Back when I was a skinny young skate rat, the idea of working out at a gym never crossed my mind. Like, ever. Together with the large majority of skateboarders, I believed that exercising with weights and machines at a gym was the sole domain of jocks or a rare breed of athletically minded halfpipe skaters.
Today I’m a couple of injuries and many more doner kebab sandwiches down the road of life. Working mostly at a desk, I’ve finally accepted that maintaining some semblance of a healthy physique will require serious maintenance. On the regular. As part of my daily routine.
Last year I joined a gym that was literally two minutes from my doorstep on foot. It was sparse, one of those 24-hour joints with a key code at the door. But it was enough. I don’t require much by ways of equipment. My joints are pretty shot from years of doing stuff like this on a skateboard. Just some cardio and light weights and room to do stretches will totally suffice, thank you.
Then we moved house. Looking around, I found no comparable gym in our area, especially within walking distance. That’s when I started flirting with the idea of setting up a home gym in our basement…
Honestly, it didn’t really seem feasible at first.
The only space we had available was a nine-by-ten-feet area outside our boiler room in the basement. And when I started looking at home exercise equipment, the price of a serious cardio machine alone would have covered more than three years of membership at the plushest gym in town.
But then I did more research, read tons of workout equipment reviews, and defined my exact needs.
That’s how I found that I could hack the home gym experience and build an entire exercise-ready home workout area in a small space. And do so entirely with equipment ordered in online retail, for under $600.
This short home gym buyer’s guide shows all the pieces of building a workout space that covers the fundamentals of cardio, aerobics, stretches, and weight training in a 90-foot space.
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CARDIO: THE HEART OF YOUR HOME GYM
A decent cardio machine is the centerpiece of every solid home gym. It’s like the heart, the engine. It’s where you burn most of your calories and get fired up for weight exercises. Choosing your cardio set-up is the most important decision you’re going to make when putting together your home gym.
Having set my total budget at around $600, I was aiming for something in the neighborhood of $250–$300. Which is why this piece of the puzzle took the longest…
Cardio equipment is especially challenging because as a basic rule of thumb, you get what you pay for. From what I’ve learned, here’s what $250–$300 will buy in different cardio machine categories:
Up to $300 will buy you a pretty basic upright stationary workout bike with a few electronics and digital resistance settings. Solid, but won’t leave you drenched in sweat and grunting after pushing your personal limits like the machine I ultimately bought.
I could hack the home gym experience and build an entire exercise-ready home workout area in a small space. And do so entirely with equipment ordered in online retail, for under $600.
Up to $300 will also buy you a bottom-of-the-barrel recumbent workout bike, nothing fancy in terms of electronics or mechanics, more on the flimsy side. Speaking of flimsy, up to $300 will also buy a horrid ‘elliptical’ trainer, which in this price range is more of an euphemism for a basic stationary bike gear with oversized pedals and wobbly handles attached. Buyer beware!
For a brief moment, I was ready to pull the trigger on a Cyber Monday deal for a pro-level recumbent bike from a fancy company for close to $800. Then delivery options came up. Basically, they charged no shipping fee for ‘curbside delivery,’ but then you have a 250-pound piece of gym equipment sitting on the street. For an extra $75, they ship to your doorstep. And for the small sum of $150, they will carry it into your home to a room of your choosing. What I chose was a machine from a different company.
Cardio: Sunny Health & Fitness Pro Indoor Cycling Bike
Price: $254.07 on Amazon
Basically, when it comes to getting the most intense cardio workout in a small space, a spin bike is your best bet. After reading some online reviews and browsing the best-sellers on Amazon, I happened upon the Sunny Health & Fitness Pro Indoor Cycling Bike.
At around $250, it sounded a little too good to be true. After what I’d seen in the stationary bikes department at the local sporting goods store, my expectations were low. Then I saw that one reviewer on Amazon had actually ordered a whole gang of these for a professional gym, and that piqued my interest.
Looking at the description, I saw that the Sunny Health & Fitness Pro Indoor Cycling Bike is as basic as they come. No gears, no electronics, no automatic settings. Just a dial to set your own resistance and a pretty darn solid flywheel to offer the momentum behind that resistance.
As I would learn, a 40-pound flywheel is hard to find in this price class. And it’s the most important spec on a spin bike, as it determines the intensity of your entire workout and smoothness of your ride.
Seeing that the bike commanded a 4-Star rating at almost 2,500 reviews, I pulled the trigger. Checkout.
Two days later, the Sunny Health & Fitness Pro Indoor Cycling Bike was easy to drag to my new basement man cave and assemble by myself. During assembly, I immediately recognized that this bike with its heavy duty steel frame was built like a tank, also thanks to minimum adjustable parts – mostly the handlebar, saddle and pedal entry.
On that note, my wife and I share the bike so we adjust saddle height on a daily basis, which can be a bit cumbersome as it involves unscrewing a knob and reinserting a pin to fit your desired setting. But overall, the bike has held up well and dishes out the spin class-style punishment I was looking for in my cardio workout.
Bike Accessory: ChargerCity Strap-Lock Tablet Mount
How about upgrading your ride with some audio-visual entertainment? I personally prefer zoning out during my cardio exercise, imagining myself training lone wolf-style like Rocky Balboa in the snowy tundra. But my wife likes to take these online spin classes and subscribes to the Peloton App (and swears by it). So we got her the ChargerCity Strap-Lock Tablet Mount that easily holds an iPad, Kindle Fire or iPhone in place.
Aerobics: Everlast 2228 PowerCore Freestanding Heavy Bag
Cue the Rocky soundtrack! I never thought I would put a punching bag in my home gym, but it’s actually one of my favorite exercises now. Inspiration came from my skateboarding friend and MMA athlete Hans Molenkamp’s Instagram, on which he works out in the gym with bona-fide UFC legends. Pure motivation!
So when I spotted this Everlast 2228 PowerCore Freestanding Heavy Bag, it made a world of sense. As it turns out, punching and kicking a bag for ten minutes at a time is quite the aerobics workout and really gets your blood flowing. Working with a small space was no issue and there’s definitely a learning curve involved as you get more experience.
What you will need, though: About seven 20-pound bags of sand from your local hardware store to weigh down the base. You could use water, but trust me: Your family or roommate will put up with you pounding a punching bag like there’s no tomorrow, but spilling 45 gallons of water in the basement might cross the line.
Punching Bag Accessory: SUTEN MMA Muay Thai Boxing Gym Gloves
The first thing you’ll notice upon hitting a punching bag is that it will wear you out much more quickly than you thought. The second thing is that you’ll need some freaking gloves. I honestly purchased these SUTEN MMA Muay Thai Boxing Gym Gloves because they were ridiculously cheap (and I had already blown a tall chunk of my budget on that punching bag). Plus, they got four stars on Amazon and have lasted me in daily use after a few days of breaking them in.
Get some pro gear: For a major upgrade, treat yourself to some pro-level padded Muay Thai gloves from upcoming brand Triumph United. Trust me on that one!
Weight Training: adidas Performance Flat Training Bench
When it came to choosing a solid bench for weight and resistance training, I had to keep it real. As a German, it had to be the Three Stripes. Plus, the adidas Performance Flat Training Bench was on special for $59.99 at the time and had stellar reviews. Cha-ching! With its padded top and low center of gravity, it’s great for resistance exercises and will also support triceps dips and bench push-ups without tipping over. Solid. Stable. German.
Bench Accessory: CAP Barbell Enamel Coated Cast Iron Kettlebell
Don’t laugh, but 15 lb. kettlebells are my go-to weights. Heck, I have fractured both of my elbows skateboarding and dislocated my shoulders multiple times. So for me, it’s all about going slow and often, like musical act The Weeknd.
The CAP Barbell Enamel Coated Cast Iron Kettlebells are easy to control and pair nicely with the adidas Performance Flat Training Bench on a wide range of chest, biceps, triceps and shoulder workouts.
Naturally, you can always pair your bench with a barbell bench pressing rack for some serious lifting. This guide is really all about building a foundation for your home gym, go tweak it to your own liking by all means.
Floor Padding: ProSource Puzzle Exercise Mat
Nothing says pro home gym like nicely padded floor. Easy to clean, supports you on floor exercises, demarcates your workout zone. I went with the ProSource Puzzle Exercise Mat system, made from EVA Foam and composed of interlocking tiles because it allowed me to fill my exercise space as needed (including some space outside the door to the boiler room).
For my 90-square-feet exercise space, I ended up ordering three packages. One thing to watch out for: Your heavy cardio equipment is going to leave an imprint, so choose a somewhat permanent spot. Otherwise a breeze to assemble and comfy to work out on.
Floor Workout Accessory: POWER GUIDANCE AB Wheel
Picture me rollin’. I first saw this type of roller on the VICE skateboarding docu series Epicly Later’d in an episode about pro skateboarder Bam Margera. If this was good enough to get Bam back into shredding shape, it would be good enough for me. Harder than it looks, the POWER GUIDANCE AB Wheel can be a cruel mistress, but also guides your workout, which is nice if you have back problems.
Outlook: The Foundation For Your Personal Gym
So there you have it. Your own home gym that combines cardio, weights, aerobics and whatever ‘AB rolling’ is into one space-efficient package at under $600. This provides a solid core for any type of upgrades – think ropes, weights, truck tires, the full 300 workout – you can fit into your space.
Assuming that the average gym membership comes in at around $49.00 per month, this one has paid for itself after one year of almost daily workouts.
It’s really the type of workout I needed to fit into my daily routine right at home. Any time I want. No more excuses.
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