With the pandemic upon us more people than ever are working out from home – some by choice, and others because it is the only option in their area. That said, it looks like we’ll be in this for at least a while longer, and even after COVID has simmered down it is reasonable to assume a lot of people will prefer to workout from home as their new normal. With that in mind, I wanted to share some thoughts on what your shopping list should look like for starting a home gym.
To start, let’s identify what your fitness goals should be, because I think most people don’t have a solid grasp of that and it would be helpful to get on the same page … because if you don’t know where you’re trying to go, then any road will take you there. The simplest way to start is to understand that there are many qualities / attributes when it comes to fitness, and they are not all equal priorities. A few examples of these qualities are speed, quickness, balance, agility, strength, endurance, flexibility, mobility (not the same as flexibility), power, and so on. Most of these qualities can be subdivided further, but that is beyond the scope of this post. For the typical adult the three most important qualities are:
The above are loosely in order (but of course should be individualized as appropriate), but really you should be training all three qualities. What this means is you need to set up your home gym with equipment to help you train ALL THREE QUALITIES, NOT JUST ONE OF THE THREE. This is the most common mistake that people make when building a home gym: they use up all their space and budget on a cardio machine, but that only addresses one of the three key physical qualities (endurance) but leaves 2/3 of them (strength and mobility) unaddressed.
To be clear, if you’re someone who thinks “I just want to lose weight, so I’m just going to focus on cardio” then this post is meant for you – strength training will do more for your weight loss goals than your treadmill ever will. I want to help remedy that confusion: let’s take a look at a better way to build a home gym and what your shopping list should look like to make it happen.
STEP 1: Space and Flooring
It sounds obvious, but you need physical space to workout. The minimum I recommend allocating is a square 8-feet x 8-feet, and if you can carve our more space than that even better. You’ll also want to have flooring down that you are comfortable training on and is appropriate for working out. If this will be a dedicated area then invest in some rubber gym flooring, and if not then get a couple yoga mats (or similar) to roll out when you need them and put away when you don’t.
STEP 2: Kettlebells
Kettlebells are undeniably the ultimate piece of home gym equipment. Why? First off, they are the only piece of equipment that covers all three qualities you should be training: strength, mobility, and endurance. No other piece of equipment can cover all three qualities nearly as well. Your Peloton or Concept 2 rower? Both good for endurance, but do not address strength or mobility at all. A barbell and rack? Excellent for strength, but won’t put a dent in endurance or mobility. Kettlebells are the only one-stop-shop for all three of your big needs: strength, endurance, and mobility. They also have many other benefits that you’ll love for your home gym:
• They are compact, easy to stash in a closet when you’re not using them
• They require no maintenance
• They will never break – you can turn them into a family heirloom if you want
• Significantly less expensive than most other pieces of home gym equipment
• A small set of kettlebells will cover all your training needs
Regarding the last point, I recommend starting with three (3) kettlebells initially. Kettlebells are usually sold in kilograms rather than pounds (the good ones are anyway), so we’ll use those as reference. Generally you want to make jumps between kettlebells 4-8kg so that it is noticeable – too small of a jump can be ineffective. Use your judgement on where to start based on your size and fitness level, but a few common recommendations are listed below:
• 8kg, 12kg, 16kg (smaller person, less experience)
• 12kg, 16kg, 20kg
• 16kg, 24kg, 32kg (bigger person, has some strength training experience)
After you have some experience with the above, you may want to start training double kettlebells (using two at the same time). Use your experience from training with single kettlebells to help you determine what weight to get for doubles – it will usually be on the light-to-medium end of the spectrum. For example a lot of women will do well with 12kg x 2, 16kg x 1, and 20-24kg x 1; and a lot of men will do well with 16kg x 2, 24kg x 1, and 32kg x 1.
STEP 3: Mobility
For most people kettlebells will take care of essentially all of their strength and endurance work, while also putting a good dent in mobility. However, some extra dedicated mobility work is a good idea for most people, and some additional equipment will be helpful for that. Here is your shopping list for mobility gear:
• Foam roller – There are many varieties of rollers, but to start just get a basic black foam roller (these are generally about 3-feet long and 6-inches in diameter). These are the most versatile and are the best for most people, with the added benefit of being inexpensive. If you want to get a “fancy” one later that is fine, but start basic.
• Mobility bands – These are an “endless loop” style band that used to be called “Jump Stretch” bands (I believe that was the name of the manufacturer). Regardless of what you call them, they are inexpensive and versatile, and make an excellent addition to a home gym. I recommend a set of at least three different bands, something light, something a little thicker, and one that is fairly wide and thick. Many retailers sell these as sets, so it’s simple enough to just buy the set and cover your bases.
• Lacrosse ball – Like foam rollers, there are many varieties of mobility / massage balls, but starting with an inexpensive option is just fine. Most fitness retailers sell these on their sites, so just add one to your cart along with the foam roller and bands. These are useful for a similar purpose to the foam roller, but their smaller size helps get into harder to reach places.
There you have it – your shopping list for your home gym! You should be able to get everything above for $500 or less, a fraction of the cost of an expensive cardio machine, and the benefit of actually covering all of your fitness needs, not just one quality. If you have more space and a desire to add more equipment, then you can look into a pull up bar and/or TRX, other types of weights, cardio machines, etc., but to start with just get some floor space, kettlebells, and mobility tools.
FULL TRANSPARENCY: If kettlebells have a “downside” to them it is that there is a learning curve to develop the skills to use them well, which are a prerequisite of getting the results you often hear people rave about. In a world where instant gratification is often the name of the game, that learning curve is somewhat of kettlebells’ Achilles heel – many people just don’t want to put in the effort to learn. However, if we are honest with ourselves very few good things in life come without an initial investment. For example, if you want a good career then you invest time, energy, and money in trade school or college to develop the skills you need to be successful, and after that initial investment you have years and years of reaping those rewards. Strength training, and specifically kettlebells, works the same way. If you commit to a small initial investment of learning how to use them well then you’ll have many years ahead of you filled with great training and feeling strong and fit. If you try to skip that and take shortcuts, such as buying the trendy piece of cardio equipment and relying only on that, it is the equivalent of skipping trade school / college and expecting to land a great career … highly unlikely that you’ll end up where you want, and instead you’ll probably end up disappointed and frustrated. The best way to learn to use kettlebells is in person with a qualified trainer, but if that is not available to you then check out our Virtual On-Ramp for the most detailed and thorough instruction available online.