Set Up Your Own Home Gym

Whatever your budget or space, you can create a great workout spot at home. Here's how.

By Debra Wittrup


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home gym
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Planning Your Home Gym

    You can't beat the convenience of a workout area in your own home. You can set up a space as elaborate as this well-equipped workout room or as small as a corner of your living room. Here are a few steps you should take to plan the best home gym to meet your needs.

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Find the Space

    Choose an area that you will use for your workouts. "If you hate the smell, lighting, whatever, of your basement, don't set up shop there!" says Jessica Smith, fitness expert and star of 10 Minute Solution: Ultimate Bootcamp. Avoid the bedroom, too, she advises. Unless it is unusually large, the layout is seldom conducive to a good workout. Instead, Smith recommends finding a pleasant spot that ensures you'll enjoy spending time there. "Living rooms can often serve double duty, especially if you are an exercise-video user," Smith says. "Buy a few pieces of furniture that can double as storage, such as lidded ottomans, tables with cabinets, or shelving that can conceal your equipment, and keep some space open for movement. It's also just great to have a living room area that is open and free of clutter."

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Create a Budget

    Before you start setting up a home gym, establish a budget. Figure out what you're willing to invest, what you want to achieve, and what will work within the space you have chosen. If a fully equipped fitness space is your goal, investigate the costs for the best-quality equipment you can afford. There are options for every budget: If you can't spend a lot on a stair-stepper or multigym system, purchase a set of benches with risers and some step-training DVDs or a few sets of dumbbells as cost-conscious alternatives.

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Suit Your Style

    Consider your personal inclinations. If you love the quiet contemplative serenity of yoga, make that the focus of your workout space. In this large bath, a calming corner is devoted to an exercise mat and TV for following exercise videos. If cycling is more your style, bring in a stationary bike. Like to walk? Invest in a good-quality treadmill. You don't need a full gym to make exercise a habit.

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Feather Your Workout Nest

    A space with plenty of natural light is often helpful in staying motivated—be sure to close the blinds on the windows, though, unless you want an audience! Get dressed in your workout clothes, play music—whatever it takes to get you to switch from being at home to exercise mode.

    Another option: "Bring in some plants," fitness expert Smith says. "They add life and oxygen to any room, which is even more important in creating an inviting workout area.

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Keep It Simple

    "The great news is you don't need a lot of money—or even space—to set up your own personal gym at home," Smith says. You can achieve a complete workout with very little equipment. Many strength and cardiovascular exercises can be done with limited space or a tight budget.

    "Some of the most effective workouts come from simplicity—simple equipment and minimal space can help you create a regular, effective workout routine," she says. Follow the basics of good training—working within your target heart rate, loading your muscles, and progressing your workouts—and you'll be rewarded with positive results no matter how elaborate or simple your home gym setup is.

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Invest in Quality Basics

    "As a certified trainer, I train clients from my home using no more than dumbbells, resistance bands, mats, and the occasional 'toys,' such as stability balls, sandbags, and cones," Smith says. "Buy only the equipment you know you'll need and use often. Stick with a few good sets of dumbbells, and then when its time to graduate to a heavier weight, consider swapping out or up with a friend or making another small investment when it's necessary."

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Choose Equipment Wisely

    "Skip the big, expensive stuff unless you are absolutely positive you will use it. See if you can rent the equipment you are considering buying first, and then see how much you actually put it to use before investing," Smith says. "I find that most of my clients and friends who have treadmills, stationary bikes, or resistance cable machines end up using them only as clothes racks or places to hang their purses." Once you've made the decision to buy an exercise machine, look closely at features, design, and safety. The piece should be easy to use and operate smoothly. Comparison shop for the best features and benefit—keep in mind that this is one area where spending a bit more for better quality is important.

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Find the Right Fit

    Do your research to find the piece or pieces of equipment that meet your specific needs. Purchase from salespeople who are knowledgeable about fitness and the equipment. And consider the space, both vertical and horizontal, that these machines will need. Following are the guidelines recommended by the American Council on Exercise:
    Treadmill—30 sq. ft.

    Stationary bike—10 sq. ft.

    Free weights—20-50 sq. ft.

    Single-station gym—35 sq. ft.

    Rowing machine—20 sq. ft.

    Stair climber—10-20 sq. ft.

    Multistation gym—50-200 sq. ft.

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Create an Action Plan

    "Organize not only your space but also your plan of action. Even the best home gyms won't do you any good unless you actually do the workouts," Smith says. "Create a schedule for your week and decide when you'll fit in your home workouts. It's too easy to get distracted by the phone, computer, or kids being home, so make an exercise appointment you won't miss by scheduling it into your week. And when it comes time to get going—go full out."

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