How to set up a home gym without spending a small fortune

If you’re reading this blog, most likely, you are looking for a way to integrate healthy food, eating habits, and exercise into a busy schedule.  Maybe you have a full-time job that takes a lot of your time and energy.  Maybe you have kids with busy schedules.  Maybe you’re trying to juggle work, family, and a social life and are trying to figure out how healthy habits will fit into your busy life.

Most of the time, I focus on how to make healthy eating easier and more fun, but today I am going to focus on the exercise portion of a healthy lifestyle.  Working out at home can be a great solution for people with crazy schedules, but exercise equipment can be expensive.  So, how can you create a home gym without breaking the bank?  Over the past year, I have built up a home gym that rivals any commercial gym because it is tailor-made for me — not to mention, I can workout barefoot, in my pajamas, or outside if I so choose.  What could be better than that?

Skip the cardio machines.

Do you want to build a home gym but can’t afford a fancy treadmill, elliptical, or other cardio machine?  Don’t worry about it!  While cardio machines have their uses, they’re really not necessary.  So, if you’re not going to spend hundreds of dollars on that elliptical/stationary bike/treadmill combo you just saw on tv, how are you going to get your heart rate up during your workout?  Well, if the weather is nice, go outside and walk, run, or go for a bike ride.  Not only is it a great way to get your heart pumping, but the benefits of getting outside and moving under your own power outweigh any machine.

“But,” you say, “it’s too rainy to go for a run.”  Ok, I can understand that.  We live in Maine and, as beautiful as it is here, the weather doesn’t always cooperate with our plans.  In that case, find something you can do inside.  Is there a flight of stairs in your house?  If so, that’s all the cardio equipment you need.  Whether you move up and down the stairs quickly or at a slower pace, you’ll be feeling it in 10 minutes.  As a bonus, you’ll get a good leg workout at the same time!  If you really just hate climbing stairs, there are plenty of other options.  You can get fancy by putting on some fast music and dancing, or you can keep it simple and do jumping jacks, jump rope (assuming the ceiling isn’t too low for that), or even just run in place.

Don’t be seduced by the fancy all-in-one machines.

You know the ones I’m talking about — those fancy towers of metal that boast the ability to strengthen your lower body, upper body, core, and even makes it possible for you do do push-ups!  As if you really need more than the floor to do a good push up.  Instead of dropping at least $200 for one of these monstrosities, use items you already have in your home for many of the same exercises.

  • If you have a couch, you have a perfect setup for sit-ups.  The couch can hold your feet just as well as the specialized fitness equipment.  And, since you most likely already own a couch, you don’t have to spend a dime for it.
  • Pre-determined push-up bars don’t take into account how wide or narrow your shoulders are — they are a one-size-fits-all piece of equipment.  They also don’t allow you to vary your arm position to work different muscles.
  • They are quite large, too, easily taking up an entire corner of a room — not to mention, they may be too tall to allow a comfortable space for your head between the pull-up bar and the ceiling.  If pull-ups are part of your routine, a $20 pull-up bar that fits in most regular doorways is likely a better option.

Buy only the equipment you need for the fitness level you currently have.

This one is my favorite tip of them all.  It can be tempting, when setting up your home gym, to make sure it is fully stocked with a full range of dumb bells, resistance bands, and every other piece of equipment you might possibly need.

This can be expensive, however, and can take up far more space than you might want.  Instead, buy just what you plan to use, and only in the weights that you can currently lift.  If you can’t do your workout with anything heavier than 5 pounds, then just get a set of 3-pound and 5-pound weights to start with.  As you get stronger, you can add to your collection.  This will save you money and annoyance, as lugging heavy dumb bells in from the car can be incredibly annoying, especially if you won’t need them for several months.

What my “home gym” looks like . . . 

I started out very simply with just a yoga mat, one yoga block, and a yoga strap — I mouth these as a set, otherwise I probably would have only gotten the yoga mat at first.  As I delved deeper into my yoga practice, I realized that I needed a second block to help me move into certain poses, so I went and bought a second block.  Later, I started branching out from yoga and added strength training.  I already had a pair of 5-pound weights in my basement, so I bought a pair of 10-pound weights to get started.  As my strength progressed, I bought heavier weights.  I now have a set of dumb bells ranging from 5- to 20-pounds.  A few months ago, I added a foam roller and s couple of tennis balls for self massage, and am planning on adding a lacrosse ball since the tennis balls are a little soft for some of what I’m doing with them now.

My brother recently bought a bench and a pull-up bar, and since we currently share our workout space, we also share our equipment.  Prior to the bench, we would use dining room chairs, stairs, or get creative with our positioning on the floor for different exercises.  Whenever one of us moves, I’ll once again be without a bench or a pull-up bar and will go back to my creative solutions.

It can be easy to get caught up in the “I need all the fancy stuff right now” whirlwind, but remember that building a home gym is much more affordable if you do it slowly, only buying what you will actually use at any given time.


Catherine Hall

About Catherine Hall

Catherine lives in Bangor, Maine with her family. She gained her appreciation for food and cooking from her grandmother and learned most of her technical knowledge from watching the Food Network. When not in the kitchen, Catherine can be found outdoors attempting to grow vegetables (not always successfully), practicing yoga, and taking Capoeira classes in downtown Bangor. Catherine can also be found walking around town with her Guiding Eyes guide dog, Caleb.