Let’s be real, the cost of a gym membership can sometimes be much more than its true value. And with the rise of online workouts from your favorite studios and trainers, it’s easier—and cheaper—than ever to build endurance and strength from the comfort of your own home. So if you’re gung-ho about canceling your monthly fitness plan and committing to a 100-percent at-home fitness routine, you need to set up a home gym that helps you meet your goals.
Here, your step-by-step guide to creating a home gym for any space on any budget.
Step 1: Find the Right Space
Before you can start swinging kettlebells and performing burpees, you need to decide where you want to set up your home gym. At the very least, the space should have enough room for a yoga mat, which is all the space you’ll need to stretch and do core exercises. From there, the exact space for your home gym will depend on how much room you have and the workouts you want to accomplish. A HIIT workout might need more space and a solid (but not-too-hard) surface to jump around on, while a yoga or Pilates workout needs a little more space than a yoga mat. A heavy lifting regimen featuring all the bells and whistles will likely require a whole room of its own.
Apartment dwellers, if your living situation is bigger than the size of a walk-in closet (cough jealous cough), dedicate an unused corner of your living room or bedroom to your sweat sessions. An outdoor space like a roomy back porch or patio can work if your local climate and living situation permits it. And if you have a spare bedroom, empty office, or vacant garage that’s begging to be used, you’ve hit the home gym jackpot.
Step 2: Stock Your Home Gym
You don’t need a ton of equipment or bulky machines to make your home gym an effective place to exercise. In fact, some of the best home workout equipment is actually quite small and inexpensive.
If you’re tight on space and cash, save the money you’d spend on a bulky treadmill for your vacation fund and pick up a jump rope (Buy It, $16, amazon.com) for cardio instead. To crank up the intensity, use a weighted jump rope, which is a little bit heavier to turn, so your wrists and forearms will be working harder to keep it rotating, Pete McCall, personal trainer and host of podcast All About Fitness, previously told Shape. Still, treadmills can give you a serious burn and shouldn’t be overlooked if you have the room in your home gym—and just love pounding the belt. These treadmills all cost less than $1,000, so you can hit your fitness goals and stay on budget.
And no need for gigantic cable machines to get a strength workout in. Instead, invest in a single kettlebell, a pair of adjustable dumbbells, an entire set of dumbbells, and/or a set of resistance bands, which give you the same muscle toning without the bulky storage concerns. While stability balls and BOSUs can be super useful in strengthening your core and improving balance, they can be tough to store. That’s why balance discs (Buy It, $20, amazon.com), which take up as much space as a plate and offer the same benefits, work best for home gyms. (And don’t ever underestimate the power of bodyweight moves.)
No matter if you’re #TeamStrength or #TeamCardio, recovery equipment is essential for your home gym. Fitness expert Ellen Barrett, star of the Ellen Barrett Live: Grace & Gusto DVD, loves foam rollers because they’re so versatile—you can use them for ‘kneading’ out muscles, strengthening your core, or as a prop for yoga poses. In fact, research shows that regularly rolling out your muscles with a foam roller can help reduce muscle fatigue and soreness, speed up recovery, and enhance overall muscular performance. Aside from a hunk of foam, consider adding targeted recovery tools such as a Theragun (Buy It, $299, theragun.com), which works as vibration therapy, and a hot and cold foot roller (Buy It, $15, gaiam.com) to relieve sore and aching feet.
Remember, you don’t have to buy everything for your home gym all at once. Start with a few key pieces and then gradually build up from there. You can save even more money by putting some items on your wish list for upcoming holidays or your birthday, shop at used sports stores or garage sales, scan Craigslist or Facebook Marketplace for pre-owned items, or swap out with friends to rotate your equipment for free. (Pro tip: Reddit’s r/homegym subreddit has a community of 157,000 members who offer up genius ideas and set-up success stories.)
Step 3: Create a Storage Plan
If you want to pack a ton of equipment in a small space, storage is key. For minimalist workout routines, pick up a storage container (Buy It, $26, wayfair.com) that can slide under your bed or couch to hold your yoga mat, resistance bands, sliders, jump rope, and other small, portable pieces. You can also turn an empty wall into a storage solution with a hanging organizer (Buy It, $45, amazon.com), which keeps all of your bands tangle-free.
Step 4: Design Your Setup
If you’ve ever gone to a gym that’s crowded with equipment and no space for you to watch yourself doing bicep curls, you know how important the actual set up of a fitness space is. For your home gym, make sure you have plenty of light—either natural light streaming in through windows or from overhead light bulbs—so you can keep an eye on your form with ease.
On the same note, you may want to add a mirror to your workout space, says Barrett. “Mirrors are great for meditating on movement—the mirror lets you be your own instructor.” Not only can mirrors be a helpful tool for feedback on your form during exercises, they can also help to open up a space, making it appear larger than it actually is, which may help you feel less cramped in a smaller home gym. If you have a higher budget and want something super low-profile, consider investing in The Mirror (Buy It, $1,495, mirror.co), which allows you to stream workouts on a device that looks—yep!—just like a mirror. Or Tonal (Buy It, $2,995, tonal.com), a slim wall-mounted cable machine.
If you’re completely converting a spare room into a home gym, you may want to cover up the carpet with gym flooring, which gives your body a bit of cushion while you do core work or plyo movements and protects your floor from getting slippery with sweat drips. The flooring, such as this one from Home Depot (Buy It, $19, homedepot.com), comes in square pieces that interlock just like a puzzle, making for easy installation.
Most importantly, clear your home gym of clutter and distractions that might call your attention away from your workout. Move all those shoes you kick off the second you come home back into your closet and put your work laptop back on your desk. If you’re an online or streaming workout fan, set up your computer or TV at a level that’s best for following along with the routine.
Step 5: Put It to Good Use
Now for the easy part: using your home gym. Invite your friend who’s been wanting to strength train to come sweat with you, ask your partner to crush a partner WOD by your side, or just hit the treadmill and weights for a mind-clearing solo workout.
Just like a real gym, you’ll see the most benefits if you regularly visit it.