Building a home gym is no easy feat.
There is so much information out there about what you should and shouldn’t do. But it’s hard to know what equipment you need and what are unnecessary items that people are trying to sell you.
So I wanted to cut through the noise.
This ultimate guide uses over 200 hours of research. Specific product comparisons, reviews and YouTube videos are summarised in one place. That’s on top of my personal experience with home gym equipment and a Sport & Exercise Science Degree.
So here’s what we’ll cover…
How to build a home gym
I want to start by making this clear…
You do not need a home gym.
You could join a gym, go for a run, follow free YouTube bodyweight workout videos or just sit on your bum all day.
So the first step should be…
Setting your own fitness goals.
Once you know what these goals are then you can decide if a home gym is actually the right thing for you or not.
Either way, here are some of the benefits that I, personally, find to having a home gym:
- More time to be near family
- Increased discipline
- Time saver
- Stress relief (especially avoiding those annoying gym people)
- Improve the way we look and feel
- Actually using the gym!
- Money saver
But let’s not kid ourselves… one of the biggest questions you probably have about building a home gym is…
Does a home gym actually save money?
I’m about to show you that a decent complete home gym can be set up for under $1,000 buying brand new equipment.
But here are some stats to help you decide for yourself
- Americans aged 18 to 65 years old spend an average of $155/month on their health and fitness.
- The average cost of a gym membership in the USA is $50 a month.
- The average gym membership is around £25-30 per month in the UK.
By cutting out the gym membership alone you’re looking at around 18 months until you’re saving money month on month. And that’s buying new home gym equipment (based on a $904 gym and spending $50 a month on a gym membership).
But there is more to it than skipping the membership fee.
- You can wear whatever clothes you like. It’ll likely only be you in the gym (or a couple of friends and family members)
- You’re close enough to the fridge to eat real food post-workout so you don’t need as many supplements
- Personal trainers advice can be replaced by the tons of free content online aka YouTube
These benefits only scratch the surface of why a home gym is a good idea for a lot of people. So let’s figure out how to do it…
How much does a home gym cost?
Buying brand new home gym equipment will cost somewhere between $500 and $3,000 for most people. Yes, it’s possible to spend hundreds of thousands on all the “all singing and dancing” equipment. But most people figure out how to build a home gym to save money.
$500 on budget options means that you will likely need to upgrade them at some point. So, it’s actually not always the most cost-effective route to take.
After hours of extensive research and testing equipment, here are the costs you’re looking at:
|Price range||Barbell||Plates |
(250 lb set)
|Our Best Pick||Mid||Budget||Mid||Budget||$904|
Sure there are a ton more items you could buy for a home gym. But later on, I’ll show you why we recommend these 4 items to get started.
For now, let’s dig into…
Where to buy home gym equipment
The prices in the table above are the prices for brand new equipment. You can buy that sort of stuff from:
- Physical stores
- Online stores (see reputable brands examples in the “how to choose home gym equipment” section)
Yet, if you are budget-minded then here are some sneaky ways to save serious money…
Buying used equipment from:
- Facebook Marketplace (my favourite)
- Local garage sales/ estate sales
- Gumtree (UK)
If you are quite handy then you can even build a load of equipment yourself such as:
- Platform with stall mats and plywood
- Power racks (seriously, some people do this!)
- Reverse hypers (see video below to see what I mean)
- Plate holders
- DIY pulling blocks
- And much more!
Some people have a full gym set up for under $100. And my friends Rob and Melissa actually make money from flipping items such as home gym gear!
Simply put, when you learn how to build a home gym it doesn’t have to be super expensive… and you can even save serious money!
Where to build your home gym
You have probably already thought about this. But these are the 3 choices for most people…
Garage (or basement) vs spare room vs outside.
There are pros and cons to each of these areas that you could build your home gym.
Garage (or basement)
- Doesn’t take up space in the house
- Usually plenty of space for equipment
- Often concrete flooring that is hard to damage
- It can be cold in the winter/ hot in the summer
- Can get overlooked as it’s out of the way
- Easy to clutter a garage and not make it appealing
- More convenient
- Temperature control
- Most appealing environment
- Takes up space in the house
- Could be dangerous with small children
- Need to protect the flooring
- Fresh air
- More space
- Less likely to damage flooring
- Can make your garden look ugly
- Weather dependent
- Rust and damage to equipment
The main question you need to ask yourself to help decide where the best place is…
How big is your space?
This factor will help you to decide on a lot of your purchasing decisions.
What home gym equipment do you need to start?
If you want to know how to build a home gym, this is the section you really need…
At Strong Home Gym we recommend starting with just 4 pieces of equipment (for most people):
- A Barbell
- Weight Plates
- A Squat Rack (ideally with a pull-up bar attached)
- A Weight Bench
Dumbbells are a very close 5th essential piece. But they are actually not necessary for the majority of movements that bring about the biggest results.
Side note for the super budget-minded readers:
Adjustable dumbbells are a great option to start instead of a barbell, plates and rack if you’re on a tight budget… especially if you are new to weight lifting!
Why only these 4?… it’s the 80/20 principle
At Strong Home Gym, we like to be as efficient as possible.
The most common movements the average lifter will perform are:
- Bench press
- Overhead press
- Tricep press
And guess what…
A barbell is perfect for all of these movements!
The 80/20 principle here is that 20% of your gym equipment will be used for 80% of the exercises and results you see… it’s actually more like 90/10!
More than anything else it will cut your costs down… a lot!
Especially compared to buying a garage full of leg press machines, ankle weights and the latest treadclimber that transforms into an Optimus Prime. That toot isn’t needed for most people!
Note- there is no such thing as Optimus Prime treadclimbers in case you were wondering.
Where’s the treadmill?
Some people love a treadmill.
But those people are pretty hard to find!
Treadmills do have their place though. Such as for runners who live in a climate like Qatar with summers of 120 degrees. Or just for people that find running much easier watching the TV!
However, for the majority of budget-savvy home gym owner’s cardio is better left to a jump rope. Or actually going for a run or cycle outside. You probably know that cardio training burns more calories than weight lifting.
But did you know weight training increases metabolism for longer after the workout?
What about an “all in one” home gym?
Look, there is a huge debate about this stuff in the “home gym” space.
Free weights engage more muscles than machine training. So there is this theory that they are better at building muscle in the long run.
Yet, purely from a scientific point of view, there’s very little evidence that free weights build more muscle than using machines.
Some people are just suited more to these machines because:
- They are safer to push yourself to failure (FYI “failure” at the gym is the best way to see results)
- Less worry about damaging yourself or your floor or your equipment
- Anyone can use them
We have compared over 125 all in one home gym models. You can find our top recommendations in that article if this is the route you want to take.
But here are the reasons we don’t recommend all in one machines (for most people):
- You will use fewer muscle groups during exercises
- There’s a limit to the exercises a machine can perform
- A decent machine costs more than the decent “essentials” list (see table above)
- There is a limit to how much weight you can lift on a machine
- Machines are boring!
Simply put, if you actually want to use your home gym and see good progress we highly recommend using free weights in your home gym.
How to choose home gym equipment
There are 4 basic steps to choosing your home gym equipment:
- Figure out how much space you have
- Decide what type of lifting you’ll be doing… or eventually doing
- Determine your budget
- Look for reputable brands
Just some things to bear in mind before you start…
If you’re on a tight budget it’s nearly always better to buy things over time.
Don’t buy cheap stuff that breaks and needs replacing!
If you’ve never heard of the brand then Google it and see if they have a website/ physical store. Reputable branded gear tends to have warranties and keep its value better in case you ever want to sell it on. Plus, they are much easier to buy accessories or replacements for.
Here are some of the more reputable brands:
- Rep Fitness
- American Barbell
- And many more
So let’s dive into the big 4…
Barbell buying guide
Barbells are one of the most important pieces of gear you’ll buy. Once you get set up this will be the thing you touch more than anything else in your home gym.
In fact, did you know that you can do a full-body workout with just a barbell?…
OK, there were plates on there too, but you can improve form and build up a sweat without those!
What to look for in a barbell
The main thing to make sure you get is a bar with “sleeves” (the ends) of 50mm diameter (just under 2”). This is the standard Olympic barbell dimensions and most plates will fit on here. Some budget bars have smaller diameters and it’s a rookie mistake to make (*cough* something I may have done before college *cough*).
Apart from that obvious one (for most people), there are 5 main things to be on the lookout for when you buy a bar:
- Tensile Strength of Steel: Will the bar bend or break eventually with the weight you lift?
- Anything over 180,000 PSI should be more than enough for most people.
- Knurling: Is there a good grip on the bar? This helps when lifting heavy weight.
- “Hill” is the least “aggressive”;
- “Mountain” is in the middle;
- “Volcano” is the most grippy.
- Spin: How well the ends (sleeves) turn.
- Especially important for Olympic weight lifting movements and Crossfit
- This helps encourage good technique and you can hurt yourself by twisting your body if they don’t spin.
- Finish: Will the bar rust & corrode?
- Black = cheapest & can make the knurling worse;
- Zinc plated= middle;
- Chrome = best & most expensive
- Budget= $75-$150;
- Good quality= $250-$350;
- Upgrade= $500-$700;
- You can pay $1,000s for competition bars too
Strong Home Gym advice:
A decent bar is something that you can just buy once and never need to think about again. If you are on a budget and don’t currently lift very heavy weight then consider a cheaper bar to start. You can always upgrade down the road and use this bar as a beat-up practice bar or sell it on.
Personally, I would recommend paying the extra $100 initially and never thinking about it again.
See the best barbell buying guide to learn about barbells in more detail.
Weight plates buying guide
Believe it or not, weight plates will probably end up being the equipment you spend the most money on! They are essential to making progress with your workouts. So plates may be the reason you enjoy using your home gym, as everyone likes to see progress (and bulging biceps).
If you’re like me, you probably thought that “plates are just plates”. But there are actually now huge differences in the plates you can buy for your home gym.
Check out this short video to see the difference between the types of plates…
What to look for in weight plates
Here are 5 things you need to check out when buying plates. Or you may end up ordering only one 45 lb plate that weighs 40 lbs and doesn’t fit on your bar… seriously, that happens!
- Type of plates:
- Traditional iron= biggest variations in quality.
- Bumper plates= all weights are the same diameter (different thickness) & made to drop from CrossFit/ weightlifting lifts.
- Competition= very accurate weight and dimensions.
- Size & shape: The centre hole of an Olympic plate should be 2″.
- The standard diameter of a 45 lb plate is 450mm or 17.7″.
- The thinner a plate the better (you can put more on the bar!)
- Buy round plates (flat surfaces can be dangerous and jump back at you when you lower them).
- Handles and sloping edges make a plate easier to move.
- Smell: Some cheap rubber plates can really smell.
- Some people claim they have to get rid of them. They can be that bad!
- Different weight: Be aware that some cheap plates can be 10% off the stated weight.
- This can be dangerous if you have an unbalanced bar from buying different brand plates over time. And really embarrassing if you ever go to a competition thinking you can lift 500 lb but it’s only 450 lb!
- Iron plates range $1- $1.50 per lb (a 250 lb set will cost $250-$375)
- Iron plates with rubber or urethane coating range $1.50-$3 per lb (a 250 lb set will cost $375-$750)
- Bumper plates range $1.8-$4.50 per lb (a 250 lb set will cost $450-$1,125);
- competition plates can be $6+ per lb aka expensive as F…rance.
Strong Home Gym advice:
If you are looking to save money then plates are definitely the place to do that. Arnie trained with cheap metal plates throughout his whole career and look at how that worked out for him! As long as you take care of your gear and use some sort of mats or padding to drop them on, iron plates are fine.
Some people argue otherwise but…
45lbs is 45lbs!!
Check out the best weight plate guide to learn more about these differences… they can be huge!
Squat rack buying guide
If you have any interest in performing squats or a bench press then squat racks are a must. You simply won’t be able to lift your maximum weight without it.
Not only will it help you perform more exercises but it’s also a crucial safety device if you are lifting alone. And there’s a strong chance you’ll be doing that in your own home gym!
There are also so many extra things that a squat rack can do.
For example, you can get add ons such as a pull-up bar, dip bars, storage for plates, a place to hang gymnastic rings (great for pull-ups, dips and rows) and much more.
There are four main types of squat racks [in order from smallest to biggest footprint]:
|Foldable/ Wall Rack||Squat Rack or Stand||Half Rack||Power Rack|
|Depth||9″ (folded) 20-41″||26-62″||48-64″||40-85″|
|Upright bars||2 (folds to wall)||2||2 (+ 2 behind)||4 (or 6)|
|Safety bars or arms||Arms (additional)||Arms (additional)||Arms (additional)||Bars or straps|
|Pull up bar on top||Usually||Sometimes||Yes||Yes|
|Mid range price||$590||$350||$500||$599|
- Foldable rack: Mounts onto a wall and can be folded away to save space.
- Usually, only two upright bars to hold the barbell.
- You should add safety arms if not included.
- Squat rack or squat stand: Two upright metal bars to hold your barbell.
- With or without a pull-up bar on top.
- You should add safety arms if not included.
- Cheapest option
- Half rack: Two upright metal bars to hold your barbell.
- Usually 2 more metal uprights on the back of the unit for more support and weight storage.
- Usually have a pull-up bar on top.
- You should add safety arms if not included.
- Power rack or full rack: Four upright metal bars.
- Sometimes two extra uprights at the back.
- A pull-up bar on top.
- Includes safety bars or straps.
- Most expensive option & most stable.
Many people would call all of the above a “squat rack”. Plus, brands and websites use the terminology differently. So it’s important to know what you are looking for before purchasing anything here.
What to look for in a squat rack
These are 6 aspects you need to be aware of before you buy a squat rack:
- Size: Think about your space first! This will decide what type is best for you…
- Hole size & spacing:
- Hole sizes can be 5/8”, 3/4” or 1”.
- Hole spacing can be 2” or 1” apart (1” or “westside spacing” gives you more control of the position when you bench press).
- Quality & weight capacity:
- Try to find the gauge steel rating (gauge 11 or lower is more than enough for 99% of people).
- Some websites only tell you the “weight capacity” but they have been known for overexaggerating this number.
- If a rack is heavier it usually means better quality steel is used.
- Feet type:
- “Upright” are the least stable.
- Flanges can be bolted to the floor or a platform.
- “Flat foot” has about a 1-foot span base and is more stable than the “upright”.
- Safety arms & j-hooks are essential.
- A pull up bar (some say essential), band pegs, dip station and plate storage are nice to have.
- $100-$250 budget.
- $300-$450 should get you 2×2” 11 gauge steel rack (fine for most people).
- $450-$600 can get you a 3x 3” 11 gauge steel rack.
- $1,000+ for some “monster racks”.
Strong Home Gym advice:
Do not scrimp here!
A squat rack is a huge safety aspect, especially if you work out on your own. There are too many horror stories of accidents due to people working out without safety arms or loading too much onto a squat rack. If you can afford a 2×2” 11 gauge steel rack or better, you should be good to go!
Find out more in our detailed squat rack buying guide.
Weight bench buying guide
It’s another essential item because you will use your weight bench almost every time you enter your home gym. It’s deliberately number 4 on the list because it is something that I won’t necessarily use every time.
But, if you are lifting over 200lbs for a bench press, the last thing you want is the bench to buckle or wobble.
So a solid bench is a must.
What to look for in a weight bench
- Adjustable- is it adjustable or a flat bench.
- Is it FI (flat & incline) or FID (flat, incline and decline)?
- Does it include a leg attachment so you can use the decline function?
- Do the front legs get in the way of your feet when you bench?
- Does it have wheels making it easy to move/ how heavy is it?
- What’s the weight capacity? Many won’t tell you so use these tips…
- What type of steel gauge is it made from? Remember anything under steel gauge 11 is more than enough for most people.
- What is the weight of the bench (if it’s under 40lbs it’s probably made of pretty thin steel- if it’s over 75lbs it’s going to be strong steel).
- The gap: between the seat and the bench on adjustable benches.
- Some people find too big of a gap very annoying.
- Some people don’t care at all.
- There are “no gap” benches that will be more expensive.
- Typically a 2″ or more pad is comfortable enough for most “home gymers”.
- Flat bench- $50-$150
- Adjustable FID bench – $250-$450
- Adjustable FID no gap bench – $500+
Strong Home Gym advice:
Most people will advise you to get an adjustable bench. If you can afford to spend an extra $150 or so on a good quality adjustable then that’s ideal.
However, I personally would rather buy a decent flat bench than a wobbly cheap adjustable any day!!
Sure an adjustable bench is great to do more movements such as:
- Incline press
- Decline crunch
But in reality those are the main variations you will regularly use from an adjustable bench. We’re all about the 80/20 and if you want to save a bit of money on your home gym, then a decent flat bench will be fine.
Get much more information in our weight benches guide.
Design a home gym that you’ll actually use
So now you understand what equipment you need in your home gym. It’s time to make it a place that you want to spend time in. After all, an unused home gym is as useful as a chocolate teapot.
It’s important to create the right space.
Let’s break it down into 2 steps…
1. Make it feel like a home gym with:
- Mirrors- helps with form (and getting a sneaky look at those biceps in between sets… joking!)
- Ventilation (a window would do)
- Heating- especially if you set up a garage gym and live somewhere that gets very cold in winter
- Lighting- have you tried working out in the dark? It’s hard!
- Gym flooring– very important if you use a spare room
Some of those things you won’t need to worry about. But if you haven’t got one of those things right you’ll be amazed at how quickly your home gym will collect cobwebs.
Flooring actually needs a bit more attention than the rest of this section.
You can damage the floor or your plates without taking the right precautions. Many people think… surely I can just use what I have such as:
However giving your floor some protection can save any damage to your floor, your weights and even yourself!
Some types of flooring people use for a home gym include:
- EVA foam
- Laminate flooring
- Rubber horse stall mats
- Lifting platform
- Silencer pads
- Rubber flooring
A mat that is too soft will make your squat rack slightly wobbly, which isn’t ideal! This is often the case with the highly recommended EVA foam that you will see on Amazon.
Many people recommend horse stall mats as they are super cheap and really good for a home gym without being too spongy. But they do have a very strong rubber smell and often come in all shapes and sizes. If a budget is your main concern then these are still the way to go.
Rubber flooring like this is highly recommended for any home gym.
2. Personalise your gym with:
- Posters- get Arnie on the wall! Or your fav posters/ workout ideas/ charts/
- Inspirational quotes– “the pain you feel today will be the strength you feel tomorrow” (or whatever floats your boat)
- Sound system– a must for me!
- TV- not my preference but some people love them. It could be useful if you synch your new PT to it aka YouTube!
- Other stuff– put whatever motivates you in there… maybe a PS4 may make you spend more time there?!
How to build a home gym summary
Building a home gym doesn’t need to be expensive.
But you definitely shouldn’t settle for crappy budget items that you’ll need to replace in a few months. By using the 80/20 principle you can focus your money on the main items that will help you see the best results.
Make sure you don’t stop at buying equipment. Give some thought into making sure your home gym is a space you want to spend time in and is safe.
At Strong Home Gym, we have done research into hundreds of products running them through our criteria and testing dozens of them in person. If you want more information about the essential items then be sure to check out our epic buying guides and recommendations here: