiliation with any specific company or product. So no need to worry about a particular bias.)
There are three major benefits of having a home gym.
1. It’s One Less Step
Even if you only live a few minutes from a gym, the act of getting ready to go, making sure you have what you need, and driving there… it can be just enough to prevent you from doing it.
Having a gym at home gets rid of that extra barrier between you and exercise.
2. It’s Private
I know it’s just the gym — you don’t need to look amazing — but it still means going out in public.
I like being able to put on any shirt and shorts I want, no matter how awful it looks, and workout in my basement without feeling like anyone is watching.
On top of that, the only time I have to wait for the equipment I want is when I lose the argument with my wife about who can workout first and who will watch the kids.
3. It’s Cost Effective
It might take a chunk of money up front, but in the long run a home gym is way cheaper.
The average gym membership is around $60 a month.
I spent around $2,000 on everything I own, and all the major pieces have a lifetime warranty (I strongly encourage you to buy high quality equipment). Which means in 10 years, I’ll have saved over $5,000.
If you want to keep it simple, you could get a smaller gym setup for 500-600 bucks. Even at the $10 a month purple gym, which would be my last choice (I mention why in this article), after 10 years you’ll have spent twice as much on that membership.
There are many facets of getting in shape, but the two main components when considering gym gear are strength and cardio.
I’ll start with my recommendations for strength.
1. Bench and Dumbbells
You can have killer workouts for the rest of your life with only a bench and some dumbbells.
Talk about simple.
There are many brands of adjustable dumbbells. Mine are Powerblock (some people don’t like how they feel, but they work for me) and range from 5-90 pounds.
You might not need that much weight right away, but you’d be surprised how quickly that can change.
Then find a bench that adjusts to an incline. That and the dumbbells could be all you ever want.
2. Barbell and Rack
Don’t be scared off by the idea. My own mother (who is 61 and ok with me telling you) recently got a barbell because she saw the value in it (and had outgrown her 50 pound dumbbells).
This option can be something you add to your dumbbells later, or it can be an alternative to it.
As with the first option, if all you had was a barbell and some weights, you’d be good to go. (Here’s what you’ll need as far as weights.)
I recommend a high quality squat rack with adjustable arms to spot the weight for you. They make really good ones now that fold up when you aren’t using it. Perfect for limited space in a garage or basement.
Mine is made by Rogue. They’re expensive, but one of the best companies for quality and customer service.
You don’t need to buy anything to have a good workout.
The only thing I don’t like about doing ONLY bodyweight exercises is that it’s not as simple to progress beyond the first few months.
Don’t get me wrong, you can reach elite levels of fitness with only bodyweight exercises (ever seen an Olympic gymnast?). But because of the technical skill required, it takes a level of commitment the average person doesn’t want.
In other words it’s not as easy as adding more weight when you get stronger.
That said, if you love doing it, dive in!
Forget about them.
It’s not that weight machines are bad. There’s a time and place to use them. But for a home gym, they’re not worth the money and don’t offer enough variety to provide benefits for extended use.
I understand the appeal of their simplicity, but as you can see there are better options that are just as simple.
Strength and cardio are both important. One is not better than the other. But when prioritizing for making home gym purchases, strength training comes out on top.
Because you would be amazed at what a 20-30 minute brisk walk 2-3 times a week can do for your cardio.
Still, if you have the money and space to purchase cardio equipment in addition to your strength training setup, here are my thoughts on a few specific options.
My personal favorite because it’s low impact (which helps preserve muscle) and works your full body. It’s become more popular because of crossfit, but it’s an underrated machine you should consider.
This is also low impact, and easier to find a good one that won’t break the bank (compared to a rower).
If you prefer a full body cardio machine, Airdyne bikes have moving handles to get the arms involved. Just make sure you aren’t annoyed by those handles on longer rides.
Jogging is high impact, which means it has a (moderate) negative impact on your strength training.
But if you like to run, a treadmill is a fine cardio option. It comes with the added benefit of being able to take a walk regardless of the weather.
That’s a huge win.
To avoid high impact, you could go for an elliptical, or something similar. I just think they feel very unnatural. But if you’ve used one and know you like it, go for it.
The bottom line with cardio equipment is whatever you buy should be the one you enjoy using. That’s what matters the most.
Of the gazillion other things you could buy for your home gym, here are my top picks.
Eventually, you should own a pull-up bar. Even if you can’t do pull-ups.
It’s the best way to work your back — although it’s really more of a full body exercise than most people realize.
If you go the “barbell and rack” route, get a rack that has a pull-up bar on top and you’re good to go. Otherwise there are many other options. Just don’t go cheap. I’ve seen too many videos of people falling off a door frame pull-up bar.
If you can’t do a pull-up, all the more reason for the next item…
The TRX suspension trainer is the most popular brand, but there are many out there. (I just have a cheap set of gymnastics rings.)
They add variety to your workout and help you work your stabilizer muscles. Don’t know what I mean? Do some push-ups on the floor, then try to do the same number on a suspension trainer.
Also, the inverted row is one of the best exercises for building up to your first pull-up.
I mainly suggest this as another pull-up helper.
Buy a big set of pull-up bands (like these), and start doing some band assisted pull-ups. As you get stronger, use less and less bands until you don’t need them at all.
Then start using your bands for a variety of other exercises, like the great ab exercise the Pallof press.
You don’t need this, but it doesn’t cost much and you’ll use it regularly.
I like to incorporate yoga moves into my workouts, so the mat helps spare my knees.
The Final Thought
Some people enjoy commercial gyms, but if that hasn’t kept you consistent so far, I suggest you consider a home gym.
I almost mentioned several other pieces of gear — this is by no means an exhaustive list — but the point is, you don’t need it.
The concept is the same as what your workouts should look like: stick to the basics and build on it with more later.
What’s your favorite gym equipment that I didn’t mention here?