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With an abundance of space, I could see our home gym filling the northwest corner of our basement. We were still paying members at the YMCA. While the Y provides enough equipment for all levels of fitness, I determined which equipment my wife and I used most frequently. But the Y provided one service that my wife and I couldn’t quite get around, child care. As our daughters can both self-entertain now, my wife and I decided a home gym would allow us the more freedom and flexibility in our schedules. Paying $130/month in gym membership, we could recoup the costs of a gym membership in a couple of years and have all the equipment we needed to meet our fitness goals. So our question was, what equipment do we fill our gym with? With that in mind, we needed to defined a couple of things first, and then select equipment.

1. Define Your Fitness Goals

This will drive the type of equipment you will buy. For the purposes of this article, my goals are to build muscle, cut fat, and retain strength. Make these specific as possible and when you’re going to dedicate yourself to fitness. Write it down. Describe what your ideal fitness level, body composition, the time of day you’re going to dedicate to performing your workouts, and the diet you plan to follow. Need help? Mike Matthews at Legion Athletics has a couple of practical easy to read books about fitness for men and women. Mike busts fitness myths, discusses and recommends a diet to follow, motivation, and steps in between to reach your body goals.

bigger-leaner-stronger
thinner-leaner-stronger

2. Find Space for Your Gym

A number of people dedicate their garage space, unfinished basement, or sun-room patio. My wife and I allocated our unfinished basement for the purposes of the home gym as this would allow adequate space for the equivalent equipment I used at the YMCA. My movements center around compound movements, exercises that concentrate on multiple muscles. These movements included squats, deadlifts, bench press, and overhead presses. Luckily, I’m not a taller person, or I might be pressing into my ceiling. Make sure you’re accounting for the space you’ll need vertically as well.

3. Which Exercise Equipment to Purchase

Flooring

Should you ever decide to move or change your room from a home gym, proper flooring protects scratching, dents, and softens the blow from dumbbells and plates dropped. Flooring eases the blow on your weight equipment as well.

With a concrete basement floor, my wife and I chose a foam matted floor that could be assembled easily. These floor mats connected as puzzle pieces making installation simple.

Squat Rack

The rack serves as a pull up bar, bench press rack, squats, deadlifts, barbell calf raises, and numerous other exercises. While the rack I own rises to six feet in height, it center pieces the weight room for numerous compound lifts and exercises. If you’re taller than 5’7” I suggest purchasing a rack that’s taller than my Titan Fitness T2 Squat Rack.

And if you’re wondering, I’ve only done a handful of curls in the squat rack. Old etiquette habits die hard, even in your own gym.

Bars

The 7ft length Olympic bar serves as the most important bar out of these two. For my purposes in compound movement exercises, I bench press, squat, deadlift, overhead press, curl, and do calf raises.

The Titan EZ Bar, while less essential, is a staple in my workouts for a number of different arm exercises. Tricep extensions, curls, and reverse curls are to name a few. It may also be beneficial if you have limited space and can’t quite fit the full Olympic bar.

Plates and Dumbells

As you progress in your strength training, the need for more and heavier plates becomes necessary. As I started my home gym, I collected:

4 x 45lb Plates
2 x 35lb Plates
2 x 25lb Plates
2 x 10lb Plates
4 x 5lb Plates

With this combination of plates, I collected 340lbs to be added to the 45lb Olympic Bar. This provides plenty of weight and allows adjustments to easily add 10lbs as strength increases.

Having these dumbbells added to my collection before the home gym took my basement space, the Bow Flex 552’s take up less space replacing about ten sets of dumbbells for varying weights. I would recommend, if you’re able to easily single row 52.5lbs to take the next step up and get the Bow Flex 1090’s which top start at 10lbs and go up to 90lbs. After having these for a number of years, the grip and convenience switching weights easily justifies their purchase. Imagine owning an entire rack of weights and the cost incurred. As a recent search, I found on craigslist a seller with dumbbell weights ranging from 10lbs to 105lbs that still cost $1,200.

Bench

The different lifts you’ll need to do per the Bigger Leaner Stronger program will require a bench that adjusts to different angles. The Bowflex 5.1 Adjustable Bench adjusts to four different angles. As I’ve used this throughout the past four months, I discovered in my workouts I needed different angles that this particular bench lacked. The angle for the incline setting on this bench pushed a bit too far forward making the press awkward and unlike I previously experienced at the YMCA on their incline benches. So in revelation, I recommend this bench Rep Fitness Adjustable Weight Bench.

Extras – Shoes, Straps, Belts, Chalk, Calf Machine, and Stationary Bike

These extras entered my collection of gym equipment as I missed a few of these items from the YMCA.

Most importantly, due to my tiny calves, I desired a machine that would help. While less expensive than other options, I found a seated calf machine for under $300.

While trying not to bear the cold outdoors of Michigan winter weather, I searched for a piece of cardio equipment. Treadmills exceeded my price ranges, not that I still don’t want one, so I looked for a less expensive alternative. My requirements were to be easy on the joints and I’d still be able to get a decent HIIT workout. Because my fandom of running dwindled over the years, I purchased a stationary bike for under $250. While there are not a ton of automated features to it, it does allow me to set up my iPad while I cycle. Accompanied with the Swoll Bro HIIT App and the adjustable tension, this bike does all I need for a great cardio workout.

When your strength has developed to the point where you easily pull up or push your body weight, a weight belt with a chain will help you progress your strength gains for pull ups. I use this once a week for weighted pull ups. I’ve also used this belt for weighted dips at the YMCA.

Shoes may or may not be necessary for your home gym in the instance of which I will speak. When performing squats and deadlifts, regular tennis shoe padding can create of a bit of unbalance. On squats, your knees may shake and become wobbly. So two recommendations typically made, one lift barefoot, or two use a flat sole shoe like Chucks or a cross-trainer shoe.

Finally, these two items have helped for my deadlift. During the summer time in my basement, humidity levels rise so the olympic bar becomes hard to grip. I purchased two accessories to help. A chalk ball helped dry my hands a bit and keep the bar from slipping. The second option is lifting wrist straps. These will help alleviate some the grip strength needed while deadlifting.

Equipment List

Below, you’ll find a list of the equipment mentioned earlier. Are you thinking of setting up a home gym? Would you purchase or use any of the items mentioned? Let me know in the comments section below. Also feel free to contact me at paul@swollbro.com if you have any questions.

Lastly, if you found any of this information helpful or valuable, would you please share it?

Product
Bigger Leaner Stronger – Michael Matthews (paid link) Bigger Leaner Stronger
Thinner Leaner Stronger – Michael Matthews (paid link) Thinner Leaner Stronger
Foam Matted Interlocking Tiles (paid link) Foam Matted Flooring
Squat Rack (paid link) squat-rack
7ft Olympic Barbell (paid link) 7ft-olympic-bar
Titan EZ Curl Bar (paid link) Titan EZ Curl Bar
CAP 45lb Barbell Plate (paid link) 45lb Weight
CAP 35lb Barbell Plate (paid link) 35lb Weight
CAP 25lb Barbell Plate (paid link) 25lb Weight
CAP 10lb Barbell Plate (paid link) 10lb Weight
CAP 5lb Barbell Plate (paid link) 5lb Weight
Bowflex 552 Dumbbells (paid link) Bowflex 552 Dumbbells
Bowflex 1090 Dumbbells (paid link) Bowflex 1090
Bowflex Weight Bench (paid link) Bowflex Weight Bench
Rep Fitness Adjustable Bench (paid link) Rep Fitness Adjustable Bench
Seated Calf Raise Machine (paid link) Seated Calf Raise machine
Stationary Bike (paid link) Stationary Bike
Weight Belt with Chain (paid link) Weight Belt with chain
Cross Trainer Shoe (paid link) Adidas Cross Trainer Shoe
Wrist Straps (paid link) Wrist Straps
Chalk Ball (paid link) chalk-ball
Barbell Clips (paid link) barbell-clips