We are (very bittersweetly!) packing away all the equipment in our home workout studio this week. When we first moved into our condo, we had the option of making our second bedroom into a guest room or a home workout studio. We chose the latter, and now overnight guests get to sleep on an air mattress next to our squat rack 🤪
Down the road, though, we knew (/hoped) it would become a baby’s room, and the time has finally come to make that transition.
I’ve had a lot of people inquire about our home studio, what pieces we have in there, where we got them from, and why we chose them. My biggest piece of advice for anyone looking to build a home gym: Start with what you’ve got! You don’t need a whole room to dedicate to a workout studio. You can start with just a corner in an existing room. You also don’t need to throw loads of money into it – especially at first. I started with just a workout corner in the family room of the condo I was living at previously, and just a handful of equipment. Over time, we’ve invested more money into it and grown our equipment. But it’s been a slow, methodical process. Once we have a house in a few years, we’ll probably invest in a few more pieces of equipment, and are excited to just keep building out our dream gym one step at a time.
I wanted to share what I think are the best bang-for-your-buck pieces of fitness equipment at all budget levels, and when I recommend investing further. I’ll also share some of my favorite brands, as someone who has not only worked in a strength training facility, but also as someone’s who’s done a TON of research on this topic!
Note: This post is just intended to cover strength-training equipment. Cardio equipment I find is highly personal, so I’m leaving it off the list. But a treadmill, spin bike, indoor trainer, elliptical machine, and/or rowing machine are all great addition options to consider – depending on your sport, goals, and what you enjoy using the most!
First – enjoy some dream home gym inspo. (All images sourced from Pinterest.) How beautiful are some of these home gyms?
When to invest: If you want to dip your toes into the water of building a home gym, this list is where I recommend you start. You don’t need to dump loads of money in to get most of the items on this list. AND, if you’re looking to save money – keep in mind you can often find fitness equipment (especially weights) in great condition for cheap on Craigslist and Ebay. People are trying to get rid of used workout equipment all the time.
- A jumprope
- A set of minibands – Perform Better’s are the best and won’t stretch out. Green = easy. Blue = medium. Black = very hard. I don’t often use the yellow, which is even lighter than the green.
- Mobility and soft tissue tools: a high-quality foam roller (this is my favorite), a lacrosse ball, and a stretching rope. Bonus: if want to really invest in your mobility and running health, learn active isolated rope stretching from the Whartons. You can buy their Flexibility Kit here – or they’ve got downloadable videos here.
- A Manduka yoga mat – Trust me on this one, and invest in the high-quality yoga mat. I’ve purchased cheaper ones from Target or Walmart in the past, and they don’t even come close to comparing in quality. This one actually provides great cushion, and is long-lasting. You’ll have it forever and ever and never need to buy another.
- A basic bench – A great basic one from Dick’s here.
- A few sets of dumbells in varying weights – To strength train properly, you shouldn’t be able to use the same weights for everything. You want a few different pairs (at least) for upper vs. lower body exercises, and to be able to progress in weight as you get stronger.
- A few kettlebells in varying weights
- A stability ball
- A moderately-weighted medicine ball – 10 or 12 lbs. should be good for most people
When to invest: If you have a full room (or even garage) to spread out in – AND if you have the money to do so, I can’t recommend barbell training enough for truly getting stronger. Step 1: Get yourself a squat rack, barbell, and some weight plates. Step 2: expand on your existing collecting of free weights for ancillary work. And explore some of these other fun tools to continue to build out your home gym. (P.S. – Plyo boxes are awesome… especially for runners.)
- A squat rack, barbell, and weight plates – Rogue Fitness is the industry gold-standard, in my opinion. This is the model of squat rack we invested in, which is going to be much more affordable. But if you can swing for a full power rack, and have the space for it, even better!
- Mats/flooring for under your squat rack – If you don’t have a wood platform, you’ll likely want something under your squat rack to protect your floors and allow you to set up deadlifts, or drop weights – if needed – on.
- A bench that inclines – Here is a good one from Dick’s.
- Plyo boxes – I love this foam one from Rogue, which you can tilt on different sides for different heights. Foam is going to be a lot safer than steel, or even wood, boxes – but some people do prefer the feel of a ‘harder’ box. For those, both Rogue and Perform Better have great options.
- More dumbbells and kettlebells in additional weights – Keep adding to your collection.
- Storage for your weights – Once you start collecting more weights, you’re probably going to want a stand or shelving unit to organize them on, so they’re not scattered all over the floor. This is the one we have. It stores dumbbells on the bottom, kettlebells on the top, and weight plates on the side.
- A second or third medicine ball in a different weight – And if you already have a hard medicine ball (that bounces), you might want to consider getting a soft medicine ball, like these or these, which are better for throwing, tossing, and slamming exercises.
When to invest: If you’ve been strength training consistently for several years and have the space and money to invest in building your dream gym, these are some awesome and fun ‘nice-to-haves’.
- A mirror – Not necessary, but it can be helpful for watching your form when working out alone. I always recommend filming yourself when working out for this same reason.
- Kettlebell pairs – Buy a buddy for your existing kettlebells. With two of the same weight, you can do great exercises like double kettlebell swings, overhead pressing and rowing exercises with both arms, front-racked squats, and the farmer’s carry.
- A suspension training system (like a TRX) – There are so many amazing functional and full-body exercises you can do with a TRX. It’s also great for challenging balance – something that most runners, especially, need to work on.
- A pull-up bar – You can get one that hangs in a door frame, or even better – a sturdy steel pull-up bar anchored to a wall.
- If you want to invest in machines, here are a few that are truly worth your $$:
- A cable or Kaiser machine – Again, super great for functional exercises. Both of these machines are also going to be super versatile, and there’s so much you can do with them.
- A glute-ham machine – Great for developing strength in the big muscle groups athletes and active people are actually going to recruit the most. Here is a great one from Rogue.
- A hip thruster – If glute development and/or power and speed development are a priority, OR if hip thrusts are already in your routine regularly, this is a great machine to add to your repertoire. It’s not necessary, and you can definitely do hip thrusts with just a bench and a barbell. But it makes the exercise 10x easier to set-up, and much more safe, as the bench is bolted in and guaranteed not to move.