The monthly dues are too steep. The commute back and forth is cutting into your free time. Waiting for a bench while some guy texts between sets gets really old really fast. The music is way more “dance club” than necessary.
Whether your reason for canceling your gym membership is represented above or not, quitting Gold’s or 24 Hour Fitness doesn’t have to mean the end of your strength-training career. Provided you have the motivation (and we can’t help you much with that), training at home is a possibility. And before you come up with more excuses, home workouts don’t have to cost much and don’t have to require a ton of space.
In the following at-home training guide, we offer four different options — depending on your budget and living situation — for outfitting a spare bedroom or empty garage stall with a gym setup that will make stepping foot in a commercial gym unnecessary. Spend no money, a couple hundred bucks or drop in excess of $1,000. Either way, you’ll get in great training sessions with the sample workouts we’ve included for each scenario — workouts that will make you bigger, stronger and more ripped without ever having to cross paths with that annoying text guy.
1.One-Legged Squat (self-assisted)
A standard one-legged squat (or pistol) is too advanced for most people. For this version, stand next to a stable object and hold onto it with one hand. Do a squat on one leg (nonworking leg off the floor in front of you) and help yourself get up on every rep with your upper body just enough so eight to 10 reps is challenging.
HOME SETUP NO. 1: BODYWEIGHT ONLY
Workout Overview: With no dedicated fitness equipment at your disposal, the number of exercises you can do is limited. Fortunately, some of the most effective, functional (and yes, often grueling) resistance-training moves in existence require nothing more than your own body. Full-body circuits are often recommended for bodyweight training; this approach is fine, but it’s not your only option. The below workouts are split up into upper-body and lower-body days consisting mainly of straight sets. Optional HIIT sprinting sessions are also included because running is yet another great exercise that requires no equipment.
Pull-Up/Dip Station: If space and budget allow, this addition would keep with the bodyweight theme, and it’s as good as any piece of equipment when it comes to getting a great upper-body push/pull workout. You can find pull-up/dip stations at FitnessFactory.com, starting in the low $200s. Many versions also include a vertical bench and arm pads for hanging leg raises, one of the best abdominal exercises known to man.
TRX Suspension Trainer: This is another great way to do bodyweight moves at home, provided you have a sturdy door or solid rafter to secure it to. The TRX provides countless exercises for the whole body. (TRXTraining.com; $200 for a basic kit)
Stand in an area with open floor space and sufficient ceiling clearance. With a dip of the hips, perform an explosive vertical leap, reaching up as high as possible with both arms at the top. Land softly, gather yourself and then repeat for six to 10 reps total.
HOME SETUP NO. 2: KETTLEBELLS
Price: RogueFitness.com sells kettlebells from 9 to 88 pounds. A 35-pounder costs $48; a 53-pounder, $63. SportSmith.net has a three-kettlebell set (35, 55 and 70 pounds) for $215.
Workout Overview: Kettlebells don’t take up much space, they provide a great full-body workout and, because you don’t need a full set of them like a gym does, they’re relatively inexpensive. For at-home use, you have a few options. You can get by with having just one moderately weighted (30 to 40 pounds or so) kettlebell, but it might be a little light for some moves and too heavy for others. If possible, we recommend having two to three kettlebells — a 20- to 30-pounder, one about 40 to 50 pounds and an optional heavy bell exceeding 50 pounds — which would have you covered for just about everything you’ll want to do, from heavy swings to isolation exercises. (Yes, you can do isolation moves like curls and lateral raises with a kettlebell, though people rarely do.) Yet another option is an adjustable kettlebell, which will give you an even greater variety of weight increments.
Each of the tri-sets in the workout below includes an exercise that hits the lower body, an upper-body pulling move and an upper-body push. This circuit-oriented routine should be performed with minimal rest because fat burning and cardiovascular conditioning are the key goals.
Kettlebell One-Arm Bent-Over Row
Holding a kettlebell in one hand, bend over at the waist so your torso is between parallel and 45 degrees with the floor. Keep your back flat at all times. Start with your working arm hanging straight down toward the floor and your nonworking hand on your upper thigh for support. Contract your back muscles to pull the kettlebell straight up to your side, then slowly lower it back down. Repeat for reps, then switch arms.
Kettlebell One-Arm Shoulder Press
Stand holding a kettlebell in one hand with your knees slightly bent. Start with the kettlebell at shoulder height hanging behind your forearm with your elbow bent, palm facing forward. Press the kettlebell straight up toward the ceiling, stopping just shy of elbow lockout. Slowly lower back down, then repeat for reps and switch arms.
Kettlebell One-Arm Upright Row
Stand holding a kettlebell in one hand hanging straight down toward the floor in front of your thigh. Leading with your elbow, pull the weight straight up your body, then lower it back down. Repeat for reps, then switch arms. Upright rows also can be performed holding a heavy kettlebell with both hands. However, this extremely narrow grip can put undue stress on the wrists, which is why we recommend the one-arm version.
Matching Kettlebells: The beauty of kettlebell training is that most exercises call for only one bell at a time, which saves you money when putting your home gym together. But using two kettlebells (both the same weight) on exercises like rows and squats can take your workouts to a more advanced level. Buy a match for your lighter kettlebell first because you’re unlikely to get much use out of a second 70- to 80-pounder.
HOME SETUP NO. 3: BARBELL AND PLATES
Price: $359 for a 300-pound Olympic barbell and plate set at FitnessFactory.com; $259 for a 200-pound set.
Workout Overview: Invest in a barbell and plate set and, assuming you put in the work, your return on investment will be considerable gains in muscle size and strength. Even in the absence of commercial gym staples like a power rack and bench (see “Equipment Add-Ons” for more on those), you can do some seriously hardcore exercises with this bare-bones setup — namely deadlifts, lunges, military presses and bent-over rows. The routine here is built around getting bigger and stronger with straight sets, six training days a week and a legs/push/pull training split. If you’d prefer to ratchet the volume down a notch, do each workout only once a week.
Sit on the floor with a loaded barbell resting on the ground. Grab the bar with a shoulder-width grip and lie back. The bar should now be around your lower chest. Get the bar up to the start position of a bench press (arms extended, bar over your upper chest) by using your hips and arms to generate upward momentum. From there, keep the move strict, lowering the bar down until your upper arms touch the floor, then pressing back up to the arms-extended position. For close-grip floor presses, assume a grip inside shoulder width. Because this version calls for lighter weight, getting the bar to the start position should be easier.
Barbell Overhead Triceps Extension
Stand holding the bar loaded with a light weight and a grip just inside shoulder width, and lift the bar up to the start position: arms extended straight up overhead. Keep your knees slightly bent throughout. Bend your elbows to lower the bar down behind your head. When your elbows pass 90 degrees, contract your triceps to extend your arms back to the start position.
Power Rack: This is the one thing that instantly upgrades an Olympic barbell and plates collection, but power racks take up a good bit of space and aren’t cheap (starting at $599 at
Pendlay.com). If you’ve got the money and square footage, though, a rack will allow you to do a proper squat and bench press. For the latter, another necessary add-on is a bench.
Smaller Bars: Accessorizing with smaller barbells — for example, an EZ-curl or neutral-grip bar — will give you more options for working the muscles with different grips and angles. SportSmith.net and TroyBarbell.com have several non-Olympic bars to choose from, as does FitnessFactory.com.
Dumbbell Straight-Arm Pullback
Stand holding a dumbbell in one hand and lean over at the waist so your torso is close to parallel with the floor. Start with your working arm hanging straight down toward the floor and your nonworking hand on your waist. Keeping your elbow extended, contract your back muscles to lift the dumbbell back and up behind you until your arm is parallel with the floor. Slowly lower back down, repeat for reps and then switch arms.
HOME SETUP NO. 4:
ADJUSTABLE DUMBBELLS AND ADJUSTABLE BENCH
Price: PowerBlock.com has an adjustable dumbbell set that goes up to 50 pounds per dumbbell for $379 and a set up to 90 pounds for $638. Adjustable benches start at $155 at FitnessFactory.com.
Workout Overview: A set of adjustable dumbbells and a bench won’t be cheap, but with them you’ll be able to do a variety of exercises for all bodyparts, which will help keep your workouts fresh. Switching to a heavier or lighter weight with adjustable dumbbells is quick and easy, making them highly conducive to supersets. The following routine has you supersetting a lot and training four days a week — the first three days in a common bodybuilding chest/back, triceps/biceps, legs split, followed by a day of rest, and then a Friday full-body circuit routine that hits all the muscles one more time while also invoking considerable cardiovascular demands.
Decline Bench: An adjustable bench goes from flat (parallel with the floor) all the way to an upright position for seated movements. A decline bench ($265 at FitnessFactory.com), while a splurge, will get you to go below parallel for exercises like decline presses, decline lying triceps extensions and decline sit-ups. You would literally have all your angles covered.
ACCESSORIZE YOUR HOME
It doesn’t take a big-ticket item like a Smith machine or treadmill to complete your training space. Here are five fitness accessories that pack maximum bang for minimal bucks. All are available at FitnessFactory.com unless otherwise noted.
Body-Solid Ab Slings ($59)
If you’ve got somewhere to do pull-ups, you’ve also got somewhere to do hanging leg or knee raises for the lower abs.
Body-Solid Dual-Grip Medicine Ball (starting at $39)
A med ball is a must for any home gym and will help you get the most out of your core training. This particular product has handles to make it ultra-versatile.
Jump Rope (starting at under $10)
Jumping rope is great for a dynamic warm-up, a high-intensity cardio session or footwork drills. You can find one at any sporting-goods store.
Ab Wheel ($11)
Looking for yet another challenge for your abs? This training tool may be small, but it packs a big (read: painful) punch for your core.
Perfect Pushup (starting at $20; PerfectOnline.com or Amazon.com)
For those who have wrist issues, these are invaluable during high-rep sets of push-ups. They also allow for greater range of motion at the bottom of each rep.
Dumbbell Renegade Row
Start in push-up position with your hands holding the dumbbells on the floor, palms facing each other. Do a row with one arm, pulling the dumbbell up to your side and squeezing your back muscles hard at the top. Slowly lower the weight back down to the floor, then repeat with the other arm. Alternate arms every other rep.
Prices listed throughout this article don’t include tax and shipping.