Taking Your Home Gym to The Next Level

Home Gym Next LevelYou’ve started working out at home with a pretty bare bones set up. You’ve got a yoga mat, some resistance bands, a couple of pairs of dumbbells… and you really feel like working out at home is a good fit for you. You’re getting in regular workouts and you can see yourself sticking with it long term.

Time to start thinking about taking your home gym to the next level. But there’s no need to rush. Even if you have the resources to trick out your home gym right now, it’s worth it to take the time to get a feel for what you really want in your gym. Not every piece of equipment is right for you and most of us don’t have space to waste on things we don’t use. Here are a few ideas to consider for your next additions…

Beyond the Basics

A selection of dumbbells and a dumbbell rack:  A lot of people like to go with the Bowflex adjustable dumbbells. That’s a good option, but I really prefer traditional dumbbells. I think they’re more comfortable and less bulky to use,  and it’s a bit easier to switch weights. If you’ve got the space, then that’s my vote. Whether you go traditional or adjustable get a storage rack. Especially with traditional dumbbells… you will not regret the investment. It’s worth it for your safety as well as your sanity.

Stability ball: A great tool for core and balance work. It also doubles as a bench or a chair for chest press and seated curls, and more.

Bench: A nice thing to have for chest press, dips, step-ups, split squats to name a few. While the ball is a good stand in for the bench there are a number of exercises that you can’t use the ball for because you really need a more stable surface. Another solution (if you don’t have space for a bench), is an aerobic step (club size) with a few pairs of risers and a couple of folding chairs. They’ll do the job and are easy to move out of the way when you need the space for other exercises.

Pull-up bar: No better way to work the back than pull-ups. Working a pull-up bar into your space can be a little tricky, but there are a few different ways to do it. A doorway model is a great option. You can set it up when you need it and then take it down in a few seconds. If you’ve got a place for it, there are bars you can permanently install. This works best when you have an exposed beam in your workout space (like a basement or garage). If you’ve got room, there are stand alone models that are only around $100.

Total Gym: I couldn’t resist mentioning one of my personal favorites. It’s one I’ve used and used for training clients and everyone loves it. It’s a great quality machine with a lot of versatility. And have you seen Christie Brinkley lately (queen of Total Gym infomercials)? She is looking fabulous! 🙂 The main benefits of the Total Gym are that it’s low impact, fun to use and provides a great full-body strength training workout. It’s a great way to add variety and keep your workouts interesting and fun. There are tons of videos on YouTube to give you ideas for great exercises to try.

TRX: This is another great addition to your home gym. Like the Total Gym the TRX uses your own body weight for resistance. The TRX is made for suspension training. While the Total Gym has you on a stable platform, TRX has you suspended in mid air. Which is why I usually think of the TRX as being best for more advanced exercisers. However, I’ve also heard it recommended for rehab work. So, this is another very versatile piece of equipment that’s fun to use.


You won’t hear much from me about traditional cardio equipment. I’m not a fan of doing steady state cardio workouts. I reserve them for active rest days when I go out to do something recreational like inline skating or kayaking.

Treadmill: If you feel that your home gym is not complete without cardio equipment, then get yourself a good quality treadmill. Another great option is a Nordic Track (you can get them for a steal on Craig’s list). I’ve got one in the corner of my home gym that I pull out once in a while for some HIIT training.

Heavy bag: This is one that’s on my wish list. Like the pull-up bar it can be tricky to find the right place for this. However, if it appeals to you and you can make it work, then it’s a killer cardio workout. It’s great for your upper body and core as well. You’ll burn tons of calories and work off your stress too!

Most of the time my goto for cardio training is metabolic conditioning (metcon/HIIT/Tabata). It’s intense, time efficient and carries the bonus of a nice long after burn (i.e. raised metabolism long after the workout is over). Typically you’ll just need a little space, an interval timer, maybe some dumbbells, a mat and a good program. There are tons of these metcon programs on Youtube. One of my favorite trainers on the web, Zuzka Light has a membership site where she regularly posts new metcon workouts. And my clients receive custom designed programs for this type of training.

These are just a few of the cool things out there that are worthy of being a part of your home gym. The more you use your home gym the more apparent it will become exactly what’s missing or what you’d enjoy using in your workouts. Sometimes a new workout DVD will dictate what you need. For example, when I started doing P90X2 I suddenly became interested in adding medicine balls to the mix; with P90X it was a pull-up bar; for my metcon workouts, an interval timer.

The ideal home gym is going to be different for every person. It depends on the space available, your interests, preferences, abilities and goals. And that’s one of the great things about a home gym. You can put it together just the way you like it. So, use this list to get you thinking and spark some ideas for what you’d really like to have in your home gym.

Photo credit: Mary Collins Fitness

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