Many of us dream of having our own gym in our house.
Pros of exercising at home
A home gym presents the following advantages:
- No need to wait for a machine to be free.
- You won’t be using a sweaty bench after someone.
- You can train at any hours of the day or night, in any type of clothes or lack of.
- No need to put the weight back in its place.
- Listen to any music you like or no music at all.
- No one around means no distraction, no conversation.
- No membership prices, no package that could mean you are paying for sauna and aerobic classes that you never use and restrictive hours such as off-peak.
If a home gym were that good, everyone would have one and there would be no gym clubs out there.
Drawbacks to a home gym
Here is what your home gym won’t do:
- Limited machines and equipment. This can be a severe hindrance depending on how serious you are about weight-training and how much money you can afford to spend.
- Some people don’t like to work alone.
- Safety: working alone means if the bar gets stuck on you, there will be no one to help you out.
- No one to learn from. Often, that’s how newbies learn: by watching others.
- You need space in your house for equipment.
Perhaps the most important issues against having a gym at home are the first and the last listed above. These two go together as well: with a limited budget, you won’t be able to buy a lot of equipment but you won’t need a lot of space and vice versa: if you have a lot of money, you will certainly be able to afford the extra space.
Nevertheless, let’s see how you can start off with your dream home gym step by step.
Stage 1 – dumbells
Buy a couple of dumbbells to which you can add and remove weight and you will be able to do many exercises at home: shoulder presses, biceps curls, overhead triceps extensions, even squats and back rows. You can certainly go far with a pair of dumbbells.
However, there are some basic exercises you won’t be able to do, in particular chest exercises. For that you will need a bench. Choose a bench which you can incline and decline so that it is more versatile. You will then be able to perform incline and decline versions of chest exercises. By raising the bench to form a vertical back rest, you will be able to do shoulder dumbbell presses and target the shoulder muscles more efficiently. The same applies to seated dumbbell curls, allowing you to do them more strictly by not leveraging your body.
While we are on the subject of choosing a versatile bench, take it just a tad further by picking one with an arrangement at the end where you can add weight plates to do leg extensions and leg curls. This will really take you far. The bench will become a very compact piece of equipment allowing you to do a whole range of exercises on it.
Stage 2 – barbells
Stage 1 is where you get yourself a pair of dumbbells and a versatile bench. The leg extension and leg curl attachments also allow you to work your legs with more than just squats and lunges.
In stage 2 of building your home gym, you buy yourself a bar and maybe some more weight plate. That’s it. With just this bar, you will be able to do all the barbell exercises, including the bench press, incline, flat and decline versions, heavier squats, military press, barbell curls, back rows and so on. You have the whole gamut of free weight exercises open to you now.
Perhaps at this stage, we will add an important accessory that is near-essential when handling barbells. It’s the support. You have your 100 kg barbell for squats resting on the floor, how do you get it onto your neck if you are training by yourself? Not easy, huh?
By purchasing a pair of stands, you will be able to set them up into any configuration you need. Doing squats? Set them at shoulder height. Doing bench presses? Set them above the bench. Doing the military press? Rais the stand even higher. Stands make your workouts with barbells a lot more easier.
A last note on the barbell. Most barbell exercises can be done with dumbbells so by getting a bar, you are not enabling yourself to do more exercises. But a barbell is a very small purchase and presents good value for money given how much you can vary your training. Compare that to buying a leg press machine. The cost is enormous yet you can do only one exercise with it.
That pretty much sums it up for free weight training.
Stage 3 – machines
The only thing left that you don’t have and that commercial gyms have are machines. You won’t be able to compete with them on that level, unless you have enough money and also enough space. Well, if you can afford to buy all these machines, you will certainly be able to afford a large house!
So assuming you are still in the game so far, what machines do you need? Sticking with value for money, get a cable station with low and high pulley. Just as dumbbells can mimic most barbell exercises, pulleys can mimic most free weight exercises and add their own twist to exercises.
Curls at the pulley? Tick.
One-arm rows? Big tick.
Upright row? You bet!
Lateral raises? Bring it on!
Cables are a cross between free weights and machines and allow you to target muscles very intensively.
Swiss and Bosu balls
By the way, at any stage of building your home gym, feel free to buy a Swiss ball and the less versatile Bosu ball. You can substitute the bench with the Swiss ball in many exercises, for example with chest exercises, pullovers and shoulder presses. With the Bosu ball, a hemisphere, you can do killer sets of lunges on them after a heavy session of squats and leg presses. You will have to work so hard at balancing your body that you will be nearly crying in pain. This exercise truly separates the men from the boys. A Swiss ball costs from only £15. Buy only the original one which can resist very high pressure and won’t burst.
Back to machines. There are some combo workstations that allow you to do a range of exercises such as lats pulldown, pec decks and so on and save a lot on space. You need to decide what machine exercises you want to be able to do. Or else you can buy the individual machines one by one. Perhaps the most important ones will be to train the back because apart from the bent-over row, t-bar row, deadlifts and one-arm dumbbell rows, you don’t have any other free-weight exercise you can do. So getting the machine versions, of which there are many, will add variety to your back workout. You may particularly want to get the lower back bench, which enables you to target the lower back as its name suggests.
Next ones are leg machines. Apart from the front and back squat, you don’t have any compound exercises for the legs. So invest in a leg press machine, followed by a hack squat station and your legs will thank you. Not many combo stations will cater for these two exercises. These leg machines must be extremely strong in order to handle extreme weights that can be pushed by powerful legs – upwards of 500 kg easily for the leg press exercise.
A Smith machine is also an excellent choice which will allow you to do the Smith machine back squat. Moreover, the Smith machine can be used for a variety of other exercises. If cables stand between free weights and machines, then the Smith machine stands between cables and machines. You can do the bench press, the bent-over row, the back squat all using the Smith machine but the bar is balanced for you and you only need to move it up and down.
After these basic machines, the choice is yours. You can go for fancy ab machines, lower back machines and even preacher curls machines.
Most people will stop at Stage 2 in building their dream home gym. Some might go a step further and acquire a cable station or a couple of machines. If you end up with the complete range of machines, congratulations, you’ve just bought yourself a fully-modern gym!
If you have your own home gym or would like to share how your ideal home gym would look like, why not do so via a guest post? See our page on fitness guest posting.