The First Step (That Everyone Skips!) When Planning a Home Gym

by Ben | Last Updated: October 29, 2020

Every other website or fitness store out there skips the most important step to helping you get started in the Home Gym Life: they don’t consider your goals and preferences. They just jump right into getting you to buy sh*t.

They might drop a simple one-liner like “you should consider what exercises you want to do and your fitness goals before…” – and that’s it. 

WHAT?? 

Most people are just starting out, and they have no idea (from an educated perspective) what effective fitness goals and the corresponding exercises could be.
Even if you aren’t a newbie, there’s a good chance you weren’t on a focused program with a good understanding of your goals. (would you be reading this?)

It’s CRITICALLY important for you to think about this upfront for three huge reasons:

  1. You won’t spend unnecessarily on equipment that doesn’t suit you
  2. You’re much more likely to continue your fitness journey when you see results. 
  3. You see results by training properly for your goals and consistently because you’re training in a way that’s fun for you.

The only fitness or diet routine that’s worth doing is the one you’ll stick to for 5+ years. Period.

-me

So, let’s dive in and figure out who you are and what you want to achieve

The Many Variations Of Goals and Backgrounds

Let’s be clear: this isn’t meant to be a completely exhaustive list of all combinations of fitness preferences and perspectives. However, it should serve you well enough to get an understanding of:

Ladies

“I need to lose weight, yesterday” 

The vast majority of women looking to get into fitness do so because they want to lose excess bodyfat. You might want to fit into that dress again, or those tops from your college years. As long as it’s a healthy goal (i.e. you actually are overweight to some degree), that’s fine. 

If losing bodyfat is your main objective, the great news is this doesn’t require a ton of expensive equipment. Your training should be focused on aerobic (elevated heart rate) training but can certainly include a variety of other training methods also. 

Either way, jump down by tapping here to learn about the variety of training methods you can use to meet those goals. Find something that speaks to you, and follow the recommended guides for finding the best equipment.

The bad news is that your training is only going to contribute 10-20% of your actual progress. The rest is up to healthy, effective dietary changes. Not a fad diet, not a 30-day challenge, but a permanent adjustment. 

For Those Looking To Stay Fit

Another significant portion of ladies are happy where they’re at, but just want to boost ‘overall health’, maintain, or maybe improve some part of their physique. Perhaps you’ve been working out at a commercial gym for a few years already, or you want to get back to that body you had before kids. 

From a home gym planning perspective, you girls have a lot of options. You could invest in the more expensive equipment/training, but it’s not necessary. 

In this case, I would recommend starting small/cheap as to not shock your finances and ensure the home gym life is ‘for you’ (my bet is you’ll love it though).

If this is you, jump ahead to consider the types of training you prefer.

Competition-Minded Women

Lastly, we have those who are looking to participate in something like a crossfit competition, weightlifting competition, bikini, or similar. You ladies know who you are, and likely already know what kind of equipment you’re going to need.

However, if you’re just getting started in that journey, or if you’re interested in heading in that direction, read on. You probably already know, but this type of training is best done utilizing compound lifts like the squat, deadlift, bench press, clean & jerks, etc. You’re going to need the ‘more expensive’ levels of equipment: a power rack, a good barbell, enough weights to train, and some other things.

That doesn’t mean you have to spend a fortune, but it will likely be ~$1,000 at the cheapest. Here’s a couple articles to get you started, select a rack and a barbell first, or go for a full home gym bundle to save the most! 

If you’re interested but new to this, check out my guides on compound movement training before investing in the equipment.

Men

Men under 50 generally fall into three ‘buckets’: 

  1. Those looking to get more muscular while maintaining or lowering their bodyfat % some
  2. Guys looking to just be powerhouses and don’t care too much about a healthy amount of fat
  3. The guys who want to get rid of bodyfat and look more ‘cut’/lean

The buckets aren’t strictly this-or-that. A blend of these usually comes out when discussing a guy’s goals.

It’d be great to have all 3: lift huge numbers in the gym, be 250lb+, and lean as a chickenbreast – but that’s unrealistic for 99% of us. ‘Cause genetics. Sorry, but it’s the truth. I’m not going to lie to you to protect your feelings. I go into detail about mens genetics and bodytypes in this article.

Men over 50 typically are looking to lose weight unless they’re already relatively fit for their age. The rest generally just want to maintain or improve their overall health by staying active. 

If You’re Overweight

No matter your age, if you’re strictly looking to lose body fat, you don’t have to jump in head first financially with a huge investment into gym equipment.  

You can get a lot of this done with aerobic and anaerobic exercises with short rest times. You should be training with an elevated heart rate throughout your entire workout. I’m not going to dive into exercises and programming here on this, just know that you don’t need to invest a squat rack, plates, barbells, etc. 

You can, but first you should tap here to look into the variety of training types that can get you to your goal. You might really like something that doesn’t need them, and you can always look into that equipment at a later point. 

For Growth, Maintenance, and Moderate Bodyfat Loss

All men looking for any of these goals will need enough equipment to prompt physiological change. The body adapts to stress and loads its placed under. Air-squats and leg-lifts aren’t going to be enough, just as it isn’t enough for women looking to get stronger either.

That doesn’t mean necessarily you HAVE to get a rack, barbell and plates to train. Some growth is possible with bodyweight training like calisthenics, but to really build excess muscle beyond your natural levels is going to require resistance training with some equipment.

What equipment depends on the sort of training you are interested in doing, so lets get into that.

Training Variations

Let’s discuss *some* of the different styles of training out there and how they can help you reach your goals.

Disclaimer: This is not a complete list of training techniques. Nor are these statements “law” regarding what goals these are for or what exercises they include. There are gray areas to each. The recommendations that follow are generally what these styles are best used for and what they most commonly involve.

Mobility Training / Flexibility / “Functional” Training / Yoga

These groups of training involve a wide variety of exercises focused on improving range of motion (ROM), flexibility, balance, body control, and functional strength.

The main benefits from this type of training is decreased risk of injury/strain, and generally making everyday life a lot easier. Like carrying in that truckload of groceries in one trip, getting up the stairs, moving/carrying large bulky loads like furniture, etc. 

What’s Involved

A huge variety of exercises could fall within this category. But generally, most of the exercises will be bodyweight exercises, with small free weights or bands used for resistance and unbalanced movements. 

Lunges, step-ups, core work, weighted carries, goblet squats, light resistance work like band curls, presses, and hip-hinge movements like rows or goodmornings will be the core of it.

Who This Training Type Is Best For

Mobility & Flexibility training is most beneficial for those who are overweight, as well as older (50+) age groups.

Overweight individuals can use this training to compliment their aerobic routines. Typically being overweight is due to a largely sedentary lifestyle and with that also comes restricted range of motion in your joints. If you’re working on losing weight, you probably aren’t going to be used to all the aerobic exercise, and this style will assist in keeping you loose and less sore.

Older age groups can also benefit – poor balance, range of motion, and flexibility are common complaints trainers hear when working with 50+ clients. I also recommended that you incorporate some formal resistance training (weight lifting) in combo with these movements. Arthritis, osteoporosis, and other age-related limitations have been shown to respond very well to resistance training.

Typical Equipment & Room Needed

At the least, this type of training will require some flooring or a mat, and some free weights. You may also want to invest in a few kettlebells, slam balls or medicine balls, some bands, and perhaps a step or bench. As for space, you shouldn’t need more than about a 6ft x 6ft area.

As you progress, you may want to include some other equipment like a cable machine/pulldown, a rower, or even a barbell and some light plates. As you gain strength and become more confident, your goals will likely start to shift away from having this training be the primary focus.

Resources:

Aerobic Exercise & Cardio Training

As you’re probably aware, cardio or aerobic exercise is intended to get and maintain you at an elevated heartrate. 

Many of the benefits linked to ‘exercise’ are actually more closely linked to aerobic training, such as improved cognitive function, lower stress, lower risk of heart disease, etc. Obviously, the largest benefit of aerobic training (and the majority of the reason anybody does it) is lowering bodyfat and increasing lean body mass.

What’s Involved

This can be achieved with nearly any form of exercise: dancing, running, stair-stepping, cycling, swimming, rowing, you name it. There’s also many variations of performing these exercises for the aerobic benefit. Here’s a basic outline of them:

Who This Training Type Is Best For

This training is best for those who are overweight and/or have no primary goals beyond reducing bodyfat. That being said – Everyone, regardless of training goals, should incorporate some form of aerobic exercise into their weekly routine. Two 30 minute sessions weekly will not inhibit any muscle growth.

Typical Equipment & Room Needed

This is a training style that can use equipment or not at all. If you’re comfortable exercising outdoors, all you may need are some good running shoes. 

For those who want to do their cardio/aerobic training in their Home Gym, there’s many options available. Depending on your training preference, an airbike or spin cycle can offer some great workouts without taking up too much real estate. Some rowing machines can also be flipped upwards for storage to keep their footprint to a minimum. 

Ellipticals, treadmills, recumbent bikes, and stair steppers are just as great options, however they will take up quite a bit of space. 3-4ft x 8-10ft  typically.

References:

Crossfit / WOD / Competitions / Obstacle Courses

This type of training has become hugely popular in the 2000s. I’m sure most of you have seen or heard of crossfit gyms in your area. I’m also lumping in obstacle courses and Spartan Race type competitions here as they’re relatively similar. One reason this style has become so popular is the comradery and accountability it offers thanks to the competitions. 

What’s Involved

Training for these types of engagements can vary quite a bit in regards to specific exercises. However, they will be high-intensity, with an aerobic focus either with dedicated exercises or circuit-type training with little rest between sets. Exercises could include: rowing, burpees, weighted carries, medicine ball work, hammering stakes into the ground, olympic lifts like the power clean, jerk, snatch, and much more.

Who This Training Type Is Best For

The high intensity of these exercises make them great for those looking to lose some bodyfat. This type of training can also be great for men & women who want to become stronger and build some muscle as well, as there’s almost always a weightlifting component.

Typical Equipment & Room Needed

Equipment for crossfit & WOD, you will need at the very least a barbell, some plates, kettlebells, a power rack, a weight sled, as well as good flooring. Many weightlifting and crossfit exercises involve dropping a loaded barbell, for which you’ll want to have either 1+” rubber flooring or a set of drop-pads. This is just the basics, you can expand this as you find exercises you want to incorporate, like sandbags for weighted carries, etc.

Equipment needed for training for obstacles courses and similar competitions will include some of the above. You might be able to get away without a power rack if you have another way to do pullups. Medicine balls, grip training equipment, plyo-boxes, ropes for climbing or battle-rope exercises; these are just some of the options you expand into for training.

Building a home gym for this type of training will typically need at least a 10×10’ area. You can do sled work and other things outside, but you will need room to do power cleans and plyometric work safely.

General Weightlifting / Powerlifting / IPF & IWF Competitions

Generalized weightlifting is what ‘working out’ used to mean to most of the public before crossfit and other unique training styles got so popular. I’ve also included here sanctioned weightlifting and powerlifting styles for those who want to eventually compete in one of these competitions in the future. Since the equipment and goals are closely aligned.

What’s Involved

This style of exercise is almost entirely comprised of resistance exercises (loaded movements) intended to target specific muscle groups in order to increase power, strength, and size. Exercises will generally include: bench presses, squats, deadlifts, pullups, leg presses, military/shoulder presses, weighted rows, curls, tricep extensions, and more.

Who This Training Type Is Best For

No surprise here, weightlifting in this manner is best for those looking to increase their size or strength. Men should incorporate some weightlifting into their routines, no matter what the main goal is. This is also a great training style for men who have some fat they’d like to lose, but also want to improve their overall physique. This can be accomplished simultaneously with resistance training and dietary changes.

Women should understand this training won’t make you bulky and lose your figure – a common misconception. Weightlifting can help you build muscle tone, assist in keeping bodyfat low, and promote a good metabolism just as it does for men. Your figure will not change drastically.

Typical Equipment & Room Needed

Equipment for weightlifting is pretty standard. You will need a variety of free weights like dumbbells or kettlebells, a barbell, rack, bench, and plates at a minimum. A cable machine is a great addition if you can find the space for it or find a combination rack/cable machine like I have. Your rack will serve as a great foundation for anchoring other equipment to like landmines for rows, dip bars for…dips, etc.

Seeing as your training will revolve heavily around your rack, you will need enough space for that, plus some for moving the bench around and stashing other equipment. I’d suggest planning at a minimum a 10×10’ space. Ideally 20×20’.

Calisthenics

Calisthenics utilizes your bodyweight and unique positioning to challenge your body. It is among the more ‘unique’ training types that have recently become more popular. The exercises progress in difficulty, so it is easy for beginners but can also get quite advanced. Ninjas? Not quite, but close!

What’s Involved

The most basic exercises that could be considered calisthenic-like are situps and pushups, but as you advance could include anything from handstands, muscle-ups, flags, single-arm planches, dips, planks, and tons more. 

Who This Training Type Is Best For

Calisthenics is best for men & women who want to achieve impressive strength but aren’t too concerned with putting on mass. 

You will get muscular, and it demands a strong core, you’ll be very strong – but eventually your growth will plateau. Bodyweight and leverage can only offer so much resistance (especially with some of the joint positioning involved).

Someone who’s looking to move on from flexibility/mobility work or yoga might be interested in calisthenics. Another huge benefit is that you don’t need very much equipment, so let’s get to what that is!

Typical Equipment & Room Needed

Realistically, calisthenics can take advantage of many common household items and surfaces to ‘get it done’. But in order to do it properly, and without risking injury, it’s best to get dedicated calisthenics equipment.

You will want something to be able to do pullups and attach bands to for other exercises. A power rack would work or you could anchor a good pullup bar to your wall/ceiling. You will eventually need a dip station or parallettes, possibly gymnast rings, a variety of bands, and some light free weights for some exercises. Flooring should be obvious.

You’ll need a decent size area to do this type of training considering it’s gymnast-like movements. This is a concern for all home gyms, but especially for calisthenics – a 10ft ceiling is preferable. It can be done with an 8ft ceiling, though.

Sources:

Where To Go From Here

Now that you have an idea of some of the training methods out there, take a moment to really consider your goals, and what types of training you’re interested in. 

Maybe you’ve been working out for a few years already and want to try something new, or you’re convinced that you like what you’re already doing. Both are great!

I’m Ready to Get Started! What Now?

You should be familiar with your goals (and what are not your goals) – and the training style you intend to pursue. With that, you’re ready to get started planning your new Home Gym!

Welcome to the Cool Kids Club. Let’s go!

<<Planning Your Home Gym Link/Graphic>>

I can’t decide on a training style yet, but I want to get started!

That’s just fine, you can still cancel that gym membership and get moving. I’d recommend you start small and work your way up.

You should look into purchasing some free-weights like kettlebells or dumbbells, and some bands to get started. There’s hundreds of exercises you can do with them that align pretty well with just about any training style. 

The process of planning and building out the foundation of your home gym won’t change much anyway depending what style you settle on. So let’s get to it!

<<Planning Your Home Gym Link/Graphic>>

What if I have multiple goals?

It’s okay to have multiple goals, or like multiple training styles!

There’s a few ways you can justify what’s best for your situation if you like multiple styles or have multiple goals, like losing fat but also getting more muscular.

  1. If you’re tight on a budget but you want to get into a training style that needs some significant equipment, I’d recommend focusing on getting cut & lean first, while you save up for the big stuff.
    1. You’ll learn a ton about controlling your diet which is more than half the battle
    2. You will build a solid routine and reap much of the psychological & respiratory benefits of consistent exercise along the way. This will give you a huge head start for when you can build out your home gym and get started.
    3. You can start to pick up the small/cheap stuff to use along the way. Start a small collection of free-weights like dumbbells or kettlebells, and some bands.
  2. If you’re interested in two completely different styles that utilize different equipment, like calisthenics and weightlifting, what then? Start with the cheaper of the two equipment-wise. 
    1. In this scenario you minimize the up-front investment, hedging you against losing too much money should you change your mind and go the more expensive route.
    2. Another benefit here is even if you do change your mind, equipment for cheaper training styles like calisthenics, plyometrics, and aerobic/cardio training can still offer some use. 

Hopefully that helped you settle on a direction. If you’re still unsure or confused, drop me a line at [email protected] ! For those who are ready (or just curious), let’s get to the next step in building a Home Gym, planning!


<<Planning Your Home Gym Link/Graphic>>