September 02, 2009

Cheap Ways to Create a Home Gym

Wouldn't it would be nice to have the money and space to create a well-equipped, spacious home gym?

Dream on, Crabby.
(Photo: The Killer Biscuit)

It would also be nice to have a personal chef, daily maid service, a buffed and charming personal trainer, and while we’re at it, a private island retreat with a pool, a 3-story water slide, and a cute little swim-up tiki bar.

Let's just say this is a fruit smoothie, shall we?
Photo: Randy Son Of Robert

However, if you haven't yet managed to purchase a winning Lotto ticket, here are a few ideas for economical ways to work out at home. And I’m hoping Smart Readers will chime in the comments with better suggestions!

General tips:

Look for used equipment at garage sales, second hand stores, or online. Duh, right? But when faced with something bright and new and shiny in a store or catalog, it’s easy to forget that you might be able to get the same thing used. Take advantage of the fact we’re a culture of optimists—really lazy optimists. Some sucker already bought exactly what you want, decided it was too much effort, and is now selling it cheap.

Figure Out What Exercises You Want to Do First. Unfortunately, you can’t just grab a pair of dumbbells or an elastic band and expect it to design an exercise program for you. It’s best to figure out what you’re trying to accomplish before you buy equipment.

If you already have a gym routine and are just trying to replicate it at home, you’ll have an easier time. But if you’re starting from scratch, you may want to read fitness books, do some web surfing, or find a personal trainer to help you design a program.

Ideally, you probably want to get some aerobic exercise, and eventually throw in some high-intensity intervals. You also should think about building some muscles, and working to increase your flexibility and balance. But there are a bazillion different ways to approach these goals, from Bollywood dance videos to gravity defying yoga poses to Olympic weight lifting routines. Some of these will seem almost fun and some will be absolute torture, it's all very personal!

A Few Cardio Options:

Really Cheap: Aerobic Exercise DVD’s (you can even get these off Netflix or free at many public libraries), step platforms, jump-ropes, mini-trampolines, calisthenics or other “functional fitness” routines, and adding circuit training to your weight routine.

But my basement ceiling isn't that high!

No, not “circus training!”

Circuit training just means doing your strength training fairly continuously without letting your heart rate drop too much between exercises.

Another useful home option, if the weather’s good: Your Front Door! (Just open it and go outside for a run, bike ride, walk, or whatever).

Somewhat Reasonable: Used or reconditioned exercise bikes, rowers, manual treadmills, step climbers, manual ellipticals, cross-country ski machines, and those doo-hickeys that convert your street bike into an exercise bike so you can ride around the house without crashing into walls or scaring the crap out of the cat.

Not Cheap but Possibly Affordable: (If you score a good used or reconditioned item): Motorized treadmills or ellipticals or anything else some impulsive dork bought and never used. High quality motorized equipment is most like what they have at commercial gyms, but it’s hard to find cheap.

Strength Training Options:

Really Cheap: Resistance bands, body-weight exercises or functional fitness routines (free, but you need to research these and may need some coaching), make-at-home weights (like soup cans, gallon milk containers), and strength training and yoga DVDS from the library or Netflix.

Fairly Cheap: Garage sale dumbbells, barbells, benches, racks, etc.; pull up bars (use a chair beneath for assistance if you can’t do ‘em on your own); suspension training systems (these are straps like these that come from the ceiling or a doorway that help you use your bodyweight for resistance); medicine balls, kettlebells, weighted vests.

Possibly Affordable if You Find it Used: A multi-station home gym, especially if you’re handy and can go to a seller’s house, disassemble it, schlep it home, and reassemble it yourself.


These are all pretty reasonably priced: yoga dvd’s, bosu balls, stability balls, balance boards, and eyelids.

(Instructions for eyelids: close them as you raise one foot off the ground and stand there until you start to teeter. Try to regain balance before performing inadvertent faceplant on the floor).

Do any of you use any of these? Maybe someone has some better suggestions?


  1. set up an obstacle course in your home.
    STOP CLEANING in the name of hurdles to jump over.
    Get the dog to STAY! & leave over his bullmastiff arse as well.
    Lunge to the front door when the neighborhood kids ring&dash.
    Crawl under the kitchen table and FINALLY GRAB that old cookie which youve been too lazy to bend down and sweep up.


    I got nothin' :)

  2. These really are great ideas, and as an avid garage sale junkie myself, I can attest to the BIZILLIONS of dirt cheap exercise equipment I have seen, just in the past 3 months.

    The other day, I saw a brand new Nordic Track treadmill for $150 dollars. I called a friend who wanted one and she came and got it!

  3. Oh perfect - now you've given me absolutely no excuses for not getting exercise! Now what am I going to do?

  4. Good suggestions, but don't forget bodyweight exercises. No equipment needed!

  5. Man! I got all excited at the circus photo, just to find out you weren't necessarily endorsing it! :) Probably better this way...I hear cracking your skull open hurts.

    Great tips.

  6. I don't really have any input on how to get stuff cheap, but I do think that a yoga mat, stability ball and dumbbells are good investments. They are versatile pieces of equipment that give you a lot of bang for your buck and don't take up a huge amount of space.

  7. Throw yourself into your housework or gardening if you have one. I don't throw myself into housework so I am only speaking theoretically. I've heard it's good, though.

  8. Leah's solution sounds a bit drastic... I think I could face something more mild, like ransacking my mother's spare closet. All my siblings seem to think that 'donating' their exercise equipment to her is a good idea, and she's always glad to share :)

  9. I'm much more in favor of Miz's approach :)

  10. I'd say free weights and an exercise DVD go a long way.

  11. Tip #1: start first, get organised later.

    just MOVE. even if you have to do 300 lap of your own clothes line because you can't afford a treadmill, do it. and THEN buy a treadmill. Do pushups if you can't get a weights bench. Do situps.

    go for a ride on a crappy bike if you don't have a whizzbang carbon fibre frame road bike.

    just start moving.

    sort out the details later.

  12. Hi Crabby,

    My Cable TV carries a station called Fit TV and they show lots of great 1/2 hour exercise programs (including belly dancing, pilates, yoga, etc.) and lots of healthy cooking/eating shows. I try to watch something helpful every day. I also will turn it on and just jump along for a few minutes when I don't have time for a full half hour work out.

    And it comes free with the cable (which, of course is far from free.)


  13. Have you heard about Body Togs, wearable weights you wear on your legs and arms all day under your clothes? A great way to increase calorie burn, build muscle and bone density. Check them out at:

  14. I'm a huge fan od exercise DVDs that have workouts for bellydance and my exercise ball...and my bike and feet :)
    We just broke our elliptical (it gave it's life for 4 years for us...sniff) so I'm looking to see if we should fix it or invest in a new one.
    Currently I'm doing the "up and down the ladder constantly with a paintbrush in my hand" outdoor workout. Both I and my house get to look better :)

  15. Starting to set up a "mobile" personal training, and I'm getting creative.

    A gallon milk jug filled with water is a 8# kettleball. Add sand to increase the weight.

    PVC pipe, filled part way with water and capped, is a challenging (sloshy) weight that really challenges the core.

    Love all these things. And re-sell shops like "Sell It Again, Sam" are wonderful.

  16. Great ideas - I'd forgotten about looking at the resale shops (and we have a Play it Again Sports here in town) for equipment. Will have to go check them out for free weights - I'd like a motorized treadmill, but that ain't happening anytime soon, unfortunately.

  17. I would just talk about body weight workouts and possibly a pair of dumbells or a pullup bar

  18. I just keep telling companies that I write a health and fitness column, and ask them for free equipment to review! Some of them have actually sent me some! I think there is a P T Barnum quote that applies :-)

  19. Well, it was hard for me to get past the first couple paragraphs cause I am so wanting to be wherever that is with all the personal chef, trainer, island & such but no, I did not win that big mega million jackpot here in CA. DARN!

    Lots of great advice from you!!! I would add that as you walk, jog or combo of that outside, you an always do lunges along the way, stop & do push-ups against a wall or on the ground or bar/fence if that is available, lunges/squats off the curb or toe raises for calves. Even bring along your exercise band & use that along the way for all kinds of resistance moves.

    Oh, stairs or bleachers are great workouts!!!!

    Ok, great advice. Just be careful of warranty info on more expensive cardio equipment just in case!

  20. Do you think you only got 20 comments (so far) because you stressed that part about 'Smart Readers?'

    I almost didn't comment but then I thought I'd throw that out there to irritate the crap out of anyone who happens to read after I post.

  21. Personally, I use an ancient (maybe 10 years old) Bowflex.

    The hubby bought it, and it was a display model, so he got a discount AND it was already assembled. It was a little dinged up, but good nough for us.

    Actually, it was years before I "caved-in" to using "the machine".

    But now, it's working for me.

    But personally, Crabby, I think you should hold on to the dream of the umbrella drinks, hot instructors, and uber-cool equipment.

    It's nice to be back. And I'll probably never shut up now ;-)

  22. The two most important (actually, only) tips I can come up with are:

    1. Non-slip flooring is essential. My workout/utility/laundry/cat room is floored in the finest-quality plywood at the moment, and it's a comedy of errors every time I work out.

    2. If you're going to buy a treadmill, drop the bucks on a good one, whether used or new. I spent *insane* amounts of money on mine, but it's gotten a lot of use, and is of good-enough quality that I can do wind sprints and interval training and not kill my knees. Obviously, this isn't an option for everybody, but buy the best you can possibly afford.

  23. Great tips on home exercising, but not for me. I like to run away from my children and go to the gym. Everytime I exercise at home I find my children stare, point, laugh and generally ridicule me. Not good for mummy's esteem! :)

  24. Have any of you guys thought about trying a Total Gym? It's really not as expensive as you think and it's backed by all sorts of physical therapists. A yearly gym membership can cost between $348 to well over $1,200. Here's a $100 coupon code off. It shows up when you check out.

  25. A copy of Starting Strength, a power rack, an olympic barbell set, and a flat bench are all you need for strength training. All of these can be found used for a fraction of the original price. My whole setup cost about $300 and was pieced together by making requests of craigslist. Add a pair of comfortable shoes for a daily hour long walk after dinner and you will be in shape for the rest of your life.

  26. I forgot to add the pullup bar that I picked up new for $10 to the list of equipment.

  27. Health clubs and gyms are great choices and offer a social environment and inspiration. However the time wasted driving to the club or waiting in line for equipment, or the recurring membership fees may be costs you can avoid by exercising at home.

  28. You can buy very inexpensive equipment these days. Most people think that you have to run out and buy everything to have a good home gym.

    All you basically need are the basics!

  29. One of the best and cheapest total gyms available will run you about $10. All you need is an old duffel bag, some gallon-sized Ziploc bags, and a 40lb bag of sand from the hardware store. Place the sand into the bags and toss them into the duffel. Zip closed and voila! you have a very effective total body conditioning system! Check out you tube for some great sandbag workouts!


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