For the longest time, I never had an interest in building a home gym. I thought it would be counterproductive to my workouts. But I realized that my ideal gym was not filled with tons of equipment and people that annoyed me. I realized that the added travel time and cost were not worth it.
The thought of walking across our living room and opening a door to our attached garage that was my own lifting space was epic enough for me to act. In here, I could do whatever the hell I wanted and get completely in the zone.
Plus, what better way is there to ‘stick it to the man’ by not paying those garbage gym fees.
With a little bit of patience, anyone can build a great home gym for an affordable price. Like anything else, it is important to think about your investments. Will you build equipment like my battle ropes created from an old retired firehose? Find an epic deal on Craigslist like an Olympic barbell, 250 lbs of weight, and a curl bar for $60? Or capitalize on an Amazon Prime membership to get great deals on pretty much anything.
Here are some of the ways to approach building a home gym using examples from my personal swoll factory.
Make a list of all of the home gym deciding factors
Since the best space for me was the garage, I was unsure about the seasonal weather in Iowa. Despite the two extreme seasons, I went for it anyway. In fact, it was far less of an issue than I had imagined and the seasonality is one of my favorite parts. As for not being able to park our car in the garage, oh well. First world problems.
The biggest motivator was paying for a gym I loathed. Having worked out for the past 8 years in great facilities, my “last” gym was a bare-bones facility with only the essentials. And when I say essentials I mean standard weight machines, treadmills, and dumbbells.
Notice how I didn’t say power rack!? Unfortunately, I spent too much time frustrated about the smith machine which provides little to no flexibility (or value) to the major foundational exercises.
The decision to build a home gym was an easy one for me with all of the major motivators in place.
- A gym I disliked
- Monthly income savings
- Ample space for equipment
- The commitment to weightlifting
- My own space not influenced by people who have zero gym etiquette
- The desire to listen to music without headphones
- A chance to practice patience and resourcefulness
Building your gym can get expensive pretty quickly. Sure, we all want that awesome rogue power squat rack for 2 grand but we also have plenty of other things in life to pay for. I knew that craigslist was going to be an essential part of building my gym.
During this waiting game for building my home gym, I found myself doing the manual craigslist process each day (or every other) by going through a series of clicks and multiple searches.
I also know that Craigslist can be a bit of a waiting game, especially if you live in a rural area. You have to be patient to find good deals. In times when you’re faced with a tough decision, it’s hard to know whether to wait it out on a better deal or act on quickly when you do find one.
Although some people are a pain in the ass but it’s less about the people and more about the product they sell, right? I do not care because I’m all about saving money in any way I can.
Gym equipment is no different. Why would I care if I had a brand new shiny dumbbell if I know I paid twice the price for it? Once I knew that Craigslist had a steady stream of equipment up for sale, I knew if I wanted to get the equipment, I had to act fast.
It wasn’t practical to keep checking Craigslist so I decided to automate the process.
Automate gym equipment searches
Not long after my quest started, I learned about a way to simplify my search process. IFTTT too many f’in T’s or If This Then That. This program is a free way to automate pretty much anything you want on the internet. In my case, I wanted an email sent to me each time someone posted something new on craigslist that matched my search criteria.
Now I get up to date information the minute it is posted on craigslist.
How it works
First, you need to do a regular search on craigslist for whatever you’re looking for using specific keywords in the search bar (as usual). Once I was taken to the craigslist results landing page, I copied and pasted the URL from the craigslist ad containing my keyword (s) into the formula box in IFTTT.
So if I searched for “exercise equipment”, upon pasting the URL into IFTTT, the program would send me an email every time someone adds a new post that met my search criteria. Basically, this means I get first dibs on all new (used) gym equipment that gets posted. Win.
All I had to do was set up a free account with IFTTT and I had access to all of the previous searches people saved in the archives which included my craigslist task. Through this program, I continue to find great deals most of the time from people who “just want to get rid of it!”
Recommended next step – filtering emails from IFTTT in Gmail. Getting them into a nice folder helps keep you organized and searchable.
Reevaluate your current self
Patience, in the beginning, provides a perfect time to check your ego and reevaluate your current routines. While you are in the process of acquiring equipment, I took this as an opportunity to assess my flexibility, stability and mobility. Things that I neglected for the longest time.
Ironically, taking the time to reevaluate my current weightlifting program was exactly what I needed. How long has it been since you did a workout that didn’t involve a barbell or dumbbell exercise? Sacrifice is only a matter of perspective.
I became more resourceful finding exercises and workouts out there that rely on upon next to nothing. Take Herschel Walker for example. He is known to have built his incredible physique by only doing bodyweight exercises like push-ups, pull-ups, sit-ups and sprints. Dude is a beast.
Yes, you may be giving it up for a while, but this gives you a chance to reconnect with your own body strength. In this 4-6 week transition, I focused more on mobility, stability, core strength and flexibility. All of which are supplemental and essential to building strength in the other major lifts.
The moment I got back to the barbell, I was more of what Kelly Starrett calls, a “supple leopard.” No more pain in my shoulder or my hip flexors and my movement was better than ever. After all my equipment was in place, I was crushing my old PRs.
With increased functionality, I was able to implement these things moving forward which helped me recover faster, which is the name of the gains. Take a hard look at how your body feels. You might just find that taking a break from the barbell for a while is exactly what you need to boost your lifts.
The Swoll Factory
As with anything, it’s best to ask yourself what your purpose is before you buy. How much do you plan on using? Do you need all the flash or could you thrive on something similar if it was safe? I’m thinking minimalism here.
My approach to gym equipment will always be about functionality and safety. If safety is not compromised and it works to my liking, I will always elect for the cheaper option.
What I bought from Amazon (The new)
I decided that some items would be easier to acquire buying new. A few of these were great for the beginning stages of my gym and since they weren’t that expensive anyway, I wouldn’t be breaking the bank.
- Door frame pull-up bar – This was one of my first purchases. The door frame mechanism is versatile and pull ups are hugely beneficial for upper body strength. Great for traveling and enough grip variation to hit different areas of the back. I got the Yes4all brand specifically because I liked the grip locations and it had decent reviews on Amazon.
- Exercise bands – Great for dynamic stretching and a beneficial component to a training program. Adding in band resistance to exercises/workouts can help activate different muscle fibers to help stimulate muscle growth.
- Shark Grips – Love these things. Hell of a way to stimulate more muscle activation in many different muscles depending on the exercise. More specifically, forearm and grip strength. I would recommend the bigger size if you buy this type of grip attachment. I think I purchased mine for $18?
- Power Rack – I had mixed emotions about this. I wanted to build my own, but I took the easy way out. Instead, I opted to buy something to get me by for now. It’s on the economical side for sure but it has served its purpose well. If I had to do it again, I would definitely invest in a nicer power rack up front.
- Chalk –I’m not a huge fan of wrist straps and anything that helps my grip I am all for. Chalk is a perfect way to aid with grip strength especially on a deadlift in the summer. And you feel like a hard ass.
- Exercise ball – Great way to improve core stability and use in a dynamic warmup. Planking is a killer on this bad boy but that’s essentially all I use it for. I’ve spent $10 on more meaningless things. Like this Pizza Lamp.
What I bought off of Craigslist
During my search for other equipment, there were some things that I felt I could get a better deal on with craigslist. Amazon and other gym equipment provider’s prices were too high in my opinion. So, why not take a look at those selling their weight equipment. Plus, I knew I would get to see some hilarious things as well.
- Olympic barbell with weights – As long as the barbell was in good condition, I sure as hell wasn’t going to pay the price of a brand new bar. Besides, most of the time people sell their equipment in combination with an Olympic weight set. I got 250 lbs of weight, the bar and a curl bar for $60.
- Dumbbells – There are a few ways you can go about this. I’ve seen individual dumbbells and dumbbell pairs sell for cheap but it can be tricky to personalize for exact weight needs. Some of the better deals come with the adjustable. Nevertheless, I have bought individual (paired) dumbbells as well for great prices. My next purchase is going to be this adjustable set.
- Weight bench – I’ve bought two weight benches thus far off craigslist. Both have been good quality and from people who had no idea what they were worth.
- Rubber flooring – This one took a while. I temporarily bought a cheap roll of rubber flooring at Home Depot to get me by but I was always on the lookout on craigslist. I found an excellent deal from a guy selling his used ¾ inch flooring from his previous gym for about $125.
- Jump Rope – I like doing some jump rope before my workouts to get the blood flowing. Good addition to the gym in place of cardio. It was part of a dumbbell buy. A 2 for 1!
What equipment I made myself
There are plenty of great ways to save money when building your home gym. Often times, DIY exercise equipment really is not that challenging. It’s just a matter of making time to do it!
During the initial inception of my gym, saving money was a big motivator for me. If I knew I could do the same stuff with built equipment that was the route I was taking. Functional always beats fancy. The sense of pride and the cost savings were well worth it.
- 5-gallon buckets – If you haven’t ever done a farmer walk you are missing out. They provide amazing benefits for your body and add serious strength. With two 5 gallon buckets, I knew all I had to do was fill them with something heavy and I would be on my way.
- A 9” rubber kickball medicine ball – I know a few uses for a medicine ball and I especially like doing slams and rotational moves. Instead of buying one, I cut a small hole into the kickball and filled it with sand. Then, I duct taped it like crazy. Worked well enough for me!
- DIY TRX bands – If you have heard of TRX bands, you know the value of suspension training. TRX bands are great quality, easily adjustable, can be attached to pretty much anything. But, they also come with a high price tag. I made these ones but afterward, I stumbled upon a better DIY suspension equipment tutorial on Youtube. Simple and effective for a cost savings of about $190.
- Battle Ropes – I was always intrigued by adding in some high-intensity exercises into my regime and thought battle ropes would be a great way to do it. I ended up going down to the local Fire station and picking up 100’ of old previously used hose for $10. Shoutout to the heroes of Des Moines. Which was hilarious by the way. Kudos to Buff Dudes for the tip.
- Parallel bars – One of my favorite additions to feel like those Olympic gymnast monsters. These bars are simple to make and provide a challenging isometric (holding) exercises. I’ve seen many different styles but I was just looking for something in the garage, for now. I went with PVC pipe.
- Weight holder – This didn’t take me very long to throw together. Just put some screws in a couple boards and stand them up.
- Kettlebell swing – Kettlebells can reduce the wear and tear on the body while still serving to increase strength, muscle, and power so I knew I would want them in my gym. But, they also come with a higher price tag. Perfect opportunity to do it myself.
- Bonus – One of my favorite piece of equipment is a pair of old bicycle handlebars I found in the park. I use them frequently for T-bar rows and other pulling exercises. Remember how I said being resourceful pays off?
Why work out at a gym you don’t enjoy for $40-80 if you have the opportunity to do it at home? One of the reasons I decided to build a home gym was purely ego driven. I wanted to show people you do not need fancy equipment or a big budget to build to get fit (that’s because nutrition is actually more important, shhh…..).
Challenging yourself to look outside of traditional methods is a great way to incorporate new strength building exercises into your routine.
For me, weightlifting is my escape and having it at home meant I could indulge at any time. While there are more temptations and distractions at home, if you are committed to your goal, a home gym can provide some incredible benefits to your life.
Too often people choose laziness over going to the gym. For some, the act of going to the gym is part of the motivating factor and for others, it stops them in their tracks. Working out at home is no different. Having a home gym leaves no excuse for not exercising and should become non-negotiable.