Public gyms are closed for the foreseeable future and that sucks.
So you’ve decided to build a home gym, and that’s great!
Luckily, we’ve been helping people train from home for the past 11 years, and today we’ll share with you our top 16 ideas for building a gym in your garage (or apartment).
And even if most gym equipment is on backorder – we still got you covered.
Here’s what we’ll cover in our guide, How to Build a Home Gym:
As you might be able to tell, we’re going to start with things you might have around your house. We’ll level up all the way to a legit home gym setup that you could charge a membership fee for.
Let’s do this.
“Real-Talk” Alert: Fitness equipment is more or less sold out at the time of this writing (yes, even squat racks).
New stock may come in before gyms are open again, but concentrate on Level 1 if all else fails. Here’s how to stay in shape while staying inside.
Home Gym Level 1: Household Objects
If you’re without a single free weight in your house or apartment, all is not lost.
All sorts of household objects can be used for your home gym!
Here are some ideas for fitness equipment using everyday stuff:
#1) Jugs (Milk, Laundry)
If it has a handle and can store water, it can be used as a free weight.
Only drinking oat or almond milk these days? No problem. An empty bottle of laundry detergent, refilled with water, will fulfill the same purpose. To make it lighter, just fill it with less water.
Want to make it even heavier? Use sand instead of water.
Even heavier? Fill it with the weight of your feelings during quarantine.
Do you know what’s specifically designed to hold water and be lifted and carried?
Duh. Though, I suppose I gave it away above.
Much like a jug, fill it with enough water (or sand) to match your strength level.
At the time of writing this guide, most people aren’t really traveling anywhere due to COVID-19. This means your luggage and suitcases are probably just collecting dust.
So why not turn them into weights!
Just about any workout you can do with a sandbag, you could do with a suitcase full of weight.
What kind of weight, you ask? How about:
- Canned goods
- Clean rocks from outdoors
Take a lap around your house, I bet you find a dozen things to increase the weight of your luggage.
In one of our live-streamed workouts in Nerd Fitness Prime, Coach Pat got his luggage to weigh about 60 pounds using books and cans he had lying around his home.
If it’s heavy and fits in your bag, it’ll work just fine.
If you haven’t forgotten your towel, you’ll have yourself a versatile tool to use in your workouts.
Don’t believe me? Well, have you ever seen anyone use a towel for a deadlift?
The trick is to get your setup right, by getting your hips back and chest out. Then you perform the same upward motion as you would in a normal deadlift.
I apologize if you rip your towel in half doing this because you’re so strong (but like, worth it).
Also, if you don’t have a pull-up bar (more on buying one next section), a couple of towels can help you do chin-ups off a sturdy door. Note – I said STURDY. Be careful!
Coach Jim shows you exactly how to do it right here:
Another way to train your “pull” muscles, without using a jug or bucket, would be to use a doorway!
We can use the doorframe itself to support us, as we lean back and pull forward to complete the row.
Another option for performing rows would be…
Lie underneath your table so your head and shoulder are sticking out above it.
Grab the table edge with an overhand grip, and pull yourself up (just like it’s explained above).
Before we continue…
Note: At the time of this writing, most sports equipment is sold out and backordered for months.
The following equipment may or may not be available!
Home Gym Level 2: A Pull-Up Bar and Kettlebell
At this level, we are going to start actually making some purchases.
There are a few items that should you choose to buy, you’ll be able to perform a ton of different exercises.
With this one piece of equipment, you’ll have all you need to build a complete bodyweight workout.
Working your “pull” muscles can be tricky using just your bodyweight (although you can use jugs and buckets as described above). If you are going to buy a single piece of equipment for your home gym, start here.
If you’re serious about fitness, and you’re trying to get your first pull-up, a pull-up bar is a must.
#8) Doorway Fingerboard Climber
If you’re reading this in the spring of 2020, realistically, pull-up bars are sold out. Bummer.
Fingerboards are still available though.
You can still train your pull muscles, and you’ll get some amazing grip strength too in the process.
Not a bad Plan B.
While you don’t need any equipment to grow strong (check out our guide for bodyweight exercises for proof), if you were going to buy anything, a kettlebell would offer you a lot of versatility.
If you do end up picking one up, make sure you check out our 20-minute beginner kettlebell workout, which can be done with one single bell in your living room.
#10) Yoga Mat
If you have lots of comfy carpet or fluffy towels in your house, you don’t need a mat to do yoga.
But if you have hardwood floors or tile, you’re gonna want a mat to protect your knees and elbows.
Let’s give you three different options on what to buy:
- Manduka: I asked around our yoga channel in Nerd Fitness Prime, and Manduka mats were unanimously recommended as the best. The con is, they’re expensive. The Pro is, it’ll last you the rest of your life (they offer a lifetime warranty too).
- JadeYoga: more affordable, but also highly recommended from yogis in the Rebellion.
- A Towel: I was serious when I said a towel can help with all sorts of workouts.
Note: if you’re new to Yoga, check out NF Prime – we have a ton of Yoga videos designed for beginners who don’t do Yoga!
Home Gym Level 3: Dumbbells and Gymnastic Rings
At this point, we’re going to start equipping you with stuff that will make your garage/living room look like a gym. These are the ONLY pieces of equipment that Jimmy used to get in shape with our online coaching program:
So you can get in shape with minimal equipment – it just comes down to having a great program to follow!
Dumbbells don’t take up a lot of space and offer you a great way to up the difficulty of your workout.
For example, instead of doing bodyweight squats, you can do goblet squats:
You can also use them for your chest press:
Or with a full-body movement like a snatch:
The cool thing about dumbbells is once a particular move gets easy, just grab a heavier dumbbell to increase the difficulty.
You have two options on how to handle progressive overload: either buy a bunch of different weighted dumbbells or get an adjustable set:
- Adjustable Dumbbells: On the one hand, these are expensive. On the other, you can adjust all the way up to a 50 pound dumbbell with one set. Pretty nifty.
- Dumbbell Set: You can also just buy individuals dumbbells and stack them in a corner.
#12) Gymnastic Rings
With a pair of gymnastic rings, you can do all kinds of awesome exercises.
Or the big daddy of them all, the muscle-up:
And lots of other stuff in between. Gymnastic rings are one of the most versatile pieces of equipment out there, which is why we LOVE them and have full resources to train with them.
Here are some things to consider when making your ring purchases:
- CHEAP AND EASY: If you’re not sure if rings are for you, but you’re ring-curious, I would consider starting with a set of wooden rings like these Peak Fitness Wooden Rings for less than $30. I guarantee the last thing you spent $30 won’t change your life the way these rings will.
- HIGHER QUALITY: My friend Peter runs FringeSport.com, and I can testify that his wooden rings are the highest quality rings I’ve ever used. If you KNOW you’re going to love rings and want to have a great pair that will last forever, go with these.
- FAST SET UP AND TAKE DOWN: These days, I use Rogue Competition Rings for one reason above all others. I have to set up and take down my rings each time I train, and the carabiners and segmented straps make for a quick set up and takedown.
- SMALLER HANDS?: Look for rings that are in “FIG” size. These International Gymnastics Federation rings are a bit smaller and thinner, which allows for better control for smaller hands.
If you’re interested in becoming the lord of rings, make sure you read our full guide on using gymnastic rings. It’ll walk you through how to set them up, exercises to perform, and building a full ring workout.
Home Gym Level 4: Squat Racks, Barbells, and Benches
At this level, you’ll have a gym that you can start charging others to use (once it’s safe to let people in your home).
#13) Squat Rack
Any proper gym is going to have a squat rack.
It’s needed to do a barbell back squats:
Or a front squat:
There are a couple of different options on what to buy:
- Squat Stand:
This is a good option to buy, since it also has a pull-up bar attached (nice).
- Power Cage/Squat Rack:
Here’s an awesome cage/rack to buy.
NOTE: THESE ARE DIFFERENT THAN A SMITH MACHINE!
Unless you have no other choice, we want to focus on free moving barbells and stand-alone squat racks for their versatility, and we’d want to avoid Smith Machines.
To learn how to use a squat rack (performing exercises properly, setting it up, etc), check out our full guide on How to Squat Properly.
To actually use a squat rack, you’re going to need a barbell (and some weights).
Otherwise, you’ll just start hanging clothes on it.
CAP has an awesome barbell that you can actually get sent to you starting in May 2020.
Since a standard barbell weighs 45 pounds, this may be too much for you if you’re just starting your strength training journey (if you are but are still buying a home gym, I commend you for jumping right into the deep end).
Fringe Sport carries a “training barbell” that only weighs 15 pounds.
You can also consider just going to home depot and buying a thin PVC pipe to start practicing the barbell movements!
Once you get used to lifting a barbell around, you’re gonna want to put some weight on it to grow strong.
It’s now time to add weight to your barbell.
I’d recommend bumper plates, since they are coated in rubber and will keep you from damaging your floor and pissing off your landlord.
CAP currently has a few bumper plates that are still available.
Also, you can go with some plain metal weights, since they can still be bought online.
#16) A Bench
Outside of a squat rack, a bench will be useful for flushing out your home gym.
Otherwise, how are you going to perform a bench press?
You have two options here:
- Adjustable Bench: With an adjustable bench, you can do decline and incline bench presses. This would be the way to go if you can squeeze it.
- Flat Bench: You can also go with a sturdy flat bench, which will still allow you to do presses and dumbbell rows in your home gym.
Building a Home Gym Workout (Putting It All Together)
Now that you have all this sweet home gym equipment, it’s time to put it to use.
Let’s build a workout routine!
You want a workout routine that has at least one exercise for your:
- Quads (front of your legs): do bodyweight squats or use that awesome rack you bought for barbell squats.
- Butt and hamstrings (back of your legs): you can perform deadlifts using a towel, luggage, or a barbell if you scored one.
- Chest, shoulders, and triceps: (“push” muscles): you can push-ups right off the floor, or give those weights some action on a bench press.
- Back, biceps, and grip ( “pull” muscles): you can do rows using milk jugs, or if you’re lucky enough to grab a doorway pull-up bar, work to get your first pull-up.
- Core (abdominals and lower back): planks can be done right on your floor with zero equipment.
Before jumping into this sequence, make sure you warm-up!
It’ll help you prevent injuries. Here’s a sequence you can follow along with:
“How often should I work out, Steve?”
I generally recommend newbies complete a full-body routine (hitting every major muscle group above) two to three times a week.
Now, if you’re doing a bunch of micro-workouts throughout the day, then you can get away with training every day – providing you’re giving each muscle group a chance to recover!
If you’d like to continue your journey with Nerd Fitness, I have three great options for you.
Pick the path that most aligns with your goals.
Option #1) If you want a professional coach in your pocket, who can do video form checks, provide feedback, and adjust your workouts based on the equipment you have available, check out our 1-on-1 Online Coaching Program!
I’ve had an online coach since 2015 and it’s changed my life. You can learn more by clicking on the box below:
Option #2) Exercising at home and need a plan to follow? Have questions you need answered? Join Nerd Fitness Prime!
Nerd Fitness Prime contains at-home exercise routines, live-streamed workouts with NF Coaches, a supportive online community, group challenges, and much more!
Option #3) Become part of the Rebellion! We need good people like you in our community, the Nerd Fitness Rebellion.
Sign up in the box below to enlist and get our guide, Strength Training 101: Everything You Need to Know. It’ll help you start incorporating all the exercises referenced in today’s guide.
- Everything you need to know about getting strong.
- Workout routines for bodyweight AND weight training.
- How to find the right gym and train properly in one.
Alright, enough from me. Your turn:
Do you have a home or garage gym?
Any “must-have” equipment that I’m missing?
What’s your strategy for hunting down “sold out” goods?
Let me know in the comments!
PS: If you are trying to stay in shape while your gym is closed, check out: