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Years ago, the thought of building my own home gym on a budget seemed like a lame idea. My concept of fitness was centered on using fancy cardio and weight training equipment, and if I wasn’t working out for at least an hour, it didn’t count.
And then, real life happened.
You know, that whole full-time job, taking care of a family, not sleeping well, going back to school, still need to cook dinner, dog just ate my running shoes, I’m officially in survival mode thing? Yeah, that.
Eventually, as I became more knowledgable about how the body responds to different movements and efforts, I found tremendous value in building a home gym for myself. With just a few simple tools, you can essentially create an environment that will allow your body to reap all the glorious benefits of fitness, without having to deal with a commute, parking, childcare, or the kid who loves taking selfies at the gym.
And the best part? While building a home gym often allows you to put more time into your workouts, it facilitates the ability to get in quick bouts of activity on your schedule.
Home Gym on a Budget: The Equipment
Building a home gym on a budget is no easy endeavor. Much of the fitness equipment available at sporting goods stores can be incredibly costly, and knowing what to prioritize can get confusing.
The good news is, with just a few essential pieces of equipment, you can build a home gym on a budget that will allow you to improve your fitness capacity. Depending on your goals, a home gym can be the place you do all of your training, or it can act as a supplement to your gym time on days your schedule isn’t so forgiving.
Keep in mind, the items below are basic tools that allow for a wide range of movements and efforts, while still remaining cost-effective. Eventually, if you’d like to expand your home gym to include equipment that will engage maximal strength training, I recommend checking craigslist for things like barbells, bumper plates, and a squat rack.
1. Kettlebell ($28)
Although this one was kind of a given, kettlebells are at the top of the list because they are versatile, beginner-friendly, and cost-effective.
Not familiar with kettlebells? In short, a kettlebell is a big ol’ piece of cast iron formed into a ball with a handle on it. More officially, according to wikipedia:
A kettlebell builds strength and endurance, particularly in the lower back, legs, and shoulders, and increase grip strength. The basic movements, such as the swing, snatch, and the clean and jerk, engage the entire body at once, and in a way that mimics real world activities such as shoveling or farm work.
Shoveling and farm work may be a stretch, but hey, let’s go with it.
I recommend purchasing a high-quality kettlebell made from solid cast iron (in other words, not plastic) that’s at least 15 lbs. You can find them here with free shipping for about $28, or you can get a variety of kettlebells from CFF-Fit (where I purchase mine from), which come with a lifetime warranty.
2. Jump Rope ($8)
While many people think jumping rope is an activity for schoolchildren, a jump rope is a fantastic tool for improving conditioning and coordination. Because it can be used for both aerobic and anaerobic training, it’s great for warming up and cooling down, and can be including in circuit training workouts designed to keep the heart rate high.
Looking for jump roping exercises to try? Check out this video compilation of 50 different jump rope exercises. If you’re new to jumping rope, here’s a great basic tutorial on how to get starting with jump rope training. Also, here’s some great information regarding jump rope length.
3. Resistance Band ($9 – $20)
Resistance bands are bands with elastic qualities that can be used to build strength and improve stability. They come in a variety of strengths and sizes, and can be easily attached to stationary objects around the house.
Resistance band exercises are incredibly effective at improving strength and stability because they apply constant and controlled tension on muscles. They can be utilized for upper body unilateral strength movements, as well as core and lower body stability movements. I recommend purchasing one 2–15 lb. band or one 5–35 lb. band for upper body movements and one 10-50 lb. band or one 25-80 lb. band for lower body movements depending on your ability.
Looking for exercises to do using resistance bands? Check out the variety of resistant band movements I have listed in my Home Workout Guide (which, yes – is totally free), including the chest press, row, pallof press, and band walks.
4. Adjustable Dumbbells ($50)
Dumbbells are weighted objects that can be held in each hand to perform both strength and conditioning movements depending on the weight and how fast the movement is performed.
Dumbbells are incredibly useful because they allow for near-maximal efforts, and work each arm individually to build unilateral strength. They also can be used to increase the intensity of lower body exercises. Dumbbells can be found at most sporting good stores, or you can purchase them online from a variety of retailers.
I recommend using a set of adjustable dumbbells as they allow you to get the most bang for your buck, and perform a variety of movements with one piece of equipment. You can find a good set of adjustable dumbbells here for just under $50.
Looking for exercises to do with dumbbells? Try a couple power exercises like the push press and squat clean, or give some lower body strength exercises a go like the Romanian deadlift and front squat.
5. Medicine Ball ($25)
A medicine ball is a weighted ball that comes in a variety of sizes and shapes, and can be held, tossed, bounced, or slammed.
Personally, I find medicine balls to be the most useful when engaging the upper body in ballistic movements, like the ball toss or overhead slam ball. These movements are great to do in high intensity interval workouts, or after upper body strength moves (often called “contrasting” sets.)
While there are many different types of medicine balls, I recommend purchasing a non-rebounding ball like the Champion Sports Leather Medicine Ball that’s between 8-12 lbs.
6. Foam Roller ($10)
While sometimes overlooked, the foam roller is quite possibly the most important contraption you’ll ever encounter – especially if you deal with lower or upper back pain, or mobility issues.
Foam rollers are simply circular pieces of high-density foam that allow you to do self massage and myofascial release to both muscles and soft tissue. Using the weight of your body, foam rolling can be used to increase blood flow and loosen up tight muscles prior to activity, or work out tightness and areas of pain or immobility post-workout. It’s also a great tool for self-massaging the lower back, and opening the thoracic spine. In short, I’d be a hot mess if I didn’t foam roll in the morning, and before and after my workouts.
You can get quite a bit done with a basic foam roller, which you can find here for around $10. At the gym, I use the basic foam roller, and at home, I use this higher quality foam roller by Trigger Point Therapy because of my neck and back issues.
Looking for exercises to do on a foam roller? Check out this incredibly awesome YouTube channel by Trigger Point Therapy which demonstrates how to properly use the foam roller depending on what area of the body needs work. Also, here are some core and balance exercises that can be done on a foam roller.
The Bonus Section
After you’ve established this “base” of tools for your home gym, you can then increase the variety of exercises you perform by adding additional pieces like a weight plate, medicine ball, or exercise bands.
Yes, folks. It is possible to build a home gym on a budget. With a few essential tools, you can work on your fitness and pursue improvements in health with as little as $150 in your pocket to start.
Do you have a home gym? If so, what tools would you recommend for those looking to build a home gym?