How to Create a Home Gym You’ll Actually Use

Equipment essentials + what to consider
woman working out in her home gym

A New Year’s resolution to hit the gym more doesn’t particularly mix well with a global pandemic. As virus cases continue to surge around the country, many are making the decision to work on their 2021 fitness goals at home.

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Maybe you’re a seasoned athlete looking to create a dedicated space for a home gym, or maybe you’re wondering what the best bang for your buck is when it comes to purchasing gym equipment. Or perhaps you’re just making a serious effort to move your body more, which is a great place to start!

Whatever your at-home fitness goals are, exercise physiologist Katie Lawton says creating a home gym or personal workout area doesn’t have to take a ton of time or money. Here she breaks down what to consider, equipment essentials and some cost-effective options.  

Your fitness goal will determine your equipment needs and space

When you first start planning to work out from home, Lawton says to think about what type of exercise you’re planning to do and how often. Ask yourself – what type of exercise do I enjoy most? Your answer can help you start to plan for how big of a space you’ll need and what type of equipment you’ll use most.

Maybe you enjoy yoga and your goal is to practice more – so what does that involve? Likely, a mat, space to move on the mat, yoga blocks, straps and maybe a way to watch online yoga videos. 

Maybe your favorite exercise is a HIIT workout alternating between running sprints and weights. So you’ll need to think about what weights you need and if you’ll run outside or on a treadmill. You should also consider if your area lends itself to the space you need for the movements.  

Find the right space

Where you set up your home gym is going to vary based on what exercises you’re planning to do and how much equipment you have. You can convert a spare bedroom, a garage or create a space in the basement. Your backyard, driveway or even a small corner in the living room can all make decent spaces to exercise.

Determine if you’ll need a mat or if you’ll need to put down foam tiles to protect your floors (and your joints, depending on your exercise).

Add equipment as you go

It can be tempting to buy all of the fancy equipment upfront when you’re feeling motivated, but it’s smarter 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.

“You don’t have to buy everything all at once,” cautions Lawton. “Start off with a few things you know you’ll use right away and build from there. Your home gym should be customized to you. Stock it with items you know you’ll use.”

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If you find you’ve been consistent with using your gym or if you’re getting stronger and need heavier weights – that’s when you should make your next purchase or splurge on something more expensive.

What home gym equipment do you need?

Sure Peloton’s are nice, but if you’re not really into spinning, you’re not likely to use it that often. If you hate running, a treadmill probably isn’t the best investment. And if you’ve never done a bicep curl before, it’s better to start with a resistance band than purchase expensive new dumbbells.  

Whatever type of exercise you plan to do – and whatever you can see yourself doing long-term – will determine what equipment you’ll need in the beginning.

Keep variety in mind

When it comes to exercise, consistency is important, but so is variety. Lawton says that a solid workout plan involves a good mix of cardio and strength training, but that doesn’t mean you need to train for a marathon or bench press 150 pounds. Everything comes down to what your fitness or weight loss goals are and what type of workouts you’re planning to do.

Cardio can mean anything from running and biking to jumping jacks and kickboxing. For strength training, bodyweight exercises, free weights or resistance bands can all be beneficial. Whatever workout you plan to do at home, try to mix in a combination of cardio and strength training that works for you and your goals.

Here Lawton lists several home gym essentials, from the basics to advance. And remember, you can build as you go or as you determine what else you need:

The basics (inexpensive)  

  • An exercise mat or yoga mat.
  • Resistance bands (light, medium, heavy).
  • Stability ball.
  • Bench, step bench or box (something to elevate you).
  • Ab wheel.
  • Gliding discs.
  • Jump rope.


  • Suspension trainer (this staple is great for beginners or before investing in weights). 
  • Dumbbells (light, medium, heavy).  
  • Adjustable dumbbells (these can be pricey, but requires less space).
  • Medicine ball (sandbags are also similar).  
  • Kettlebell.
  • Barbells and plate weights. 
  • Weighted vest.
  • Don’t forget – bodyweight movements can be a great exercise if you don’t have weights!


  • Treadmill.
  • Indoor cycling bike.
  • Elliptical.
  • Rower.
  • Ski Erg.
  • Vertical climber.
  • Stairclimber.
  • Assault bike.
  • Agility ladder.
  • Don’t forget – cardio can include things like jumping jacks, power walking, jump rope, walking lunges, burpees or running outside.

Advanced (more expensive)  

  • Punching bag.
  • Battle ropes. 
  • Power tower.
  • Squat rack.

Other home gym items to consider

  • Foam roller or massage gun.
  • A fan.
  • Towel.
  • Mirror.
  • A dry erase or chalkboard to write down workouts instead of trying to read off your phone.
  • Storage for exercise equipment (like a dumbbell rack or wall mount for a stability ball).

Create your space for motivation

One of the main benefits of having a home gym is the convenience (and avoiding COVID-19, of course!). But just like a normal gym, you’ll need to use it regularly to see the benefits.

Make sure that your workout space is somewhere you actually want to spend time. If your dark basement isn’t motivating you, consider sprucing it up with some shelves, mats or paint. If you’ve been working out in your garage but stopped because it was too cold, consider adding space heaters.

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Motivational pictures, quotes or adding a TV to stream online classes can help make the space more inviting. Adding more lights, a Bluetooth speaker, a timer or a full-length mirror can also create a more customized and inspiring area.

Stick with a plan

It can be hard to stay motivated to work out, especially at home. For some people, working out from home takes more discipline than actually taking the time to go to the gym.

“When you’re home, there are so many other things that can take the place of exercise,” says Lawton. “So it’s really important to find exercises that you like to do and to have some sort of plan going into each workout.”

It’s easy to start texting friends or answering emails while you’re warming up, so having a plan for your workout or a time goal gives you something to work towards.

Many gyms and businesses also offer daily or weekly exercise programs that you can join live or view later. Knowing there is a workout ready for you to complete can help with motivation and relieve exercise boredom. Some online programs even provide an opportunity to virtually meet others in your group, which is great since research says you’re more likely to stick with an exercise program if you have friends involved.

And don’t forget – inviting family members to join you for a workout can be motivating. You can also challenge your spouse to see who can complete a workout the fastest – loser has to make dinner!   

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