How to Build the Ultimate Home Gym

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How to Build the Ultimate Home Gym
By BJ Gaddour, CSCS
CEO of StreamFIT.com

With rising gas prices, a still struggling economy, and the popularity of follow-along workout programs like P90X and Insanity, now more than ever sweating in the comfort and privacy of your own home is looking more and more attractive. Furthermore, as training has evolved from the machine-based bodybuilding and cardio workouts of the past to a more functional-on-your-feet, whole-body approach, the need for a gym membership is being put to the test. With the right moves and some additional tools you can experience the best workouts of your life at home without having to compete for limited space and equipment with sweaty strangers in a commercial gym setting.

If you’re ready to take the leap to build your own home gym, look no further than this guide outlining three different home gym set-ups based on your current budget and fitness level. Plus, a lot of these training tools are travel-friendly, so you can take them with you and exercise in a hotel room when on the road for business or pleasure. You’ll never miss a workout again.

Set-up#1- Equipment-Free

  • Anytime, Anywhere
  • All Fitness Levels
  • Budget-Conscious

These workouts use your own body weight and don’t require any training tools beyond an always accessible wall, chair, floor, towel, bed, or step. Don’t worry, you’ll sweat  your butt off and this is a great place to start for beginners. After all, you should first be able to prove to yourself that you can safely and consistently train at home without supervision before spending a lot of money of fitness equipment.

Sample 15-Minute Total Body Workout: Perform 45 seconds of work and 15 seconds of rest for each of the 3 moves in the following mini-circuit followed by a 1-minute transition period (or rest time between circuits). Perform up to 4 total circuits.

Exercise#

Exercise Name

Exercise Description

1- Upper Body Blast-Off Push-ups Against a Wall
  • Assume a push-up position with your feet firmly planted against a wall or door.
  • Now bend your knees and push your hips back as far as your can without moving at your lower back.
  • Then explosively extend at your knees, ankles, and hips and lower into the bottom of a push-up position.
  • Reverse the movement and repeat for time.
2- Lower Body Steps-ups on a Stable Chair/Box/Step
  • Place your foot onto a stable chair, box, step or even a staircase with your knee and ankle directly aligned.
  • Step-up through your heel to fully extend your knee and hip of the support leg doing your best not to let the other foot touch the ground.
  • Slowly reverse the movement demonstrating complete control until your your trail leg’s foot gently touches the floor.
  • Repeat for time. Switch legs from set to set.
3- Core Towel Swipers
  • Hold a large taut towel at chest level with your hands shoulder-width apart.
  • Now pivot your feet and rotate your hips as you swipe the towel across your body 90-degrees to your left with your belly button always facing forward.
  • Reverse the movement, switch sides, and repeat for time.

Set-up#2- Basic Equipment

  • Home
  • Gym
  • Equipment < $50

These workouts use low-cost training tools like dumbbells, medicine balls, resistance bands, and stability balls that are ideal for a home gym and can also be found in any commercial gym setting. They all cost less than $50 individually as well. The added resistance will boost your muscle-building results while providing some much-needed plateau-busting variety from bodyweight-only routines.

Basic Equipment Recommendations:

Dumbbells: I prefer rubber hex dumbbells since they are floor-friendly and allow you to safely support your bodyweight in a push-up position without fear of the dumbbells rolling on you. They typically cost a $1 per pound so a pair of 15-lb dumbbells would only set you back about $30. Check out your local sporting goods store to get your perfect pair.

Resistance Bands: For the best resistance bands on the market, visit www.resistancebandtraining.com. They are continuously looped without “flapping” making them more durable than other elastic training options. Start with a single orange or red band if you’re a female and a single black band if you’re a male.

Stability Balls: Most people will find the best stability ball size to be 55-65 cm. For safety purposes, only use the ball for bodyweight movements like push-ups and leg curls. Though rare, the ball could burst so avoid doing weighted dumbbell movements like presses. Purchase at your local sporting goods store.

Medicine Balls: A 5-10-lb medicine ball will be a great starting point for most people to boost intensity on squats and lunges and to use for various core exercises too. Though most people think of slams when they think med balls, it’s not a very practical movement for most people at home due to noise and possible floor damage. You can pick up a basic med ball at your local sporting goods store. If you want to spend some more money and grab the best in class med ball, check out www.medicineballs.com.

Sample 15-Minute Total Body Workout: Perform 45 seconds of work and 15 seconds of rest for each of the 3 moves in the following mini-circuit followed by a 1-minute transition period. Perform up to 4 total circuits.

Exercise#

Exercise Name

Exercise Description

1- Upper Body Dumbbell Triple Crush
  • Grab a pair of dumbbells that you can perform at least 6 overhead triceps extensions with and hold them at your sides with a neutral-grip (palms facing each other).
  • With your shoulders pulled into their sockets and elbows tucked to your ribcage, perform a bicep curl flexing at your elbows until the weights reach shoulder level.
  • From there, perform a shoulder press by pushing the weights directly overhead with your biceps aligned with your ears.
  • Finally, perform an overhead triceps extension by flexing at your elbows until the weights reach your rear shoulders.
  • Reverse the movement and repeat for time.
2- Lower Body Stability Ball Leg Curls
  • Place your calves and feet onto a stability ball with your legs straight.
  • Now push through your heels and fully extend your hips without moving at your lower back.
  • From this position, flex your knees and curl the ball towards your butt.
  • Reverse the movement and repeat for time.
3- Core Band-Resisted Mountain Climbers
  • Wrap a resistance band around your trunk and underneath your armpits and assume a push-up position holding the ends of the band in your hands.
  • Now bring one knee towards your chest without moving at your lower back, reverse the movement, switch legs, and repeat for time.
  • Press through your palms the whole time to stabilize your shoulders and push up against the band to stabilize your spine.

Set-up#3- Premium Equipment

  • High-End Home Gym
  • Intermediate and Advanced
  • Equipment > $100

These workouts use high-end training tools like the TRX Suspension Trainer, a pull-up bar or free-standing pull-up unit, Lebert Equalizers or parallel bars, kettlebells, and sandbags that typically start at $100 or more or a combination of basic equipment that collectively costs over $100 (e.g. dumbbells, resistance bands, and a stability ball). Consider this the ultimate home fitness experience for intermediate and advanced users with a bigger budget.

Premium Equipment Recommendations:

Suspension Trainer: Suspension Trainers allow you to perform the full spectrum of body weight training pulling movements like rows in addition to enhancing moves like push-ups and planks. Plus, you can take them indoors or outdoors and use a door anchor in your hotel room too. The best suspension trainer on the market is the TRX found at www.trxtraining.com. Other lower cost options include a pair of gymnastic rings you can find at www.roguefitness.com.

Pull-up Unit: The pull-up is the ultimate upper body exercise so for best results you need to a way to do them at home. My favorite option is a portable free-standing pull-up unit that you can set-up or break-down and take with you in a bag in a couple minutes or less. The one I use at home can be found at http://trapezerigging.com/FreeStandingPortablePullupBar. Of course, you can grab a door hanging pull-up bar at your local sporting goods store if the free-standing unit is too pricey. Please note you can bypass the pull-up bar if your suspension trainer can be ceiling mounted so it hangs with a purely vertical trajectory.

Parallel Bars: These are great for anytime, anywhere rows and dips. For a great pair of portable parallel bars check out the Lebert Equalizer at www.lebertfitness.com. For a smaller pair that’s lower to the ground and best suited for push-ups and other cool gymnastics moves like L-sits and handstand variations, grab a pair of parallette bars at www.roguefitness.com.

Kettlebells: A kettlebell is worth purchasing for swings and swings alone. Swings are an unmatched total body power training move that smokes your entire backside and corrects posture. Studies also show that swing intervals have a similar metabolic, cardiovascular, and calorie-burning effect as running but without the unwanted impact on your joints. Start with a 12-kilogram kettlebell if you’re a woman and a 16-kilogram kettlebell if you’re a man. You can grab one at your local sporting goods store but the quality is typically mediocre. Grab a great bell at www.roguefitness.com.

Sandbags: A solid sandbag replaces the need for a barbell (unless you’re a competitive powerlifter or olympic lifter) and is much more affordable, versatile and space efficient. The best sandbags can be found at www.DVRTfitness.com. Start with a lighter power bag and build up to a heavier strength bag over time. Ideally, having the option to mix and match between the lighter and heavier bag is ideal.

Sample 15-Minute Total Body Workout: Perform 30 seconds of work and 30 seconds of rest for each of the 3 moves in the following mini-circuit followed by a 1-minute transition period. Perform up to 4 total circuits.

Exercise#

Exercise Name

Exercise Description

1- Upper Body TRX Spider Squat Pulls
  • Grab the handles of a TRX or another suspension training system like gymnastics rings and squat down as low as you can in a pain-free range of motion with your arms fully extended.
  • Now simultaneously pull with your arms and push with your legs and jump up while bringing your left knee towards your left elbow.
  • Land softly with both feet in the bottom of the squat position, switch sides, and repeat for time.
2- Lower Body Kettlebell Spider Swings
  • Hike a kettlebell behind your hips with your arms extended, knees soft, and back flat.
  • Now drive through your heels and push your hips forward to come to a full stand as you swing the weight to chest level.
  • Once the bell is weightless at chest level, hike your left knee up towards your left elbow without moving at your lower back.
  • Then quickly bring your foot back down to the floor, reverse the movement, switch sides, and repeat for time.
3- Core Sandbag Shoveling
  • Hold an Ultimate Sandbag with a palms-facing neutral-grip and let the bag hang in front of your body with your chest out in an athletic position with bends in your knees, ankles, and hips.
  • Now pivot your feet and rotate your hips as you move the bag just outside your left knee then drive through your hips to lift the bag up and over to your right side.
  • Reverse the movement and repeat for time.

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BJG

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