As an Amazon Associate, T Nation earns from qualifying purchases. When you buy something, using the retail links in our articles, we may earn a small commission. T Nation does not accept money for editorial reviews. Read more about our policy.
Build a quality home gym and you’ll never go back to a commercial gym. Not just because it’s more practical, but because you’ll get even BETTER results.
Most people don’t live next to a commercial gym. You’ll likely have to drive there. And while it might not be a long ride, it still requires more planning because you have to schedule it in more tightly.
If your gym is at home, you can go there whenever you have some free time. You can train early in the morning before work or when you come back home from work. Granted, you can do that in a commercial gym too, but ask anybody who has a family and full-time job about those 30 minutes you save.
And how about being able to take a leisurely shower at home before work instead of a rushed one at the gym?
If you have a busy schedule or family, you can segment your training too. At home you can do two or three training blocks of 20 minutes instead of a 60 minute workout (plus drive time) at a regular gym.
If you’re busy, it’s hard to fit an entire hour into your day to train, but most people can make time for a few 15-20 periods. Obviously, this type of segmentation won’t work if you need to drive to the gym every time.
For the hardcore lifters out there who like to include “extra workouts” on top of their main sessions, the ability to train at home makes that approach a lot more manageable.
Time management isn’t just about making your life easier, it’s about making more gains!
Let’s be honest, most of us go just a little too heavy when there are people around. Some will stick to “easier” movements to avoid looking foolish if they don’t feel strong or comfortable enough with a new exercise. How many people migrate to the leg press instead of a squat for that reason?
When you train at home there’s nobody to impress and no one to make you feel incompetent. You can focus on proper form and feeling the muscles doing the work instead of strictly on weight. You can take the time to learn and master a complex exercise with light weights without the fear of being judged.
I won’t lie. I used to use too much weight when people were around, and I’m still paying the price with a shoulder issue that prevents me from pressing heavy.
Also related to mindset: training at home is your “me time” because there are no strangers to disturb you. Just you and the weights. It’s your meditation.
There will be no Cardi B blaring in the background. No bros taking selfies in front of the dumbbell rack. No posse hogging the bench press for 45 minutes talking about their weekend and doing a set of tag-team bench press and upright row every four minutes. And if someone is curling in the squat rack, it’ll be you!
And you know what? If you actually like Cardi B you can make it as loud as you want. It’s your sanctuary, do as you please.
Having to wait for a piece of equipment takes me out of the zone. At one point, I had to design my workouts around exercises that nobody did so I could have a good flow during workouts.
If you train at home you’ll never have that issue, unless your two-year old son decides that he wants to “do like daddy.”
This might not seem like much, but even minor stressors can accumulate and increase cortisol and adrenaline, making it more likely that you’ll have recovery and growth issues.
Want to train on Christmas morning? During a lockdown? How about during a snowstorm? Not an issue when training at home.
Many commercial gyms are closed on the big holidays and some won’t even warn you about it. So you get double the frustration of not being able to train and traveling to get there because you thought they were open.
What if you work shifts and sometimes have to train at night or at 3 AM? Not an issue if you have a home gym. You can train any day, any time, and under any circumstances.
The coolest thing with a home gym – at least when you’re passionate about training – is that you can design it to your liking. You can get the equipment you want for exactly the type of training you like.
Here’s an example of one of my workstations.
You won’t find most of these items in commercial gyms. But they’re among the tools I use the most in my own training.
The cool thing now is that you have plenty of online stores selling quality training equipment, even the oddest implements. If you want to invest a little money, you can turn your gym into your own special heaven since it can be personalized for your preferences and goals.
Building your home gym over time is also fun and exciting. It’s a lot like when you were a kid and tried to save for that one toy you really wanted.
And you know what? The pieces of equipment that will make your home gym special are normally not super expensive. They’re just things that commercial gym owners don’t want to buy (if they even know they exist).
Benefit 7 – It Makes You Smarter About Training
When you train in a home gym and you’re passionate, one of two things (or both) will happen. Either:
- You’ll become a master of the big basic exercises, developing really efficient technique, intra/intermuscular coordination, and body awareness.
- You become imaginative and innovative and come up with new methods or exercise variations to make the most of what you have.
Either way, if you train seriously in a home gym, you’ll become much smarter about how your body works and how to stimulate it optimally.
Most people in commercial gyms don’t have to do that because they rely on machines or they’re constantly moving from easy exercise to easy exercise.
The People Who Need a Gym
The only people who will have problems with home training are those who need a kick in the butt to get to the gym. For them, having their stuff at home can actually make it harder: “It’s right here. I’ll get to it later.” Or… “One more Netflix show and I’ll go do my workout.”
I call this the proximity factor. The closer and more accessible something is, the less likely you are to do it if you’re not motivated.
The same is true for those who have no interest in learning how to master their body, don’t care about the mind-muscle connection, don’t want to learn what exercise tweaks will give them the best results, and would rather not work hard on their technique.
Finally, those who go to the gym to see other people while making themselves feel good for “training” (but really it’s chatting) will not get what they want out of a home gym: social interaction.
But that’s not you, right? If you’re dedicated and driven, you’ll progress more from training at home and you’ll enjoy the ride a lot more.
The Biggest Home Training Myths
Even with all those benefits, some myths persist. There ARE some drawbacks, but the real drawbacks, not the myths, really only affect those who aren’t truly passionate about training.
Myth 1 – A Home Gym Is Expensive
When looking at the most awesome home gyms on “the ‘gram” it’s easy to assume that you must be rich to have a home gym. In reality, you can get a functional set-up for a pretty decent price, especially when you factor in gym membership fees.
To be able to train properly and build a lot of strength and muscle, you essentially need a barbell, a rack, an adjustable bench, weights, and bands. Sure, that’s minimalist, but I got the job done with that set-up for a few years. It works. Heck, that’s pretty much what the guys from the 50s had and they got big and strong.
You can get a decent power rack for $600-700 (even less if you go the used route). For example, a brand new Rogue Echo rack will be in that range. You can get a more hardcore option for around $800 from EliteFTS with their Garage Line power rack.
For $300 you can get a new barbell of good quality if you shop with guys like Rogue or EliteFTS. It won’t be a world class Olympic lifting bar, but it’ll be better than most of what you find in commercial gyms.
You can get a new adjustable bench for as low as $250-300, but I’d suggest spending around $500 for a higher quality option.
As for weights, if you go to a used gym equipment store or even buy new ones, you can usually get plates for $1 to $1.50 per pound. For most, 500 pounds of plates will be enough to start with. A good place to start is eight 45-pound plates, two 25-pound plates, four 10-pound plates, two 5-pound plates, and two 2.5-pound plates for a total of 465 pounds (with the bar weight that comes up to 510 pounds).
Then I’d suggest buying bands of various resistances. This should set you back $100 or less. That’s a total of roughly $2000-2500.
That’s not nothing, but that’s not rich man’s money either. And you’ll be able to save gym fees, time, gas, and frustration. From there you can gradually add other pieces as budget allows.
Myth 2 – A Commercial Gym Is Superior Because It’s Better Equipped
That can be the main advantage of a commercial gym over a home set-up. Objectively, it’s true that a commercial gym will have more options than even the best equipped home facility. And while that’s seductive, is it really better?
I will concede that once in a while, it’s nice to have a machine that allows you to isolate a certain muscle or give you a mental break from hard work on the barbell. But in many cases, having more options can actually do more harm than good.
First, a lot of people shy away from honest work on the big basic barbell and dumbbell lifts. These are not only muscle and strength-building exercises, but also movements that help your capacity to move and use your body properly.
To become a master of the primary movement patterns (squat, hip hinge, press, pull, lunge, and carry), the most important pieces of equipment are a barbell, weights, and dumbbells.
“Yeah, but a commercial gym has those too.”
True. But the reality – and this comes from 25 years spent in gyms around the world – is that when provided with “easier” options, most people will replace a large part of the barbell exercises with machine work. And if you’re honest with yourself, you tend to do that more often than you care to admit.
One of the biggest gyms in the world is in Montreal, and I’ve trained there more than a few times. And while it’s super impressive – literally every machine ever invented is in there – I could never get a great workout in.
Too many options can create confusion and make it hard to stick to your program. There’s already so much conflicting information floating around, making your workout choices harder. We don’t need even more confusion.
Listen, you don’t need fancy machines to get great results. In the 50s and 60s, before steroids were widely used, most of the training was done with free weights. And these guys built more muscle naturally than the true natural trainees of today. And they were a lot stronger too!
I’ve also worked in a few high-performance centers and most of them were built around a free-weight model. Normally, a leg curl and pulley station were the only machines we had. And I guarantee that the clients there got a lot more results than those training in the fanciest facilities.
Why? Several reasons:
- Too many options creates confusion, less confidence in the choices you’re making, and less consistency in your workouts.
- Working with free weights forces you to develop more body control and mind-muscle connection. Machines do both FOR you. Those who have better movement control and mind-muscle connection get better results, period.
- I’ll use a golf example. Ball-striking legend, Moe Norman, once said that he envied those who were still trying to figure out the best way to swing the club. Why? Because experimenting and tweaking is the most fun and exhilarating thing you can do when training.
The same thing is true with lifting. Learning to make small modifications to get a better response and improve your gains is the best part of training. At least for someone who’s serious about building muscle. Look at the best bodybuilding trainers. They’re geniuses at making exercise adjustments to milk out every drop of stimulation they can get. Vince Gironda, Charles Glass, and John Meadows are great examples of this. Obviously, machines take that part out of the equation.
If you have fewer options, you’re forced to learn how to optimize every exercise you do. You become more intellectually involved in your training. You learn how your body works and how to get the most out of it.
Again, it’s true that big commercial gyms also have free weights. But in those gyms, how many people are doing these?
- Romanian Deadlift
- Front Squat
- Bentover Row
- Standing Military Press
Not that many. And a good part of them are doing them half-assed.
It’s easier to just do leg curls, leg presses, the hack squat machine, lat pulldowns, and Smith machine shoulder presses. I’m not saying these don’t work, but they’re inferior in many regards. And they’re certainly not necessary to reach your genetic potential.
Myth 3 – Training Around People Will Give You Better Results
Unless you train at a hardcore gym like Westside Barbell, where everybody has the same goal and intensity, there are no benefits to training around people when it comes to performance or gains. And, in many cases, it can do more harm than good.
Here are the potential reasons why you might want to train around people:
- To gain motivation from people who drive you
- To be social and have a sense of community
- To look at (and even hit on) members of the opposite sex
- To get an ego boost from thinking that people are admiring you
- To have people who can check and correct your form
Be honest. In how many gyms do numbers one and five happen? I mean, in most gyms people have such low training intensity that it can actually kill the motivation of others.
And how many people in your commercial gym would you trust for form advice?
In most cases, those who have a hard time giving up commercial gym training are those who go there for reasons 2, 3, or 4. All three of these elements can either hurt your session or indicate a psychological issue that might need to be addressed if they lead to destructive behaviors like using steroids or becoming a stimulus addict.
Vince Gironda once said something to the effect of this: What separates those who get great results and those who don’t is singleness of purpose when training and a laser-like focus. Making the gym your social activity or your dating scene might be fun, but it’s not conductive to getting the most out of your workouts.
There are other drawbacks of training in a crowded gym:
- The equipment you need might not be available. You either need to do another exercise or wait. In both cases it can make your workout less effective. You either have to do a less effective lift or you get you out of your zone.
- It can be hard to do supersets and circuits.
- Doing a lot of sets of one exercise can be problematic. People often get frustrated if you’re on the same piece of equipment for 20 minutes. I hate it when someone asks me how many sets I have left and then sits there and looks at me while he waits. That takes the wind out of my sails and I end up not doing all of my planned work sets.
- People can be annoying… and the gym seems to attract some of the worst of them. There are tons of articles on “gym clowns” for a good reason: they are everywhere. While a serious lifter will always do his best to tune out the idiots, the reality is that they can ruin your session.
- When you’re in good shape and know what you’re doing, you’re likely to get interrupted by other members for advice. Normally, I don’t mind helping people out. But if you only have 60 minutes to train, it can be frustrating to lose 10 of those to give advice to someone who won’t apply it anyway. Any workout interruption or anything that can distract you will hurt workout performance.
When you train in your home gym you’re free to do what you want. You’re not being judged by anyone and you’ll never wait for any piece of equipment. It’s also an environment that’s a lot more conductive to staying focused and avoiding distractions.
If you want to be entertained and have fun, sure, go to a commercial gym. But a serious lifter who focuses on gains should avoid distractions.
Myth 4 – You Can’t Do Many Exercises In A Home Gym
People assume they’ll have to do the same exercises over and over for the rest of their lives.
Well, even if that were true, is it really a bad thing for gains? Most powerlifters, Olympic lifters, and lifters from the 1950s to 1970s used very few exercise variations. My own athletes essentially stick to the big basic lifts, same with a plan like Wendler’s 5/3/1.
Proper workout structure, programming, and progression is a lot more important than using the kitchen sink approach. It’s always better to be a master of a few things than passable in tons of stuff.
But you know what? It’s not even true that you have few options in a home gym. Let’s look at our minimalist example above (barbell, rack, bench, bands). Here’s a list of some exercises. And this is actually a short list that doesn’t include micro-adjustments in position or more unorthodox movements.
- Front/Back Squat Variations (altering bar position, foot placement, using bands, etc.)
- Deadlift Variations (altering stance, grip, rack, deficit, etc.)
- Romanian Deadlift Variations (toes elevated, bands added, etc.)
- Step-Up Variations
- Lunge Variations (altering implement, bar position, direction, locomotion, etc.)
- Split Squat Variations (altering implement, bar position, bands added, etc.)
- Good Morning Variations (Zercher, etc.)
- Barbell Hip Thrust
- Band Leg Curl (seated or on your stomach)
- Band Leg Extension
- Bodyweight (or banded) Leg Extension
- Natural Glute Ham Raise
- Chin-Up Variations (altering grip and grip width)
- Horizontal Row Variations (altering grip and grip width)
- Pendlay Row Variations (altering bar path and grip)
- Bentover Barbell Row (altering bar path and grip)
- T-Bar Row
- Upright Row
- Shrug Variations
- High Pull
- Band Pull-Apart
- Band Row
- Band Upright Row
- Band Lat Pulldown
- Band Face-Pull
- Band Straight-Arm Pulldown
- Barbell Pullover
- Plate Bentover Lateral Raise
- Bench Press Variations (altering grip, pin heights, incline etc.)
- Floor Press Variations
- Neck Press Variations
- Push-Up (various hand positions and bands)
- Banded Cross-Over
- Pullover Variations
- Plate Flye (like dumbbell flye but with weight plates)
- Incline Plate Flyes
- Shoulder Press Variations (altering grip, behind the neck, etc.)
- Bench Press Variations (altering incline, grip, etc.)
- Push Press Variations
- Javelin Thrower Press
- Landmine Press Variations
- Muscle Snatch
- Lateral Raise Variations
- Front Raise Variations
- Barbell Upright Row
The triceps will be stimulated with all the shoulder and chest exercises mentioned above.
- Close-Grip Bench Press Variations
- JM Press
- Lying Barbell Triceps Extension (various grips)
- Incline Barbell Triceps Extension (various grips)
- Standing or Seated Barbell Overhead Triceps Extension
- Band Triceps Pressdown Variations
- Band Overhead Triceps Extension
- Close Hands Push-Ups (regular or banded)
The biceps will be stimulated with all the pulling exercises mentioned earlier.
- Barbell Curl Variations (altering grip width and position)
- Drag Curl
- Gironda Perfect Curl
- Karelin Curl (mixed grip barbell curl)
- Lap Curl
- Jettison Curl
- Band Curl Variations (reverse, hammer, etc.)
Note that I didn’t include calf or forearm exercises, but these can also be done.
This is simply to illustrate that even with only a bar, a bench, some plates, a rack, and bands, you have more than enough exercises for a lifetime of gains. If you add dumbbells to that set-up, you’ll essentially have a limitless supply of exercises.
Take The Leap
Investing in a home gym was one of my best moves ever. In my old house I had a minimalist set-up – power rack, bench, barbell, weights, and a platform – all in half of my garage. I trained there for a few years and got really strong.
When I moved into my new house, I had the garage excavated and built a more advanced home gym set-up. I invested that money because I couldn’t see myself going back to the gym and wanted a space that would allow me to do all the training experimentation that I wanted.
You don’t have to start with a fancy set-up. Gradually building a kick-ass home gym is part of the experience and almost as fun as the training and gaining! What are you waiting for?