Home Gym Build 101: How to Start Your Iron Oasis

Sep 6, 2022 | Strength & Conditioning

Strong, muscular man performing the kettlebell swing

The pandemic may have quieted down, but for so many athletes having easy access to a home gym is now a no-brainer. It’s just so convenient for those days when you can’t make it to your gym because life gets in the way. 

But there’s so much equipment out there. What’s the home warrior athlete to do? Where do you start?

Brandon Robb is the founder and head coach of HEROIC Athletics @heroic.athletics and Golf HEROIC @golf.heroic—he’s worked with athletes for over a decade. First responders (fire, police, military), golfers, Crossfitters, obstacle course racers, and hockey players all turn to him for performance gains, injury prevention, and competition prep.

John Fasulo
brandon robb

Home Gyms Are No Longer a Luxury

There is honestly no better antidepressant, confidence-building, relationship-creating environment than the gym.

No matter how you train: bodybuilding, powerlifting, Olympic weightlifting, Crossfit, endurance athlete, organized sports — most of us will agree that getting under a barbell, pushing our limits and developing a strong, confident body is therapeutic.

And these types of communities literally exist almost everywhere. A building full of driven human beings seeking to be their best version of self. It truly is special. I will never deny it, and I, like many others, prefer the in-person option more often than not. Building relationships with like-minded individuals is what makes us human.

BUT… the year is 2022.

Considering the dumpster fire that the last two years have been for most places on the planet, athletes everywhere have learned that our reliable gym environment can be taken away in a heartbeat.

When the initial shut downs happened it shocked us iron paradise lovers to see the very thing we love, our sanctuary for sanity taken away from us. We felt stranded, confused and lost. Sure, Zoom classes and “gym equipment rental programs” provided a great temporary solution. A band-aid of sorts to tide us over until we could get a better understanding of what happened next.

But you likely experienced the same thing I did — the novelty of these things helped initially, but ultimately faded the longer the shelter-in-place orders lasted. Not having access to your favorite equipment put a damper on your training.  

The most obvious long term solution for YOU, for your day-to-day is to have your own training space.

I put together a comprehensive list of the “Home Gym Essentials” to ensure that you stay sane and keep making gains regardless of what’s going on in the outside world.

Your Home Gym Essentials

I want to focus this article on helpful tips to help you succeed in your home training experience.

First and foremost, let’s recognize that even if you are a slightly (or very much so) an introverted individual, we as human beings require human connection. The world we live in with bots and automation and algorithms and shit — while all great in the pursuit of productivity — makes it easy to avoid human connection.

So the FIRST two things I am going to put on my home gym essentials list is more relationship-based. We’ll get to the equipment later. Relationships help more than people realize and can make the difference in staying sane/making gains OR becoming a permanent imprint on your couch.

1) An Accountability / Workout Buddy

This is important, because there is one golden rule to staying healthy and progressing your fitness: CONSISTENCY. Most of us will struggle with motivation from time to time, so having a friend, family member or someone who’s willing to sweat and struggle alongside you (or over zoom together) is incredibly helpful for your consistency. 

Maybe they do the same workouts as you or maybe you both just have an agreement to hold each other accountable. Maybe you get a group of 3-4 people together. However you do it, having tight relationships to hold you accountable is something that a huge majority of the population needs in order to remain consistent. 

The great thing is that these people shouldn’t need payment to connect with you. So, the first thing on this list that might be the most important is 100% free. Chances are if you have someone in mind, all you need to do is reach out.

2) A Coach, Trainer or Mentor

I hate to break it to you — you do not know everything. In fact, you likely know less than you think you do. Having a mentor, coach or trainer to guide you is essential. I would argue you need this person even if you DO have access to a gym. 

This very important person not only holds you accountable, but they provide solutions and guidance outside of what you don’t know. They need to be someone you respect, value and feel have more education than you in the area you are hoping to grow. But I am telling you from personal experience, the moment you hire a quality coach or trainer, you will see real growth. Not just in your goals in fitness, but a quality coach will help you become a quality human being. They will guide you to realizing the person you want to become.

How much does this cost? It varies. But like certain things in life, you get what you pay for. From my experience, a quality coach will cost you around $200 – $500 per month. You can also find great online programs to follow at around $20-$100 per month. 

Either way, you DO need some structure in your training, otherwise you will likely not make the progress you want to. Yes, the equipment is nice. But quality information from a professional goes much farther than equipment. 

Owning a calculator and a computer does not make you incredibly competent at doing your own taxes. Having a wrench and a sink does not mean you’re a master plumber. Owning an oven does not make you a qualified chef. You get the picture.

Having someone guide you to build your skills can be the difference-maker in actually achieving your fitness goals or just having a bitching home gym. 

When you hit an obstacle or need someone to call you out on your own BS, having a coach is powerful.

So, my advice, invest in a coach before you invest in a barbell. But that’s likely not why you clicked on this article.

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The Top Training Equipment You Need In Your Home Gym

Here’s my list of essential workout equipment and the reason behind each choice. My aim was to offer options that account for the space you might have.

I didn’t provide much in terms of links, but if you Google the brands listed they should pop up. There are literally TONS of amazing and quality manufacturers these days, but perhaps it can give you insight to the type.

If you want some insight on specifics, shoot me a link with the equipment you found to brandon@heroicathletics.com and I would be happy to tell you whether its quality, whether its garbage, or whether or not I’ve heard of it.

ITEM NUMBER 1 – Pull Up Bar

  • Doorway Pull Up Bar: $25 – $200 
  • Gorilla Pre Pull Up Bar: $229 
  • Rogue P3 Pull Up System: $135 

WHY?

When looking at all the foundational movements (squat, step, push, pull, hinge, trunk and jump), it’s nearly impossible to replicate a vertical pull without equipment. Regardless of whether or not you can do an unassisted pull up, having the ability to use a chair or something to support you will still give you the ability to PULL from a vertical plane. You won’t be able to do a pull up without a sturdy pull up bar.

ITEM NUMBER 2 – Suspension Trainer

  • Suspension Trainer from Amazon – $60 to $300
  • Gymnastic Rings – $55 to $72 
  • TRX Suspension Trainer – Starting at $200 

WHY?

After a pull up bar, the versatility of movements is nearly endless with a suspension strap system (or pair of rings). This can give you the ability to PULL horizontally. Again, doing any sort of pulling movements can be tough without gym equipment, which is why something like this is essential for a home gym. This was personally my first purchase for my home gym and something I got the day of lockdowns back in March 2020. It saved my ass in many situations and provided alternatives, plus tons of different movements that helped keep me motivated.

 

ITEM NUMBER 3 – Dumbbells or Kettlebells

  • Adjustable Dumbbells – $200 to $600
  • Adjustable Kettlebell – $200 to $400
  • Rogue DB25-10 Loadable Dumbbell – $250 + Cost of weights

WHY?

I’m a big fan of recommending adjustable sets simply due to space constraints. But if you’re not limited on space, my preference is to get a set of rubber hex dumbbells from a known brand or distributor. 

Dumbbells and kettlebells save space AND develop strength and fitness in a ton of different ways. You can load your body in a contralateral or ipsilateral fashion, or use two implements. This also helps you develop strength in smaller stabilizer muscles.

ITEM NUMBER 4 – Sandbag

  • Adjustable Sandbag – $128 to $330
  • Rogue Sandbag – $100 to $170 + cost of sand
  • Bag of Sand + Old Pillowcase (Home Depot Special) – $5.35

WHY?

Whether you get a fancy sandbag or craft one from Home Depot materials, definitely get a sandbag. It’s easy to store and can replace MANY barbell type movements with odd object work. Paired with dumbbells or kettlebells you can really complete most types of workouts with a little creativity. As an added bonus, awkward implements like a heavy sandbag have results that transfer to functional movements, helping you develop a more stable trunk/core.

 

ITEM NUMBER 5 – Large Resistance Bands

  • Monster Bands – $18 to $180

WHY?

Adding resistance bands can change the loading on so many movements. You can add resistance at the top of a movement to make the isometric muscle contraction greater or remove resistance at the bottom of a movement to allow for easier execution (like a supported pull up for example). Resistance bands can have a TON of uses and take up relatively little room in your house. 

Up to now you can get a pull up bar (either installed or removable in a doorway), suspension straps, adjustable dumbbells, a sandbag and resistance bands to get a huge variety of options for your workouts AND keep them all hidden away in your closet when you’re not using them.

ITEM NUMBER 6 – Adjustable Bench

  • Bench – $200 – $1,200

WHY?

The next few items require a little more space, but if you have it, an adjustable bench provides WAY more options for training than a flat bench. I’m a big fan of Rep, Irwin Fitness, Gorilla Fitness, Rogue and Sorinex as they are typically higher quality products that last much longer. They also carry a higher price tag in comparison to others, BUT having an adjustable bench can act as a flat bench, incline bench, a plyometric step/box or an expensive table for your protein drink and iPhone.

 

ITEM NUMBER 7 – Medicine Ball

  • Rogue Medicine Ball – $65 to $200

WHY?

Med balls have a ton of versatility in developing strength and explosive power. Whipping it against a wall or the ground can have a lot of athletic transferability. Or if you’ve ever done the Crossfit workout “Karen”, you know just how much a med ball can hurt. They’re relatively inexpensive, take up very little space, and have a ton of training options with the help of a coach and a creative mindset.

For home gym setups, I like to recommend ballistic and super durable balls. Simply because it will have higher durability and more training options than others.

***Just make sure you have a sturdy wall/floor. I’m not responsible for your security deposit.***

 

ITEMS NUMBER 8, 9 & 10 – Barbell, Bumper Plates & Squat Rack

  • Barbells, Plates and Squat Rack – About $1,000 to $10,000

WHY?

This is where things start to get as expensive as you want them to. But from my experience, this is NOT where you want to go for the cheaper option. In a garage or basement, these quality pieces of equipment are perfect for that complete home gym setup.

If you specialize in Oly lifting or powerlifting, feel free to skip the other items and go for these first. But in most circumstances, I recommend you start at the top of this list. You can also build your own lifting platform for around $300 with plywood and a couple strips of rubber. I also recommend getting rubber bumper plates as they’re more versatile compared to steel, and are less likely to damage something (but heavy enough weights can mess any living room up).

If you can swing it, having a barbell, bumper plates, and a squat rack is HUGE. But I put these farther down the list simply due to the investment, the storage needs and the fact that the equipment listed above can help 95% of athletes still get effective workouts at home.

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ITEM NUMBER 11 – Cardio Machine

Notice how this is the last thing on the list, but often the first thing people buy. Cardio machines take up a lot of space and have some limited usability before becoming an expensive clothes rack.

  • Whipr (10 in 1 Machine) – $209 to $539 
  • Air Bike – $699 to $1500
  • Rower – $1250 to $3000
  • Self Propelled Runner – $3000 to $6000
  • Or a crappy treadmill you find randomly at a store or online

I ordered the above from HIGHEST VALUE to LOWEST VALUE.

Whipr 

Amazing little machine that is tiny (can fit it in a carry on) but also versatile enough that you can use it as a rower, ski erg or paddle boat. This thing is SUPER cool, high value and space saving with 10 machines in 1. Take into account that it requires very little storage, this should be a no-brainer, especially if you’re in a small living space.

Echo Bike

Honestly, the air bike is my favorite full-body machine (and least favorite at the same time). It takes minimal space in comparison to some of the other options, but it’s effective as hell. Low impact means if you have problems with feet, ankles, knees, etc, that it can still give you a great workout without breaking your body down. I hate this machine because, well, if you’ve used it you know that it can suck the soul out of you. I should also mention that the Rogue Echo Bike is among the best of all the versions I have tried, but Garage Gym Reviews has a good breakdown on how they all compare to each other.

Rower 

Some would argue this is better than an air bike, but I think both are great options. Again, this is a low-impact tool with the ability to push your conditioning. The only downside to a rower is that it typically takes up a little more floor space when in use, BUT it can usually be separated into parts or stored vertically (depending on the brand). I like Concept 2 as they are the world leaders with these things. I’d rather buy a more expensive, QUALITY item first than waste money on a bad version that breaks down in two months.

Self-Propelled Runner 

These are scary looking machines, but man, are they great. I recommend these because I find that they mimic true running better than traditional motorized treadmills. Motorized treadmills also suck up a lot of electricity and require more frequent maintenance. So, while the initial purchase price of a self-propelled treadmill might be a little higher up front, the total cost of ownership is actually lower than motorized ones. 

On top of that, self-propelled runners tend to teach and reinforce proper running technique and mechanics. With motorized treadmills you aren’t actually running, but sort of “bouncing” in place while the belt moves underneath you. 

A crappy treadmill you find randomly at a store or online – don’t do it. Just don’t.

It might not beat the results from hitting up a well-equipped facility with a great community, but having access to your own equipment is convenient and worthwhile for athletes. Hopefully this list provides you with options to squeeze your workouts in on a busy day or a good failsafe if your gym is closed for a holiday.

Don’t be afraid to link up with a reputable coach. There are TONS of great trainers out there who can give you an edge. You simply have to do your research and reach out to one that seems to connect well with you.

Good luck and get fit!

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