…and you’re probably not the only one.
I do most of my training at home. It’s been that way for years, ever since I got really interested in training in the first place. There are a lot of reasons for this. Introversion. Lack of interest in fighting over equipment. Poor gym music choices. Introversion. Travel time to and from the gym. Other people. Did I mention introversion?
Because I’ve been building my home gym for quite some time, it has plenty of equipment in it to do almost everything I want. And it all resides in the low-ceilinged basement of my 1930s Craftsman home. It’s dark and cold and little damp (hey, I live in the Pacific Northwest) but it has everything I want and need. Plus, I can fold laundry in between sets.
You may be finding yourself in a situation where you are looking to build your own murder basement (or “home gym” as it were) and wondering where you should invest to get the most bang for your buck.
Here’s a list of my favorite pieces of equipment in the Murder Basement that I would 100% spend my money on again if I had to. You can use this list to start building your own home gym or adding on to the equipment you might already have. I’ll link to the pieces that I actually have but I highly encourage you to spend time scoping out Craigslist, Facebook Market, and thrift stores before buying new. Lots of my clients have found amazing deals on equipment in those places.
But remember to Lysol the shit out of any new equipment before you use it.
1) VARIABLE DUMBBELLS
The brand I have are from Powerblocks. They are pricey but I love them so much and will proudly say that they are the BEST thing I’ve every purchased for my home gym. I do not regret a single penny I spent on them. The set I bought ranges in weight from 5lbs all the way up to 50lbs per dumbbell. And they have add-on sets if you want get so hench that you need higher weight. Both my partner and myself have used these for 2 years and he’s just now getting to the point where he’s needing the expansion set.
There are comparable sets from Bowflex and you can find other versions at places like Walmart, Target, or your local sporting goods store. They take up less space than all the individual dumbbells you would need to get the same benefit and the weight swaps out really easily so that you can even change in between exercises.
If you can only buy one thing, you should buy these.
2) A STURDY BENCH (bonus points if it’s adjustable)
This may seem like a weird item to list as number two. You might be thinking, “Can’t I get away with a chair?” You can but a sturdy bench definitely increases the number of exercises you can do AND ensures that you do them well. The bench I have is adjustable meaning that you can incline it as necessary to change up what exercises you can do (incline dumbbell presses, chest supported row, reverse hypers). However, if you can only afford a flat bench, it easy to make it an incline or a decline bench by stacking on end on top of something. I’ve used textbooks, weight plates, and even a staircase.
The key to a finding a good bench is to check and make sure that it:
- doesn’t wiggle when put under pressure
- supports your weight when stepping on it
- is comfortable to use (there’s not a sharp screw jabbing you in the back every time you go to bench)
The one linked above is not the EXACT bench I have but it’s of similar quality. We’ve used it for several years (through one move and a stint in storage) and it’s just now getting a little wiggly and starting to have screws fall off.
3) VARIOUS RESISTANCE BANDS
You can use the larger loop resistance bands to assist with pull-ups (as they are often marketed) but you can also use them as a replacement for cable exercises in the gym. As long as you have somewhere to anchor them — hello bench! — they can be used a substitute for an exercise that requires access to a cable stack. That means you can use higher resistance bands for things like lat pulldowns or pull throughs and the lighter ones for band pull aparts and palloff presses.
BUT… you should also make sure you have a few different resistances of the mini loops as well. They are great for glute med work which most skaters need and can be used in various ways for shoulder prehab. I linked to the more expensive fabric ones because they don’t roll up on you while you’re training and they last longer. But you can also buy cheaper latex versions. Just don’t store them in your non-climate controlled basement or they will snap on at a most inopportune time. Or so I’ve heard…
After the variable dumbbells, this might be the purchase that I’m most happy with. I mostly got it to do to inverted rows with (which it does SO well) but I also use it for completely torturous core exercises, face pulls, and shoulder stability stuff. It also packs up small and I take it with me most places when I’m traveling.
No joke, I even brought this on a National Parks road trip and used it shut into the car door outside.
If you want to splurge on a full set up and drill into your ceiling, you can do that too. But the over-the-door, knock-off version linked above can do almost everything the more expensive set-up can do.
5) SELF-MASSAGE TOOLS
Not the ones that you’re thinking. Although, maybe… 🤔
These are things like tennis and lacrosse balls, foam rolls, theracanes, and TENS units that can help you keep up with your muscle hygiene. I think they all have their place in a muscle hygiene routine BUT these tools only work if you use them. Find the one that you’re most likely to use and splurge on that. Maybe it is an actual Hitachi wand to get into your tight calves. Or elsewhere.
6) WHATEVER MAKES YOU HAPPY
I have a lot of equipment I bought over the years just because I wanted to learn how to use it or I liked ONE THING that I could do for it. I have a single kettlebell at the perfect weight for high volume swings. I have a miniature sled that has seen the light of day once but delights me every time I lay eyes on it. My med ball is for days when I just need to slam shit on the ground. The battle ropes are there for pretty much the same reason.
A lot of my home gym equipment just makes me happy. And you should have some that do that, too.
I’ve had clients that splurged for a barbell because it’s what they really wanted. I’ve had clients that bought an entire set of kettlebells because they prefer them to dumbbells. I know people that bought a ski ERG machine for their house (literally the only equipment they had) because they thought it was fun to play around with.
Like I said in the massage tools section, you need to get equipment that you’ll use. Buying a squat rack is cool until it becomes an expensive clothes rack. Having various dumbbells is nice unless what really lights you up is acrobatic work and the dumbbells just sit there collecting dust.
This is a list of things that I think would make a good home gym. But it’s also a list of equipment that I enjoy using. So take it with a grain of salt.
If you’re interested in more exclusive content, access to my FREE resource library, and the slightly weird workings of my inner mind, you can sign up for the Iron Octopus Fitness email list HERE. Wherein I harass you weekly with all things intelligent cross training, mindset, and…other.