Building a home gym: How to choose exercise equipment that's right for you

November 19, 2020

Learn what to consider when building a home gym and how to choose exercise equipment that's right for your needs

A woman riding an exercise bike after building a home gym

If you've had the notion to put together a home gym recently, you've likely seen that many equipment providers online have been sold out or have a number of items on backorder. As many gyms have had to close their doors or reduce their hours and occupancy, people have turned to the internet to build their own home gym. 

Apart from recent events, building a home gym can be a great way to save costs over a period of time. Gym membership fees can add up, especially if you're paying for more than one person. While exercise equipment, such as treadmills, Peloton bikes, and free weights, can be pricey, the cost of gym dues could eventually pay for your own equipment. 

However, building a home gym isn't always as easy as snapping your fingers; there are a number of factors to consider before you get started. What are your fitness goals? What kind of workout routines do you enjoy? How much space do you have to dedicate to your gym? Today, we'll help you work out the answer to these questions and more, so read on!

What kind of home gym do you want to build?

So, you've decided to put together a home gym - excellent! Like most things, when you're building a home gym, a little planning can be incredibly helpful. Let's take a look at a few important considerations to make before you start shopping for equipment! 
Budget. First and foremost, you'll have to decide how much you want to spend on your gym and the equipment within. While equipment can certainly be expensive, you don't have to spend a lot to create a great place to exercise. 

Space. Space will always be a defining factor when building anything in your home, including your gym. Fortunately, there are many types of equipment designed with space-saving features in mind.

Before you design and purchase your home gym, pick a space that's adequate for the type of equipment and workouts you want to do. If you're looking to do kettlebell swings and squat lunges, you may need a little more space to move around. On the other hand, if you only need space for a stationary bike and an exercise bench, you may be able to get by with less.

Fitness goals. What are you looking to get out of your home gym? Are you looking for a place to train for a particular event? Are you looking to create a place for a full workout, or simply looking to supplement workouts between trips to the gym? Your fitness goals will determine the workouts and exercises you want to perform and the equipment you need to do it.

What kinds of equipment might you need for a home gym? 

As you're thinking about the factors listed above, you'll want to keep in mind the equipment options available to you and what purposes they can be made to serve. The following are a few of the basic categories of equipment and examples you may want to consider. 

Cardio equipment

When we think of cardio machines, it's common to picture a simple, classic treadmill. While those certainly are a good option, everyone has different preferences and requirements when it comes to cardio workouts, and running isn't always the first choice. Fortunately, you have a number of choices available!

Treadmill. Treadmills are a classic piece of exercise equipment and are often a staple in any gym. However, not all treadmills are exactly the same. You're probably familiar with the more common motorized version, but there are also manual treadmills available; that is to say, they rely on you (the runner) to move the belt rather than a motor. Either version can be a great addition to your home gym, but are not without their own pros and cons

A motorized treadmill will usually come with far more features, like the ability to adjust the speed and incline. However, a manual treadmill requires more strain from the runner, and therefore results in a more strenuous workout. Furthermore, manual treadmills often don't require electricity, which can be handy if you don't want power cables running across the floor.

Elliptical. Elliptical machines are a sort of cross between a stair machine and a treadmill. They tend to be a more gentle option for getting in a cardio workout; running, either outdoors or on a treadmill, can put strain on your knees and other joints. For this reason, elliptical machines are one of the go-to choices for people who want to maintain some level of fitness after an injury. 

Even if you don't have an injury, ellipticals are still a great cardio option and can help you target different muscle groups, too. For example, many ellipticals have an upper body component you can use simultaneously. Ellipticals can also be used in the opposite direction, which allows you to focus on your hamstrings and calves rather than your quads. 

Exercise bikes. Exercise bikes, or stationary bikes, are another great option for the cardio component of your home gym setup. Like ellipticals, bikes are easy on your joints, but still an effective workout for your heart, lungs, and muscles. 

Stationary bikes are also frequently used in popular workout programs, like "spin classes." Such programs can be a great way to challenge yourself in a communal setting . However, it's not always easy to make it to the classes, and you probably aren't going to have spin class in your home gym! Fortunately, certain models, such as the Peloton or NordiTrack stationary bikes, come equipped with screens which make it possible to participate in a remote workout session from the comfort of your home!

Step machines or stair climbers. Very few things cause your heart to beat quite like walking up and down a flight of stairs over and over again. But if you don't have a flight of stairs handy, these machines can provide a great alternative to high-impact cardio activities. They help your lungs and heart, but also work major muscle groups, like your thighs, glutes, and back. 

In fact, stair climbing machines can be better than actually climbing stairs. When you go up a real flight of stairs, you inevitably have to come back down the other way. Normally, that's not much of an issue, but when you repeat that over and over again as you would in a workout, the descending half can be stressful on your knees. With a stair machine, you're only going one direction: up!

Lastly, if you're an avid hiker or enjoy backpacking, stair steppers can be the perfect way to train in the off season. Many outdoor enthusiasts hop on stair steppers with their hiking pack to emulate the strain of climbing a steep mountain trail. 

Free weights

If your goal is to increase your muscle strength, few methods are as effective as a free weight routine. While the extensive array of plates and weights a commercial gym may provide can be expensive, you can easily build an effective strength training setup in your home gym with minimal equipment. Let's take a look at some of the pieces you might consider.

Dumbbells. Dumbbells are a classic component found in any gym. While the concept is simple (weights on a handle) there are countless variations and styles to choose from. 

Your local commercial gym likely has dumbbell sets, or a series of dumbbells sets calibrated to specific weights. Because they serve a wide range of members with different needs, they usually try and keep plenty of options and multiple sets for simultaneous use. Your home gym doesn't necessarily need to have the same range, and you certainly don't need duplicate sets; you simply need dumbbells that meet your needs. 

For example, if you're just starting off, you can purchase a smaller dumbbell, like a 1, 5, 10, and 15-pound set. After you've used them for a while and built up strength, you can then gradually add heavier dumbbells to your collection, or simply increase your sets and reps. In any case, if you want to add dumbbells to your home gym, you can save space and money by focusing on the weight range that's right for you.

Lastly, there are some dumbbell-like products that are "adjustable," so to speak. They feature a single central bar with plates or weight attachments on either side that you can add or remove. While these are generally more expensive than a single dumbbell of a specific weight, they feature a greater range and help save space. 

Kettlebells. If you're familiar with kettlebells, then you probably know they are very similar to dumbbells. However, they are worth mentioning separately because of their unique design.

Unlike dumbbells, which evenly distribute the weight on either side of the handle, kettlebells keep the weight in a single ball beneath the curved handle. That may seem like a subtle difference, but it completely changes the way you hold and handle the weight, which allows you to target your muscles in a way you just can't replicate with other equipment. 

Barbells. Barbells come in a wide range of shapes, sizes, and weights and can be used for a number of different workout routines. Some are smaller and have a fixed weight split between either end of the bar. Others, such as a those used for squats and bench presses, feature a bar that can have weighted plates added to either end in various increments. 

Although there are certainly a number of exercises you can perform with a barbell on its own (such as deadlifts), they are usually used in tandem with something like a bench press bench or a squat rack. It's important to note, however, that barbells, squat racks, and bench press setups are fairly demanding when it comes to space. If space is a concern, you can often accomplish many of the same goals using dumbbells and kettlebells. 

Exercise bench. An exercise bench isn't a piece of strength training equipment in and of itself, but can be used with barbells, kettlebells, and dumbbells to perform a nearly endless list of workout routines. 

There are various styles of exercise benches that make certain exercises possible. The most basic of these is a simple flat bench, which is useful, but may not provide the flexibility you're looking for if you're trying to maximize the workout options you have in a limited space. 

An adjustable exercise bench, however, greatly expands your capabilities. With the ability to change the angle of the bench, you gain the ability to perform incline and decline exercises. Lastly, if you purchase one that has bars to hold your legs and feet, you can use it for core-strengthening exercises, too. If space is a concern, an adjustable exercise bench can be quite helpful as some models fold, allowing you to set them aside, or store them in a closet for later.

When it comes to free weight training, it's important to know that there are some safety risks to consider. Because you have no support, you are relying completely on your body to hold the weights in position. For this reason, it's always a good idea to have a spotter if you're lifting heavy weight. If you're new to weight lifting, start off low and slow and perfect your technique before increase your weight. This will help minimize your risk for injury, but also ensure that you are working out your muscles in an even manner. 

Weight machines

Weight machines are generally considered to be a safer alternative to free weights. Usually, they use mechanical means, such as cables and levers, to help you lift weights in a controlled manner. Not only does this minimize your risk for injury, it helps keep your technique uniform. On the other hand, because there is at least some level of mechanical assistance, you often don't engage the same stabilizer muscles like you would with free weights. 

If you're considering some sort of weight machine for your home gym, you'll have plenty to choose from. While a commercial gym is likely to have a machine for each specific muscle group, or a machine that performs specific exercises, there are plenty of products that are designed to perform almost any exercise. These "total gyms" or "all-in-one" weight systems can combine the function of dozens of pieces of equipment into a single unit, which can save space and money. 

Equipment for bodyweight exercises, yoga, and stretching

So what if you actually prefer running outdoors to a treadmill? What if you don't really like lifting weights? Is there still a benefit to building a home gym? Absolutely! Building a home gym doesn't mean that you have to stock a dedicated room with equipment - there are all kinds of exercises you can do without having a bunch of weights or machines. In fact, many people find that a more simple, stripped-down home gym is perfect for their needs. 

While you can technically perform stretches, yoga, and bodyweight exercises anywhere that you find space, you might find that having a good exercise mat or pad is necessary to stay comfortable. If you want even more flexibility (pun intended), you can find foldable mats, or mats that fit together like puzzle pieces, which can be placed anywhere and stored for later. 

Other simple, yet effective, pieces of exercise equipment for a low-key home gym might include an exercise ball, foam rollers, jump ropes, or a pull up bar. Combined with bodyweight exercises, these pieces of equipment can be used for everything from gentle routines to intense, exhausting workouts. 

How can you insure the exercise equipment in home gym?

They say that taking the first step is often the most difficult part of getting into a regular workout routine. If your first step includes building a home gym, or planning to build a home gym, then it's important to think about how you might protect your investment.

Like any article of personal property, you may wonder how the property in your home gym is covered when it comes to insurance. You know that you have insurance for your home; it protects the roof over your head (i.e. the home itself) but it also covers most of the property inside. Does that include exercise equipment in your home gym? 

Fortunately, it does! Exercise equipment is typically covered under a portion of your home or homeowners insurance policy called "unscheduled personal property," or UPP. This is the same category of coverage that includes personal property like clothing, furniture, and kitchen appliances. 

In the event of a claim (such as a fire) where your home gym equipment is lost, your insurance would pay either the replacement cost or actual cash value of those items up to the coverage limit after you've paid the deductible.

Coverage limits for unscheduled personal property are usually expressed as a percentage of the dwelling coverage. For example, if your home insurance policy has a $100,000 limit for the house itself and your unscheduled personal property limit is listed as 50% of the dwelling coverage, then you have $50,000 of coverage for personal belongings. If you're uncertain what your dwelling coverage or unscheduled personal property coverage limits are, this information can be found on your policy's declarations page.

A man doing squats in his living room turned home gym

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Read more: Building a home gym is a great way to get in the habit of exercising. Check out our blog to learn about other essential healthy habits for everyday life!

by Geoff Ullrich

About the Author

Geoff Ullrich is a writer and Content Marketing Strategist at Germania Insurance.

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