It’s not always possible to have easy access to a gym. Depending on where you live, a gym may be far away, prohibitively expensive, or not a good fit for your personality. I know quite a lot of potential exercisers who have been scared away by gym culture and intimidation - and that's certainly why Planet Fitness has business.
When I lived in a house, I set up a squat rack in my garage and purchased related equipment, and before long I had a perfect home gym setup. I was able to do virtually everything I would want out of a commercial gym, minus the benefit of a few machines. This was an awesome situation for me, and the total cost was somewhere in the vicinity of $1400 - out of reach for some, but very doable for others.
Another thing to factor in is the cost of your gym membership. Depending on where you live, a typical gym membership might cost you somewhere between $300 and $1200 a year. This means that even when constructing an expensive home gym, your investment will pay off within probably just a few years.
It’s important to also consider the hidden costs of gym memberships. Depending on how close you live to your gym, you may walk or drive there on a regular basis. This has two significant drawbacks: first, that you’re wasting time, and second, that you’re wasting gas.
If you drive fifteen minutes to the gym, this means that you’re spending a half hour a day. Four days a week adds up to 2 hours. 52 weeks in a year turns into 104 hours per year, a couple weeks’ worth of work time. Imagine what you could do with 104 extra hours in your schedule: read a few extra books, beat a few extra video games, get a lot more work done, spend time with your family.
If you’re travelling a few miles by car, this adds up in terms of gas used too. Let’s assume that your gym is about ten miles away. This is how far my first gym was from my house. At an average speed of 45mph, you get there in about fifteen minutes. Assuming your fuel economy is near the average (25mpg or so), you’re driving 80 miles per week to the gym, costing you somewhere around $10/week just to go to the gym (assuming an average gas cost of $3.50/gallon). Multiply that by 52 weeks, and you’re spending an extra $520 per year, just paying for gas to get to the gym.
These costs normally don't seem like much - we pay these costs without realizing what they add up to, because we're paying them in smaller chunks over time. This enables us to end up spending a lot more money than we need to.
Having a home gym option can be a huge benefit - saving you time and lots of money, particularly in the long run. Chances are that it won't even take long to get a return on your investment.
Here are a few different options you can use, depending on your goals and training level:
Travel Workouts/The Basic Home Gym Setup
Travelling? One of the big limitations of travelling is that it’s hard to bring anything with you - you can't really carry around a 45lb barbell in your luggage.
Exercise bands weigh very little and are easily packed in your luggage, but can still be used to provide resistance to a variety of exercises. I recommend this article on Greatist for some ideas on exercises you can use. You may need to bring a few different kinds of bands so that you have a variety of resistances to use, but this shouldn’t really be an issue in terms of packing space.
The other tool I recommend is the TRX. A TRX is known as a suspension training system, essentially meaning that it's a pair of handles attached to adjustable straps, that you anchor to the top of a door or a similarly high point. These handles, which mimic the effect of a pair of gymnastics rings, enable you to perform a great number of bodyweight exercises, and they weigh virtually nothing.
Better, you can adjust the difficulty of these exercises on the fly (if you know what you’re doing) by simply moving your feet/hands around a bit. TRX’s come with a door anchor that makes it easy to work out from pretty much anywhere.
A TRX will run you about $100-$150, and a set of bands will run you probably somewhere between $50 and $100, depending on which ones you buy.
Together, these tools don’t allow you to get a world class workout in, but they sure will allow you to challenge yourself and get in some work while at home or on the go. This is more than enough for many health and wellness exercisers.
The Intermediate Home Gym Setup
A TRX alone may be a solid choice for a home gym, enabling you to do a wide variety of exercises and target a lot of muscles. However, for a very basic home gym setup, I recommend a couple more items: a pair of quick change dumbbells and a bench.
Quick change dumbbells are designed so that you use a pair of dumbbell handles on which you can put varying amounts of weight. As the name implies, this can usually be done pretty quickly so that you can change weights on the fly during your workouts.
There are a lot of different options out there, but the industry standard is the PowerBlock dumbbells. These square dumbbells may feel a bit weird due to their shape, but are an excellent balance of quality and price.
Cheap quick change dumbbells I’ve used either have poor changing mechanisms which lock up and make it hard to change the weight, or tend to be plate loaded, with the plates anchored in place by screw-on end caps that can easily come undone and cause the weights to slip a lot during the workout.
More expensive, high end options also exist - I’ve found that the Bowflex quick change dumbbells are usually a bit more expensive, but are also some of the easiest changing I’ve ever used.
Dumbbells alone allow you to perform a wide variety of exercises, but having a bench enables you to perform bench presses, as well as making other exercises a bit easier to perform. You can find a cheap bench on Amazon. I forked over a little more for my home gym bench since I was going to be bench pressing 300+ pounds and wanted to be sure that mine could hold up to it, so I purchased one from Power Systems which was well worth the cost.
The Advanced Home Gym Setup
If you’ve got the space to put it (namely, a garage or tall enough basement) a squat rack is the way to go. A squat rack costs a bit more, but enables you to perform a great number of barbell exercises which you can load as heavy as you want. I chose a squat rack which also had a pullup bar, which enabled me to train pullups on it as well.
Specifically, I used the Rogue SML-2 Monster Lite. This model served perfectly for all my uses, including a 400lb squat and 300lb bench presses, without any issue. I wasn’t able to anchor mine to the floor (like you’re supposed to) so it did shift around a bit during usage. To solve this issue, I stored my unused weight plates on the legs of the rack, holding it in place.
Of course, I also recommend buying a pair of optional spotter arms, since you need to be safe when practicing on a squat rack in your own home and you never want to risk being pinned under a bar if lifting unsupervised. One of the cool things about Rogue equipment is that a lot of their equipment is designed to be modular, so you can often purchase additional accessories and equipment to bling out your squat rack with extra features in the future.
You’ll also need to purchase a barbell and weight plates. I recommend getting a new barbell (since they can break down and fall apart with usage), but you can go used on weight plates since they’re just hunks of iron anyway. You can usually find used weight plates on your local Craigslist much cheaper than purchasing them new, often due to gyms going out of business and selling off their equipment.
Used plates may be a bit rusted, chipped, or cracked, but still weigh roughly the same and will work well so long as they aren’t abused. You’ll want a pair of 2.5lb plates, 5lb plates, 2 pairs of 10lb plates, a pair of 25lb plates, and enough 45lb plates to get you to your max deadlift or squat, whichever is higher. If you’re a beginner, chances are this isn’t too high.
I spent about $400 for the rack, $150 for the spotter arms, $150 for the bench, $300 for a barbell, and $400 for (used) plates, for a total of around $1400. I later supplemented this with other equipment, including a weight vest, bands, chains, homemade plywood boxes, a pair of plate loaded DB handles (these actually use the same Olympic plates as the barbell, saving you a bit of cash), and a space heater (since my garage wasn’t heated in the winter). As a result, I was able to perform a wide variety of exercises, and never lacked for an effective workout.
This option is a bit more expensive, but also enables even elite lifters to train pretty seriously. You can supplement this with cardio options like a home treadmill, assault bike, rowing machine, or sled, though these tend to be a bit expensive and depending on where you live and your level of ability, you may just be able to go for runs in your neighborhood or do bodyweight style circuits to get some cardio in.
One final concern is that you want to be extra careful when working out at home alone, where you may not have anyone to save you if something goes wrong. Use spotter arms, be cautious, and don't push yourself too hard unless there's someone there to watch you. I most definitely cannot recommend doing something stupid like getting pinned under a bench press or squat with no one around to bail you out.
Your Home Gym Solution
A home gym isn’t a perfect solution for everybody, but even a basic gym setup will enable you to perform a lot of workouts without much of an upfront investment. Even the most expensive home gym solutions will save you a lot of money and time over time, making it a far more attractive option for serious exercisers. I highly recommend considering it - even if you need to save up for a while or buy things piecemeal, the benefit is massive.
Even if you don't opt for a full home gym setup, a basic or intermediate setup will save you at least some of your trips to the gym, and thus some of your valuable time and money. Depending on where you live and what your gyms charge, many gyms charge a small amount ($5-20) for single visits, and you may be able to save money by only going into the gym 1-2x/week for certain workouts while focusing on primarily working out from home the rest of the week.
Whatever the case, a bit of investment can save you a lot of money.
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