Fact: If you show us a home gym, we’ll show you a gym that’s basically never used. But it’s totally understandable. If your “home gym” is little more than an exercise bike or 30-year-old NordicTrack in a cramped basement stuck between boxes of holiday decorations and dusty old books, we wouldn’t use it, either. That’s why, if you really want to get use out of your home gym, you have to make it a place you actually want to spend time.
Start by considering the high-end gyms you’ve had a chance to visit (or seen in movies): the Equinoxes and private racquet clubs of the world. They’re places of unrivaled calm and clean, spots you might hang out even if you weren’t working out. Follow this model in your own home gym and you’ll find ways large and small to elevate what you have there—without spending yourself into bankruptcy. Here’s how to get started.
Invest In a Complete Barbell and Plate Set
Perhaps the most important piece of equipment you’ll get for your home gym, this set will be the base of your entire gym. You’ll use it for everything from squats to deadlifts to all manner of chest and shoulder presses and, if you’re at an Achilles-tier fitness level, bicep curls—so choose wisely.
Remember: You don’t need a high-end or particularly expensive set of weights, but they should be in great condition—and, more importantly, complete. A full set should have at least eight each of 5-pound, 10-pound, and 25-pound plates and four each of 35-pound and 45-pound ones. Your total amount of each plate should be even, too—you won’t get a perfectly balanced bar with two 45s on one side and one 45, a 35, and a 10 on the other.
Install a Pull-Up Bar
One of the most efficient, effective, and inexpensive ways to get a workout in your own home is to install a pull-up bar. But don’t invest in one of those common doorway models: they limit your range of movement and, even if installed properly, run the risk of crashing down, which can lead to injury.
Instead, spring for a wall-mounted version, like the ever-popular heavy-duty model from Titan fitness ($69), which can support up to 500 pounds of weight. It’s wide (53 inches), so you’ll easily be able to vary your hand grip to work out all of the muscles on your back. Plus, it juts out three feet from the wall, giving you ample room for all manner of ab exercises, from leg lifts to knee tucks to (if you’re really craving a core burn) hanging bicycle kicks.
Invest in a Mirror
Any good gym requires plenty of surfaces on which you can take a look at yourself. And it’s not just a vanity thing! Investing in a mirrored wall or two will you a way to ensure you’re doing your reps safely and correctly (good form means a lower risk of injury), and, in the process, will make improve the lighting and make the space feel larger as a whole. Plus, what fun is working out if you can’t see visually see any fitness progress? (Okay, it’s a little bit a vanity thing.)
See the Light
When it comes to natural energizers, it’s hard to beat natural light; Vitamin D is one of Mother Nature’s great mood-enhancers and energy-granters. If you’re are able to take advantage of a window or place your gym in a part of your home where there’s a window with a view, or a good amount of sunlight streaming in, you’re sure to experience a measurable performance boost. And yes, this means your basement is not an ideal place for a home gym.
Make Sure There’s Enough Space
Early on in the planning process, assess the room you’re planning on setting up your home gym. You needn’t sacrifice your entire rec room, but you’ll have to dedicate at least enough space to hold a few bits of basic equipment and feature an area for you to stretches, ab routines, and other body-weight exercises comfortably. As Brad Sherman, a partner at FLOAT, a Manhattan-based sustainable design firm, told Men’s Journal, you’ll want to set aside at least 100 square feet. Any smaller, and you’ll have room only for sit-ups, push-ups, and, well, that’s pretty much it—and you can do those in literally any room.
Get the Right Bench
Before investing in a bench, ask yourself a series of questions. What exercises will I be doing? How many positions will I need? How much weight will I be lifting? Will it fit my height? If you just plan on doing light-weight exercises on a flat plane, a simple flat-bench, like Amazon Basics’ run-of-the-mill offering ($49), will do the trick.
But, if you’re looking to get a workout with any degree of variety, you’ll want to pick up a rock-solid adjustable bench. We’re talking seven settings—ranging from declined (for sit-ups) to flat to inclined to military (a straight-vertical 90 degrees)—and a weight capacity of several hundred pounds, to steady both you and any weight you’re lifting. For that, look to Bowflex. Their weight benches, which start at $159, do all that and come with added leg braces for maximum stability during particularly heavy sets.
Don’t Forget the Accessories
Some of the best individual-muscle-targeting workouts known to man don’t come from lifting heavy weights. They come from using the various accessories you’ll find strewn about well-equipped gyms. Medicine balls. Resistance bands. Jump-ropes. Kettle bells. If you find yourself regularly hitting plateaus (don’t worry: it happens to everyone), all of this gear is essential in helping you bump up to the next level.
For instance, say Russian twists aren’t giving you that core burn the way they used to. Start doing them while holding a medicine ball and see how you feel. Or, say your benching load has flat-lined, though you’re not quite strong enough to add more plates. Wrap a five-pound resistance band around the bar and under your bench and do your reps with that for a few workouts, and you’ll be good to go up in weight. The point is: you don’t want to be caught high-and-dry without such gear around.
Splurge on a Flatscreen (Or Two)
Walk into any gym on the planet, and point out the most recurrent object. No, it’s not a treadmill—it’s a flatscreen TV! Gyms today have no shortage of LCD screens, for the presumed purpose to give members distraction in the form of endless heart-pumping media. (An elliptical session is far less grueling with Mission Impossible on in the background.) The question, then, is: Why can’t your home gym have the same luxury?
Install a flatscreen—or better yet, a flatscreen for each side of the gym—on which you can play action flicks, horror films, or anything else that gets your heart rate up, to help you power through sets. Our recommendation: throw on a Law & Order: SVU marathon (they’re always running on at least one channel) for some serious pump-up inspiration.
Invest in Cardio Equipment You’ll Actually Use
There’s no shortage of gimmicky and pricey “exer-cycles” and bow machines that promise to make you more fit than you’ve ever been! and shred your core in six weeks like never before! But the best call, as always, is to stick with the classics: a stationary bike, an elliptical, a treadmill. In fact, used treadmills are extremely affordable. They’ll run you just a couple hundred bucks on Amazon these days—and you’ll get a lifetime of use out of it. Talk about a worthwhile investment.
Choose the Right Paint Color
There’s the steel-and-onyx aesthetic at Equinox, the purple-and-yellow vibrancy of Planet Fitness, and the orange, well, everything at Orange Theory. But, as it turns out, a more simple approach to color—particularly wall paint—is the way to go. Sherman suggests something like Benjamin Moore’s “bright and energetic” Super White hue. Just make sure to get it in matte finish. It’s tough to mop sweat off a glossy or semi-gloss finish.
Hire a Personal Trainer
An essential aspect of luxury gyms these days is the staff—namely, a deep bench of attentive personal trainers. To really take your home gym experience to next-level luxury, invest in a personal trainer. Sure, it may cost a bit—prices vary on everything from zip code to time of day—but you’ll only need to book a handful of sessions. Once you tune up a bespoke plan with your trainer, and know how to pull off all the moves, you’ll be set on the path to exercise all alone. FitnessTrainer is an excellent resource for tracking down a personal trainer in your area.
Get a Mini Fridge
A top-quality gym usually includes a little cool-down area where you can pick up a protein-loaded snack to recharge and replenish. Your home can do the same. Just invest in a bar fridge and stock it with healthy, refreshing beverages and snacks—protein shakes and bars, nonfat Greek yogurt, even electrolyte-laden bottled water is better than nothing—that you can grab once you’ve finished your sweating.
Create Your Own Juice Bar
Or, better yet, go all out and create a small juice bar in your gym. Get a good juicer—like the 60-ounce Breville Cross Joe Juicer ($129)—some fresh fruits and veggies, and good store of protein power.
Maintain the Equipment
It doesn’t matter how fancy your home gym is if you don’t properly maintain the equipment. Wipe down machines after use (sweat can cause upholstery to deteriorate). Re-rack your weights when you’re done with them (leaving weights on a bar is bad for the metal). And, if you take it from the folks at Primo Fitness, you’ll want to lubricate your machines on a monthly basis (to keep all parts moving smoothly).
Create the Right Soundtrack
According to recent research in the Journal of Sports Medicine and Physical Fitness, the ideal music for maximum energy is any tune set at a BPM of 145. Fast music like that essentially “overrides” the brain’s signals for fatigue. It’s why gyms always blast fast-paced music (at such high volume). When you’re curating a workout playlist, shoot for that BPM mark.
Invest in a Good Sound System
There are two approaches you can tack to here. One, ostentatious. The other, practical. What we’re saying is, if you want to go all-out and set up your gym with wall-to-wall Bose surround-sound, don’t let us stop you. As that Journal of Sports Medicine and Physical Fitness study revealed, it’ll only boost your workout.
But, if you want to hew more practically—both in how you’d use it and how your wallet will be hit—take a look at the Sonos One ($199). It’s loud. It has Alexa integration. It connects to your wifi, so you can broadcast from anywhere in your house. And it can seamlessly play tunes from any streaming service, from Spotify to Apple Music to (if you’re still one of the few million remaining subscribers) Pandora.
Get Better Lighting
Everyone hates harsh, bright lights in person. But copping the lighting aesthetic from the latest Williams Sonoma catalogue is far from the best move to make when designing your home gym. Warm light, says Sherman, is a natural relaxant—the last thing you’ll want in a space that demands maximum energy output.
Fine-Tune the Temperature
The International Fitness Association recommends that gym temperature be set at anywhere from 68º to 72º Fahrenheit. Still, there’s this thing called hot yoga, where the room is anywhere from 92º to 105º Fahrenheit. And Dwayne “the Rock” Johnson, arguably the world’s fittest man, legendarily works out with the heat on full blast. (The rationale: working out in scorching temps blasts fat and amplifies aerobic energy.) Play around with your thermostat and find what works.
Foster Good Air Flow
It’s not rocket science: A gym without proper ventilation is going to reek. When choosing a space for yours, make sure there’s at least one window. That way, instead of having to install a complicated, expensive ventilation system, you can just set up a well-placed fan (across the room, opposite the window). Plus, the solid cross-breeze you’ll get from the fan is sure to cool you down a spell.
Get Some Foam Rollers
They’re cheap (less than twenty bucks a pop) and essential for proper warm-up and cool-down routines. There’s no excuse not to have a few stashed in the corners of your home gym.
Get a Water Source
Stocking your fridge with dozens of plastic water bottles is horrible for the environment. As is burning through sleeve after sleeve of disposable cups. (Not to mention the fact that running back and forth to the nearest sink is a complete waste of time.) Instead, consider investing in a commercial grade water cooler ($150) for the space.
Up Your Scents
The power of smells often goes overlooked. Scents, when deployed properly, can seriously enhance your workout. For instance, according to the National Sleep Foundation, peppermint is among the most energy-granting fragrances out there. And if you’re looking for a post-workout cognitive refresh, eucalyptus is your best friend (small wonder the towels at Equinox are infused with it).
Consider painting part of your home gym’s walls with chalkboard paint (or, at the very least, hanging a whiteboard). There, you scrawl down your progress and see a visualized, data-driven representation of how you’re measurably growing more fit week after week. You can also write down goals (“Run a 7:00 mile by November”) or inspirational quotes (like Blink Fitness’s “Strong arms make for good high fives”).
Get Some Dedicated Mini Towels
Fact: You’re going to sweat. An easy way to infuse a touch of luxury into your home gym is to make sure there’s a constantly refreshed stack of mini towels, so you’re not using the same sweaty rag for every workout. For an ultra-sumptuous touch, soak your towels in citrus-scented water overnight and chill them in that aforementioned mini fridge.
Select the Right Floor Materials
A good home gym needs good floors, but you needn’t rip up your existing flooring. Instead, lay down some squishy mats to protect against inadvertently dropped weights. The interlocking Prosource Puzzle set (from $20), which allows you to custom-choose the exact amount you need, should do the trick—and, in sleek black, it looks great, too.
Get a Rack
If you have any intention of doing some heavy lifting, you’ll need a squat rack. Be sure to invest in a solid, four-pronged one—something like Popsport’s Deep Squat Series ($289). In addition to being more sturdy than Fort Knox, it also comes with adjustable spotter safety bars—and, if you still need to splurge on that pull-up bar, one of those, too.
Keep It Organized
Yes, looks do matter. You wouldn’t walk into a racquet club and find weights strewn haphazardly about the floor, would you? Treat your gym with the same level of respect. And while you’re at it, steal a line from Radiohead and put everything in its right place! The 10-pounders go where it says “10,” 20-pounders where it says “20,” and so on. Then, bask in luxury.