Health & Fitness

How to design the best home gym for you

Get your dream workout space in the comfort of your house.

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For fitness enthusiasts and those just getting into exercise alike, there are few prospects more exciting than the anticipation of building your very own home gym. But putting together the ideal at-home workout space involves more than just picking out cool pieces of equipment—you also have to think about your space, budget, and what you actually like to do to exercise.

After all, you want to do it right, get your money’s worth, and enjoy your at-home workout, right? Anything short of that, and even the most well-intentioned home gym can turn into just another room for storage—or an eyesore of dusty equipment to navigate around when, for example, carrying in groceries.

But this is easily remedied with some good ol’ focus and intention. Before you start lining your basement walls with equipment willy-nilly, consider this guide to designing a home gym you will love to use.

Decide where to set up a home gym

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Whatever space you have, it's important to make the most of it.

First up: You have to decide where your home gym will live. Do you have a spare bedroom or home office that you want to also function as a gym? Do you have an entire unfinished basement or garage at your disposal? Do you want to work out in your living room and keep your equipment stowed away out of view when not in use?

It’s also important to take the overall vibe of your gym space into account. Is it a dingy corner of a poorly lit basement? A garage with zero temperature controls? Or is it a light, bright nook with windows and an overhead fan? You may not have a ton of control over the actual room you have available, but paint color, ventilation, sound equipment, sound absorption, environmental controls, and lighting all go a long way in enhancing the quality of your workouts and your enjoyment sweating it out. After all, if you don’t like hanging out in your home gym, the amount of motivation you'll have to muster to go in there and exercise could be formidable. That said, there’s no rule against taking a drab room and turning it into a fitness oasis. You’ll just need to give the space some extra TLC in terms of atmosphere.

Obviously, the more you want to do in your home gym, the more space required—or, you’ll just have to get creative with the space you have and the equipment you buy. Barbell workouts will always take up more room than yoga and dumbbell ones, and treadmill workouts demand a good chunk of vertical space: You’ll want a minimum of 14 inches of vertical clearance above your head when you’re on the treadmill, and even more if you have a treadmill that lets you run at an incline. Similarly, overhead moves such as standing shoulder presses or power cleans are incompatible with low ceilings.

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Measure and prep the space to become your workout studio

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Make sure to measure your space so you get equipment that actually fits.

Once you figure out where you’ll work out, measure the amount of space you have to work with. Write down wall-to-wall as well as floor-to-ceiling measurements. Also make note of any doors, windows, heat registers, or air conditioning vents that might limit your setup or storage options. You can even sketch out a floorplan of the room, which will help you determine how everything will fit together. If you intend on buying large equipment, you’ll want to compare the manufacturers’ specs first to be sure the elliptical or squat rack will fit safely. Finally, you want to consider how you envision the flow of your workouts. You want your free weights, bands, and smaller gear in easy reach during workouts (but not underfoot), and a convenient spot to store them when not in use. Will you want to stretch before or after you get on the stationary bike? You’ll need room to lay out a yoga mat nearby. Do some of your workouts require floor space to do bigger movements like burpees, jumping rope, or YouTube dance videos? You’ll want equipment that has wheels or folds up to get it out of the way.

Also, keep in mind the difference between making something work in a space and having it work well in that space. For example, you might be able to cram a treadmill into a small corner if you choose a collapsible one that can fold up against the wall, but if user-friendliness and convenience are big factors for you, you should be realistic about how willing you’ll be to unfold and refold the treadmill for every run. Similarly, adjustable dumbbells are a great way to save space, but they can take time to adjust, which may not be compatible with, say, HIIT workouts that require quick transitions from one load to the next. If that describes how you like to exercise, you may prefer investing in a couple sets of standard dumbbells or even a full rack instead.

It’s also important to consider your flooring. Current U.S. building codes specify that most residential floors can withstand 40 pounds of pressure per square foot, with bedrooms at 30 and garages at 50. While most floors will be able to support the weight of even very heavy equipment, if you live in an older home, look into home specifications before lining the floor with large cardio machines and racks of weights—and especially before allowing any loaded barbells to crash to the floor. To help protect flooring and absorb the shock of any landing weights or the impact from jumping exercises, consider lining it with rubber. Rubber and PVC foam squares, which lock together to form a temporary floor, are common options, while those seeking permanent options can contact local flooring companies about having a rubber floor installed. Most lifters will want padding that measures ⅜ of an inch to ½-inch thick to best protect and insulate floors.

Consider how much you have to spend for your home gym

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Figure out how much you're willing to spend before you decide on a specific piece of equipment.

Next, the not-so-fun stuff: Decide how much money you realistically have to invest in your gym, taking into account what you’re able to spend now and what you may have to spend months or even years down the road.

When designing your gym, some expenses will be more time sensitive than others, and will include more than just equipment like dumbbells and cardio machines. As mentioned, if your plan is to turn part of your basement or garage into a fitness oasis, just sticking a stationary bike in the back corner won’t do—at minimum, sprucing up the walls with some paint or posters and putting down some rubber matting on the floor will make the space more usable, and you may even realize you need to wire the space for better lighting and a fan or AC, all of which will deduct some money from your initial gear budget. If the space you have is a multi-use room, like a living room or bedroom, you’ll want to consider storage solutions for tucking away gear when not in use—and shelves, bins, and boxes cost money, too.

Once you identify how much you have to spend, you can determine how to allocate those funds.

Decide what fitness gear to buy now...and later

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Once you have your budget and space figured out, you can start shopping for equipment.

Now, back to the fun: dreaming up everything that you’ll put in your gym. This is the most exciting part of designing an at-home gym, but it’s wise to leave it for last. If you decide on what you want too early, and you may wind up getting your heart set on equipment that won’t fit your gym or you can’t afford.

In a home gym, no piece of fitness equipment should exist in isolation. It’s all part of a greater picture, ideally with different kinds of gear working in conjunction with one another. If you're a runner, you may naturally be considering a treadmill, but you may also want a mat on which to stretch and a foam roller. If you dream of strength training on your own squat rack setup but can't afford the steep $500-plus cost, you may want to start with adjustable dumbbells, a bench, and a set of Equalizer bars to whet your appetite while you save up. For indoor cycling enthusiasts, a stationary bike is in order—and perhaps some dumbbells and resistance bands to supplement that cardio with some resistance training work.

When you have your space requirements and budget set, list the top few general pieces of equipment you have consistently used in the past and know you would take full advantage of if you had them at home. Then you can begin to check out different brands that make that equipment and weigh the pros and cons of different products. Read roundups and reviews of at-home fitness gear, talk to similarly minded workout friends about what they recommend, and if you work with an in-person or online trainer, pick their brain on product recs.

During this process, make sure to separate what you really want and need from whatever new, trendy workout gear caught your eye on Instagram. Be honest with yourself about what product features are really important to you. After all, spending money on tech you’ll rarely use doesn’t score you much fitness benefit—and will end up subtracting from how much money you have to spend on other pieces of gear you’ll actually use.

Most importantly, keep top of mind how everything fits together, in terms of floor space, budget, and even workout setup. You can always grow your gym later, but you want everything to mesh well from day one.

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Prices were accurate at the time this article was published but may change over time.

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