Updated: Sep 25
The home gym can provide a place of sanctuary, a safe and secure haven in which to unwind and de-stress. It can be a place either to absolve oneself of sinful living (I have in mind popping to the vending machine over lunch – that’s my take on sinful living) or to explore and advance personal physicality.
But the home gym is a brilliant space to create for a myriad other reasons. Besides offering almost instant access into a self-therapeutic environment, where the worries of the day can be washed away, the home gym can mitigate the many excuses that stand in the way of improving our health and fitness. After all, when the gym is in the next room we can hardly use the weather or traffic as an excuse not to get our daily fix.
There’s no doubt about it, the home gym is arguably the most important space you could create: what other room can help alleviate stress, improve your health and longevity whilst saving you money? For when you’ve got a home gym you’ll never have to pay a membership again.
However, when it comes to deciding which pieces of exercise equipment to kit your gym out with, the bewildering and ever expanding range of choice can result in confusion and indecision; only to be further compounded when you’ve also got to take into consideration the constraints of a budget.
Not all exercise equipment was created equal and some exercise kit offers far more bang per buck. Another likely limiting factor you’ll face when building your home gym is the lack of space.
The purpose of this article is to help you resolve this conundrum. Below you’ll discover 10 excellent pieces of exercise equipment especially selected to satisfy the following criteria:
Value for money
Both versatile and durable
Space sensitive (except the rowing machine)
An effective fitness builder
Following the review all you’ll need to do is select which pieces of equipment best suit your fitness goals and aspirations whilst remaining in your available budget.
1: Kettlebell (Powrx from £57)
The kettlebell has got to be the single most versatile – not to mention durable – piece of exercise equipment in existence. I once tried to tally up all the different exercises you can do with them but, before I even got close to completing my list, I got bored and gave up. Not only are kettlebells mega versatile but they are damn near indestructible. I purchased a Powerseekers KB over 15 years ago and though it’s as pockmarked as the surface of moon it still weighs 24kg and it’s still a steel ball with a handle protruding from it. In my opinion, anyone who is looking to build a home gym absolutely must start with a kettlebell. In fact, I’d go far as to say a gym ain’t complete without one.
2: Resistance Bands (Infinity £39)
Resistance bands make for brilliant training tools for three reasons: 1) they are crazy versatile; 2) they’re comparatively inexpensive; 3) they take up no more room than a pair of folded socks . . . oh, and 4) they’re eminently portable – you can take them anywhere with you, something that can’t really be said of my 32kg kettlebell (or Concept 2 rower for that matter).
Also, resistance bands can be used to modify or advance other exercises. When I’m feeling a bit physically frisky I use my resistance bands to increase the resistance of other exercises such as press-ups, kettlebell swings and squats.
3: Rowing Machine (SportsPlus £299)
Rowing is one of the best exercises for improving cardio, muscular endurance and promoting all-round fitness. And because it stimulates the major muscle groups – legs, back cardio-respiratory – rowing is a brilliant fat burner and body toner. Also, rowing machines provide an excellent fitness testing tool. For years I’ve used the standard 2k ergo row to test the fitness of my personal training clients. I’ve found this test to be a great way to monitor and track physical development.
Of course, the obvious limitation with a rowing machine – for home gym use – is their size: there’s no denying it, rowing machines are hefty. However, the geniuses at Concept have developed the Dynamic, a compact version of the traditional rower which takes up half the space.
4: Airdyne Bike (Capital Sports £799)
Similarly to the rowing machine the airdyne bike stimulates the major muscle groups whilst providing an excellent whole-body workout. But unlike the rower the airdyne bike possess the added feature of a push as well as pull function thus enabling the exercise enthusiast to train the muscles of the chest and anterior deltoids.
Additionally, airdynes are comparatively compact making them the most space sensitive cardiovascular equipment on the market (other than the mini stepper – but then no self-respecting trainer would purchase such tack).
5: Skipping Rope (Gritin £4.99)
Bruce Lee maintained that 10 minutes of ‘jumping rope’ is like 30 minutes of jogging. Yeah I’ve used that quote before now, but only because Bruce lends additional credence to the contention that skipping is a stellar exercise. For fat loss, augmented physicality and improved cardiovascular function few exercises target all three quite as effectively as jumping rope.
In addition to providing an almost unparalleled physical workout, skipping also stimulates that gelatinous 2.2lb blob between the ears (colloquially called the brain). When skipping you have to concentrate on the task in hand; there’s no switching off or mind wandering, you have to remain fully focused at all times; that’s if you want to avoid whipping your thigh (or worse, your arse!).
6: Punch Bag (and gloves) (RDX £62.99)
No other exercise busts stress quite like Saturday night windmilling on a punch bag. When you’ve had a crappy day at work – which for most people is every day – you can come home, glove-up and beat ten bells out your bag. A much better option than unleashing your fits on your manager or going the way of Michael Douglas in film Falling Down.
But boxing does more for us than fight stress. It is also an excellent cardiovascular, muscular endurance and power exercise. Few exercise combinations offer the range of physical stimulation as does 30 minutes of vigorous sticking and moving, sticking and moving. Throw into the mix 10 minutes of skipping for the warm-up and another 5 for the cool-down and you’ve got yourself a tremendous training session.
What if I don’t have anywhere to hang a punch bag? You might justifiably contend. My rebuttal: buy a freestanding bag! (link) Problem solved. For a more in-depth insight of available kit follow the links:
7: Power Cage (Fitness Reality £449.99)
The humble power cage (or squat rack) makes for a great addition to any home gym. Depending on the rack that you buy it can last for years whilst providing you with a versatile training tool.
Contrary to common misconception you can do far more with a squat rack than just squat. For example, some racks feature built-in power towers (pull-up and dip) and others sport contemporary appendages such as resistance bands, cables and weights – and even mini multi gyms (you can also hang a punch bag from them as well!).
Thus if you select the right rack you’ll have everything you need to keep fit and shape a sharp physique. For example, the rack featured opposite offers a range of exercise versatility that could only be exceeded by a full-scale gym. This makes it an excellent investment and if they are used properly and consistently they’ll be fitness dividends for years to come.
8: Power Bag (RDX - range from £35)
Power bags are a must have because of their versatility and range of exercise application. You can squat with them, do deadlifts, bent-over rows, clean and press, lunges, throws, carries, Russian twists . . . and on and on the list goes perhaps without end. A good mate of mine is a proper power bag aficionado and he reckons that there is in excess of 50 different exercises that can be performed with a power bag.
Also, another favourable quality of the power bag, as opposed to, say, kettlebells, is that the exercises are comparatively easy to master and they are much more forgiving on the body; after ten minutes of continuous clean to press on a 32kg KB you feel as though you’ve just been in a physical altercation. In addition, power bags are relatively cheap, durable and double up great as draft stoppers.
9: Adjustable Dumbbells (York Fitness £64.99)
Dumbbells are a great addition to any home gym. The versatility of this classic training tool would put Ray Mears’ pocket knife to shame. And gone are the days when you’d have to buy one pair – which were either too light for strength training or too heavy for muscular endurance – or splash the cash on a whole rack.
Adjustable dumbbells are becoming ever increasingly popular for the simple fact that, as well as enabling you to access a wide range of weights (from 5 to 25kg), they take up hardly any space – making them perfect for a home gym.
10: Medicine Balls (Power Guidance - range from £34.99)
A classic piece of exercise equipment and a must have in any home gym. Medicine balls are massively versatile: they be incorporated into traditional movements – such as lunges, squats, squat jumps, burpees – or used to enhance power – slams, throws, wall tosses.
They also make for an excellent addition to a circuit bringing an element of dynamism and, if it’s MB slams on the menu, a stress-busting, anger-quelling outlet. Seriously, after a few sets of slams I’m as calm and contented as a Zen Buddhist but I also get my fit fix at the same time.
From this article you should have gleaned plenty of ideas of suitable exercise kit for your home gym. Remember though, you don’t need to spend a fortune or replicate Gold’s when building training sanctuary. Truly, it’s surprising the workout you can get from a relatively meagre set-up.
My home gym contains three kettlebells, a resistance band, a skipping rope, one medicine ball (which was given to me) and a Concept 2 rower (which I purchased off eBay). Combined these items of training equipment cost less than £750.
But even this parsimonious set-up still enables me to achieve an excellent workout whilst satisfying my exercise predilections and perversions. So, before you rush out and blow a stack of cash on kit, recognise that you don’t need much to keep fit and it’s not about how much you’ve got but what you do with it that counts.
(As we are very interested in user feedback at Hungry4Fitness, I would be very grateful if you could take a few seconds out of your day to leave a comment. Thanks in advance!)
Adam Priest is a former Royal Marines Commando, professional personal trainer, lecturer, boxing and Thai boxing enthusiast.