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Strength Finder: How To Create a Home Gym You’ll Use

First, reflect on your specific workout goals, and then pick and choose your fitness equipment

Person stretching on floor mats in their home gym area

Do you exercise as much as you should? Judging from a national health survey, odds are the answer is “No” for 3 out of 4 people reading these words.

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A home gym or fitness area may be the secret to changing that unhealthy reality. Polling by CivicScience shows that people are more apt to exercise if they can do it from the comfort of home.

But you’re going to need some equipment to get your sweat on. Let’s go shopping with exercise physiologists Katie Lawton, MEd, and Chris Dempers, ACSM EP-C, to create a home gym you’ll want to use.

Benefits of a home gym

Time and money always seem to be in short supply these days. That’s why convenience and cost top the list of reasons why many people prefer working out at home instead of heading to a gym.

Let’s start with scheduling. “If you factor in drive time to a gym, you might be needing a two-hour window to get your workout in,” notes Dempers. “That can be tough to consistently carve out of a day.”

Exercising at home, of course, eliminates the need for travel time. The traffic’s usually pretty light in residential hallways and stairways, too.

Plus, a home gym is ALWAYS open. “You can work out whenever you want,” he adds.

On the cost front, setting up a home gym does require an initial out-of-pocket investment. But the setup can be done on the cheap, and once you get the equipment in place, your wallet can close. (Gym memberships, on the other hand, require paying ongoing fees.)

Setting up an exercise area

There’s no one right way to set up a home fitness center. The workout area you create should be specific to your likes and fitness goals. Spend time thinking about what you want to do in the space.

“Your answer can help you plan for what type of equipment you’ll use most,” notes Lawton. “If you want to do yoga, for instance, what you need will be different than if you’re interested in lifting weights.”

A little creativity can turn just about any spot in your home into a workout zone, too. A spare bedroom offers plenty of space for equipment and active workouts. Ditto for open areas in a basement or garage.

But while square footage is nice and offers more options, it’s not a necessity. “Even a small corner of your living room can be made into a decent space to exercise,” says Lawton.

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You should be drawn to your exercise area and what’s in it, too. Put up some motivational pictures or quotes. Add a TV to stream online classes. Bring in extra lights, a speaker or a full-length mirror.

“Make the space inviting,” she recommends. “It should be a space where you want to spend time.”

Factors to consider for exercise equipment

Before you start creating a home workout zone to get fit, here are a few tips to consider:

  • Build slowly. It can be tempting to immediately load up on equipment. Tap the brakes a bit. “It’s often better to add a little at a time, especially when you’re figuring out the space and how often you’re going to use your gym,” advises Lawton.
  • Test equipment. We’re living in an increasingly online world, but try to get to a store to shop for exercise equipment. “Ideally, you’ll be able to try something out to see how it works and feels,” says Dempers. “You can get a better sense of quality, too.”
  • Aim for versatility. Equipment that can be used in a variety of ways can add options and interest to your workouts — which is especially important as you’re figuring out your routine, adds Lawton.
  • Pay attention to size. An ideal workout area should offer you room to move around. Try to avoid overcrowding your area.

Picking out exercise equipment

So, now you’ve got a plan and a place to exercise at home. Now, let’s talk about getting some equipment to build well-rounded workout routines that can target both cardio and strength training.

Your first thought may be to look at fancier exercise contraptions like a treadmill, elliptical or weight bench system. But before we go there, let’s look at some basic equipment you might want to consider.

Dumbbells/kettlebells

You don’t need a weight bench system and 45-pound plates to give your muscles a workout. Investing in a few dumbbells or kettlebells at various weights — light, medium and heavy for your fitness level — can give you plenty of exercise options.

“They’re not just for your arms or upper body either,” shares Dempers. “You can hold them during squats or do weighted lunges or crunches with them. They can be part of a total body workout.”

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If you want to minimize the amount of equipment in your home gym or have a smaller space, consider buying an adjustable dumbbell or kettlebell. They’re pricier, but you may save in the long run by not needing to buy multiple individual weights.

Resistance bands

Oh, snap! Did you know that training with resistance bands can provide similar strength gains to pumping iron? It seems that using those giant rubber bands puts enough tension on muscles to work them hard during movements.

Resistance bands also cost less than traditional weights, minimizing your start-up cost as you get a feel for the exercises you enjoy. (“If you’ve never done a bicep curl before, consider starting with a resistance band rather than purchasing dumbbells,” suggests Lawton.)

And if you’ve got limited space, bands are much less bulky and easy to squirrel away.

Stability ball/ab wheel

No exercise area is complete without equipment that targets core muscles in your abdomen, back and hips. This group of muscles acts as stabilizers as your body moves through daily activities.

Stability balls or ab wheels are simple pieces of equipment with seemingly endless exercise options that work these critical muscles.

“They’re also very affordable and easy to tuck away,” says Dempers.

Miscellaneous items

A few other smaller items that can be put to good use in a home gym include:

  • Exercise mat.
  • Bench.
  • Gliding discs.
  • Jump rope.
  • Medicine balls.

Larger exercise equipment

Think of all the cool equipment you see in pay-to-play gyms. Those exercise devices are also available for individual purchase and at-home use. But know this: You may experience sticker shock.

“There’s some great equipment out there,” acknowledges Dempers, “but the prices can get high.”

This is where you benefit from a firm exercise plan. Dropping big dollars on a treadmill doesn’t make much sense if you don’t plan to run much, after all. Ditto for shelling out for an indoor cycling bike if the mere thought of sitting and pedaling makes your butt ache.

Given the massive gap in cost on larger equipment, consider buying a lower-priced device to start if you’re trying a new exercise regimen. Consider it a minimal investment to see if you like the activity.

“If you find you use the equipment consistently and enjoy it, you can always splurge on something later,” suggests Lawton. “You’ll have a better idea as to what you exactly want and need, too.”

Larger equipment that might fit into your home gym plan includes a:

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No equipment? No problem!

The focus here has been on buying various pieces of exercise equipment, but it’s possible to get a good workout without ANY equipment. (How’s that for being cost-effective?)

Bodyweight exercises can give you a blood-pumping cardio and strength workout, says Dempers. Examples include push-ups, crunches, squats, burpees, lunges and leg lifts. Routines like the 7-minute workout combine various movements into one high-intensity session.

So, if space or money is an issue, don’t give up the idea of exercising at home. “If you’re willing to work out, you can find a way,” encourages Dempers.

Final thoughts

Setting up a home gym offers the chance to work out at home. But it’s up to you to take advantage of that opportunity.

“Routine is essential to getting in the habit of exercise,” says Dempers. “So, try to designate a specific time, every day or every other day, when you’ll go to the area you created and work out. Make it your habit and you’ll get the most out of your space.”

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