The 9 Budget-Friendly Essentials You’ll Need to Create a Great Home Gym
Save time (and money) with everything you need to get in shape from home.
In 2022, it’s easier than ever to do nearly everything from home. Beyond just working from home (which many of us are still doing full-time), we’re able to learn, shop, connect, and more without ever taking a step out the door. So why shouldn’t the same apply to getting yourself in shape?
Gyms (and gym membership fees) certainly aren’t for everyone. They’re often crowded, noisy, and intimidating, not to mention the time it takes to trek back and forth. With a few simple purchases, you can create your own personal fitness studio, right at home. Plus, according to Darrik Marstaller, founder of GamerBody, you can do it with relative ease.
“Everything you need [for a home gym] can fit into a standard-sized closet,” says Marstaller, “With the right equipment, you can get results with as little as an hour per week.”
Marstaller’s at-home workout platform is built around efficiency in terms of both time and space, and GamerBody tests and reviews hundreds of different products to help you maximize both with your home gym. Marstaller also encourages the adoption of High Intensity Training (HIIT) principles. “[With HIIT] you’ll keep your workouts short and allow enough time to recover in between sessions,” he explains.
There's no one size-fits-all method here, so it's all about finding what kind of exercise you enjoy and sticking to it. Fortunately, it won’t take a ton of expensive equipment or complicated installation to take on your new at-home fitness journey. We consulted with Marstaller and eight other fitness experts to get their take on the core essentials. Let's get into it.
Cardio is critical
"The easiest adjustment you can make to your health routine when you're working from home is to wake up by doing some form of cardio. Do it before you eat breakfast to get that metabolism fired up."
This is what Reggie Chambers, a sought after NYC personal trainer, told us when asked about setting up a home gym. His preferred method? The jump rope. (If you’re looking for one that promises a killer full-body workout, try the weighted Crossrope).
Another popular cardio option is a stationary bike—we recommend the MYX. It's like a Peloton on supplements (but not as expensive). As for our budget pick? Schwinn makes an excellent stationary bike that works with most popular apps.
If you want to get in shape at home, you will absolutely need a mat. There are two different kinds our experts recommended: a yoga mat and a jump mat. The latter being a bit thicker and used for more intense exercises like plyometrics and core work. It can also double as a yoga mat if you prefer a little more cushioning.
"I like to sweat, so if I’m purchasing a mat for in-home use, that means heat on high,” says Olivia Young, a certified yoga teacher and founder of NYC studio Box + Flow."I personally love the Lululemon Reversible 5 MM mat. It’s extra absorbent and is so comfortable you can use it on any type of floor."
There's also the question of where to place your mat. If you have enough room in your bedroom, it can work. But experts will tell you to try and make the living room a space for fitness and leave the bedroom for sleeping. Robert Lemus, professional bodybuilder and editor of Simple Fitness Hub, recommends converting your living room into a workout space, "With a few quick changes, your living room can be converted into a home gym. Move big furniture to the side of the room, allowing you enough space to stand and have a yoga mat on the ground. This can be an excellent space to work out, especially if you like to exercise while binge watching Netflix." Obviously, if you have roommates, this could be a tad more difficult.
And if you're the type of person who likes to play video games whilst blasting your core on a mat, check out Stealth. It's a core-destroyer that you throw your phone into and play interactive games as you plank. It's also incredibly difficult (at first), but that just adds to the fun.
As for the jump mat, this should be placed in an area that allows for plenty of range of motion. Fitness and nutrition experts Ryan and Alex, who "have been working out from home for the better part of a decade nearly every day," recommend this jump mat for more intense workouts like P90X and other plyometric programs.
This is another core piece of equipment that should be a part of everyone's home gym. "Resistance bands are a must in an apartment gym, they take up very little room, and are extremely versatile, and cost effective,” says Jamie Hickey, certified personal trainer/nutritionist and founder of Truism Fitness. “They come in a variety of resistance levels from very light to extremely heavy making it so that you will always have an option to challenge you."
Here's a great set that even comes with online workout videos to get you started. Resistance bands can also be used in lieu of weights, according to Ryan and Alex. "Weightlifting workouts can be done with free weights or resistance bands,” they say. “Regardless of what you do, make sure you have a structured plan that covers all parts of the body, instead of doing a few reps of bicep curls or lunges, here or there." Amazon has a wide selection to choose from.
One other item that came highly recommended was the TRX All-in-One System. It’s favored for its versatility in that it can be used for push/pull routines for the upper body, lower body hamstrings and glutes routines, and core routines. It’s easy to install, too, if you have a door that can support weight.
A resistance band bar setup
According to Marstaller, sometimes the best solution for at-home fitness is to create a DIY workout machine by combining multiple items. In this case, you’ll need three—resistance loop bands, a bar, and a step platform.
The result is a more comfortable, more efficient approach to resistance band training. With this simple setup, you can take on various exercises like deadlifts, bicep curls and squats, and the additions of the bar and platform ensure that you’ll standardize the stretch of your bands for consistent reps.
To learn more about what you’ll need and how to set it up and use, plus some exercises to try, check out the tutorial on the GamerBody YouTube channel.
A jump rope
“Every apartment gym needs a good liquorice jump rope,” says Tommy Duquette, co-founder and trainer at Fightcamp and former US National Boxing Champion. “The Money Rope from Rush Athletics (inspired by Floyd Mayweather) is an inexpensive jump rope preferred by boxers—it’s performant, lightweight, and perfect for both beginners and advanced users. I use this every day to supplement my workouts and keep my feet moving on days I might not be able to get a full workout in.” The Money Rope sells out quickly so if you need a solid alternative, check out the Sonic Boom Rope.
Consider yourself an advanced user? Allow us to introduce you to the Crossrope (seriously this thing will kick your ass). Now, for the sake of brevity, we won't get too in the weeds with that kind of jump rope you should get since they're all so similar, but aside from The Money Rope, there's an offering from WOD Nation that one reviewer raved about: "One of the best speed ropes I have ever used! Great for single unders, double unders, and even triple unders. The rope is smooth and very fast and has enough weight to give you momentum on your swings. It is a fantastic product!"
If you're looking to break out of bodyweight exercises all day, a set of dumbbells is just what you need. Certified personal trainer Danny Saltos (who runs the IG account TrainWithDanny) recommends Bowflex’s adjustable dumbbells, which are adjustable from 5lbs to 52.5lbs each. "Adjustable dumbbells add a little heat to your routine. Space saving and asskicking,” he says. “These dumbbells will give you and your partner the ability to go light or go heavy."
As an alternative, Powerblock makes a similar adjustable set (though they have gone up in price). And if you're curious as to why adjustable weights are the way to go, Young says that the “easiest way to keep challenging the body from workout to workout is simply to add more load and weight to the exercise." And if you have the extra room, Amazon has a large selection of adjustable weights to choose from.
A pull up bar
If you're new to pull ups, you'll likely feel like giving up real quick when you set up the bar and pump out… one. But stay with it! Pull ups are an excellent way to strengthen your upper body and core, and the more you keep at it, the faster you'll see results. Ahmed Ali, a personal trainer and consultant at Centriq who trains six days a week says that "a pull up bar can be easily attached to your door frame without taking away from your limited floor space. Just do a pull up every time you pass by it and you’ll be in shape in no time." And he's not wrong. Ryan and Alex also called the pull up bar one of the "basics for a full home gym."
As for which one to get? Well, there's this one from Perfect Fitness. And this pull up bar from AmazeFan has excellent reviews and is easily stored away after you're finished getting yoked.
Pull up handles
Similar to a pull up bar but a bit more versatile, pull up handles are an excellent addition if you want to take your gym on the road (or even just to various rooms in your home). They can easily fit in a backpack or carry-on, and don’t run the same risk of damaging your door frame after prolonged use as a traditional bar.
Marstaller’s pick for the best pull up handles you can buy are the Jayflex CrossGrips, which he describes as “maybe the last pull up bar you’ll ever need.” The handles are lightweight at about two pounds each, but can support up to 250 pounds. Plus, they aren’t just for pull ups. “You can also use them on the floor for pushups, or slide them under the door to assist with crunches or situps,” he says, “They’re a little pricey, but you can’t deny the quality, and I’ve personally been using them for over a year without issue.”
A kettlebell is also a super useful piece of equipment due to its size and functionality. It can be tucked away easily when you don't need it and supplement your cardio exercises when you do. "It never hurts to grab a kettlebell and swing,” says Young. “Kettlebells offer full body toning and enhance your cardio exercises. I usually stick with a 15lb kettlebell for strength and endurance." Bowflex makes an awesome adjustable kettlebell which starts at 8lbs and can be brought all the way up to 40lbs.
A workout bench
"This workout bench by PowerBlock is the best bench we’ve had,” say Ryan and Alex. “While the workout bench isn’t necessary for all of our fitness programs, it was key for our weightlifting programs." You can get a great workout without a bench, but if you have room, it can change up your whole routine by incorporating weight training. If you’re looking for something a bit more affordable, this bench from Flybird is a best seller and easily folds down to slide under a bed or sofa.
Of course there are other pieces of equipment you can grab if you have specific needs (for instance, a medicine ball or stability ball), but the above recs should be more than enough to get you started. It can be difficult to start thinking of your living space as your gym—especially if you have a gym routine that's been stalled. But staking out just 20 minutes a day to stretch, lift, or jump around (read: solo dance party) will definitely pay off. At the very least, Young recommends "putting on a backpack and adding in weights [for squats, lunges, etc]—whether that’s bottles of water, tins, soup, or bricks."
Ultimately, the most fun you can have working out is when you can get creative with your routines.