Low Budget, Short on Space - Must Have Equipment for Your Home Gym
Author - Stephen Griffith C.S.C.S.
The Advantage Of Working Out At Home
Gym memberships range from 10 dollars a month to over 200 dollars a month. But cost shouldn’t be a limitation to getting healthy.
Working out at home can be a great alternative to paying gym dues. With an investment in some equipment, it is possible to get a killer workout all from the comfort of your living room. A 50 dollar monthly gym membership can cost as much as 600 dollars a year. For that same cost, you can get all of the essential equipment listed below which you’ll be able to use for years to come.
This is the biggest advantage to working at home. The easier you make it to exercise the more likely you will be to do so.
Even if you keep your gym membership, having some equipment at home can allow you to always get your workout in even on the days you don’t feel like going out.
If having a home gym means you are able to get one more workout in per week than you otherwise might not have been able to then that means you will get 52 more workouts in per year. That can make a huge difference in you reaching your goals.
By comfort, I don't mean laying on your sofa doing a bicep curl in your underwear(although whose to stop you).
Instead, I'm referring to the fact that the gym can be an intimidating place if you are new to working out or if you suffer from insecurities.
The anxiety of the gym can be a big obstacle that stops many from sticking to a gym routine. Working out at home can be a great alternative to them gym providing an environment where you exercise without the fear of being judged.
You may want your home to be your exclusive workout center, or you may just want equipment around for the eventuality that you won't make it to the gym.
For whichever reason you chose to workout at home I have created a list of recommended workout equipment to help get the most out of your home workouts. The Items below are based on my own experience as a trainer and must meet the following criteria: Affordable, Compact, Versatile, and offer the ability to progress.
Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links, which means that if you click on one of the product links, we will receive a small commission for it. This revenue is important for allowing the website to operate and continue to produce quality materials for you our reader. With that said I have personal experience using all items listed in this article and recommend them because I feel they may provide a real benefit for you. Thanks for your support.
Progressing bodyweight exercise comes down to manipulating positions and altering the leverage of the body as opposed to adding weight. There is a number of progressions for various body weight exercises which can keep you busy for years. The downside is some progressions may be difficult if you have physical limitations or excess weight.
Body weight and calisthenics have built strongly defined bodies for years. Bodyweight exercises offers tons of choices. Gymnastics, Yoga, Calisthenics are all areas that one can draw movements from. The limitation to bodyweight exercises is if you carry extra weight your choices will be limited.
The second limitation is a lack of pulling exercises. Most bodyweight exercises are floor based and require a lot of pressing and stabilizing but a balanced workout program should have an equal amount of pulling movements to strengthen the muscles of the back. Failure to have balance can cause muscle imbalance and movement dysfunction.
Exercises: The Pushup and all of its modifications: knee push up, negative push up, incline to push up on a wall or table, feet elevated push up, and the one arm push-up are all good examples.
Various planks and core exercises
Ground-based movements such as crawling
Body weight squats, one legged squats, and plyometric squats
More advanced gymnastics exercises - such as headstands, handstands and the manna
Cost: 20 dollars
Size: Small and extremely portable. Good for home and for travel.
Early sets of bands contained sets of individual bands with attached handles. When you reached the heaviest band, that was the end of it.
Like it’s previous iterations the set that I list below also has 5 bands ranging from 5-25 lbs of resistance but unlike the bands of old, these bands are adjustable. Each band has a pair of clips on the end which clips onto the handles.
This feature allows someone as they get stronger or change exercises to clip multiple bands together to increase the resistance. Combining all 5 bands allow you to have 75lbs of resistance - That's enough resistance to keep you busy for awhile.
A key component to this band set is the door anchor. The door anchor can be placed within the crease of a door. When the door is shut it locks the anchor in place.
This door anchor allows your bands to be used as your own personal cable column - allowing for a number of exercises from pulldowns, triceps extensions, and horizontal rows.
Bands fill in the limitations of your body weight exercises by adding in pulling, resistance, and isolation work. Together it is easy to hit a well-balanced full body workout.
Band Pull downs, Rowing from a number of angles(downward, upwards and horizontal) Band pull apart, Bicep curls, Tricep extensions, front and lateral raises, overhead press, Squats, push-ups, leg abductions and adduction, straight arm pulldowns
It also allows for a number of compound exercises, such as squats with rows, curl into an overhead press, curl and a step up, squat into an overhead press.
Bands are great for any population looking to get a little fitter. There are a few brands of adjustable band sets but most that I've seen come with small clips. I recommend the brand below because it's a good quality set that uses larger clips making band changes much more convenient.
Looking to take your band training to the next level? I suggest you visit Dave “The Band Man” Shcmitz and his website for tons of exercises and variations.
Cost : TRX = $100-200
Suspension trainers fit nicely in their own small carrying bag. They weigh under 2 pounds and can be set up indoors or outdoors whether you want to use it in the house or the park. They're travel-friendly and can be throw in a carry on, luggage, or backpack
Suspension trainers leverage your bodyweight for resistance. Both trainers come with a door anchor similar to our band set that anchors above a door. For many people certain bodyweight exercise can be difficult - the suspension trainer allows you to reduce some of the weight from exercises such as a squat, or a one legged squat. It makes it easy to scale exercises to a person's skill level or strength because you can adjust the resistance of the bands. You can adjust the resistance by altering the length of the straps, the angle of the body, or the use of the arms for help.
A suspension trainer fills in the limitations mentioned for bodyweight exercises. It allows for bodyweight pulling exercises, such as rows, or modified pull-ups. You can check online, or on the TRX website to find several creative exercises that can you can perform for strength or conditioning.
Modified Pull up, Inverted Row, Bicep Curls, Push Up, TIY shoulder complex, Tricep extensions
Assisted Squats, Assisted Single leg Squats, rear foot elevated squats,
Mountain Climbers, Reverse Crunches, Hamstring Curls, Bridges, Pike, Rollout
There are a number of competitors that have cropped up over the years. I can't speak for their quality and ease of use but I can comment on the TRX suspension trainer. TRX is a leader in this market and for good reason, their product is durable, well made and easy to use. While it's a bit pricey It's a piece of versatile equipment that will last a looong time. I enjoy traveling with one and setting it up in the park for a nice outdoor workout.
They sell a wall attachment that can be drilled into a stud or joist if you happen to live in a home where that may be a better option. If you plan on using a door then I recommend you make sure you have a sturdy door that stays shut. You will also want at least 6 - 8 feet of space in front of the door to utilize it properly.
Door Mounted Pull Up Bar
Cost - 20- 30 dollars
Size/Portability - The door mounted pull bar works by anchoring in a doorway and above the doorsill. The door mounted pull up bar is easily assembled or disassembled, lightweight, and can be moved out of a doorway and into a closet when needed.
A pull up is a fundamental movement, phenomenal at producing a strong toned upper body. The pull-up bar doesn’t offer a ton of variation compared to the bands, or suspension trainer but it does open up a tier of harder pulling motions.
The pull-up bar allows you to work with your full body weight, whether it be for pull-ups, grip strength, or core exercises against gravity. As far as progressions there are plenty of ways to progress a pull-up exercise that involves modifying tempo and body position.
While the pull-up bar is not a highly versatile piece of equipment it does fill a missing component to an all-around workout - the vertical pull.
The suspension trainer can offer only so much in terms of vertical pulling, which is where the pull up bar comes in. Without the bar, most home workouts will miss that crucial component.
While not extremely versatile it does offer the option for various hanging exercises for building mobility and grip strength, as well as various hanging core exercise.
Exercises - Passive hang, Active Hang, One Arm Hang, Pull up, One Arm Pull up, Archer Pull up, Knees to Chest, Leg Raises.
If you place on the floor - Neutral Grip Push-up which is good if you have a history of wrist injuries, Dips, or Sit Ups.
The recommend the standard Iron Gym bar which I have used before and can attest is solidly made. It’s smaller than other door bars, can be assembled or disabled and offers the functionality you are looking for.
Before you buy any pull-up bar make sure you have a doorway that is not too wide(the bar is 36inch) and that has a sturdy door frame.
Weight vest come in different sizes. The main one I recommend here is about 2 feet long. It is fairly large and you will feel like you're on the swat team, but it offers up to 40lbs of resistance without being cumbersome. A petite woman may be able to get away with a smaller form fitting weight vest.
Travel-Friendly? - By car
To continue to see progress it is important to overload the muscles. After a while when certain bodyweight exercises become too easy it may be time to invest in a weight vest. A weight vest is a great way to increase resistance on bodyweight exercises in a way that is comfortable - The vest act as an extension of your body as opposed to holding external weights. Push ups, rows, pull ups, squats, lunges, or treadmill walking are all great options to use a weight vest for. I recommend the CAP 40lb weight vest because it allows for significant added resistance as it can hold up to 40lbs. The other benefit is it can be adjusted in increments of 2.5lbs allowing for subtle increases in resistance.
The weight vest doesn’t open up any new exercises that you couldn't have done before. However, its value comes from improving the vast number of effective bodyweight exercises already available. A Weight Vest is best added when body weight exercises become too easy.
CAP 40lb weight vest
This vest is solidly made. It isn’t the most form fitting vest on the market but for 60 dollars it is the cheapest and offers the most potential. In contrast, a fitted adjustable vest that adds only 15 lbs of unadjustable resistance can cost the same amount. I do not recommend buying a cap vest above 40 lbs because the vest then becomes too long and will get in the way for certain exercises.
(20lb Vest. May fit better on women.)
Adding a set of weights can be a great addition to any home gym. Weights offer a number of different exercises and resistance. I offer two suggestions for adding weights to your home. The first is an adjustable set of dumbbells, and the second is a set of kettlebells. Each offers their own advantages.
Adjustable Dumbbell Set
Cost - $240-$300 + Shipping
The Bowflex adjustable dumbbell set offers an entire dumbbell rack that fits neatly inside a 1.5 by 1.5 square foot space. It makes this set a perfect candidate for a home or apartment.
Travel-Friendly - By Car If Needed
The Bowflex dumbbell set is adjustable for weights between 5 and 52.5 lbs. Increasing resistance is the easiest form to progress an exercise and the adjustable dumbbells allow for just that. Even better is its ability to adjust for half weight intervals allowing for a 2.5lb increase vs a standard 5lb increase. The small adjustments are especially beneficial to women where an increase between from 10 to 15lbs would represent a 50% increase in weight. The smaller increments make the transition more manageable.
Dumbbells are inherently versatile pieces of equipment. An adjustable dumbbell set offers hundred of possible free weight exercises into your repertoire. They have been a staple in gyms for decades. It allows you to load up your lower body exercises, and add in a number of accessory exercises that aren't available to just bodyweight.
Loaded Squats, Split Squats, Bulgarian Split Squats, Lunges, Deadlifts, Romanian Deadlifts, Single Leg Deadlifts
Bench Press, Overhead Press, One Arm Row, Bent Over Rows
Bicep Curls, Tricep Kickbacks, Lateral and Front Raises, DB Flys
The Bowflex adjustable dumbbells overall are a great piece of equipment. Two things worth noting is that they are quite large - about a foot long - making certain exercises awkward to perform. With some adjustments, it isn’t too much of an issue. The other is the issue of durability. Objects with small moving parts can lend themselves to breaking. However, the weights are very durable as long as you don’t drop or slam them.
I have not used the Power Blocks but have seen them respected. They should be a bit more durable than the bow flex weights and are likely the better of the two.
Cost $20-60 + Shipping -for Standard Sizes 4 - 24 kg :Rogue Fitness
Because kettlebells make larger jumps in weight you won't need to have as many. Kettlebells are compact so a set will take up not much more space than the adjustable dumbbell set. The kettlebell can be lined up along the wall or in a corner to conserve space.
Travel-Friendly - By Car
A kettlebell can be progressed just like a dumbbell - by adding weight. Unlike the dumbbells which can change in small increments of weight, the kettlebell moves in large increments of 4 kg (8lbs) which offers a few unique advantages.
The advantage to large jumps is it simplifies the process. With fewer weights, there are fewer decisions. The large weight jumps require an individual to be patient and master a weight before increasing to the next weight. The weight jumps create a natural periodization switching between low rep strength and high rep hypertrophy.
A kettlebell can do everything a dumbbell can with a few additions such as the Swing, Clean, and Snatch. Those additional exercises and the kettlebells unique shape allow for smooth transitions from exercise to exercise. The result is an implement that offers excellent potential for loading and conditioning - it’s my go to training tool when I want to get an intense overall workout in a short period of time. The sustained intensity and added resistance makes it one of my favorite implements to use when working with people looking to tone up because of the transitions allow the body to maintain a high level
Turkish Getup, Swing, Clean, Press, Snatch, Windmill, Goblet Squat/Front Squat, Bent Over Row, Deadlift, Single Leg Deadlift, Split Squats, Farmer Carries, Rack Carries
I have used a few different brands of kettlebells. I recommend Rogue Kettlebells, they are well made and offer the best prices. Rogue operates out of Ohio, so if you live far then the Amazon option may be cheaper after shipping.
Kettlebells are terrific, but the advanced movements like the Swing, Clean, Snatch, and Turkish Get Up will likely require some hands-on coaching to get right. I recommend not performing these exercises if you are not sure of the movements. Instead, seek out a qualified coach for instruction.
Link to Rogue Fitness Kettlebells
Amazon now has kettlebells. The prices are good, the quality I cannot attest to - however they look well designed.
Cost - $40-100
Size - Sandbags are compact. Mine at home is about 2 feet long and loads up to 40lbs. It takes up about as much space as two dumbbells. It is also possible to buy the larger one that loads over 80lbs.
Travel Friendliness - By car
Progression - The sandbag is a tool full of progressions. The most common way people progress exercises is by adding more weight.
However, while It is possible to increase the weight of your sandbags by adding or removing the mini sandbags within the task can be tedious.
Instead, if you’re using the sandbag you have to be more creative with your progressions which is a large part of its benefit.
The sandbag progressions are built on manipulating body positions, tempo, and leverage, making it incredibly beneficial for improving your movement skills and functional strength. In addition, the sandbag is not a rigid weight but a weight that shifts. This requires you to really have to control the movement, stabilize the weight, and build strength in a context that better represents real life.
Versatility - As mentioned the sandbag is built on progressions that change body positions. With its unique shape and various handles, there are hundreds of exercises you can perform using just 1 piece of equipment. Many exercises being unique to just the sandbag. It may be the most versatile piece of equipment on this list.
Exercises - Deadlift, Stagger Stance Deadlift, Front Squat, Bear hug Squat, Stagger Stance Squat, Arc Press, Overhead Press, Offset Overhead Press, Plank Pull Through, Bent-over Row, Hip Thrust, Max Lunge, Clean, Clean and Press and many more.
The sandbag has become one of my favorite pieces of equipment to use due to its versatility and progressions. If I could only have one piece of free weight equipment this would likely be it.
It's a piece of exercise equipment that prioritizes movements and movement variability which is great if you are looking to build the kind of strength that will keep you healthy and strong.
When buying a sandbag, I recommend the Ultimate sandbag brand. There the gold standard for the industry - extremely durable, and the best designed. \
I’ve tried others, and have had clients buy various other brands on Amazon. The results have been mixed.
Most people will be well served by getting one small bag, and one large bag. Men will want the 10-40lb and the 40–80lb bag. Women will be best served with the 5-20lb bag and the 10-40lb bag.
If you get a sandbag I recommend you also pick up a copy of Josh Henkin's (creator of the ultimate sandbag) book - The DVRT System. This is one of the best books I’ve read on exercise progression. Josh explains things clearly and succinctly making it one of my top book recommendations.
It will also give you everything you'll need to know to make the most of your new sandbag.
The above items offer the most value as far as an at home gym goes. Below I offer some items that are not necessary but can add value to your gym and routine.
Myofascial Release Tools
Myo - refers to muscle and fascia refers to the connective tissue that encases the muscle, nerves and blood vessels. Bad posture and repetitive movements cause the fascia around a muscle to become stiff or tight. For awhile a manual therapist such as a masseuse was needed to work on the muscle to help take care of these trigger points(those tight and sensitive points on the overused muscle). Unfortunately, regular massages are out of the budget for most people which is where the foam roller movement comes in. Everyone should have a few items below in their homes so that they may perform Self-myofascial release and maintain the quality of their muscle tissues. There are a number of high-priced, specialized tools in this category but don’t waste your money. A few items such as a simple high-density foam roller for general work, and a few balls such as a lacrosse ball, golf ball or softball are enough to hit specific trigger points that need more pressure or that cannot be targeted correctly with the foam roller.
I use this every day when I train clients. I use it to increase the difficulty of a number of exercises. The most frequent are glute bridges. By placing the band around the legs, just above the knees, it can really increase the difficulty and benefit of your standard glute bridge by activating the other muscles fibers on the outside of the butt. When these muscles are underperforming it is common to see a person's knees collapse in during their squat. These are great to squat with and reteach those muscles how to activate properly so the knees will no longer collapse in. There are a number of uses for these, but that's the one I find provides the most benefits. The Limm bands are great because they are thick enough as to not bunch up constantly when you put it on or perform exercises.
These are simple but incredibly versatile. I will often tie them into a loop and use them for similar exercises that I mentioned above with the mini band. I will use them for band walks, and a number of shoulder and rotator cuff exercises. One of my favorite exercises is a band pull apart where you grab each end with straight arms and pull the band apart toward your chest. It's a great exercise for strengthening the back, and posterior shoulders and one I recommend to all of my desk workers for them to do during the day to maintain good posture. No chalk and easy to store.
If you're working out at home, a yoga mat to lay down can make a big difference in comfort, grip, and whether or not you scratch the floor.