Building a Home Gym – The Essentials

Want to construct the ultimate home gym? Or do you want to gather a few essentials and put something affordable together? Whatever you are after, read on for my thoughts on what every home gym should have.

The Bare Bones Home Gym (you can still get a great workout without spending much money)

Some sort of weight – dumbbells or kettlebells

Applying external resistance is one way to get bigger, stronger, and/or fitter. There are many different ways to do that. Dumbbells, barbells, sand bags, kettlebells, heck, even home made weights will do the trick. Kettlebells and dumbbells are the two most versatile pieces of equipment you can pick up – try and pick a weight or weight(s) that let you do the most important exercises (squats, presses, rows). Don’t worry as much about the accessory stuff.

Built in pull-up/chin-up bar

You can find bars that you hook around door frames. They generally support up to 200-225 pounds. You can also build your own bar. I made one in my garage using a steel pipe and two u brackets on either side. It’s strong as heck and only cost a few bucks and a trip to Home Depot.

Exercise mat

A mat can be picked up at most fitness/athletic stores for a few bucks – I like the yoga mats that you can roll up the best – mats are great for stretching and doing core work.

Jump rope

Picking up a jump rope is the cheapest and quickest way to kick start your cardiovascular system. It is a skill that must be learned and practiced, and you will get a lot better quite quickly if you work at it. All you need is a rope and a big enough space to jump up and down a few inches. Here’s a primer on how to “size” a jump rope.

Medicine ball

Med balls are great for both conditioning (slams, tosses) and core work (rotations, chops, reverse crunches, and so on). I really like the softer balls (both TKO and Dynamax make good ones) – they can take a beating and come in a variety of different weights. The more dense slam d-balls are great for slams and tosses – both are great ways to push your metabolism into overdrive and build some total body power.

Here’s a great look at the best way(s) to slam – form, function, and more.


Step ups, something to squat to (box squats), bulgarian split squats, bench presses, a bench to hold on to for rows – you name it, and a bench or step has countless uses for almost every body part. You can spend a bunch of money and get a top of the line fitness bench, or you can build something yourself (or use a multi-purpose table or step).

An ab wheel

Ab wheels are cheap and one of the best core exercises you can do. The key is making sure you are executing them with proper form. They are really easy to progress and regress, too.

Massage tools – lacrosse balls/softballs 

There are a number of expensive self-massage tools on the market now – fancy foam rollers, different shaped torture devices with weird names, and so on. However, all you really need is a few lacrosse balls and a softball. The lacrosse balls are great for greating some traction and grip, and the softball is the perfect size and density for hitting the bigger muscle groups. Warning – it won’t feel nice for the first few times, and it doesn’t really get any better, either.

A little trick for increasing back mobility – take two lacrosse balls and tape them together (or tie them in the end of a long sock). Put each ball on either side of your spine and work on extensions and loosening up your rib cage, especially in your mid back (thoracic) area.

The Affordable Home Gym (a bigger budget and a better gym)

In addition to the above tools:

A squat rack with barbell and bumper plates 

You can do every important exercise in a squat rack. The key is picking the right one. Check Craigslist, go to local gyms to see what they have, and shop around. You can usually find cheaper alternatives from gym closeouts or fitness wholesalers.

Bumper plates are rubber, which makes them quieter and easier to drop (on the right floor surface, of course).

TRX or ring attachments

The TRX suspension trainer is one of few fitness fads/gimmicks to come through in recent years with some practical use. The TRX is great for many things – building and creating stability and mobility, regressing hard exercises, and working out on the road or on a budget. Ring attachments accomplish many of the same things – even if you are a strong guy or gal, your first time using rings will be humbling. The stability demands are incredible.

Floor sliders

Particularly effective for athletes who stress their body in different planes (hockey, for example) – these are great tools for making any exercise harder. Valslides can be used for upper and lower body exercises, as well as working on your core.You can also use furniture sliders or create something of your own. Try doing lunges with these. Ben Bruno is a great trainer and fitness writer who uses sliders a lot with his own training.


Bands are great for stretching, warming up, and exercising. You can buy different tensions depending on what you are going for. They are also great for rehabbing from injuries. The Monster Bands are very popular, and for good reason – they are the best quality bands on the market. Here are some different ways to use the bands.

Plyo box 

If you can afford it, buying a proper plyo box is a great investment. Even if you won’t be using it for plyometrics, these boxes are great for many of the reasons I outlined above with benches and steps.

An adjustable bench

It isn’t necessary to have a bench that can incline and decline, but it sure is nice. More exercise variations at your disposal.

Fat gripz

A cheap way to build forearm and grip strength (functional to many sports) and these are easier on your elbows than standard bars, too.

Rowing machine 

Rowing is a great way to get in shape. You can build muscle using rowing machines, too. They are very versatile – power, speed, stamina – these can all be improved with rowing. And unlike rowing, this is a low impact exercise, saving your knees and hips. You will also improve your posture, unlike sitting on an exercise bike.

Concept2 are the cream of the crop when it comes to rowing machines. Any great home gym would benefit from having a rowing machine.

If money is no option, check out Rogue Fitness and go to town. A lot of their stuff is expensive, but you won’t find better quality equipment.

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