With our archives now 3,500+ articles deep, we’ve decided to republish a classic piece each Sunday to help our newer readers discover some of the best, evergreen gems from the past. This article was originally published in April 2019.
Let me replay you the typical situation you find yourself in every time you go to your commercial gym. You wake up or get home from the office, change into your workout clothes, pack all of the stuff you need (supplements, shoes, protein shaker, etc.) into your gym bag and head out the door. You jump into your car, and, like many living in a crowded urban environment, hit traffic a couple minutes into your commute. You sit, waiting for cars to dissipate so you can accomplish the grand goal you’ve set for yourself of working out. 30 minutes, 4 near collisions, and 2 mental breakdowns later, you arrive at your destination. You warm up while waiting for the guy doing bicep curls in the one and only squat rack in the 20,000 sq. ft. facility studded with endless lines of treadmills and ellipticals. You finally sneak into the rack, perform your squats while fending off that one guy who gives you form advice while proselytizing the benefits of yoga over weightlifting. Finally, you’re done with your session (two hours later) and drive 30 minutes home to eat.
Does that sound familiar?
Now, let me share with you what a typical training session looks like for me and thousands of others who have freed ourselves from the gym membership rat race.
I throw on some shorts — sweatpants and hoodie if it’s cold; no shirt if it’s warm — and head out into my garage. I walk over to my stereo system and put on some soft tunes to get me in the right mindset during my warm-up. Squats are on the menu, so I rack my bar (the bar only I and my friends use that is superior to every bar at the gym I used to pay $70/month to attend) and begin incrementally increasing the load. I’m at my top set, so I turn on some Dave Mustaine, twist the volume knob to 11, and go to work. Around an hour later I conclude the assault on my body, walk 10 feet inside my house to the most anabolic machine in the known universe — the refrigerator — make a protein shake, and reflect on the hard work accomplished.
After reading that, you’re likely thinking to yourself, “Man! That sounds nice, but . . .” “But.” The most detrimental word to any man’s mission. “But I don’t have the money.”
I’m here to help you with that. Today I’ll show you how to build a home gym on a budget, and how it’s easier to afford than you think. By the time we’re done, you’ll be wondering why you didn’t make the switch sooner.
Be sure to check out our podcast with Coop on all things home gyms:
How to Build a Home Gym for Under $1,000: The Effective, But Budget-Friendly Equipment We Recommend Starting With
Without a doubt, a home gym can be expensive to build. In fact, I’ve seen people spend upwards of $50,000 to install a fully decked-out gym in their garage. But, just because some folks decide to spend that much on working out at home, doesn’t mean it’s either necessary or a good idea.
The reality is that it’s possible to create an effective home gym for under $1,000.
You really only need a few essential pieces of equipment to get started. We suggest the following, pretty much regardless of your goal; whether you’re looking to lose weight or gain muscle, you can see success using these items:
- Olympic barbell
- Squat rack with a pull-up bar
- Weight plates (rubber or iron depending on your budget)
- Flat bench
- Jump rope
There are hundreds of additional pieces of equipment we could recommend, but only after these basics are met.
When it comes to obtaining these foundational pieces of home gym equipment on a budget, you’ll want to buy things that are both effective and provide a variety of different uses. Purchasing on a budget, however, does not mean that you buy cheaply made equipment. Cheaply made equipment will cause less satisfaction, less use, more likelihood for injury, a lower resale value, and a greater chance of having to purchase replacements. Thankfully, due to there being more gym equipment (largely due to the growing garage gym community) being purchased now than at any other time in history, you can get incredibly good equipment at great prices.
Below we break down our specific brand/product recommendations that meet this requirement for being both quality-made and budget-friendly:
The Olympic barbell is the piece of equipment that we recommend being the highest quality piece of equipment in your gym. You will likely use the barbell more than any other piece of equipment, and there are big differences, both in the performance and durability, between a high-quality barbell and the cheap rods of steel that some manufacturers label as barbells.
The barbell we recommend for most people, especially those who focus on the squat, deadlift, bench, and overhead press is the Ohio Power Bar from Rogue Fitness. The OPB features a 29MM, 205K PSI tensile strength shaft with aggressive knurling, a center knurl, powerlifting knurl marks, and a bronze bushing rotation system all for under $300 (as of this writing). All of the aforementioned specifications may sound like gibberish (you can learn more about barbell anatomy and terminology here), but just know that it’s a barbell that can take just about anything you can throw at it, is made in the USA, and comes with a lifetime warranty; this is a barbell that you’ll be able to use your whole life, and maybe even pass down to your grandkids.
If you’d like a bar that is a bit cheaper and features a thinner shaft as well as no center knurl (feels better for front squats and overhead press due to the knurl not scraping your chin) then we suggest the FringeSport Wonder Bar V2. The Wonder Bar V2 is a great, imported barbell that can be purchased and shipped to your door for under $200. The Wonder Bar has a high tensile strength steel, medium-aggressive knurl, bronze bushing rotation system, and a lifetime warranty.
Squat Rack with a Pull-Up Bar Attached
The squat rack is the centerpiece of nearly every home gym. It’s the place where you’ll squat, press, do pull-ups, and a myriad of other exercises. A good squat rack will allow you to feel safe during use, lasts an extremely long time, and, as your bank account increases, will offer various attachments to increase its versatility. Thankfully, most squat racks on the market today can handle whatever weight you can lift now, plus whatever you plan on lifting in the future. Because of this, we don’t feel the need to recommend as high a level of quality as we do for a barbell.
The squat rack we recommend to most people on a budget is the PR-1100 Home Gym Power Rack from Rep Fitness. The PR-1100 features a footprint of 48” x 47.5” with a height of 84”. It has a max weight capacity of 1,000 LB (more than everyone reading this would likely ever dream of lifting), comes with a multi-grip pull-up bar, and has optional attachments like a lat pulldown and dip handles. In addition to the functional elements of the rack, it also comes in an optional red or blue powder coat version that would look good in any home gym. Although you can spend much more on a squat rack, if you’re on a budget, this is a great option that will last you many years, has good resale value, and is priced extremely competitively at under $250.
Since you now have a barbell and a place to hang the barbell, it’s only logical that you buy things to hang on the barbell. Weight plates come in various sizes, colors, and materials, but for most people, your best bet is to find some iron Olympic plates second-hand, through Craigslist, Facebook Marketplace, yard sales, etc.
If you can’t find a set of weight plates worth the asking price, then there are a few budget-priced options you can order new online. For new iron plates on a budget, we suggest the CAP Barbell Olympic 2-Inch Weight Plates. They’re cheap, accurately sized, weigh close to what they state, and are readily available. Most iron weight plates are cast-iron and come from similar factories overseas, so there is little need for the average home gym owner to spend much more than what the CAP Barbell Plates are priced at.
If you plan to do any Olympic lifts like the snatch or clean and jerk, then we suggest getting bumper plates. Bumper plates can get expensive quick, so we suggest buying just enough to meet your needs for the Olympic lifts and having iron plates for the rest. The best bumper plates we would recommend for those on a budget are the FringeSport Black Bumper Plates. These are made from virgin rubber, have a precise weight accuracy, won’t mess up your foundation or barbell, and can be had for about as affordable a price as bumper plates can.
Although most people associate a flat bench solely with the bench press, with enough creativity, it can actually end up being a very versatile piece of equipment. I’ve used my flat bench for everything from box squats, box jumps, rows, split squats, and more. A quality flat bench will provide a solid platform, be about 17” from the ground, and have a firm foam pad.
The flat bench we’d recommend for those on a budget is the AmazonBasics Flat Weight Bench. We tested its durability and despite its low price tag (under $50 as of this writing) it stood up to just about everything we threw at it. The AmazonBasics Bench is stable, has a decent vinyl covering, and best of all, won’t break the bank.
The last piece of equipment we’d recommend for those looking to start a budget home gym is a jump rope. This may sound kind of silly to those that haven’t used a jump rope since elementary school, but a jump rope is a killer conditioning and coordination device that can be used for both long and short duration intervals. In addition to running, sprinting, and jumping, the simple jump rope will provide you with a way to warm up and increase your stamina and endurance.
You can find a jump rope just about anywhere, but if you want to order a cheap jump rope online, something like the Garage Fit PVC Jump Rope works great for most people. We’d suggest avoiding a speed rope and sticking to the thicker PVC ropes as they’re more versatile and easier to learn how to use.
Once you’ve gotten our recommended essentials in place, you can begin expanding your gear selection by adding things like adjustable dumbbells, kettlebells, plyo-boxes, and other pieces of equipment that pique your interest. You may also want to grab a couple horse stall mats from your local farm supply store to protect your foundation.
The suggestion we most often make regarding adding new items to your gym is to start with the essentials, and then set a goal, such as working out four days a week for three months in a row; once you achieve this goal, reward yourself with a new equipment purchase. This increases the likelihood of you completing the goal and gives you a reward that will motivate you to keep up the exercise habit!
The Surprising Affordability of a Home Gym
Here’s how the cost of our recommendations above (using all the cheapest options, and an average number of weight plates needed to start) would shake out (prices are rounded up):
- FringeSport Wonder Bar V2: $200
- PR-1100 Home Gym Power Rack from Rep Fitness: $240
- AmazonBasics Flat Weight Bench: $50
- CAP Barbell Olympic 2-Inch Weight Plates: $350
- Garage Fit PVC Jump Rope: $8
Total cost: ~$850
As you can see, it’s possible to build a quality, highly effective home gym for less than $1,000. And you can do it for even less if you buy the above equipment used.
While $1,000 might still seem like a lot if you’re looking at that nut altogether, compare that cost to paying for a membership at a commercial gym.
The average cost of a gym membership is $58 a month. (Yes, $10/month gyms exist, but they don’t have power racks — just Smith machines — and are thus far from ideal for effective workouts.)
This means that if you’re currently paying $58 a month for a gym membership, and cancel it to start a home gym, the money you would have spent on monthly dues will have paid off the investment in a little over a year. And after that time, you’ll start saving money month after month.
And that’s just the money a home gym will save you on the membership cost alone. There are other ways that ditching your monthly dues for a home gym will save you money as well.
According to a survey by MyProtein, Americans aged 18 to 65 years old spend an average of $155/month on their health and fitness. This number includes not only gym membership fees, but supplements, clothing and accessories used at the gym, meal plans, and personal trainers.
These are all things that can be avoided when working out at home. Beyond skipping the membership fee, you can wear whatever clothes you’d like because only you and your friends will be the ones in your gym; you don’t need as many supplements because you’re close enough to your fridge that you can eat real food; and the nutrition and training advice you’d receive from a trainer can be replaced by either an online programming/coaching company for much less, or entirely replaced by the large amount of free content online. Not to mention you’ll also be saving on the gas it used to take to drive to the gym!
Hold onto the money you save, or use it to reinvest in adding equipment to your personal gym; even if you go the latter route, you needn’t spend any more than you used to on belonging to a commercial gym.
To sum up: Building a home gym can be done on the cheap, and be more within your reach than you might have thought; within just a couple of years (months for some) worth of what you’re already spending on a gym membership, you can have a home gym that will provide you with both better workouts and greater satisfaction. And the benefits don’t even stop there; by working out at home, you’ll also have more time to do things you’d like, will set a great example for your family, and can have friends work out with you whenever you please, without ever having to worry about running out of guest passes.
Coop runs Garage Gym Reviews, a website dedicated to helping people start their own home gym though in-depth equipment reviews. In addition to their website, Garage Gym Reviews can be found on YouTube and Instagram.