Fitness Articles

Get Fit Without Leaving the House

Home Gyms are Practical and Affordable


Imagine a gym you can commute to in seconds. It’s open 24-hours, so you can come and go as you please—on your time. It’s comfortable, and you feel completely at ease when you work out there. Oh, and membership is free. You may be daydreaming, but the perfect gym is a dream that can come true…in your own home.


There is no reason that you can’t make a home gym part of your reality. A home gym adds convenience and privacy to your workouts. When you exercise at home, you save time, money, and the rush hour headaches (on the road and in line for the elliptical). Although you might be cautious due to budget and space limitations in your house, building a home gym isn’t as impractical as you might think. After all, gym memberships can occupy a large portion of your budget at several hundred dollars per year.


The Basics

Remember, you want to build a gym based on your own personal needs and fitness level. As you progress, you can add on equipment, so don’t feel that you need to buy everything at one time. Your gym can be as simple or complex as you want.


  1. Dumbbells (Free weights): A good set of dumbbells will help you start a strength training routine. There are two basic options when it comes to dumbbells. You can buy single sets based on the weight you want to lift. These are often metal, but can also be covered with a rubber material to keep them from slipping out of your hands. Expect to pay $15-$20 for a pair of 5-pound weights. Prices will increase as the weight goes up. A second option is to buy an adjustable dumbbell set. This includes two handles (or bars) for you to grip, as well as plates of varying weights that can be attached. Depending how many plates you get, expect to pay at least $60 for a set like this. Fancier versions can run up to $350 or more.

  2. Resistance Bands: Bands are great because they are compact, portable, and allow for a wide range of motion. Resistance bands come in three or four different levels of resistance and usually run around $15 for one band. These can be used pretty much any way that a dumbbell can be used, so if you are in a budget crunch, these might be the better option. To learn more, read No Need to Stretch the Truth About Resistance Bands.

  3. Stability (Swiss, Balance, Physio) Ball: An exercise ball, no matter which name it goes by, is simply an oversized inflatable ball. These are extremely versatile, and not just for core workouts anymore. You can sit, lie, and balance on them during almost any exercise, rather than investing in an exercise bench. Plus, this unstable surface targets your core muscles and improves your balance and coordination. The balls come in different sizes (based on your height and weight), and a rainbow of colors, and cost around $25 apiece. Read Exercising with a Stability Ball to learn more. 

  4. Exercise Mat: Place a good exercise mat on the floor to stretch comfortably, cushion your body during floor exercises (from crunches to modified pushups), and prevent slipping while lifting weights. Consider this a must if you do a lot of Pilates or yoga. Plus, they can roll up out of the way for storage if your space is limited. For about $20 you can get a sticky mat (for Pilates and yoga), which is thin—but better than a hard floor. The price goes up for larger and thicker mats.

Once you’ve purchased some or all of the basics, you’re well on your way!


The Extras

  1. Cardio Machines: Next, consider a piece of aerobic workout equipment. Whichever you choose, make sure your machine has different resistance levels to allow for workout variety and challenge as you progress. Also available, for a price of course, are computer systems with timers, calorie counters, RPMs (for bikes, ellipticals) and even heart rate monitors. Before you make a major purchase, try one for several minutes in a store. While it might be tempting to buy the cheapest available, you’ll want to make sure you are investing in a solid piece of equipment that you are comfortable on. 

    • If you like running and walking, a treadmill is a good option. Keep in mind, however, that running outside is free, while these machines are costly—at least $600 for the most basic model. 

    • Stationary bikes or elliptical machines are more affordable alternatives.   Elliptical machines, which cost at least $400, are low-impact (and fun!). Bikes come in two different varieties, recumbent (like sitting in a chair with a backrest) and upright (standard seat) and also cost at least $400 for a decent model. 

    • Of course, a jump rope is a cheap piece of equipment that can also get your heart pumping!

  2. Workout Bench: Space and budget allowing, a good workout bench is a solid investment. Look for one that adjusts at varying angles (incline, flat, and decline). Many benches start at around $90. Make sure to purchase a sturdy bench (test it out for length, width, weight limit) to support you effectively while you work out.

  3. Universal Gym Machine: Finally, the king of home workout equipment is an all-in-one weight machine. You’ve probably seen them on infomercials, but are also available for purchases in many stores. They will run at least $800, but are often well over $1,000. These machines include a bench and various pulleys and weights, which combine all the machines in a commercial gym into one compact unit, allowing you to do squats, presses, curls, and pull downs. 

All of these pieces of gym equipment are available in a variety of places—sporting goods stores, department stores, websites, and by catalog. For a great deal, consider purchasing gently used equipment. Look through the classified ads, auction websites, and even garage sales. If possible, test it out before you buy.

Set Up

Start small. A few basic pieces of equipment are all you need. You don’t need 5 different weight machines to have a great gym, although if your budget and house allows it, consider yourself blessed. Keeping just the basics on hand will help make healthy lifestyle goals much more attainable.


Make sure you have enough space for your gym. Choose a room with a high ceiling (so you won’t hit your hands while working out), and a sturdy, clean floor (to prevent slipping). Finally, add some good lighting, ventilation (possibly with a fan), and a stereo to crank your favorite tunes, and you’ve created a gym that you can really enjoy!  

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Member Comments

  • Good information
  • I will get an adapter to use my own bicycle as a stationary bike for the winter. Going out for resistance bad/sn and higher dumbbell weight/s today So far have 1, 2, and 5 pound hand weights. .
  • I also use my own home stairs to walk up and down 5 times then moderate paced walking for 1-3 minutes, then 2 more such sets. I also use one bottom step to step up on one leg 15 times, then other leg 15 times, then same 1-3 minute moderate paced walk in between set. Saves space and money!
  • Cardio equipment is expensive for a home gym that you may not use. An adapter that will convert your regular bike into a piece of stationery equipment however is not. It's a great investment and will keep you in shape for the next "century" race. Also good is are pieces of ergonomic equipment. And don't forget the Total Gym - if you use it for nothing else you can row - I had forgotten what a great workout that could be until I could not do many other things.
  • One of the best ways to exercise at home is martial arts. All you need is a space where you can move; it can be on carpet or a hard floor or grass or whatever you have; flat surface, up and down a staircase, or about anywhere. Martial art movements employ the entire body, with certain areas being the main focus of certain movements; all of them start with and strengthen the midsection, and together they provide an exceptional whole-body workout. They can (and usually should) be done at a very high intensity, with a cycle of intense activity and rest; this gives you a lot of exercise in little time, but can be done over a greater length of time if you want. Resistance comes from velocity, with the practitioner always trying to move faster. They can also be done very slowly, as in standing on one foot while going slowly through a kicking motion with the other; this exercises the muscles that stabilize the knee (among others), which can prevent knee injuries. They are a very good meditation too. And you get more bang for your proverbial buck, because in addition to their exercise value, they also leave you better able to defend yourself and your loved ones if you are ever forced to do so.
  • I began my journey to wellness as a morbidly obese woman. I had two fake knees, buckets of doubt and angst, and zilch for inspiration and motivation. All the nonsense I filled my head with held me back from doing the work, mentally and physically, to change my life's trajectory. Initially I purchased DVDs and walked with Leslie...I shed some pounds as I gained some strength and confidence. Next, I began exploring YouTube and working out at home with some amazing personal trainers: Jessica Smith, Shelly Dose, and AngieFitnessTV. SparkTV is also loaded with individual workout options that take working out at home to another level. Seriously, how can you argue with or beat free?! My workout space is a 6x8 ft section of floor in my family room...minus my kitchen peninsula, stools, and other furniture. My point being it does not require oodles of room or equipment. I stow all that I use in a small cupboard, except for my step, BOSU, and stability ball. I workout at least five days a week, and often I do a different workout each time. Invest in yourself and your health...limitles
    s options and possibilities. Exercise your strong, becoming fit at home is a worthy endeavor...your only limitation is you.
  • WRONG WRONG WRONG. The only reason anyone should be paying THAT much for a dumbbell is because they are either unwilling or unable to shop around or they have few stores in their vicinity. As for the submission that you pay more as the weights go up , several of the stores in my city (the "real" fitness stores) charge a fixed amount PER POUND ( it is was $1 CAD per pound at one store today) for ANY fixed weight dumbbell.
    \Even Wal Mart was as cheap or cheaper. That was where I got my 20 and 30 lb dumbells,
  • I do have a treadmill which I have been using but when I need a break, I just get off and do some aerobic moves to whatever music I have going on my i-pod. I have had a stationary bike for years (that has hardly been used) but find I can't spend more than a couple of minutes on it right now without my heart rate quickly exceeding my upper limit (80%). I may be able to use it eventually. I used to enjoy the recumbent bike at the gym. A number of years ago when I was doing a weight program regularly, I purchased dumb bell sets as I needed more challenging weights so I have 3, 5 8 and 10 lb plus a set of 2 lb that my daughter left behind which I sometimes combine with the 5 lb weights. A Swiss ball and yoga mat (also left by my daughter) plus resistance bands I purchased a few years ago (have hardly used and recently found) complete my small equipment "arsenal" We have a large finished room in our basement (mostly empty) which has become my workout space.
  • And the rebounder! Can buy fold up ones or just put it against the wall when done. I love to use mine when I watch TV sometimes
  • Need a lot of room at home to do the machines. One machine probably wouldn't suffice, the expense for more than 1 is hard to justify, as so many people buy a machine and are not satisfied with the overall results it provides. Eventually, again for many people, a machine sits idle. Easier and less expensive to go to a gym and use the variety of machines there.
    And you can exercise for free, at home too!

    When you're done with those plastic milk cartons, wash and dry them. Set them on your bathroom scale, and fill bottles with soil, mulch, rocks, or even water will do. You can easily make a five pound weight...voila you have dumbbells, complete with handles!

    Use the stairs in your house as a STEP. Put on some music, and do basic STEP exercises!

    And here's the best one.
    Open your front door, and get out and walk!
    well done. easy but lazy
  • I haven't seen a REAL universal weight machine since college.
  • ELKINSC11414
    I actually got a good treadmill and elliptical machine from Wally World and paid only $400 for both! - Delivered to my home for free - though I had to set them up - they are fordable and convenient.
  • JEANW2
    My home gym consists of dumbbells, exercise bike, exercise mat and lots of exercise DVDs. I'd like to add a bench to that eventually, and heavier dumbbells as my upper body strength increases. But I'm a huge fan of body weight exercises: Keeping it simple, eh?

About The Author

Liz Noelcke Liz Noelcke
Liz is a journalist who often writes about health and fitness topics.

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