So you're finally sick of that weirdo staring at you from the corner of the gym, or that fool using the only squat rack there is to rest the bar for bicep curls? It sounds like you're ready to step out of the commercial gym world and get yourself set up at home. Not sure where to start? We've got you covered.....
There are many benefits to having your own gym at home but before you read any further let's just clear one thing up that will potentially save you from investing in a very expensive clothes hanging room.
"You need to have a passion for training and a good level of self-motivation to make this worthwhile."
If you lack these then stick to your commercial gym and you can thank us in a few weeks when the notion has passed and you realise you're happy to tolerate the selfie-taking, nipple hanging out of the gym vest-wearing deuchebag. Not everyone is suited to training alone.
Now that we've got the reality check out the way and you know you are serious about this, let's begin.
Setting up your gym doesn't need to cost a fortune and I am going to save you some hard-earned cash by telling you exactly what you need and what you don't! Whether on a budget or ready to make it rain, the cost should determine the quality of kit you are buying and not the quantity.
To keep things simple, I have listed the kit and equipment below in order importance - therefore you are looking to assign most of your budget to the first item, and the least amount of your budget to the last. That is if you have a budget!
Options are endless - you could buy solid second-hand commercial equipment as opposed to brand new home-use equipment that won't stand up to as much a beating as the former, or you could spend a lot more and buy solid brand-new equipment - but it will cost you!
All kit listed below is, in my opinion, everything you need to carry out an effective training programme from home.
Many people claim a rack isn't necessary or they don't have space, but without it, you are not going to be able to progress on your heavy lower body and pressing exercises. And that's that!
Sure, if you're a beginner you will be lifting manageable weights that can be picked up from the floor and placed on, for example, your shoulders. However, if you think you're going to keep making progress like that, you're setting yourself up for a world of hurt and a severed spine to go.
A rack can come in many forms - a full power rack, a friendlier on space half rack, and also a standalone bar holder. I see a rack as an investment - it's going to keep you safe and also deal with punishment and the daily grind day after day - so buy the best one you can afford!
When you're stepping back and about to begin a heavy set of squats, you'll save some bum squeaking and have that warm fuzzy feeling if the rack isn't swaying side to side and creaking!
Another item that you definitely don't want to be scrimping on is a weightlifting bench. Save yourself money and space by getting a solid bench that can be set flat, at an incline and maybe even decline which will allow a greater variety of exercise movements.
A cheap bench will be unstable and the maximum weight rating will be lower. For example, if you have a bench with a max rating of 150kg and you weight 90kg, this would leave you 60kg of additional 'lifting' weight to add on top of that. That might seem like a lot if you're a beginner to weight training but in this game you make progress quickly, so ensure you invest for something more future-proof - and safe!
3. BARBELL AND WEIGHT PLATES
Some people fail to realise that there is one method of training that has stood and will always stand the test of time, and that is good old fashioned barbell training.
Forget the Instagram nonsense popping up daily by many self-proclaimed '#fitpros'. Barbell exercises are far superior at creating an effective workout and are going to get you in great shape while improving your strength and conditioning and especially important when it comes to fat-loss - but that's a discussion for another article!
"Exercises like the Squat, Deadlift, Overhead Press, Bench Press - and all their variations - target and utilise multiple muscle groups at the same time, replicate real life movements that you do outside the gym, and allow you to work your body harder in a shorter space of time."
Therefore, your training programme should focus largely on barbell training and a good bar and weight set are essential.
Forget your cheap Argos cement-filled weights, if you're serious about this then an Olympic training bar and plates are a must. Second-hand is certainly a viable option here and might get you a great quality set for a lot less cash because, at the end of the day, are you really bothered if they are a bit scratched and abused? You'll only end up doing that to them anyway!
If you are on a budget then stick to iron plates - they are cheap and 10kg is still 10kg (or pretty damn close).
Next up is iron plates coated in rubber which offer the added benefits of safety, protection and longevity.
Finally there are bumper plates - which you will pay a lot more for! These are solid rubber weight discs that are all the same diameter regardless of weight. They can be safely used for performing Olympic lifts and can be dropped from a height during exercises like snatches and presses - that is if you're upstairs floorboards are strong enough!
Buy whatever plates suit your needs - do you really need Olympic-standard plates that are accurate to -0.05% tolerance for your casual Push/Pull/Lower training split?
I recommend you buy at least one pair of bumper plates - 10kg plates will suffice (any less will be too thin) - as this will allow you to perform deadlifts and other movements with the bar consistently at the correct (and same) height off the ground.
Cheaper plates vary in diameter according to the weight. This can be an issue when deadlifting lighter weights as your form may be compromised by the bar being lower than normal to the ground.
Whether you're setting your gym up in a concrete floored garage or an upstairs bedroom, good gym flooring is essential to protect your equipment and your floor from the daily pounding.
Opt for good quality commercial-grade rubber gym flooring that will help absorb the impact of the weights hitting the floor and stop you ending up with an upstairs gym landing immediately in the downstairs living room. The cheap interlocking foam squares often found on ebay just aren't up to the job!
If on a tighter budget, simply floor around the area of your rack and where you predominately lift instead of the full room. Heavy duty gym mats are another option but they don't work out much cheaper.
Here is a list of kit that's not essential to your gym but, if you can stretch your budget, can add far more variety to your workouts and also allow you a greater range of exercises for circuit-based training.
I advise you set your sights on the listed essential kit first and put as much money into those initially. A home gym is something that can be built on and improved over time with the kit below.
Having dumbbells allows you to replicate barbell movements but work each joint independently and address any muscular imbalances that using a barbell may hide. They allow more experienced lifters to challenge themselves and add a bit more variety to a training programme.
As you're strength increases, handling heavier dumbbells and getting them safely into position for certain exercises, such as the incline bench press, can be dangerous without a spotter. They also require balance and more coordination. Therefore, I would never recommend or start someone fairly new to weight training on dumbbells - another reason I would not place them on the 'essential' list.
Nearly making the list of essential kit to buy, the trusty kettlebell is a very versatile tool to have in your home gym - or any gym for that matter! Predominately used in circuit training as a method of combining cardio and strength training into one workout, kettlebells improve functional strength and offer a fun and challenging style of training.
I recommend women start with a 12kg and master the kettlebell swing, and men a 16kg. Any lower and you will quickly outgrow and have a rather expensive door stop!
3. CIRCUIT TRAINING EQUIPMENT
The beauty of circuit training is that you can have one hell of a workout using just your body and it's for that reason alone why all the suggested kit that follows is classed as 'non-essential' and you can add to your gym as time goes on - should you wish. This kit isn't just limited to circuit training, some of it you can use to add a more functional approach to your weight training and strength workouts, or just to simply mix things up a bit!
Suspension Trainer (TRX)
Gym Rings (much cheaper than TRX)
You might be wondering why there are no treadmills or cross-trainers mentioned above and that is certainly no coincidence! When it comes to cardio I always recommend that individuals do the cardio activity they enjoy. Cardio is a tool used to keep the heart and lungs healthy and burn calories - it is not essential for fat-loss! Again, that is a discussion for another article.
Circuit training - more specifically cardio-strength training - is a format I personally adopt and encourage many people to try because it's far more fun, scalable and time-efficient - an effective workout can be completed in less than 20 minutes!
Cardio equipment is expensive, usually takes up a lot of space and most of it can be done out in the fresh air!
So for example, if you enjoy running and want to run, I suggest you save some money and space and get outside and embrace the fresh air instead of buying a treadmill! That said, if you love running on a treadmill and you have the space and extra budget that's not going to eat into your budget for the listed 'essential equipment' - then by all means buy one!
Now there is one piece of cardio equipment that I have to recommend if you are looking to add one to your home-gym, and that is a Concept 2 rower. Not cheap by any means but I personally am a huge fan of these:
Rowers are great for warming up the full body up prior to lifting heavy weights, they can serve as a brutal standalone workout, and also can be used to add a new level of intensity to circuit training. As a bonus, they can be stored vertical to save on space!
There we have it! Everything you need, and everything you don't need, when setting up your home gym. You can setup a very effective home gym for well under £1000 or, if you have a larger budget, then the sky is literally the limit.
Good kit and equipment doesn't have to cost an arm and a leg, and while I have not mentioned any manufacturers or brands in this guide, I am more than happy to make suggestions based on my own personal experience if you want to get in touch. I am not a promoter or affiliate and only recommend things I have had personal time-based experience with.
A good home gym is only effective with a good structured training programme and you actually knowing how to train and do the exercises safely! If you're not sure, hire the services of a reputable personal trainer until you are competent - some are even willing to travel to you and your brand-new shiny gym!
Don't blow your budget and space on cardio equipment.
Buying second hand will let you get higher quality, more solid commercial kit for cheaper - you'll outgrow cheap kit quickly and it won't live up to the long-term daily abuse
Make sure you are actually going to be interested in training and gym-based exercise for the long-term before you blow a lot of money.
You most definitely need a rack for lifting - you won't be able to safely progress without one.
Allocate the greatest amount of your budget in the order that the equipment is listed in this guide.
Buy at least a couple of 10kg (or greater if you are stronger) bumper plates to allow you to have a consistent 'bar-from-the-floor height' for movements such as deadlifts. Cheaper iron plates will vary in diameter according to weight which will impact your setup and form on certain movements.
Focus on buying the best equipment you can afford from the 'essential equipment' list - 'non-essential' kit can be added at a later date if you really need it.
A rower machine, more specifically a Concept 2 Rower, is a very versatile piece of cardio equipment and has less impact on space - I'd personally choose that over a treadmill or bike - or just get out in the fresh air!
Jonny Robertson is a former British Royal Marines Commando, Personal Trainer and Founder of Marine Fitness, Marine Fitness Mountaineering Section and Online Personal Trainer in Scotland, UK. Visit: https://www.marine-fitness.com for online personal training and more free resources.