It isn’t always practical to have a gym membership. Sometimes you find yourself living far away from any place that satisfies your needs, and other times you are presented with financial costs that may not be justifiable.
Or maybe you just can’t stand waiting around for equipment and not having control over the music that’s played.
Regardless of what motivated you to do so – you are about to build your home gym. Your garage, basement, or your grown child’s old bedroom are all fair game for the location of your personal space for fitness.
You’ve installed the speakers and purchased the gym flooring. You’ve covered the walls with anatomy diagrams and your favorite motivational posters. A mural of Arnold Schwarzenegger flexing lies on the furthest wall – as though everything that happens within those walls is product of his authority.
Now it’s time to fill the space. It’s time to create the dungeon, palace, or sanctuary you seek. So much equipment exists and so much stands to have purpose in your space. How then, does one separate the options and come to make a decision on how to build the best possible home gym?
By consulting this guide, of course. Read on to find out some of the best possible equipment you could put into your home gym to ensure you see elite progress, whilst giving yourself options to keep the challenges of training effective. Each of these items are selected to maximize results while minimizing the space of occupation. We only have so much room in our homes for fitness equipment, so it’s important to load up on the things that get us to our destination without needing a home expansion project.
One of the oldest pieces of training equipment known to man – kettlebells are a tremendous piece of metal that can deliver whatever results you seek. It is often debated whether it was the Germans or the Russians who brought kettlebells to the forefront, with each nation staking a strong claim to the roots.
Thankfully, it doesn’t matter who invented the kettlebell training methodology – it just matters that you implement it.
What makes a kettlebell unique is the fact that the load is separate from the grip. It hangs below the handles (horns) when you grab a bell in a conventional manner. It is this lag in resistance profile that makes the bell unique. It can make something conventional, like the bent over row, seem exceptionally challenging as you have to pull harder, longer for you to overcome the resistance and reach the final position. This very same dynamic makes movements such as the swing, clean, and snatch perfect movements for developing power, strength, and speed.
The short hand physics lesson is as follows: You must perform more work in order to overcome inertia of the bell since there is distance between your hand placement and the predominant resistance. This distance adds significant demands in force production requirements – even when the bell isn’t that heavy.
Purchasing bells that range from 10 kilograms all the way towards 40 kilograms is an excellent way to ensure you have the appropriate loads available for a variety of exercises. Whether it is dynamic movements such as the clean and press, stability movements such as the Turkish Get up, or correctives such as the upside down goblet squat to press, it is important for you to have the perfect resistance available to train to your potential.
Utilize this training technique to see tremendous progress in your posterior chain – a group of muscles that comprises the hamstrings, glutes, latissimus dorsi, trapezius, and muscles of the rotator cuff and upper back. Moreover, this modality can also develop tremendous strength and power in the quads, anterior core, and shoulders.
The versatility and unique challenges make kettlebells a must have in your home gym.
TRX Suspension Training System (With Pull-Up Bar)
No matter how much you love lifting weights and moving molded iron throughout space it is important for you to obtain and retain mastery over your body in space.
Both the TRX suspension system and the pull-up bar provide you the opportunity to challenge yourself with your own bodyweight. Each piece of equipment opens up a new menu of exercises that allow you to continue to gain mastery of your body.
First, let’s look at the pull-up bar:
A classic tool for exercise – this bar can allow for everything from chin-ups, pull-ups, leg raises, knee-tucks, and even some shoulder mobility/stability exercises. By anchoring into your walls, or utilizing one of the systems that attach to your door frame you’ll be able to address your upper back, biceps, core, and shoulders with one piece of equipment.
This pull-up bar also adds a perfect anchor point for the TRX suspension training system, which can be strapped to a door if need be, but does function better from a horizontal bar.
The TRX is a unique system that allows you to use your bodyweight as the resistance, which makes the modality highly functional, but also highly variable. A subtle adjustment of your hands, feet, or the length of the straps can make an exercise more or less difficult on the fly. The straps have handles and foot straps, which make the unit capable of training every single muscle in the human body. Everything from your legs, arms, back, core, and even your cardio can be trained for strength, size, definition, and even flexibility.
Lacrosse Balls and Foam Rollers
Not every piece of exercise equipment needs to be for exercising itself. Some things are necessary for the longevity of a program and your body. Lacrosse balls and foam rollers are both implements for myofascial release, otherwise known as trigger pointing; a process meant to help break up undesired muscle adhesions, promote healthy blood flow, and boost your recovery times between workouts.
Using these tools appropriately will help you access new ranges of motion in your shoulders, hips, ankles, and spine while boosting your recovery from workouts in key muscles such as your glutes, lats, and quadriceps.
Far too many people focus simply on the appearance of their body and forget that they function like a machine, which needs regular maintenance and care for its parts. So, as you build out your home gym be sure to include these two small pieces of equipment so that you may take care of your parts too.
If you ever want to know where your cardiovascular limit is, then purchase yourself a fan bike, often known by the name Airdyne, and watch what happens.
A cardio machine designed to increase resistance against your body as your push harder – it never relents. Your efforts with your foot pedals and handle bars is immediately matched with a graded resistance from the fan.
Sets of intervals over a longer period of time, a serious of moderate intensity clusters, or even a long bout of lower intensity pedaling will absolutely crush calories and serve as a much better alternative to the treadmill, elliptical, or stationary bike that often finds itself in a home gym.
One of the best conditioning tools can be rolled up and placed in your pocket. A classic tool of athletes, conditioning specialists, and fitness enthusiasts – the jump rope is another tremendous tool for improving your cardiovascular health, burning high amounts of calories, and crushing your conditioning plateaus.
Multiple series that include a variety of foot patterns and jumping tempos can serve as an excellent warmup, a killer finisher, and even a perfect exercise in between sets of traditional resistance exercise.
A great challenge is to set your favorite song into your headphone and maintain your pace, including all of the variations and stutters in the music.
Resistance bands provide a unique form of resistance in comparison to traditional weights due to the elasticity of the bands. In short, a dumbbell’s weight remains constant in relation to gravity due to it be a solid piece of iron. A band, however, will increase in tension (resistance) as you pull it further. This tension not only makes the concentric portion of an exercise harder (think the squeeze in a curl), but also forces you to take ownership and control the eccentric portion (think the release of a curl). Otherwise, you’ll bounce to the bottom of the movement and risk injury and miss an opportunity to see excellent progress.
Bands come in a variety of shapes, sizes, and intensities. Some are known as mini-bands, which can be placed around the ankles and used for the strength of the hips and thighs, or around the wrists to strengthen the external rotators of the shoulder.
Others are known as fat bands, or thick bands, which can be used to assist you in movements such as pull-ups and push-ups when you don’t have the strength to repetitions on your own. These thick bands can also serve as counter-resistances for elite mobility and flexibility exercises for the hips, shoulders, and spine.
Lastly, conventional bands come in a variety of colors that increase in intensity as you progress in thickness. They can be used for just about any exercise you’d use conventional weights for, but really shine when used for the back, shoulders, arms, and chest.
Utilizing these bands will again contribute to the low space-requirement of your home gym.
What if I told you that you could train your body as hard as you do in the gym with big weights, but not even need the big weights?
That’s what Blood Flow Restriction Bands allow for.
(You didn’t think I wouldn’t mention the bands on a site FOR the bands, did ya?)
Seriously though, these bands are awesome for their ability to make those lighter loads work your muscles with the same intensity and burn that the larger resistances do. Instead of pushing 90% of your 1 rep max to see growth – imagine just doing thirty percent of it for a few more repetitions and seeing the same, or even better, progress towards your aesthetic goals.
These bands are for your arms and legs and function to increase the breakdown of muscle tissue to the stress of exercise and the accumulation of byproduct in muscles. Add in the massive increase in bloodflow upon removal and you have a great recipe for success anywhere, but especially at home where you don’t have the space for every great machine your fitness facility has.
Working in circuits of 5 or 6 sets on dedicated movements will blast your plateaus and give you incredible gains from the comfort of your home gym. Use wisely though, tighter isn’t better and there is a time limit to using this elite, but complex training tool.
Your home gym can become your sanctuary. A flat screen on the wall for the football games and the best sound system your credit score allows can perfectly complement this list of equipment. Motivational posters and a board for your PR’s can decorate the walls that lie adjacent to the rubber floor and your box of equipment.
You don’t need a fancy layout to realize your best body – you just need the right equipment, the right attitude, and the determination to make it happen!
To your gains,
Kevin Mullins, CSCS
Strength & Fitness Coach, Master Instructor
Kevin Mullins, CSCS, is a Master Instructor, Trainer and Group Exercise Instructor for Equinox Sports Club in downtown Washington D.C. He has contributed to MetRx.com, PTontheNET, the PTDC, and was a 2014 and 2015 Men’s Health Next Top Trainer Finalist.