Home Gym Basics: What You Need To Kick-Ass In the Comfort of Your Own Home or Studio

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Full Disclosure: I, in fact, do not workout in my own home gym.1.

Photo Credit: Guy I hate who’s home gym this is. Pretty badass if you ask me.

I did, however, make a career adjustment within the last few months and am now doing the bulk of my coaching/training out of a small studio space I sub-lease in Boston.

Which is kind of the same thing.

Except, instead of building a man cave to get diesel in a house where I pay a mortgage…instead, I pay rent for a space that’s a little over a mile from my apartment.

My Decision

Leaving Cressey Sports Performance, a place I helped co-found and build from scratch, and arguably one of the most prestigious and well-known training facilities in North America wasn’t an easy choice to make for a plethora of reasons.

I mean, look at all the room for activities!

Many trainers, coaches, and general fitness enthusiasts would kill – or at least Sparta kick someone in the chest – for that much open space.

While others may scoff and think that much open space is wasted space.

Not really.

While many facilities go out of their way to cover every square foot with training equipment and every fitness contraption under the sun, that’s not how CSP rolls.

Much of the equipment pictured above is the same equipment we originally purchased for our 2200 sq. ft. facility back in 2007. The only difference at present day – outside of dedicated space for pitching instruction and a more extensive warm-up/movement area – is the addition of more power racks, another functional trainer, and various speciality bars.

Even as we transitioned into larger and larger spaces, we didn’t use that as an excuse or opportunity to purchase more and more equipment.

Our business model required space, and minimal equipment.

And, truth be told, I think a more minimalistic approach to equipment is the way to go anyways. Especially with regards to setting up a baller home gym or studio.

Benefits of a Home Gym/Studio

[Quick Aside: I need to reiterate that I sub-lease training space. I was very fortunate in that I crossed paths with Rebecca Breslow – owner of Run Strong Studio – who has been a wonderful ally in helping me transition from CSP.

Meaning, I didn’t have to find a space, negotiate a lease, build out the space, or worry about any of the other headaches that come with gym ownership.

That said, I do feel there are more parallels than contrasts with what I’m doing now and anyone who happens to be interested in building their own home gym.]

This is where individual differences and tastes come into play. Some people want their own space to train because they’re sick and tired of dealing with crowded commercial gyms and the plume of Axe Body Spray they have to walk through in order to get to the water fountain. Others just want a space where they can do whatever the hell they want, when they want, and maybe even do it without their pants on.

Whatevs. I’m not here to judge.

Off the top of my head here are the main draws to having your own space to train:

1) You can train when you want. After work? Sure. 5 AM? Why not? To blow off a little steam when your team loses in the playoffs? Go for it. If there’s any ONE advantage to having your own space it’s that it suits YOUR schedule. And you don’t have to worry about any Holiday hours.

Note: just be sure not to set anything up adjacent to a fish tank.


2) You can train however you’d like. If you’re someone who’s into powerlifting, you can equip your home gym to suit your needs. If you’re someone who’s into Olympic lifting, bodybuilding, bodyweight training, or, I don’t know, performing endless repetitions of bicep curls shirtless while you stare at yourself in the mirror chanting “I’d fuck me” Buffalo Bill style, it’s all the same.

It’s your space. You won’t have to worry about getting any weird looks from onlookers.

3) Trying to perform a heavy deadlift day with Journey playing in the background is torture. With your own space, you can play what you want.

Music is a huge component of building a workout environment that motivates you to get after it. I for one love EDM and 90’s hip-hop music. Others prefer Metallica or Rage Against the Machine or your everyday, run of the mill, vanilla, top 40 or Pop music. Whatever the case may be, it doesn’t matter. It’s your space. John Mayer Radio on Pandora. Cool.2

4) You can build your own culture and surround yourself with like-minded people who prefer to train how you train. 9 times out of 10 commercial gyms zap the life out of people and many end up meandering through their workouts because everyone else around them is meandering.

It sucks.

5) It’s an investment that will pay for itself.

You can expect to drop anywhere between $3000-$5000 for a decent home gym. I have the luxury of being able to write that expense off due to my livelihood. But even if you can’t coax your accountant to allow you to write it off, if you think about what you’d be paying in gym fees/memberships over the course of a few decades it’ll easily pay for itself.

Moreover, I find it comical that the people who will inevitably complain about the costs involved won’t bat an eye when the new iPhone comes out.

Home Gym Basics

As Mike Robertson notes in THIS piece he wrote on the same topic, available SPACE is going to be the key determinant here.

You’ll have to measure things out…length and width of floor space, but most importantly – and something that most people fail to do – HEIGHT of the ceiling.

From there it’s all about your budget. I gave a loose estimate above of $3000-$5000, but this can be scaled down (or up) depending on available funds, space, and what your needs are.

Since you’re reading this site I can only assume you’re into lifting heavy things. So here’s what I did and what I feel will be a decent direction to start for most.

Must Have Equipment

1) Power Rack/Squat Rack

You get what you pay for here. Don’t be an a-hole, okay. You can’t go cheap.

If you’re going to get something, get something you know will be durable and last. If you wanted to launch that fucker into space, you could.

Two sites are well known for their quality of racks: Rogue and EliteFTS.

At Cressey Sports Performance we went with EliteFTS. When I branched off on my own this past Fall I went with Rogue. Both are excellent choices (and speaking personally, I can attest that Rogue’s speed of delivery and customer service is top-notch).

I purchased the RML-490 rack, fully loaded (pegs, pull-up bar, spotter arms, additional set of J-cups). I needed something that could be used by two people simultaneously if necessary.

However, for the bulk of home gyms, the R3-R4 series are a good fit as well.

2) Plywood/Flooring

If you’re handy and can make your own platform, awesome. Do it (and please give me a call). If not, purchasing some rubber flooring/matting to protect your floor (and aid with sound reduction from dropped weights) is wise. Read Mike’s post above on what he did to build his own platform.

3) Barbell(s)

Again, don’t go cheap here. You could head over to your local Sports Authority or Dick’s and get a barbell for under $50. And, if budget is an issue, so be it.

However, much like a power/squat rack…you want to get something that’ll last. I purchased two Texas Power Bars. I should note I lucked out and found a local gym (via CraigsList) going out of business and was able to get two relatively unused bars at a great deal.

I also purchased a trap bar/hex bar for $120 via eBay. But you could easily look on Amazon or CraigsList too.

Massachusetts/New England peeps: I purchased several refurbished pieces of equipment from BigFitness.com, and had a lovely experience dealing with them.

4) Plates/PowerBlocks/Miscellany

Two pieces of advice on here on plates:

  • Don’t buy new (I found a local meathead here in MA who sold used gym equipment out of his garage. Plates were HALF the price compared to if I bought the same amount of weight at a store or online).
  • Don’t buy 35 lb plates. Seriously, it’s a waste. Get 45s, 25s, 10s, 5s, 2.5s as needed.

For home gyms or studios PowerBlocks are a space saver. I purchased the 90 lb set with the ability to expand up to 140 lbs – because I’m jacked – but they do offer a variety of packages.

I find suspension trainers – TRX or Jungle Gym – are a key piece of equipment to have as well, which offer a ton of variety.

Other Miscellaneous Things to Take into Consideration: collars, foam roller, bands (EliteFTS or PerformBetter.com), plate holders, mats, chalk, chalk bucket, vintage poster of Cindy Crawford.

Other Stuff to Consider

I purchased an adjustable bench so I – and my clients – could perform bench presses as well as incline/decline presses and chest supported row variations if needed.

But honestly, I don’t feel a bench is a requirement.

I listened to Dan John speak a few weeks ago and he discussed the idea of a “gym audit.” He noted that he got rid of all his benches in his home gym (where several people train alongside him), and the training got better.

I’d place things like kettlebells (I like RKC or PerformBetter here), sleds, medicine balls, boxes, sandbags, weight-vest, chains, and maybe even an AirDyne bike into the category of “nice to have, depending on a few things.”

Other things like a landmine, dip station, ab rollout, specialty bars (GCB, SSB, yoke, etc), stability ball(s), GHR, and other selectorized equipment is going to be contingent on your space, budget, and goals.

Of Note: If you’re someone who’s banged up – shoulders for example – then purchasing things like a Multi-Grip Log Bar or a Cambered/Top Squat bar become a little more of a priority.

Likewise, for me, purchasing accessory equipment like a Meadows Row handle or a Landmine attachment made sense given my clientele and mode of training.

All in all, though, I feel the stuff above will cover most people’s bases.

Do you anything to add or any pieces of advice on how to build a diesel home gym? Please share them below and it could help some people who are on the fringe.

Did what you just read make your day? Ruin it? Either way, you should share it with your friends and/or comment below.

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Plus, get a copy of Tony’s Pick Things Up, a quick-tip guide to everything deadlift-related. See his butt? Yeah. It’s good. You should probably listen to him if you have any hope of getting a butt that good.

I don’t share email information. Ever. Because I’m not a jerk.
  1. I also don’t have any superpowers, make out with Olivia Munn on a regular basis, or carry around a Rambo knife. But that doesn’t stop me from talking about it.

  2. Not

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