How to create the perfect home gym
Have you grown sick of the hustle, bustle, and sweat-stained walls of the typical commercial gym? Do you find the travel time associated with getting to and from your local workout centre affects the amount of sessions you can get in each week? Are you simply fed up of paying through the nose for facilities that you have to share with others?
If you answered yes to any one of the above questions, it may be the time to consider creating your very own personal gym at home.
Before you do, though, a word of caution: plenty of good men have suffered the fate of being seduced into purchasing overly expensive and ultimately faddish fitness equipment for their spare room or garage. Just imagine how many ab cradles, ab belts, vibrating dumbbells and other relics of the fitness industry are stashed in attics across the land, never to see the light of day again.
I’m going to show you a better way to construct your home workout space. But first you need to ask yourself the following, crucial question: Is this going to be good for you?
Having a home gym can be great for convenience, but it isn’t for everyone. Some people draw genuine motivation from the group environment of the social gym. They enjoy the expert classes and find respite from working out in gym chat. If that sounds like you, no matter how convenient training at home may sound, it’s probably not for you.
The truth is that some people are suited to training alone and some people aren’t.
Now consider your home life. Do you have young children? If so, a home gym can be a great way to exercise without spending ages away from your family (and dumping childcare on your other half). But it can also prove divisive: to have an effective workout, you need to create a space and time period that’s free from disruption and distraction.
Those points considered, if you still think it’s a good idea, lets get to work…
Building a home gym doesn’t have to be particularly expensive. People waste a lot of money on unnecessary cardio equipment, multi gyms and overpriced specialist products that quite frankly aren’t particularly useful in a commercial gym, let alone a home training space.
There is no reason you can’t create a fully functional home gym that will stand the test of time for between £1,000 and £2,000 There are plenty of places to buy used fitness equipment, such as classified ads and auction sites like eBay, where you’ll often be able to pick up equipment for less than half what you would pay for it new.
Keep in mind that your home gym will evolve over time. Start with the very basics and keep an eye out for the upgrades you need. When the time and price is right you can make those additions.
Easily the most enjoyable part of creating your own gym space! Have a think about what motivates you and fill your space with the paraphernalia that will help you visualise what you are trying to become. Tailor your environment to your personality so that as soon as you walk into the gym you’ll pique your subconscious mind to prime you for hard work and success.
1. Barbell & plate set
This is the most important piece of equipment you’ll need for your home gym and will be the foundation of pretty much all of your workouts.
Remember that real workouts that produce results are not contingent on a vast array of flashy exercises, but rather the classic core few that we know work and have stood the test of time.
Here is a list of the basic exercises you’ll have available to you with a barbell set:
Legs: Front squat, Back squat, Lunges, Deadlift
Back: Barbell row, Upright Row, Power Cleans
Shoulders: Military Press, Behind the neck press
Chest: Bench Press (flat incline & decline)
Arms: Bicep curls, Skull crushers, Close grip bench press
You will be able to find all sorts of sets and plates for sale on the internet – including second hand bargains. Bear in mind that you’ll need a true Olympic bar so that you can rely on its sturdiness and wont outgrow it. These are about 7ft wide, so you need a room big enough to accommodate one.
If you can stretch the extra few quid or chance upon an opportunity, I would get some professional bumper plates (standard size, rubber coated). They aren’t cheap but they add that ‘Olympic training room’ feel to any gym and are a lot easier on the floor if they need to be dropped.
To make the most of your barbell sets, you’ll need a bench. I’d opt for a second hand commercial bench over a new one designed for home use, as they tend to take a battering and the lower quality ones come apart at the bolts and rip pretty easily. Always go for a bench that has incline and decline functionality: you may not use these often, but if you decide to go for a split bodybuilding style training phase it’ll come in handy.
The rack is an important element of your gym set-up; it’ll be the biggest piece of equipment and also the most expensive. Again you’ll want a more commercial feel here, as you need it to be robust enough to survive all of those gruelling workouts.
Some people think that because of the space issue they can bypass buying a rack. Not so. Without one, heavier leg, chest and shoulder workouts become almost impossible. There is also the safety element to consider as again, most of the time you will be training alone so will want the reassurance of being able to rack the bar easily.
A very important aspect of gym planning is the flooring, which must protect your property and help make your gym equipment last longer. Proper gym flooring will also help reduce the sound level coming out of the gym.
Aim for commercial grade foam flooring (you’ll find it in interlocking squares). This will last you years and is very affordable.
I would opt for a pair of relatively heavy kettlebells (12-16kg) over a rack of dumbbells. Some won’t agree with this, but I find kettle bells to be a far more versatile piece of equipment. They can replicate most of the exercises you would perform with dumbbells and also bring an element of momentum and functional training to your workouts, providing 100s more variations without taking up much extra space in your gym.
The cardio issue
‘Wait,’ I hear you thinking. ‘Where does the treadmill go? And what about the cross trainer?’
I understand your concern – but I just don’t think that they are necessary. Firstly, we can get a thorough warm-up from dynamic stretching and bodyweight exercises, so we’re covered there. And as far as fitness and fat loss goes, none of my transformation coaching clients do any running. My solution to fitness concerns is simply to lift weights faster. There are plenty of muscle sparing training regimes that rely solely on density of repetitions and muscle sparing cardio in the form of bodyweight exercises.
Long moderate intensity cardio workouts aren’t necessary to change your body, and don’t necessarily have to be a part of your gym set-up.
Anyway, if you really have to run, go outside and hit the pavements!
None of these are essential, but if you have the space, money, and inclination, they will help you vary your workouts:
TRX training takes up pretty much zero space in your gym, which is essential at this point in proceedings. Just fit it up to your rack and you are good to go.
The TRX and competitors like the Jungle Gym XT will allow you to heavily tax your core and work through functional ranges of movement you wouldn’t have available to you with free weights alone.
Despite losing out to the kettlebell in our list of essentials, there is still a compelling argument for the inclusion of the dumbbell in your new gym if you have the space.
A rack of dumbbells is very easily recognisable and the lower weights make a low barrier to entry, so if you are trying to get your partner or young family interested in exercising with you, this may be the way to do it.
Adding a punch bag to your home gym is going to allow you to enjoy great stress-busting, high intensity workouts. Be sure to put the bag up with enough room in every direction so that you can really work it.
I know what I just said about cardio, but I am a fan of low intensity heart rate training. My preference would always be getting outside and walking, but sometimes it’s important to stay in with the kids.
Sitting on a spin bike while watching your favourite TV series, listening to a podcast or making a phone call can be an effective way to kill two birds with one stone.
Again, know thyself. Some guys find motivation from mirrors; others don’t.
Avoid the mistake of adding a mirror to your home gym set-up and then only training chest, biceps and abs – ie the ‘mirror muscles. A schoolboy error!
Once you have your gym, it’s time to get working. But before you do, it’s worth considering the following:
If you can’t enlist a neighbour or a friend to train with you, you may want to mitigate a little risk by developing a workout plan that will deliver results without putting you at risk of getting stuck under a bar.
6×6 training is a brilliant program for fat loss, muscle gain or recomposition, depending on how you tweak your nutrition. It involves 6 sets of 6 reps using a reasonably light weight, with the main focus being density of reps rather than weight.
HST training or German Volume Training are also great ways of delivering great muscle mass gains without having to use really heavy weights.
Get the technique right
Remember you will now be training all alone, so there won’t be anyone to check your technique or warn you if you are putting yourself at risk. If you are unsure about any of the exercises in your regime, investing in just one session with a good trainer to show you how it’s done could pay dividends later if you consider the cost of picking up an injury.
Scott Laidler is a film industry personal trainer from London. Visit Scott at www.scottlaidler.com for online personal training and free fitness resources.