Home gyms are all the rage, and for good reason! Instead of spending say, $50/month for a gym membership for 3 years, you could take that money (around $2,000 by our calculations) and build yourself your own gym in your garage or basement.
Think about it, what’s so hard about setting up a gym like the ones featured at expensive athletic clubs across the country. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to select equipment that adequately allows you to hit all major muscle groups.
Below we break down some of the more popular staples of the home gym and include one bonus item that will literally be the crowning jewel of your home gym.
1. A Power Rack
A power rack is probably the most versatile piece of gym equipment. Essentially a power rack is a steel cube with mount points on all four pillars for the fastening and hinging of a variety of accessories.
A power rack takes care of a whole plethora of exercises including squat, overhead press, bench press, incline press, deadlift, rack-pulls, and more.
Don’t make the mistake of buying a separate squat rack, separate bench press, separate deadlift platform… you will spend more money if buying all these separate and also need a lot more space in your garage/basement.
2. Free weights
Once you have your power rack you need weights. The most useful weights for this setup will be a standardized Olympic lifting bar and some quality bumper weights.
What are bumper weights? These are big disk weights with rubber either wrapped around the edge or mixed with the weight itself.
What’s wrong with cast iron weights? Well nothing, and we love the old school sound of iron weights clanking against each other during lifts, however using these, while cheaper than bumper plates, will require additional work to protect your concrete floor from damage.
Smashing iron weight repeatedly on cement or wood is a recipe for disaster. If you are determined to go iron, you’ll need to invest in some heavy duty rubber mats to protect your floor. This can be a touch challenge though as it’s hard to find the perfect consistency of rubber that will A) be soft enough to absorb impact but B) be hard enough to give you a good footing when doing your lifts.
Ultimately, we think spending a little more on bumper plates is smarter long term and a more versatile solution for your home gym.
After an Olympic bar and plate weights for your core squat/bench/deadlift movements, you’ll want to add some dumbbells for accessory work like shoulder press, lateral raises, one arm rows, pull-overs, the list goes on.
Dumbbells are generally pretty cheap. One tip, don’t buy a weight range that currently suits you, buy a weight range you can GROW INTO.
For example, if you currently dumbbell press 50lbs, and you buy a set that goes 5-60lbs, you will probably outgrow this weight range within the year. Instead, if you regularly press 50lb dumbbells at 80% of your 1RM, then you’ll want a range that goes to at least 100lbs.
4. Stair Stepper
Cardio.. yeah we hate it too, but if you want those gains to actually show through and not be covered by a layer of fat, you’ll need to do regular cardio.
If you have a public track in your neighborhood, or nice smooth biking paths, you can do your cardio outdoors. This is the most “fun” form, but it also comes with drawbacks, primarily in the form of rain and snow storms.
A stair stepper machine however is compact and efficient. You can pop one in the corner of your home gym and hit it on your off days for cardio. Simply queue up a movie on your iPhone or iPad, put your headphones in, and stair step as you watch. You’ll be burning hundreds of calories before you know it!
5. Wall-Mounted Pull-up System
Last but not least, we recommend every home gym have a solid dedicated pull up station. Sure, lat pull-downs with cable machines are fun, and some studies show they activate the muscles even more than pull-ups done with poor form, but entire cable systems can be very expensive.
A low cost option would be a simple wall-mounted pull-up bar. If you want more details on this type of system the guys at Pullup Professors have an exceptional breakdown of top models.
Sure, some power racks have a bar on the top, but it is usually a plain straight bar, limiting the variations of pull-ups that can be done.
A dedicated wall-mounted system usually has at least 3 different grip options available to activate different parts of the back, making it a superior choice than just a straight bar.
In the end, these bars can be had for under $50 and at very high quality, so it is kind of a no-brainer addition to your home gym.