We all want to be in shape, but for some of us a gym membership and the time involved to travel there, change, do our workout, shower, and travel home again may not be practical. This is especially true if you’re working a 9 to 5 job that requires you to hit the gym at peak times, which often results in long waits for equipment or even worse, having to skip parts of your workout because the machines or weights you need were in constant use. Also, for some of us who may not have the perfect beach body, we may feel self-conscious starting out in a gym surrounded by the terminally fit.
The good news is you can build an effective gym right in your home where you and your partner can work out at the time that’s convenient for you, without the travel time, membership dues, pressure from the gym’s personal trainers, and without the crowds!
You might think you’ll need a second mortgage to set up a good home gym, but in fact this can be done on a budget that anyone can afford. The equipment you truly need to get a great workout at home is likely far more basic than you think, and many effective exercises can be done with bodyweight. If you have the budget to afford new equipment in a bright, sunny space with a big screen TV and sound system, full-length mirrors and daylight spectrum lighting, then have a go. But if the space you have available would have your mother running for her cleaning supplies, and your budget is a couple pineapple and the anaemic contents of your piggy bank, we’ll show you ways to set up your home gym for far less.
You will need a space at least a few square meters in size, with a ceiling at least 2.5 meters high. The space will need ventilation at the least, and A/C is great if you have it. Working out in 30-degree heat is not only uncomfortable but could be dangerous.
Everything else, like rubber flooring, bright windows in a finished room, and an entertainment system, is optional. If the only space you have available is the old garden shed in your backyard, and you’ll need to evict the spiders first, that’s OK. Anywhere you can dedicate to setting up your equipment so it’s always there when you need it will work.
If you do have the budget, though, rubber flooring is a great addition. During the course of a workout, you’ll be moving around a lot, adding strain on your legs and feet by lifting and carrying weights, as well as putting weights down on the floor.
Setting weights down on a concrete floor, or even worse, dropping them, not only makes a lot of noise (your neighbours won’t be happy with you) but it’s bad for the weights and could even crack your floor. Well laid rubber flooring tiles will protect your body from undue stress, protect your equipment, protect your floor and provide a stable base for other equipment such as a power rack and adjustable bench, which we’ll get to later.
The Best Kept Secret of Losing Weight: Gaining it first!
There is no form of exercise that will make your body stronger, fitter and leaner than a well-designed program of weight training combined with cardio exercise. If fat loss is your goal though, you may be surprised to find that the most effective exercise you can do to lose fat is not intense cardio, but rather a weight program designed to add muscle mass. Our skeletal muscle mass is the single biggest determining factor in our Basal Metabolic Rate (or BMR). BMR is how many calories we would burn in a day if we did nothing – literally nothing. The more muscle mass we have, the more calories we burn just, well, breathing, eating and otherwise not dying. Of course, once we add movement to that the extra muscle mass has to be fed. This means more calories burned. Combine this with a healthy diet and with as little as an extra 2 to 4 kilos of muscle, you’ll find it easier to lose weight and keep it off because of the extra calories you’ll burn in a day. Add in cardio done at the right time of day (more about that later) and you can watch the fat melt off your body.
Basics of Building
Building muscle requires two things. First, lifting heavy weights for a minimum of three sets. How heavy? Very simple. If you can’t do at least six repetitions (with good form) then the weight is too heavy. If you can do more than twelve, the weight is too light. Somewhere in there is your sweet spot. For some, a range of six to eight reps produces the fastest results. For others, you may find you need to be doing ten to twelve. A little experimentation will tell you what your body responds to best. Second, you need to eat. We can’t give nutritional advice here. Laws in Australia require a person to be a licensed nutritionist to give dietary advice, but we can tell you this much: Your body will need a surplus of calories to grow. If you burn, say, 2200 calories per day just moving around, working out, doing your job and household chores, and you only eat 2200 calories per day, what’s left over to build muscle? Right. Nothing. If you’re serious about putting on some muscle, you’ll need at least an extra 1,000 calories per day, and preferably 2,000. This applies to you ladies, too. An extra 2,000 per day might be excessive for you, but you’re going to need at least a few hundred over your maintenance. If you want to know what your maintenance is, you’ll need to access a good TDEE (Total Daily Energy Expenditure) calculator. There’s a free one here: https://tdeecalculator.net/ (This calculator will work best if you can input your body fat percentage. You don’t need to pay to get this done. You can get a pretty good estimate with a sewing tape measure and this tool: https://www.calculator.net/body-fat-calculator.html.)
Effective muscle building exercises and the equipment you’ll need to do them
Nothing builds muscle like lifting free weights. This is very good news for your home gym budget. You don’t need expensive Smith or Universal machines because machines won’t give you the best workout anyway. Get yourself an Olympic bar (photo here) and some plates. The heaviest lifting you’ll likely do will be squats and deadlifts, so you won’t need more weight than you can lift with those. For most men starting out this will be no more than 90 kilos (including the 20-kilo weight of the bar). For women, even less. Usually no more than 60 kilos total. You’ll also want some dumbbells. This could be an old school set of metal or rubber dumbbells, or, you can get yourself some quick change dumbbells to save money and space. (photo)
Once you have your weights, there are only two pieces of essential equipment. You’ll need a squat rack (also called a power rack, squat cage, or half rack). (photo). This will allow you to do a wide range of exercises, but most importantly squats. If you want to get strong and add muscle to your legs and core nothing will be as effective as squats. The rack can also be combined with an adjustable bench to allow for a wide range of upper body exercises (bench photo). This combination of a squat/power rack with an adjustable bench and free weights will let you do pretty much every effective muscle-building exercise you can do at the gym.
Now, what about the budget? If you’ve got the budget to buy all new equipment, that’s great, but what if you don’t? We have great news for you. There is a constant supply online of used (and almost new) equipment on sites like Craigslist, Kijiji and Gumtree. Shop around and you can find some great deals. Sometimes people even give this stuff away.
One very important safety note, though. Unless you’re a professional welder with access to high-grade steel, don’t even consider building your own rack and bench! You’ll be using this equipment to support heavy weights suspended above your body, and depending upon that equipment to safely hold the weights when you put them down. People have been severely injured and even killed by trying to cut corners and slapping together their own equipment from some 2x4’s they bought at the hardware store. If you’re thinking of building it yourself, just – don’t.
What about Cardio?
A good cardio workout will bring your heart rate up dramatically and keep it elevated for a minimum of 20 minutes, force your muscles to work intensely during that time, thus increasing muscle tone, and above all not break down your body by putting undue stress on your joints. While many people run for cardio exercise, only the most genetically gifted can do this for more than a couple of decades before they start experiencing severe joint pain, usually knees, hips and ankles. Cardio machines on the other hand, are designed to give you all the benefits of an intense cardio workout while putting very little stress on your joints. And, as an added benefit, machines can be used in a climate controlled environment while watching your favourite program.
So unless you are a runner, you’re going to need at least one cardio machine. Let’s talk about the cheapest, and the best (they’re different). Once again, though, you’ll find all of this online, used, and often in great shape. People make resolutions, buy new equipment and find within a few weeks or months that they’ve quit and don’t use it anymore. Good news for your wallet!
The Best Cardio Machine Known to Mankind!
Nothing, but nothing, will give you a better cardio and overall body conditioning workout than rowing. A good quality rowing machine forces you to use your entire body; upper body, lower body and core in an intense cardio workout that will have you in top shape in no time. That is, if you can take it! The problem with rowing is that it’s so intense most people can’t do more than 5 to 10 minutes of it to start with. If you’re determined, though, in time you’ll work up to the minimum 20 minutes your body needs to really benefit from a cardio workout, and you’ll be in better shape than what you can achieve from any other cardio machine.
The Cheapest Cardio Machine Known to Mankind!
The world is full of poor, lost, used and unwanted cycling machines. They’re everywhere! In people’s basements and garages, in the corner of bedrooms and stuck in the back of storage rooms. If you’re diligent you can probably get one for free just by putting up a ‘Wanted’ ad on Craigslist or Kijiji. If not free, then very, very cheap. Somewhere out there is the cycling machine for you, and it just wants to be loved. Bring it home.
Cycling is a great cardio workout, and will also strengthen and tone your lower body. It won’t do much for upper body tone, but you’ll be lifting weights so that doesn’t really matter.
Other Cardio Options
If rowing or cycling isn’t your thing, consider an elliptical trainer. These machines imitate the action of cross-country skiing, something most of us here have no experience with, but trust us, it’s an excellent full body workout. Elliptical machines require you to use both your legs and arms and stabilize with your core, so your whole body will benefit with improved tone while your heart and lungs get stronger.
Finally, if you like to run, but not in the heat, treadmills are available. Everything from basic models where speed is manually set, to upper-end models that allow you to run actual trails from around the world, watch the video of your progress and even have the incline adjust automatically as you travel along the trail.
Your Home Gym
You’ve seen that you can build a highly effective home gym, whatever your budget. This article covers the basics but of course, you can take this as far as your budget, available space and ambition allow. Start with the equipment listed here, and commit to training hard at least three times per week and you’ll be looking and feeling better in just a few weeks.
And stay tuned to learn about how to build the ULTIMATE home gym. Coming soon!
VIEW THE GALLERY BELOW FOR OUR RECENT HOME GYM FITOUTS