kettlebell and slam ball home gym equipment sitting on a box

How to Make Your Home into a Gym on a Budget

Dan Sullivan

Dan Sullivan

Gyms are reopening… and have been for a while. Yes, I’m a little late to the party in making this statement, but that’s ok. Indeed, we are seeing a resurgence of access to some old faces like 24 Hour Fitness, Gold’s Gym, and of course Purple Pizza Gym, the latter of which is still providing pizza, but is now donating it to healthcare workers apparently. Based on a recent Healthline article, going back to the gym may still not be recommended if you want to avoid the COVID. That’s why today I want to talk about setting up a home gym.

Hold on though, I’m not just going to point to a Peloton bike and say, “Get that!” No, I’m Irish, which means being budget conscious is in my DNA. Birds fly, fish swim, mice destroy drywall, and Irish people will push a dead goat up a hill to save a dollar. So, what I want to do go through three tiers of home gym design.

The first will involve how to use your home as a gym at no extra cost. You’ll be able to get in a great workout using just what you have lying around your house at no extra cost.

The second tier will involve a minimum investment. This will be my short list of home gym equipment that you can do the most with for the least money.

Lastly, we will look at a moderate investment tier in equipment for home workouts. This is for the folks who have a fair amount of money to spend but don’t want to shell out $1500 for one of those workout mirror things.

FYI, I’ll be including links to specific items and price break downs at the bottom of this article.

Tier 1: The Free Home Gym

Ok, you want to workout at home and just can’t afford to spend a dime. I’ve got you covered. In fact, I’ve always believed that the only thing you need to get in an amazing workout is yourself and enough physical space around you. And that physical space doesn’t even need to be that big. If you can stand in one place and take one big step left, right, forward, and back, then you have enough space to build strength, improve cardio, gain endurance, or whatever you want.

It’s very simple. The free home gym is free because you are the weight. I’m talking about bodyweight exercises. Squats, pushups, lunges, crunches, sit ups, glute bridges, and plank exercises are just a few of the exercises that require nothing more than your own body and a little space.

These exercises can help you to reach any goal you want right from your own home. No gym required. It is also the best way to workout if you’re on a time crunch. You can even do them outside if you want, which is ultimately what that article I referenced in the first paragraph suggested. And I do as well.

But that’s not all you can do with your free home gym. Bodyweight is great, sure, but I’m guessing your home isn’t just a big empty building. You probably have a lot of stuff in it. Guess what, you can use that stuff to enhance your home workout. How? Well, let’s run through a couple of scenarios.

Everyday Exercise Equipment

Chairs

Chairs are great assistive devices to do exercises that you might otherwise find challenging on their own. This could include holding onto the back of a chair to assist with a single legged squat or a lunge (depending on your skill level). Also, depending on the height you can use the chair for support for exercises like Bulgarian split squats (demonstrated here by a man and the woman he may be holding hostage).

Couches

Also great assistive devices for other exercises that a chair might not be wide enough for, such as pushups. Doing an inclined pushup on the back or seat of a couch is a great way to build up strength in your chest if you’re not yet able to do a full push up. You can also make a glute bridge or pushup more challenging by placing your feet up on the seat of the couch.

Tables

Tables are a great place to do lat rows (as demonstrated here by Nerd Fitness from one of the awkward teenage years of the internet, 2009). As he states in the video, though, make sure that your table is STURDY! You don’t want a wimpy table trying to support most of your bodyweight. You can also use a table for assistance with leg exercises such as squats or lunges if need be.

Stairs

This one should be self-explanatory. Do you have stairs near you? Do they require work to climb up? You can ascend and descend the stairs multiple times at varying speeds with or without assistance from the rail. You can also use a single step to do step aerobic exercises. If you do this, though, you may need to buy a speaker so that you can play all the best hits from the 1990s while you workout.

Anything Heavy that You Can Hold On To

Guess what, heavy things that you lift for exercise don’t just have to be dumbbells or kettlebells. You can use a heavy book bag, a gallon of milk, a baby, or your dog to achieve the same result. Just make sure that you can hold on to whatever you’re lifting safely. You can do any normal exercise with added weight. The objects/people/pets that I mentioned can all be used to do overhead press, squat, lunges, bench press, and deadlift just to name a few.

So, there you go, your free home gym will use the power of your own bodyweight and the objects in your home to give you a great workout. But maybe you’re thinking that all sounds pretty boring and you want a little variety but still don’t want to spend a ton of money. Well, then move on to Tier 2.

Tier 2: The Minimal Home Gym

This will involve a minimum investment of cash and require only three items. The minimal investment home gym is all about getting the most out of a few pieces of equipment.

Tube Bands

What? Those stupid things? Yes, those stupid things. If you’ve ever had to do physical therapy you probably are familiar with tube bands. Specifically, I’m recommending a set that has multiple resistance levels, interchangeable handles, and a nice thicc door plug (and yes I do mean thicc with 2 Cs). These are amazing for resistance training just about every muscle group. You can use tube bands to work your biceps, triceps, lats, pecs, abdominals, glutes, hamstrings, quads, you name it. My favorite thing to do with them is resisted trunk twists as a great way to train the inner abdominal muscles and obliques.

Loop Bands

What the hell? More bands? YES. You want minimal investment? This is what it looks like. Resistance bands are some of the best ways to get more out of your workout for less money. Honestly, these are best for going around your ankles or just above your knees. I don’t like them so much for upper body work, especially if you have the tube bands. But these will turn exercises like squats, side shuffles, and jumping exercises into a more extreme version of themselves.

Pull Up Bar

I’m recommending a pull up bar even if you can’t do a pull up. Specifically, I’m recommending an over-the-door pull up bar with a good sturdy design. Even if you can’t or don’t want to do a pull up, a pull up bar is a very versatile piece of equipment. You can hang from it just to improve grip strength or to decompress your spine. You can train the upper back muscles that connect to your shoulder blades by doing hanging shoulder shrugs. And, you can even hang from it and do abdominal exercises such as double knee ups and double straight leg raises.

So that might be all well and good, but what if you want to invest a little bit more and really get the best you can get without breaking the budget? Let’s move on to our final tier.

Tier 3: The Complete Home Gym on a Budget

All right, here we go. If you have a little extra cash to spend and want to get the most out of the equipment you buy, here are my three recommendations.

Kettlebell

The kettlebell is the most versatile type of weight out there. Pound for pound, you can get more use out of a properly weighted kettlebell than anything else. This means that the utility that you get out of it for the price is much higher. Not only can you do almost anything with a kettlebell that you can do with a dumbbell, you can also do a number of exercises that were designed specifically for the kettlebell. These exercises include the kettlebell swing, the Turkish get up, and the kettlebell clean. Honestly, how many and what size you get are up to you. If you want to just get one, I would recommend a weight that you can hold up by your chest with both hands comfortably, but that becomes a challenge when doing 10+ squats or lunges.

Suspension Trainer System

You might have read that and said “what, like a trapeze kind of thing?” Ever heard of TRX? Same thing. If not, look it up. I 99% guarantee you’ll recognize it. The home version of the TRX is an awesome investment if you want versatility in your home gym. Suspension trainers allow you to do a number of movements that would be difficult to replicate any other way and use your bodyweight as resistance. Bodyweight lat rows, suspension pushups, pec flys, reverse flys, and straight arm pull downs are a few of my favorites. You can also train your core and your legs with this system. It can be anchored in a doorway or tied around something that is sturdy and can support your entire bodyweight.

Pull Up Bar

Yes, I’m cheating and putting this one here as well. But honestly, for the same reasons, the pull up bar belongs in your third tier home gym as well. But I would recommend going all out and getting a really sturdy one that you anchor to your wall or ceiling if you’re serious about having a nice, well rounded home gym. There’s just something about not having the doorway in your way that lets you get creative once you get used to being on the bar. Certainly not a requirement for this tier, but if you can afford it and have a place to put it, then go for it. Best of all, if you have enough room, you can secure the Suspension Trainer to it, which gives you more options in what you can do with it.

Important Note on Home Gyms

Your home gym is only as good as the person using it, and unless you’ve built it up for your power lifting great grandmother, that someone is YOU. Regardless of what you buy or don’t buy from this list, you need to be the one to use the equipment. Don’t be the kind of person that just lets kettlebells sit there and collect dust or who uses the pull up bar to hang wet laundry.

Most importantly, DO NOT buy anything that you think you won’t use or don’t know how to use. Learn how to use it first and make a conscious decision to buy it because you WANT to buy it. Don’t just buy something because I put it on this list. Whichever tier you choose, make sure you keep to a consistent habit of using the equipment you buy.

Equipment Breakdown and Item Links

Here’s the breakdown of around how much each tier should cost and links to the items I had in mind. Keep in mind, all of these pieces of equipment are from Amazon, meaning they are not the highest of quality. I did that because I was being budget conscious for this list. But if you have room in your budget then look at your local sporting goods store for better quality items.

Tier 1

  • Free baby! Er, wait. Free, baby. There we go. Forgot the comma. No, I’m not giving away a free baby.

Tier 2

Tier 3

Disclaimer

I am not sponsored by any of the products that I’ve listed here. These are all recommendations based upon my personal experience in what I feel is important for a home gym on a budget.

Take Aways

  1. The gym is not REQUIRED for you to get a good workout in
  2. You can use your own body as a gym if you don’t want to spend any money at all and here are some bodyweight exercises that you can do to work each muscle group
  3. A small investment in a few items will help give you a few more options
  4. A moderate investment in a few more items will allow you to better train strength
  5. Whatever you do, set yourself up to develop consistency

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