I know the feeling. I’ve been there.
Planning out your home gym is exciting. It’s the dawn of a new era of your own personal fitness.
A shrine dedicated to you and your newfound commitment to getting those gains beyond what you’ve ever achieved before.
Gains that until now are something you’ve only ever dreamed of, and all from the comfort of your home, without the need for a gym membership.
But then… reality sets in. Your home gym is going to be expensive. That is, if you really do plan to buy a whole gym’s worth of equipment.
But settling for less seems wrong too, and there doesn’t seem to be a good compromise.
Well, let me tell you, settling for less is wrong, because there’s a clever way to get around it. That’s what this post is about.
Making Smart Choices
You see, out of all the equipment that you could choose for your home gym, only a few pieces of equipment are necessary in order to get a full body workout.
And of those vital few, you can narrow the choices down even further until you have basically the most optimized home gym starter setup that you can even imagine.
The benefits of doing it this way (even if you’re a moneybags) are:
- Space efficiency – this is the only way to get a home gym in a limited space without having to make do with a setup that’s subpar to the gym.
- Cost efficiency – buying less pieces of gym equipment by minimizing overlap means less cost overall. It’s as simple as that.
- Higher Quality Equipment – from where you save money by focusing right down onto those vital few pieces of equipment, you can afford (if you choose) to get quality equipment that’ll not only feel better to use, but last much longer too since they’ll generally run into far less faults if they’re better designed. Not to mention, you’re less likely to run into injury with well-designed equipment too.
What Defines Those Vital Few Pieces of Equipment
For a home gym starter setup to be optimized, it has to be optimized for you in particular.
Why? Because if you’re looking to put on muscle mass, you’re going to want to heavily focus on a core set of fully body resistance training equipment. If you’re looking to develop more of an overall athleticism or endurance type of fitness by burning calories as heavily as possible, then your priorities are going to be completely different.
So, you’ll need a method for choosing those vital few pieces of home gym equipment you need. But don’t worry, I’ve got that covered.
Here below is the step by step method for breaking down what that optimized home gym setup for you will be:
- Decide what your goal is going to be. Is it muscle mass and strength, balance and core strength through calisthenics, or straight up hardcore calorie burning? The first piece of equipment is going to be based around that, and will form the core of your home gym.
- Narrow your choices for that first piece of equipment down to only those that are multi-functional in that they are capable of being used for full body workouts.
- Now select the simplest piece of multi-functional equipment as your core home gym piece. With simplicity comes consistency, reliability and ease of use, meaning you won’t have any excuses to not work out on schedule. This simple, multifunctional piece of equipment is the one you’ll build around, and if your budget is tight, you’ll be able to use it just fine for now and leave the supplementary equipment until later.
- Consider what that core piece of equipment can’t do. You’re going to need at least one more piece of supplementary equipment to cover where your main choice falls short of your needs. Again, opt for multi-functional choices that are simple in both design and use, and you can’t go wrong.
- When you have all the bases covered for what you want to be able to do with your home gym, then you’re all set. You literally can’t get a better setup than that, and since your core setup is so good, you can add anything you like to it at a later date.
It’s really as simple as that.
The Optimal Setups to Choose From
To showcase what this method for putting an optimal home gym starter setup together would look like, here is the best home gym setups for the most common fitness goals:
1. For Muscle Mass and Strength
The key to muscle growth is progressive overload. There are practically thousands of different workouts regimes out these, but regardless of whichever one you intend to follow, progressive overload is the whole point.
That means you’ll absolutely need a way to increase the weight or resistance you train with over time in order to keep getting stronger.
That means there are two ways to approach this.
Option A: Dumbbells and a Mat
This approach is the best. It has three main advantages.
The first main advantage is its sheer simplicity. You can get away with pretty much just dumbbells and a mat to protect the floor. How great is that?
It practically takes up no space other than the dumbbell rack, and if you use a selectable dumbbell where you can change the weight on the fly, then you only need enough space for your two dumbbells. That’s it. For a space-saving starter setup there’s really nothing better.
The second is that it’s far easier for a beginner to target the most effective muscle groups that contribute to that upper body v-shape you’re looking for if you’re a guy.
Lats are the single biggest contributor to that shape, which means you’re going to need to do rows, and for anyone without much experience, barbell bent over rows or yates rows are just awkward. They’re really form-reliant to get the most out of the exercise, and dumbbell bent over rows are much more natural feeling to begin with for getting that form right.
Side note for chest: You also cannot even do chest flys with a barbell to begin with. +1 to dumbbells again.
Finally, there’s that you’re less likely to injure yourself with dumbbells than with a barbell while training solo. Their far greater range of motion not only makes them better for actuating muscles across a wide of a range of angles as possible, but it also means you have a lot less chance of hurting yourself if you hit failure, since there’s no bar in the middle that’ll hit you if you drop your arms.
Option B: Barbells, a Bench and a Power Rack
This approach has two things going for it.
First of all, it’s much better for serious lifters. Barbells are capable of much higher loads than dumbbells.
Second, you can’t really do leg workouts with dumbbells alone, but with barbells, you absolutely can. Squats are where barbells really shine, of course, which is by no means a small advantage. Squats are easily one of the best compound exercises out there. They’re practically the single best exercise out there for the lower body and core.
The only thing that squats miss is the upper body, and a barbell is no stranger there. You can easily have everything covered with a barbell and a set of weights with the follow combination so you can keep adding 5 lbs (2.5 lbs to each side of the barbell) each session for progressive overload:
- 2x 2.5 lbs
- 2x 5 lbs
- 4x 10 lbs
- 2x 25 lbs
- *x 45 lbs
That’ll be enough so you can keep adding weight over time. If you need to go higher, buy more 45s. Don’t forget you always need an even number of each weight!
Now, finally, here’s why you need the power rack. If you’re going to be weightlifting with barbells solo in your home gym, you won’t have a spotter. A power rack has safety bars that mean you won’t crush your chest when you hit failure. That’s why.
2. For Cardio and Calorie Burning
A rowing machine.
“Not a treadmill or exercise bike?” I hear you blurt out in surprise.
That’s right. A rowing machine. For the simple fact that it is by far the most effective calorie burning machine in the entire gym.
Rowing actuates 85% of the body’s muscles, using a whole 9 muscle groups. All that actuation requires a heck of a lot of energy, which means – you guessed it – a heck of a lot of calories.
And the beauty of that is, if you’re only interested in calorie burning, you don’t need anything else. A rowing machine is a one-stop-shop for cardio.
Not to mention, if you want to do some running, you could just go running outside. It’s far easier to put on a pair of sneakers and go for a run than it is to haul a row boat to a lake.
You’re getting something truly irreplaceable when you opt for a rowing machine. It’s well worth making sure you get a the right one, because it’s all you need.
3. For Calisthenics, Bodyweight Exercise and Gymnastics
A power tower. You absolutely need a power tower. There never has been an indoor exercise station that fits a category better than this.
If you haven’t heard of one before, it’s a bodyweight exercise station that lets you do all of the following in one place:
- Wide grip pull-ups
- Deep push-ups
- Atlas push-ups
- Knee raises
- Hanging leg raises
- Calf raises
- Back levers
- Front levers
And so on. You get the idea. A power tower is all you need for the exercises, but for progressive overload, you’ll need some barbell weights and a dip belt.
4. For Yoga and Pilates
For yoga, the best starting setup would be to get a yoga mat and two yoga blocks. 4″ blocks are what you’re looking for, but you can optionally go down to 3″ blocks if you’re a smaller built person, or go up to a 5″ block if you’re a larger built person.
If you’re small or if you’re tall, it’s definitely worth getting the size appropriate for your stature, since yoga blocks really help you settle down into a pose and maintain the proper form. Again, 3″ for smaller people, 5″ for taller people.
Then all that’s left is a stability ball. Without one of these, your stability isn’t going to be challenged nearly enough to really supercharge your yoga ability. It’s about going beyond the level of stability required to do normal yoga on a mat, so when you do go back to normal poses without using a stability ball, you’ll be steadier and smoother than ever.
For Pilates, the single most effective piece of equipment you can get is a Pilates reformer. There’s nothing that can quite replace one. They’re so unique in what they do, that there’s no avoiding one. But that’s okay, because they have an strong emphasis on being multifunctional to the point where really they’re all you need.
For any of these optimal basic setups you can really add anything you like to them. These are starter setups, of course, so feel free to expand your home gym however you like, and before you know it, you’ll have your dream setup.
If you have any more suggestions or ideas, then let us know down below in the comments.