Home, Sweat Home: How to Build a Gym in Your House

by Kim Causey
25lb free weights

Do you find yourself motivated to work out, but not enough to go through the hassle of coming home, packing your bag, fighting traffic, and finally arriving at the gym — only to contend with the guy who hogs all the workout equipment, the guy who's showing off and the guy who finds it necessary to criticize your every move? Or perhaps you're simply shy about working out in front of others. Frustrated and self-conscious, you give up and go home without completing your workout or you just don't go. What if we told you building your own home gym can be easier and cheaper than you might think?

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Instead, how about waking up, throwing on some workout clothes (or not) and heading out the door to ... your garage? No one telling you what you're doing wrong, no waiting on equipment, no feeling self-conscious and no wasting time. Just you and your fitness goals — with nothing standing in between.

If you find yourself thinking, "I don't have the money to build a home gym," keep reading — and by the time you finish, you'll instead find yourself wondering, "Why didn't I do this sooner?"

The Basics

A good home gym calls for a few essential pieces of equipment to get started. These implements are good for those looking to lose weight or gain muscle.

  • An Olympic barbell
  • A squat rack with a pullup bar
  • Weight plates
  • A flat bench
  • A jump rope

Once you have these, you can work toward adding more pieces, but this'll get you off to a strong start. When purchasing foundational fitness equipment for your home gym, be sure you're buying quality items that have a variety of uses. If you're on a tight budget, remember that buying cheaply made equipment isn't the answer. You may search for bargains at yard sales, online classified ads, swap meets, flea markets and auctions to find high-grade used equipment.

Turning Your Garage Into a Gym

A garage gym can be effective as well as efficient if you build it to meet your needs. Some of the fittest people train at in-home gyms because they know "the secret": less equipment, fewer isolation exercises, fewer people to get in your way, but a more efficient workout.

Step 1: The Big Purchases

If you're serious about putting together an at-home gym, the first step is to make the big purchases. That'll show your doubtful side that you mean business, that you're committed — and that'll help you hold yourself accountable. These include the items you can't build yourself, but instead have to purchase at a store or order, assuming you can't find them used. Examples include barbells, weight plates, kettlebells and dumbbells.

Another good reason to go ahead with the big purchases is delivery time. Some items may take days or weeks (or even months, in some cases) to come in. You can use that wait time to set up your garage and put together a game plan.

When making your big purchases, decide what all you need, and if you're OK with used versus new equipment. Decide how many of each weight plate you may need, making sure you have a variety. Also be sure to take into account what your goals are, what hope to achieve and what equipment is needed to get you there.

With the gain in popularity of CrossFit and weightlifting in recent years, it's generally become easier to find equipment for a reasonable price online, as well as used. This, in many cases, has also made acquiring high-quality barbells, plates and other equipment easier.

Step 2: Clean Out the Garage

Oftentimes, the garage seems to become a de facto household storage room, or a catch-all for the stuff you don't know where else to put but can't decide to part with. This'll be a good excuse to pare down: Sort through all the clutter piled up in your garage; keep the things you want and find permanent spots for it. Then, either trash what's not worth keeping around or consider having a yard sale, which could even help fund your gym.

When you have everything out of the garage area, you can go ahead and clean. Make sure you sweep and get all the dirt and junk off the floor. Pay special attention to the hard-to-reach nooks, crannies, corners and crevices.

Step 3: Organize

If you plan on using your garage area for storage as well as for a home gym, then organization is key. You may want to invest in a space-saving storage system that helps keep your things in one place and out of the way.

If you're solely using it as a workout space, you still may want to consider installing compact shelving and drawers to hold smaller workout equipment. Meanwhile, you can arrange things like yoga mats, balls, dumbbells and barbells in a manner that'll facilitate your work out while remaining orderly and easy to get to. A clean gym is easier to work out in than a cluttered one.

Step 4: Flooring

The floor of a garage is normally made of hard concrete, as most people use it for parking cars and storage. That's not ideal for a home gym, which should really have flooring that's easy to clean, will not absorb chemicals and is durable enough to stand up to high-intensity movements — but concrete floors will rough on your joints and could lead to injuries.

There are a variety of options you can use for flooring in your home gym. Consider using floor tiles, rubber, epoxy or some other soft-but-durable surface. Epoxy floors are popular because they're well suited for a home gym, are easily cleaned and do not stain. Epoxy is also water-resistant and easy to maintain. You can also just throw some rubber gym mats down and have a suitable floorspace rather easily.

Step 5: Use Your Space

Measure the area you plan on using for your gym and map out where you'll be putting all the equipment you've purchased, while looking ahead to any additions you intend to make later, such as more fitness components or a TV. By having your plan ready before your equipment arrives it'll be easier to set the gym up with maximum efficiency. Be sure to play around and move things until you settle on just the right set up. Keep an eye toward maximizing available space to ensure there's enough to do floor exercises and other things that require elbow room.

Step 6: Airflow

Ventilation in a home gym is essential. If the region you live in has high humidity, plan for it so you don't wind up overheating while working out. Consider installing fans or an air conditioner to keep the temperature conducive to your workout. If the temperature remains moderate where you live, it may be enough to run a simple fan or keep the door or windows open.

Step 7: The Finishing Touches

Now that you've ordered your equipment, cleaned out your space, made a plan and allowed for air circulation, it's time for the finishing touches. Do you like to listen to music while you work out? Do you watch workout videos? Maybe you like to have the news on. Consider adding a stereo, a TV a DVD player and some Bluetooth speakers to your space. Now your home gym is ready for some workouts to start happening.

Basic Equipment

OK, so you have your basic equipment ordered or purchased, but now you're sorting out what's what, what it's good for and what exercises you can do. Make the most of your home gym and your workout routine. There's no need to pay the big money for your gym membership anymore — you have all the tools you need for success right at your fingertips.

Here's a quick piece-by-piece equipment primer:

Olympic Barbell

Typically, Olympic barbells are longer and heavier than regular barbells. They hold more weight and are also more durable. Olympic barbells are normally 7 feet long and weigh 45 pounds. The amount of weight they can hold varies, but starts at about 600 pounds. The exercises the barbell accommodates include bench press, bent-over row, deadlift, back squat, overhead press, lunges and power clean.

Squat Rack With a Pullup Bar

The primary purpose of a squat rack is to assist you in progressing your squats by adding increments of weight. For safety reasons, squat racks come with adjustable safety bars on each side; these act as "spotters" for you to prevent you from collapsing on the floor in the event you can't lift the weight back up to the starting position. This rack accommodates exercises including lunges, pullups, rack pulls, box squats, deadlifts and pause squats.

Weight Plates

A weight plate is flat, heavy and usually made of cast iron, used in combination with barbells or dumbbells to hold a chosen amount of weight for the purpose of exercise. These plates come in many different weight increments, but the most common are 2.5-, 5-, 10-, 25-, 35-, and 50-pound denominations. The exercises commonly performed using weight plates include plate push-ups, front shoulder raises, chest squeeze press, squat press, squat reach and side bend.

Flat Bench

A flat bench allows you to get a full range of motion with different chest exercises. It's normally made of metal with a padded surface you can lie on or sit on. You can use it in tandem with barbells and dumbbells. Some common exercises you can do on a flat bench include barbell bench press, dumbbell bench press, dumbbell flys, and numerous others.

Jump Rope

A jump rope is one of the oldest tools in the exercise arsenal. This tried-and-true fitness implement is great for cardio and improving coordination.

Bodyweight Exercises

Bodyweight exercises are strength training motions that use the individual's own weight to provide resistance against gravity. These exercises can enhance a range of physical attributes, including strength, power, endurance, speed, flexibility, coordination and balance. Related motions focus on pulling, pushing and jumping.

Bodyweight exercises can also build muscle if you increase reps, decrease rest times, perform variations and prolong time under tension. They're not as straightforward as adding more weight to a bar, but if you're strategic about it, you can still get results.

Some common bodyweight exercises include:

  • Pushups
  • Sit-ups
  • Mountain climber
  • Burpees
  • Planking
  • Lunges
  • Wall sit

Benefits of Exercise

We hear all the time how great exercise is for us and all the benefits it has for our bodies. Often we feel as if we don't have enough time in the day to exercise — which is where a home gym comes in handy, as it's right there waiting whenever you do have time. Exercising for at least 30 minutes a day can dramatically improve your physical fitness — and could help you live longer.

Seven health benefits of regular intensive physical activity include:

1. Helping You Control Your Weight

Along with your diet, exercise plays an important role in keeping your weight under control.

2. Reducing Your Risk of Heart Disease

Exercise helps strengthen your heart and improve circulation. Increased blood flow raises the oxygen levels in your body, helping to lower your risk of heart disease. Regular exercise can also lower your blood pressure and triglyceride levels.

3. Helping the Body Manage Blood Sugar and Insulin Levels

Exercise can lower your blood sugar levels and help manage insulin, reducing your risk for developing type 2 diabetes. If you're already diabetic, exercise can help you manage the disease.

4. Improving Mental Health

When you exercise, your body releases chemicals that can improve your mood and make you feel more relaxed. This can help you manage stress and reduce your risk of depression.

5. Extending Your Life

Increasing your physical activity can reduce your risk of dying early from some of the leading causes of death, including heart disease and some cancers.

6. Social Distancing

You don't need to concern yourself with facemasks or staying six-feet apart from other people when you're quarantined in your own private fitness facility. The ripple effect of the COVID-19 pandemic will continue into the foreseeable future, but this is one area where you won't have to think about it.

7. Lookin' Good!

This may not technically be a health benefit — but it certainly doesn't hurt.

Pros of Having a Home Gym

There are some clear benefits to having an at-home gym. Here are five:

1. You Can Work Out Anytime

Have a busy professional calendar? Or perhaps you work nights? No problem: Squeeze in a workout on your schedule rather than having to wait until the gym opens or try to beat the closing-time clock.

2. No Travel Time

Wasting time in transit to and from the gym eats up valuable workout time. It's so much easier just to step out to your garage and get down to business.

3. No Equipment Wait Time

Everyone who goes to the gym knows the frustration of needing to get on a piece of equipment in that everyone else is also gunning for. Waiting your turn can get frustrating as well as waste time. In your gym, there's no line and zero wait time.

4. Flexibility in Workouts

Want to use one piece of equipment for an extended amount of time without catching side-eye from another impatient exerciser? Go for it. Want to drop your weights on the floor like those dudes in CrossFit gyms without annoying or injuring anyone around you? Go for it!

5. It's All Yours

It's your space. It's your equipment. And you can do whatever you want. You can play your own music out loud, workout however you like, wear whatever you want — everything's up to you and what you're feelin' that day.

Cons of a Home Gym

We've covered the positives of having a home gym, but just like everything else in life, there are also a few negatives that come with this particular territory. Here are four:

1. No Social Interaction

When you work out in a public gym, you can form friendships and maybe even gain a few workout buddies. At a home gym, you'll miss out on that bonding experience.

2. Startup Cost

When building a home gym, you'll most likely have to buy at least some expensive equipment and, for some, this can pose a hardship.

3. No External Motivation

When working out in a gym with others, the natural spirt of competition and camaraderie continually motivates you to do more and get better. In your home, you have no one there to cheer you on and compel you to reach new goals.

4. Changing Your Habits Is Challenging

You could go to all the trouble and expense of building a home gym, only to find that the annoyances and inconveniences of going to the gym were only part of the problem, and instead you were simply not in the habit of working out. Old habits are hard to break — and new ones are hard to make.

So, as may now realize, building a home gym is not so difficult: Choose your space, order your equipment, and map out where and how you want everything. Keeping yourself motivated? Now, that might be a harder task, but with a little self-discipline, you'll be on your way to a healthier you in the time it takes to get to your home gym.

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