Though some people prefer to exercise in group classes or at a gym, the idea of having a home workout setup is pretty appealing. You can go from being in bed to doing your daily HIIT session in less than five minutes, which means you have zero reasons for not getting your sweat on. The only problem? It can seem like a huge investment to assemble a home gym, and people often struggle to figure out which equipment they need in order to get an effective workout. Here’s the good news: It’s up to you.
There are a lot of affordable options out there that won’t set you back major cash, and you can pick and choose what you want based on the types of workouts you like to do.
So if you want to build a home gym without dropping thousands of dollars on a fancy treadmill, what should you buy? Here’s what trainers recommend to get started.
“Forgo any bulky weight machines; free weights are better because you have to engage more of your body to stabilize and balance when holding a weight versus a machine,” says Jonathan Tylicki, master trainer at AKT and program director of AKT On Demand. That’s right, it’s better to use regular old hand weights than it is to invest in a fancy machine. “Your collection of dumbbells can be small,” he adds. “A set ranging from three pounds to 10 pounds is sufficient for most women.”
If you don’t want to invest in a cardio machine, “a jump rope is a small, affordable, and fantastic way to get a great cardio workout in anywhere,” says Dempsey Marks, fitness expert and creator of PreGame Fit. “You can also mix your jump rope work with things like push-ups, lunges, and more for combined strength and cardio supersets. These help you burn more calories while still building strength, giving you a killer workout in less time.”
Only want to buy one thing to start off your home gym? This should be it, according to Meghan Kennihan, a personal trainer and running coach. “It is versatile, allowing you to do essentially any exercise you could perform with dumbbells. The handle makes it perfect for swings, which are one of the best total-body movements.” As for what size to get, she recommends a moderate weight—something heavy enough to be challenging, but light enough to perform many reps with good form.
For minimum investment and maximum impact, go for a set of resistance bands. “It’s like having a weight room in your home without all the bulkiness of weights and a fraction of the price,” explains Reggie Chambers, a personal trainer in New York City. “Plus you can buy a whole pack that varies in width, thickness, and overall resistance. They’re perfect for on-the-go fitness if you’re traveling as well. You can do almost any type of strength-training exercise with them—squats, bicep curls, rows, and more.”
“Get yourself a sturdy wood or metal set of plyo (plyometric) boxes,” recommends Victor Self, a Master Instructor at Flywheel. “They’re great for dynamic leg work with a cardio twist!”
Don’t want a huge stability ball taking up space in your gym area? “A small soft-over or Pilates ball is great to have because you can use it at varying levels of inflation,” Tylicki says. “Half-inflated, you can put it mid-back and work deep into your core, or you can put it at the low back to work your transverse abdominis. You can use it a quarter inflated and stand on to challenge your balance and stability.” And if you sit for long periods of time, he recommends sitting on it while you work to improve your posture.
If you’re into cardio, consider a rowing machine, which will get you more bang for your buck over the years than a treadmill or elliptical. “It is a fantastic often-overlooked addition to a home gym if you have the space and the funds,” Marks says. “Rowing strengthens your entire body and elevates your heart rate, so you burn a ton of calories. It’s one of the only pieces of cardio equipment that provides a full-body workout.” Plus, rowing is a low impact form of exercise, which means you’ll be able to do it for years and years to come.
If you’ve got a doorway that’s tucked our of the way, a pull-up bar makes an amazing addition to any home gym. “It’s one of the most efficient and cost-effective ways to gain upper-body strength,” Kennihan explains. “You can do pull-ups from a wide or narrow grip, or turn your palms around to crush a few chin-ups.” Can’t do a pull-up yet? “Use it for your abs by doing leg raises or knee-ups,” she recommends.
“It’s always smart to have a yoga mat to protect your hands, knees, and back when you come down to the floor,” Tylicki points out. Plus, a mat can help prevent you from slipping if you’re getting super sweaty.
Looking for more fitness information? Head to our health verticle, THE/THIRTY.