One thing the pandemic made clear is that it’s a good idea to have a home gym. For most of the year in some places, gyms were closed. They still are if you’re unlucky. And even after they opened, a significant portion of the population doesn’t even want to set foot in one out of fear of getting sick or because they have to wear a mask. I for one hate training in a mask and frankly won’t do it. Takes all the fun out of it. Plus, in some locations, going outside wasn’t an option. You couldn’t even go out to workout or take a walk without a “real reason.”
Home gyms are here to stay. But how can people with different budgets set up their home gym without sacrificing the quality of the resultant workout?
Today’s post is going to give different home gym setups for different budgets. I firmly believe that anyone of any means can have a “home gym” they can be proud of.
Slim pickings? Not really.
Now, you’re not going to be picking up any barbells and free weights and benches and squat racks, unless you get really lucky on Craigslist or at a garage sale. But you can get creative. Luckily you can still get a fantastic training session at your gym you only spent $50 to build.
- Sandbags—$0.25, sand free or nearly so
- Army surplus duffel bag—$15-25
- 2x3s or 2x4s—$5-10
- Doorframe pull-up bar—$20-30. This is a good one.
- Stretch bands—$50
- Used walker—$10 at Goodwill
- Large rocks and logs—free, just go out to the forest and find them
- Car (repurpose the one you already have)
For sledgehammer ideas, read this old post of mine. Great way to mobilize your upper body, work your lats and shoulders and abs. Use it to break rocks or slam the ground or an old tire, and you get a great cardio session out of it.
Sandbags run heavy, about 50-60 pounds each. Sandbag workouts are great. You can stack those up and just carry them and go for a walk. You can put them on your shoulder. You can toss them, curl them, press them, squat them, deadlift them. And if you put those sandbags inside a durable army surplus duffel, you can get even more creative and increase the intensity of those movements even more.
Laying down some 2×3 boards are a great way to incorporate balance work into your daily life or workout. Walk forward and backward on them multiple times per day.
Doorframe pull-ups bars are self explanatory. Do pull-ups and, if you lower them to waist level, bodyweight rows.
The stretch bands/cords are very versatile—great for warming up, mobility work, and moderate strength training.
If you can find a used walker for cheap, they’re a great way to do dips. Most walkers can hold at least 300 pounds.
Large rocks and logs are self-explanatory, too. Lift and carry rocks. Lift and carry logs. You can even lift one end of the log, leaving the other end on the ground, and do presses, squats, and other lifts.
If you have a car and a friend willing to steer, you can throw it into neutral and push it. Better than sled training.
With $100, you can start picking up some serious equipment.
Plus everything from the last section still applies.
With one kettlebell of sufficient weight you can do just about everything: swings and cleans for posterior chain, goblet squats and lunges for knee flexion, presses for shoulders, rows for back and biceps, Turkish getups for overall strength and stability, single arm farmers walks for core and grip. You can go high rep and intense for high intensity cardio or high rep and easy for low level cardio. It’s all inclusive. These are the best-priced kettlebells I’ve been able to find online and with free shipping.
An airbike might be the quickest path to metabolic conditioning. The harder you go, the harder it is. Just brutal. And while new ones run quite expensive, used ones are great. These are mechanical beasts that generally do not break down. If they do, they are easily fixed.
If you have something you can loop the rings over (tree branch, rafters, etc), you can do an incredible amount of upper body work. Dips, rows, pull-ups, pushups, static holds. Sky’s the limit.
An ab-roller is worth throwing in if you have the extra $15 laying around.
At $250, you can start getting into “complete” gyms with real equipment. Still pretty bare bones, but complete.
- 2 kettlebells—$100-250, depending on weight
- Used weights—$150-250, depending on weight
- Used squat stand—$50-100
- Trap bar—$100-150, maybe used
Now you can buy more kettlebells. I’d recommend two of the same weight so you can do farmer’s carries and double swings/cleans/presses, or one bell at a weight you can comfortably handle for higher reps and one bell at a heavier weight you struggle with and use for lower reps.
As for used weights, you can often find a good set of barbells and weights for under $250 on Craigslist. If you’re just starting, the weights you get should tide you over for a year at least. If you’re experienced, you can always add more weights here and there as you go.
Squat stands are pricey new, but if you can find it used—perhaps alongside the barbell set—you’re set. If you’re handy and want to build it, do it. Or you can also just use saw horses.
Trap bar is an excellent all-purpose piece of equipment. Maybe my favorite weight training piece of all.
Unless you get a really good deal you’ll have to choose between the kettlebells and the weights. Good news is that both are relatively complete.
$500 is where you can start splurging if you want but should probably still look for used gear.
- Barbell/trap bar and weights—$150-$500
- X3 Bar Elite—$500
- Squat rack—$150-$300
For the barbell and weights, you can try used and have money left over for more gear. You can go new and get something right away, but you won’t have much money left over. A new barbell can run about $170+, weights are variable. For a ballpark idea, multiply the poundage by 1.7 to get the dollar amount. Smaller weights cost more per pound; heavier weights less.
If you go all kettlebells, you can get two manageable ones you can get overhead plus two heavier ones for squats, lunges, farmer’s walks.
I don’t have an X3 Bar elite myself, but my longtime friend and collaborator Brad Kearns has one and swears by it. It’s a stretch band system on steroids, allowing you to “lift” up to 600 pounds and hit all muscle groups. You can also travel with it. The closer you get to end range, the more resistance you face.
You may be able to find a good squat rack used with all the fixings: dip bar, pullup bar, bench. If so, grab it. Otherwise, you might need to go with a cheaper one. This looks like a decent squat rack that also lets you do pullups on it.
Once you’re willing to drop $1000 or more, you can start approaching the level of elite gyms.
A new barbell/trap bar/both, weights, and rack are all within your reach.
Rubber mats for the flooring.
Ceiling height mirrors for the walls.
New sound system.
Elaborate workout devices like glute ham raises, reverse hypers. Versaclimber (still the best cardio equipment ever made).
Things get easier. You don’t have to use your creativity or go find real world implements that double as weights. But you miss something when everything is “perfect” and “optimized.” For that reason, I recommend that even expensive home gym setups include things like large rocks or wooden logs or car pushes or sledgehammers.
Obviously, there is no upper limit. If you have the money, you can figure out a way to spend it on your home gym. But I’d argue that most people can get an adequate, even ideal workout at any budget level.
If you have any questions or input today, let me know down below. I’d love to hear about your own home gym setups, including the price if you don’t mind.
Take care, everyone.